Utopian Figuration on South African Paper Currency: The Big Five as Signifiers of Identity in a Community Aspiring to Nationhood

By Lize Groenewald.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Paper currency is arguably the most familiar and most useful form of art in society. However, until recently (Unwin & Hewitt 2001; Helleiner 2001) scant attention has been given to the fact that a banknote is both a promissory note and national symbol and that the images crafted for use on paper money carry the burden of constructing, and interrogating, a nation’s identity.

This paper examines utopian figuration on the 1992 South African banknote series that served, unaltered, as national currency until 2005; as such, the series straddles opposing national and, for many South Africans, more personal landscapes. Following from Phillip Wegner’s supposition that “the nation itself is a product of the operations of utopian figuration” it is argued that by appropriating – albeit unintentionally – the representational acts of utopia the imagery on the notes offer a useful space within which to contemplate a “personal, cultural and epochal transition” (Wegner 2002).

Keywords: National Identity, Rhetoric, Utopia, Big Five, Paper Currency Design

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 1, Issue 7, pp.235-242. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.093MB).

Lize Groenewald

Senior Lecturer, Department Graphic Design, Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa


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