my doilies & other bittersweet memories

Artworks and a Creative Process by Naretha Pretorius

Want sy is van sy rib gemaak | Because she was made from his rib

It’s our wedding anniversary. Seven years today.

wedding1It was also seven years ago that I encountered a significant life challenge, not just by the idea of getting married, but questioning the HOW I will go about getting married.  I knew WHY I wanted to get married, but I was quite confused about the HOW.

You see, the way weddings worked for Afrikaans people in the Reformed Church, was quite simple: Man finds a woman, man asks the parents for permission, woman wears white dress and is given away by the father to her new man. Man is head of household and woman is the obedient wife. Man works, woman looks after children, cook and clean, and sometimes has a career of her own, just sometimes.

When it was our turn to decide about our wedding ceremony, we also had to ‘confront’ the way we will do it.  Will we do it the way our forefathers (and mothers) did it?  If so, what did that mean to us? What are the values of our marriage?

So I looked at the Reformed Church’s marriage sacrament,  and I realised I couldn’t make those promises, not to my husband and not to God.

I see myself as a liberal and independent woman whom believes in her intellectual capacity and abilities to make healthy decisions, I did not see myself as an ‘obedient wife’ in need of her husbands guidance or approval.  My mom, in her kind way of wanting to help us, asked my childhood minister (from the Reformed Church) to marry us. Before the wedding, the minister and I had an interesting discussion about our beliefs, not just our religious beliefs, but the principles of life we live by. He strongly believed that the man is the head of the household, and the only one that will make the right disciplinary decisions when it comes to the children as well as the household decisions. I of course disagreed, as I believed it’s a mutual responsibility as much as an ability. His argument was simple, and he sounded quite sure of himself: God made men to look after women, and men are the ‘heads’ of a marriage as much as Jesus was the head of the Church.  Below is a snippet from the Reformed Church’s marriage sacrament where it describes the roles of the husband and the wife (and a promise they make to God).

In simple terms the sacrament states that the man was tasked by God to be in charge of his wife and to guide, protect and educate her, and that she in turn should be obedient to him and be his help. The husband needs to work to take care of his family and contribute to those in need, while his wife should look after the family and live an orderly life. All of this of course justified by the Bible: she was made from his rib… Below the original text from the Reformed Church of South Africa’s website (search ‘huweliks formelier’):

U moet ook weet hoe die gedrag van die een teenoor die ander volgens die Woord van God moet wees: En dan moet u, man, besef dat God u as hoof van die vrou gestel het, soos Christus die Hoof van sy gemeente is. U moet haar liefhê en verstandig lei, onderrig, vertroos en beskerm en haar as vrou eer. U moet nie teen haar verbitterd word nie maar verstandig met haar saamwoon. U moet ook ywerig en getrou u beroep beoefen, sodat u u gesin eerbaar kan onderhou en ook aan die behoeftiges iets kan gee. En u, vrou, moet u man liefhê, hom eer en gehoorsaam wees in alles wat reg en billik is, net soos die gemeente aan Christus onderdanig is. U moet u man ook behulpsaam wees in alles wat goed en reg is, en aan u gesin en huishouding die regte aandag gee. Verder moet u ingetoë en eerbaar lewe, vir ander tot voorbeeld in deugsaamheid.

Needless to say, the ceremony was a ‘disaster’, yet the day was most memorable and special! We did conform in many ways… I did wear a white dress, to everyone’s surprise, although my mother ‘gave me away’ instead of my father, as my father was present in spirit (he died in 1995). We got married in a chapel and we had a religious ceremony, yet we did it without the marriage sacrament. We had a party and we danced, like one does at a ‘white’ wedding!

We learned from that experience. I learned to believe in my beliefs. I learned that my husband and I are a union of equals, and that we make decisions together. I learned that family is more important than anything else, even if we differ in our beliefs. And I have learned that marriage is hard work, it’s not something fluffy, nor is it a just union of two simply defined and dichotomous roles as regulated by an institution. Marriage is a commitment of continuous negotiation between two intellectual beings by keeping all parties’s best interest at heart… the wife, the husband, the kids, the pets, the house, careers, school, finance… the whole of the family. Family is about core values, but our values don’t have to stem from an institution, I believe it should rather come from the heart, soul, mind and your intuition.

