Gendered Representations of Apartheid: The Women’s Jail Museum at Constitution Hill

Stephanie Bonnes, Janet Jacobs


This article examines the ways in which women are represented and remembered at The Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill museum, a former women’s jail that was used to incarcerate women during apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa. Based on fieldwork at the museum, this study examines how the memory of the former prisoners and of the apartheid regime is shaped and narrated at this site. Situating our analysis within the context of the collective memory of apartheid, we examine how the museum uses artifacts and objects to depict both the specific forms of gendered dehumanization that women experienced at the jail, as well as their journeys to incarceration as a result of discriminatory apartheid laws. We also examine the absence of torture memory and references to hierarchical structures and interactions within the jail itself, noting that these were important dynamics of prison life that are not represented in the museum. This research presents a content and visual analysis of how the use of images and artifacts may illuminate and/or silence specific memories of degradation and humiliation in a museum space.

Key Words: Collective Memory, Museums, Representation, South Africa, Apartheid
Memorialization, Gender and Memorialization

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Copyright (c) 2017 Stephanie Bonnes, Janet Jacobs

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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