In VULTURE Willem Boshoff extends the theme of animal taboos to vultures. Both the Torah and the Qur’an condemn the consumption of birds of prey. The Torah in particular (Leviticus 11:13), does this in the strongest possible terms: “And these you shall detest among the birds. They shall not be eaten. They are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture.”
Similarly to PIG, the word ‘vulture’ has been spelt out in an organic material – this time in thorns across a large page of milkweed paper containing fragments of the Torah, the Qur’an and the Bible.
The common Afrikaans usage for indigenous Acacia thorn, pendoring, adds a touch of irony to this act of writing. In contrast to the innocence of the softly rounded letters of P-I-G in human hair, here sharp thorns lacerate the organic milkweed fibre in which it is embedded.
Calling someone a vulture smacks of scavenging and the greedy ripping apart of flesh with a sharp beak. And yet, the dense seams of thorns forming the letters V-U-L-T-U-R-E also resemble stitched up wounds. The artist points out that vultures have existed for thousands of years longer than human beings, surviving by the very instincts which we despise and denigrate in them, when insulting human beings with their name. ‘One could rather acknowledge their role in the broader natural scheme of things as the cleansers of rotting carcasses left by predators’, he comments. Willem Boshoff insists on honouring the pig and the vulture and restoring their names in the face of dogma. And on liberating the fear and vulnerability that dogma creates in human beings. He juxtaposes the sacrifice of animals as ‘unclean’ with the sacrifice of human nature.
Although the prohibition against eating vultures is less widely known than that against eating swine, the fact that it is preserved in writing in a holy text means that the condemnation of vultures is likely to be preserved in the human psyche for many centuries to come.
The writer Ivan Vadislavic explains Willem Boshoff’s love-hate relationship with the written word as follows: “On the one hand, he associates the book with dogma, with the dead hand of the law. Books are prisons, thought is pressed flat between the pages into obedient lines of letters. Knowledge in book form is also partial and fragmented, lopped into pages and split between the leaves, which cannot be comprehended whole. As opposed to the mind, which is reassuringly fallible, books never forget. On the other hand, a book is an explosive device primed to unsettle the unstable order of things. It is a tomb from which meaning is perpetually resurrected. Opening a book liberates its contents, releases new worlds into the air.”