We now laugh about our wedding day. It’s a memory we treasure.  I do wish that we rather opted for vows (something Afrikaners didn’t do), our own commitments and promises to each other, although I realise now: that’s what our anniversaries are for!  Our vows grow with us.

Here’s to my husband and our two wonderful boys!

pretorius kunz familie


Vertel ons Stories | Telling our Stories

I recently did a guest lecture at the School for International Studies (SIT) in Durban as part of their Study Abroad Programme for Social and Political Transformation. My audience consisted of 9 students from various universities from the USA.  It was my first experience in sharing my story of growing up an Afrikaner woman to an audience that had no experience and a limited understanding of Apartheid and ‘Afrikaners’.

I was blessed to have had this opportunity.

The challenge was to create some sort of connection for them with something they were significantly disconnected with – by making it in some way familiar to them. One word: Nostalgia.


Family and traditions, happy childhood memories, school days, the freedom of being a child, parents and siblings, holidays and adventures, shared memories, happy moments like birthday and sad moments like the loss of loved ones.

geboorte tot dood

But then I challenged them by asking:”How can I, a white Afrikaner, be nostalgic of a problematic socio-political past?”

This is where my story became vital, I realised.  Their perception of Apartheid in relation to Afrikaners were limited and skewed. Why? Their understanding was influenced by what I refer to as the “master narrative”, the narrative created by media, schooling and other forms of education and information. The ‘master narrative’ of state brutality, violence, extreme segregation and regulations. My ‘personal narrative’ enriched their understanding of South Africa’s Apartheid history, it provided them with a different perspective and understanding.  It especially gave them an understanding of what it was like for me as an Afrikaner woman during and post Apartheid, in a conservative Calvinistic Afrikaner community in ‘Transvaal’ (Gauteng).  Although conservative in its belief system and practices, it was a close and safe community where being a child meant feeling safe and protected, oblivious to the country’s turmoil and inequalities. Followed by the realisation of what that childhood was really about. My experience and story, provided them with the much needed nuances and layers of understanding history through personal account.  I don’t speak for all Afrikaans people, nor for all ‘Afrikaners’ nor for all South Africans, it’s just my story, my experience, my memories.

With references to when I was a child during Apartheid, they learned about The Reformed Church (Gereformeerde Kerk) and its messages of Afrikaners being the ‘chosen people’ as well as their sacraments, such as the marriage sacrament with its gender inequalities –  which hasn’t changed since I was a child in the 1970’s. They learned about the significance of ‘Tannie Emsie Schoeman’ and her guidelines to etiquette and good manners.  I spoke about my own experiences of etiquette through informal and formal guidelines (such as traditions or institutional regulations).  How to dress, how to behave, how to ‘serve’, how to live and how to believe, especially for women.

handjies en voetjies

They also learned about the Afrikaner Broederbond and other societal structures in promoting and implementing Afrikaner Ideologies in our everyday life; schools, churches and organisations such as ‘Die Voortrekkers’. These were societal structures where my parents were actively involved in, and where we as children participated in without much thought.

I had a very happy childhood. Understandably so; we were raised as a uniform with one goal in mind: protect our race. As a child I did not recognise this as racism and inequality, I did not see it as ‘wrong’, I just experienced it as ‘normal’. Now as an adult, I critically reflect on my upbringing, and have through awareness and reflection, re-‘designed’ my value system.

The essence of my story was: self-awareness for transformation. That the Self is a rich source of information and knowledge, often untapped. When one applies critical self-reflection and introspection through self-study, one can become aware, and once you become aware, you can do something about it: you can implement change.

I shared with them my exhibition catalogue, where I expressed my memories and experiences through my art and poetry. Have a look, and tell me what you think.  I am making my personal story public, as that is the very purpose of conducting a self-study: the potential to be educational and transformative. you can read more about action research for self-study here.

It is important to Tell Our Stories. We learn from it, both in the act of telling, and in the act of listening.

