Cleansing shame: Airing South Africa’s ‘Dirty Laundry’

Hitting home: representations of the domestic milieu in feminist art

  • Dineke Orton PhD candidate with the SARChI Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg.
Keywords: Artivism, rape, exhibition, SA’s Dirty Laundry, sexual violence, shame


The experience of rape is intensely shaming, particularly because of the humiliation that stems from being violated by another person and the loss of control endured because of it. Survivors often feel stained or contaminated in the aftermath of rape and fear the disclosure of this seemingly ‘negative information’ about themselves. In this study, I examine the exhibition, SA’s Dirty Laundry (2016), by Jenny Nijenhuis and Nondimiso Msimanga that was installed in the streets of Johannesburg’s Maboneng precinct. Used panties donated by rape survivors were installed on a washing line to act as placeholders for individual self-narratives. In this way, the presence of survivors was staged without explicitly referring to them. By unpacking associations linked to panties, I illustrate how these small pieces of clothing could reference the shaming survivors often face. So-called ‘dirty laundry’ is referenced as a conceptual tactic through the curatorial display mechanisms: panties are displayed on a washing line—a common domestic device used when cleaning. Apart from this interplay, I emphasise the value of collaboration in this project and the advantages of braving vulnerability.