top of page

Click portrait to access the interview

Diane Victor


South African-born Diane Victor is a renowned artist and printmaker whose work depicts transition and the lingering racial divide in South Africa after apartheid, as well as gender inequity, corruption and health crises that continue to haunt that country. Unflinchingly honest and satirical, her prints and drawings are skillfully executed but uncomfortable to view because of what they depict. 


Diane is perhaps best known for her technique of drawing portraits with a candle - her white paper, held aloft, capturing smoke (carbon) as the wick burns. In 2005 she produced a series of 36 smoke portraits of people with AIDS whom the artist had encountered at the St Raphael HIV/AIDS Centre day clinic in Grahamstown. As she explains: "[t]he portraits are made with the deposits of carbon from candle smoke on white paper. They are exceedingly fragile and can be easily damaged, disintegrating with physical contact as the carbon soot is dislodged from the paper. I was interested in the extremely fragile nature of these human lives and of all human life, attempting to translate this fragility into portraits made from a medium as impermanent as smoke itself." Diane discusses the smoke portraits and other AIDS-related works in her interview with Paul Sendziuk, accessible by clicking on her portrait in the left-hand corner of this page.


In her portfolio of prints, Birth of a Nation (2009), Diane explored the history of colonialism in Africa along with the contemporary context of corruption and imperialism under the guise of progressive economic globalism. The series of ten etchings appropriates classical myths and re-contextualizes these Western narratives with African and South African themes and landscapes. For instance, in The Rape of Africa, which alludes to the story of the abduction of Europa, the white bull (Zeus) of the original myth is replaced with a rhinoceros being controlled by a defiant huntress, thus morphing the story to address the ravaging of Africa's natural resources.


In an earlier series of prints, Disasters of Peace, Victor directly references Francisco de Goya's Disasters of War. In this work, Diane evokes Goya's criticism of the atrocities of war by demonstrating the continuation of violence after war, which, in the case of South Africa, the artist equates with apartheid. The prints draw attention to the desensitisation of the contemporary gaze and the tolerance of violence in the post-apartheid period.


Diane Victor received her BA Fine Arts degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1986. In addition to graduating with distinction and winning various awards, Diane also became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Volkskas Atelier Award in 1988. Since 1990 she has been a part-time lecturer, teaching drawing and printmaking at various South African institutions including the University of Pretoria. She has had several solo exhibitions, the most recent being Fable and Folly: Diane Victor, Recent Work (Grinnell College, 2011), Smoke Screen: Frailty and Failing (David Krut Projects, New York, 2010), and Transcend (Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2010).

bottom of page