Hier kom ‘n transformasie (Here comes a transformation)

It has been a while since my last post, simply because it has been a while since I completed my masters studies and thus a long time since I have made art or thought about my art, my childhood, my identity and the likes.

I have a feeling that my thoughts might become a bit more prominent again and that I will write about it again… why?  Well, life is taking me on a new journey.  I am another son richer (welcome beautiful little Ludovic), and I resigned from my company after 13 years of loyal service, and joined the world of public academia.   And with academia comes the need to learn, study and to engage in critical thinking.

With thinking comes questions, with questions comes the need to find answers.  Someone asked me the other day what I believe transformation means, especially in a South African context… and it made me think.  I asked myself: “what does transformation mean to me as a white Afrikaner female?” and “what does transformation mean for the people in a country like South Africa, especially considering that it’s one of the most used words in our media?”.

In 1994 with the first democratic elections, and with the end of Apartheid, the political ‘instruction’ to the public of South Africa was that we needed to transform.  How does an entire country that consists of 11 official languages, and a myriad of colourful cultures and races transform as a ‘unity’?  How does an individual that forms part of a larger cultural group transform if you are not even sure what you are transforming into?  Transformation in South Africa ‘happened to us’, and close to 20 years later we are still transforming and trying to make sense of it.  So where does the transformation start, and what are we transforming into?

These questions might lead to my PhD studies, and it might be the exact kind of questions that require answering in our country.  With looking into these questions, means that yet another transformation is on it’s way, a new journey of awareness will start presenting new discoveries, meaning and realisations.

What is your understanding of transformation?  What is your experience of transformation? What does it mean to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


My Journey of Awareness: Dissertation


Attached is my dissertation as submitted to the Durban University of Technology.  I graduated in 2012 Cum Laude and was awarded the Dean’s Merit Award for excellence.  An honour and great way to end this study journey.  My blog has been most helpful in this process and I thank everyone that engaged in it.

Many people influenced and inspired my study, but special gratitude goes to Prof Joan Conolly whom has become a dear friend and mentor, and continues to do so.

Enjoy reading my dissertation,

Naretha (aka Anna M Pretorius)

My Journey of Awareness: A Study in Memory, Identity and Creative Development

Controversy: Artist removed from show

Celeste Coetzee: Recent Art Show (image sourced from:

Celeste Coetzee, an art student from UNISA, was recently asked to remove her work, and by that her self, from an art show because she ‘posed’ partly in the nude by exposing her breasts.  The controversy heated when she started tearing pages from the Bible, while set in a kitchen environment, and half dressed in Voortrekker clothing.  The artist commented on the patronising behaviour towards women as condoned and reinforced in a patriarchal society, especially in a conservative Afrikaner Calvinistic environment.  This is a social comment I also looked at and addressed in my Masters Study and exhibition; ‘Onthaal Onthul’.  Coetzee however, tackled the bull by the horns in a more direct way, whereas my work commented in a more subtle manner on the submissive positioning of women within the Calvinistic Afrikaner community by using tea serving metaphors layered with subtext.  It was this directness in her social commentary that left a bitter taste in the Franschhoek community’s mouths, and a heated topic that is now filling quite a few online pages with controversial viewpoints.

Read the article written by Michelle Jones:

Coetzee is doing what artists are supposed to do: deliver meaningful comments on social injustice, whether current or past issues.  I am fascinated by the Curator’s comments when she stated: “As a gallery, that’s not the message we want to portray. She’s very negative to the old Afrikaner, Christian patriarchal system. She was trying to be the vulnerable woman suffering under the system. But women are not under that system anymore.” (Jones, 2009)

I am curious to know where this story will go, what the critical conversations will be.  Here we sit with a sensitive issue of an artist delivering her comment, possibly driven by her own experiences, and a curator that decided to silence her voice, reinforcing how women (and artists) are often silenced.  Is this issue really something of the past?  Read the marriage sacrament of the Reformed Church and you will see that it is not ( see ‘formuliere’).  In my opinion and from my own experiences as a woman in a ‘new’ South Africa, gender inequality, whether governed by religion, politics or policies still live in most of our environments; our professional, educational, political and personal and domestic spaces and that it is not limited to Afrikaner communities.  We should have more artists like Coetzee that has the courage to expose herself as she did (literally and metaphorically), it takes guts to do what she did, and I congratulate her for raising her artist’s voice!

