Embedded Text – Embodied Narratives

George Hallett, The creation of a book cover, London, 1972; Untitled, London, 1970s; Lorna de Smidt posing for the cover of I.N.C. Aniebo’s Of  Wives, Talismans and the Dead, published by Heinemann in 1983. Handprinted silver prints. Private collection.

This exhibition explores the relationship between written signs, African literature, and image-making processes in the work of South African photographer George Hallett (1942-2020). 

Curated by Christine Eyene, Embedded Text – Embodied Narratives presents photographs from Hallett’s 1960s District Six series — a culturally mixed neighbourhood of Cape Town that was declared ‘White-only’ by the apartheid government in 1966. In 1968, before the forced removals and demolitions, Hallett captured some of the district’s landmarks, its community, everyday life and social events. This series, one of Hallett’s first major bodies of work, has become part of South Africa’s heritage.  

The images focus on street scenes and views in which the walls become textured surfaces combining abstract patterns, graffiti, signs, words, and names of some of the gangs active in the area. Marking the first appearance of text in Hallett’s work, these photographs place his visual representations at the junction of figurative motifs and written signs. The exhibition shows how written signs shifted from the background in the District Six, to foreground elements cohabiting with pre-existing images and new photographic compositions created for the book covers of the African Writers Series (AWS) published by Heinemann in the 1970s and early 1980s. 

Included in the exhibition are rare books, on loan from the Making Histories Visible project’s collection led by artist and Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Art Lubaina Himid CBE RA, and the curator’s own collection. Additionally, the exhibition showcases some of the source photographs, hand-printed by Hallett, used for the covers. Often these feature London-based South African exiles who were anti-apartheid activists, musicians, writers, and visual artists. The covers provide a new reading of Hallett’s work as a site for multiple narratives, intertwining the exile, the performative embodiment of literary pieces, and the development of a new visual register.

Embedded Text – Embodied Narratives is part of Christine Eyene’s practice-based PhD, supervised by Professor Annie E. Coombes at Birkbeck, University of London.

Embedded Text – Embodied Narratives

Thursday 12 January – Wednesday 8 February 2023.

Launch event Wednesday 18 January 2023, 18.00 – 21.00

Poetry and music performance by Eugene Skeef, with Narotam Horn on piano.

Book a free ticket


Birkbeck School of Arts

43 Gordon Square


This project is supported by Making Histories Visible and Birkbeck, University of London.


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