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FOTAG Focus Articles

For a number of years the Natal Witness ran articles by FOTAG members. These articles called the FOTAG Focus discussed artworks from the collection on display.

Home > Articles > Fotag Focus > How Dr. Gustav Fritsch..., Keith Dietrich

How Dr. Gustav Fritsch might or might not have ordered strange and formless worlds


Keith Dietrich (b.1950)

by Fiona Jackson

How Dr. Gustav Fritsch..., Keith Dietrich

This delicate, complex work draws me with its fascinating layers. I love Dietrich's mastery of watercolour - the fine luminosity with which he renders each object so painstakingly real. Musing on its possible meanings. I remember that watercolours were very popular with 19th century European travellers, explorers and missionaries as a means of "capturing" their sights and experiences of "exotic" cultures.

I feel Dietrich is partly exploring an almost childlike sense of wonder at the new and the strange, and "wanting to keep it"; that is expressed in this intriguing collection of objects, both natural and human-formed. But I am also provoked by the title and the gallery's note that Gustav Fritsch was an anatomist who did research in southern Africa.

The presentation of each object on a separate, torn "fragment" of paper foregrounds how colonial travellers and researchers (and museums in general) often present scraps of other people=s lives lifted clean away from their original contexts. They can become objects of curiosity, presented without any deep revelation of the complex web of purposes and meanings that such things have in the lives of the communities they come from. This sense of distance, of a superior and judgmental gaze, is suggested by the phrase "strange and formless worlds" in the title.

Dietrich's work makes me ask "But strange and formless from whose point of view?" For whom is a silver teaspoon a sign of strange and formless world? And for whom a rough-hewn stone tool? And what are the consequences of such things (and their people) being rendered both familiar and strange by display in a distant collector's glass box or watercolour diary?

More FOTAG Focus Articles


Johansson collectionThe Tatham Art Gallery holds an Art Collection that contains significant British and French artworks dating back to the 18th century. Its South-African art collection is focused on, but not exclusive to, the art of KwaZulu-Natal.


ImageThe Tatham Art Gallery hosts a range of Art Exhibitions. These include traveling and researched exhibitions as well as exhibitions initiated by the Gallery and compiled from the collection.


A selection of current and archival articles from the Tatham Art Gallery. These articles provide a historical and contemporary perspective on the Gallery and the visual arts in KwaZulu-Natal.

Art Gallery Shop

ImageThe Tatham Art Gallery shop stocks high quality works by local crafters. It is an ideal place to find unique presents and original collectables.