I hope to see more from Celeste Coetzee, and that this incident will drive her to produce more of her meaningful work.

Naretha Pretorius

Mail & Guardian Article: Onthaal Onthul

Below the article for Onthaal Onthul in the Mail & Guardian, 24-30 June 2011, written by Alex Sudheim.

Complete article

Detail from Article

Interview with Robyn Cook: Onthaal Onthul

Robyn Cook interviewed me a while back asking interesting questions about Onthaal Onthul and my thinking and methodology, the interview is available for you to read on

Onthaal Onthul – Catalogue (the story)

Hello friends!

I have written a book (catalogue) that accompanied my exhibition, Onthaal Onthul (27 June-16July 2011).  The catalogue was done in print format and made available at the show.  For those that could not attend, or that could not get their hands on the printed version, here’s the pdf format for you to download.  I would love to hear your feedback.



Onthaal Onthul Book_NPretorius2011

Onthaal Onthul – Opened at artSPACE durban

My first solo exhibition, Onthaal Onthul,  opened Monday night, 27 June 2011, at artSPACE durban, 3 Millar road, Durban.  The show will be up for three weeks and will close 16 July, 2011 at 1pm.

All artworks are for sale, as well as a book written, edited and published by me.  The book tells my research, creative and personal story in the form of poetry (in Afrikaans, my mother tongue, as well as in English).  The poetry is juxtaposed with numerous artworks contextualising my work.  My story tells of a life history lived and experienced during Apartheid, I speak of my upbringing within a conservative white Afrikaner community, and highlight critical social issues such as gender inequality as experienced in my community and as governed by the Reformed Church.

My work, as well as my book, is a subtle and gentle collection raising critical concerns by portraying notions of feminine beauty situated within a darker context.

The three dark churches, titled ‘Voorgesit, Voorgegee en nou Verlate’ (Served, Pretended and now Desolate) epitomizes my emotive response to my childhood memories of conservative and dogmatic indoctrination, yet the symbol of the church along with the landscape might provide another response to others, even a sense of comfort.

The series of little ceramic church plates on the other hand provide a feminine and petite visual representation and metaphor for the women within this community, the series is titled ‘Die Mooi Fasade‘ (The Beautiful Facade) and comments on the roles women assume within this community: the obedient daughters, the innocent brides, the subservient wives, the nurturing mothers, the exemplary homemakers and the charitable sisters.  Groomed to perfection….  a beautiful facade that is everything, but beautiful.

Onthaal Onthul is a reception welcoming the guests (visitors), it is a formal function, a celebration, a commemoration as well as a revelation.  The exhibition reveals the subtext within the aesthetic elements and social formalities by addressing the notion of etiquette (such as social conduct and serving guidelines).  Visitors are welcomed by a circle of petite wooden coffee tables, with ‘doilies’ neatly placed on each table.  The doily series ‘Drag/Gedrag’ (Dress/Manner)  illustrate women that are neatly groomed, beautifully dressed in lace dresses, satin gloves, court shoes and decorated with brooches and church hats, hands neatly folded with their feet together.

The work ‘Bedien/Bediening/Bediende’ (Serve/Service/Servant) encapsulates the notion of tea serving etiquette by neatly aligning dozens of teaspoons, framed within wooden trays, simulating the congregation sitting perfectly in the church pews.  It reminds us of the women serving tea after the service setting dozens of saucers, teacups and teaspoons, followed by washing, drying and packing the dozens of saucers, teacups and teaspoons away, only to do it all again the following Sunday.  Rituals and traditions repeated and perfected, year in and year out, decade in and decade out.

Naretha will soon make her book available for download (as a pdf).

Alternatively, you can purchase the printed book for R40 (excl postal fees).

Photographs were taken by Lanel Janse van Vuuren.

Below a review written by Alex Sudheim for the Mail & Guardian newspaper:

Artthrob: Onthaal Onthul

It is with great delight that my exhibition, Onthaal Onthul, features on Artthrob.

Have a look:–June-2011.aspx



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