Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


African Studies Seminar: Reading the bloods

10 October 2019, 12:30 pm–2:00 pm

Carli Coetzee

The UCL African Studies Seminar welcomes Carli Coetzee (Oxford University/Editor of Journal of African Cultural Studies) for the first seminar of this autumn term: ‘Reading the bloods: Zanele Muholi’s bloody thumbprint and activist forms of care’. Seminars will take place every other Thursday this term.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to





Hélène Neveu Kringelbach


IAS Forum
Ground floor, South Wing, UCL
United Kingdom

Resisting tropes of “emergence” through which Black South African artists and writers are often understood, I read some influential novels and visual artworks not as works by new-blood bornfrees but instead as part of a trend in which artists and writers turn their gaze to intimately configured scenes of care. The bloods in these works, I argue, are not the bloods that mark emergence or rites of passage (despite the presence of circumcision and menstrual bloods that seem to confirm the emergence narrative) but instead are to be read as the bloods of intergenerational care.

This presentation uses as its focus a small prototype from visual artist Zanele Muholi’s menstrual project Isilumo Siyaluma, the image that has been used as the cover of my monograph Written Under the Skin. Muholi’s thumbprint, from which she has created a series of kaleidoscope-like art works, is a bloody record of identity rather than a forensic marker left at a crime scene. In Muholi’s own reflections on her photographic and creative work, she describes her work as a form of activism: documenting lives and remembering and marking where one has come from. But a crucial part of this project of documenting Black women’s lives is also documenting the violence done to Black women’s bodies. The argument made in this presentation is that Muholi’s powerful blood archive draws together bloods that have remained largely invisible and crucially have remained unconnected - menstrual blood, the blood of child-bearing and the blood of sexual violence directed at women’s bodies – an urgent issue facing women in South Africa today. 

This seminar series is convened by the African Studies Research Centre/IAS:

View the full Autumn seminar programme

All welcome. Please note that there may be photography and/or audio recording at some events and that admission is on a first come first served basis. Please follow this FAQ link for more information. All our events are free but you can support the IAS here.

About the Speaker

Carli Coetzee is the editor of Negotiating the Past and Afropolitanism: Reboot, and the author of Accented Futures: Language Activism and the Ending of Apartheid and many articles on African literature and on the ethics of north-south interactions. Her monograph Written Under the Skin: Blood and Transgenerational Memory in South Africa was published in 2019 in the African Articulations Series (Boydell & Brewer/James Currey). In early 2019 the Routledge Handbook of African Literature was published, which she co-edited with Moradewun Adejunmobi. She is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Literature, Language and Media at Wits University, a Research Associate at SOAS, University of London and teaches a course on Contemporary African Culture at Oxford University. Her work as the editor of the Journal of African Cultural Studies is part of a larger activist project that seeks to change publishing patterns that privilege northern-based scholars and institutions. She frequently takes part in research and early career mentoring workshops hosted by African universities and organisations.