Live Virtual Auction, 15 February 2020

Sold for

R 45 520
Lot 91
Willem Boshoff; Word Woes

Lot Estimate
R 40 000 - 60 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium and VAT
R 45 520

About this Item

South African 1951-
Word Woes
signed, dated 2014, numbered 11/40, inscribed with the title in pencil and embossed with the Timothy Foulds Print Studio chopmark in the margin 
sheet size: 92 by 120cm; 110 by 135 by 4,5cm including frame


The artist Willem Boshoff writes about the work Word Woes: "The bilingual title, WORD WOES in English, implies a state of distress and sorrow caused by words, but in Afrikaans these same words instruct us to behave in a frenzied and wild manner. Under English/British rule in the early 20th century, the Afrikaans language was outlawed at school and in public service. In WORD WOES each English word might be seen as hiding a secret Afrikaans word that it had once failed to exterminate. The 290 words, each spelt the same in Afrikaans and in English, but having vastly different meanings, form the basis of the etching. To the English reader with no knowledge of Afrikaans the words will appear to be English only and their Afrikaans meanings will be lost. To Afrikaans readers the Afrikaans meanings will be clear and so might the English meanings since all Afrikaans speakers have a fair understanding of English.

A direct relation may be drawn between the WORD WOES work and an earlier work titled PLATTER ROOSTER TASTING (all three words variously meaningful in Afrikaans and in English). In May 2011, I visited Stellenbosch to discuss the town’s envisioned Twenty exhibition in conjunction with SMAC Gallery. I proposed an art work consisting of one word that makes sense in both English and Afrikaans, but of which the meanings in the two languages differ significantly. That work was to be titled BOOM.

The word ‘boom’, in English, is rather onomatopoeic and spells out the noise of exploding bombs, as in the big boom! In the Russian Navy boom! is an accepted toast, like cheers! In a more sedate sense boom is also a long pole, usually pivoted to go up and down to let traffic through. In Afrikaans boom is ‘tree’ a word that appeals to my life-long interest in and respect for flora. Boom however, has another, far more stress-free meaning in Afrikaans. To the unperturbed it indicates marijuana (cannabis sativa). I wanted the work to poke some light-hearted fun at the obsessive linguistic preoccupation of the frantic local academic fraternity. It would clearly satisfy them on one level and most certainly raise eyebrows on another.

At the completion of PLATTER ROOSTER TASTING I was convinced that I would not find any new words, but in the two years that followed new words began to surface and when I was confined to bed for months on end by an awful flu at the beginning of 2014, I had time to contemplate new additions. In the end they tallied 290 and in order to share the work with a wider audience, I decided to turn it into an edition of etchings with the new title WORD WOES. In English the word laments issues related to words and in Afrikaans it instructs us to let go and be wild.

The PLATTER ROOSTER TASTING collage and the WORD WOES etching were well received, but they merely resembled brick walls. In 2015 I built an actual wall out of real bricks. The bricks were carefully planned in collaboration with brickmakers from the small town of Richmond where fluent Karoo Afrikaans is the mother language and where everyone thinks that to speak even a broken kind of English, is rather grand.

There is no logical linguistic reason for the choice of words in WORD WOES. In a way they are a Dada list – a mini Dada dictionary. Their inclusion is strangely dependent on the throw of a dice, in this case the dice is the fact that the English and Afrikaans meanings of these words of the same spelling have absolutely nothing to do with each other. In Dada poetry for example, chance plays a definitive role. A book might, for example, might be opened blind and at random. The very first piece of text one might put one’s finger on is then used. This process is repeated until some rather quaint and refreshing selections of texts are obtained. This method of unfathoming [sic] ‘truth’ is also called logomancy. The selection offered by the WORD WOES text is the fluke result of truly conceptual happenstance.”1


Related works include: The Writing that Fell off the Wall (1997), Wailing Wall (2017 previously referred to as Jerusalem Jerusalem), Writing in the Sand (2000), Negotiating the English Labyrinth (2003).

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