top of page

Tracey Rose

Artist 309

Tracey Rose

Multimedia and Performance Art


Black and white photo of Tracey Rose
Artist Tracey Rose

Tracey Rose is a South African multimedia artist (born 1974) who is she is best known for her bold performances, video installations, and arresting photographic works that deals with feminist issues.

Rose confronts the politics of identity, including sexual, body, racial, and gender issues. Rose’s themes often convey her multicultural ancestry, and the experience of her mixed-race reality in South Africa.

She skillfully combines elements of popular culture with sociological theories to evoke powerful depictions of South Africa’s political and social landscape.

Her practice that centers on performance but includes photography, video, and installation,

Rose explores cultural stereotypes imposed on Africans, women, and African women.

“I just make stuff generally. That's really what I do - I make stuff! Its multimedia, its performance, its video, it's photography, its drawings, its whatever...Because its conceptually based, so ultimately the concept is primary and whatever the materials are or whatever means necessary that speak directly to the concept in order to make it happen. Those are the forms that I use. I am interested formally in, obviously, the process and whatever is created, but I'm not interested in speaking solely in one device. It's multiple tactics, that's really what it is. When you create conceptually you actually have to be quite a tactician...” - Tracey Rose

One example is her artwork Ciao Bella (2001) which represented South Africa at the 2001 Venice Biennale, where Rose combines photographs of herself disguised as various feminine archetypes (including Lolita and a nun) with a video of similarly feminine characters (including a mermaid and Marie Antoinette) playing out an absurd, chaotic narrative.

Ciao Bella (2001) video still of Tracey Rose dressed in a potty dress with cake
Ciao Bella (2001) video still

Her works often make biting statements about sexuality and femininity. Rose’s performance technique is often described as a form of “insertion”—a term explained by writer Salah Hassan as a complex manner in which an artist inserts her body into a work of art, embracing multiple layers of meaning inherent in the world.

Ciao Bella (2001) video still Tracey Rose on a black car portrayed as a sexualized girl from a music video on a skimpy sexy outfit
Ciao Bella (2001) video still

Her other artwork San Pedro V – “The Hope I Hope” (2005) is an activist performance piece which marks a purposefully shaky video shows Rose dressed in leopard-print underwear, fishnet stockings and boots, the rest of her body painted pink. She plays ‘Hativka’, Israel’s national anthem, on an electric guitar alongside the West Bank barrier wall; the performance culminates with Rose urinating on the barricade. In 2005 Rose decided to fly to Jerusalem to address the political situation of which the wall dividing Israel from Palestine is a symbol.

Photo still of artwork San Pedro V – “The Hope I Hope” with Tracey Rose painted pink playing the guitar in Israel
San Pedro V – “The Hope I Hope” (2005)

As she recalls, “earlier in the day there are fewer patrols. I painted my body and we hired a car and drove up to the wall at sunrise.”

Once there, Rose got out of the car and played the Israeli national anthem on a guitar – badly… Christopher Wessels caught the action on film. Although a guard in a watchtower can be seen in the background of one of Rose’s images, she and her cameraman left the scene without being arrested.

A man of colour kissing a Caucasian women
The Kiss

Tracey Rose embraces the absurdity of existence and the platform art provides. Her work is confrontational in nature and as she describes, “I like to think that I’m going into war whenever I make work. Well, I’m used to but now I’m not as aggressive.”

Rose’s body is usually at the center of her art, which often recalls the work of Cindy Sherman in format and content. Both use abject elements showing the female form outside of the traditional male gaze often making the viewer uncomfortable in the reality of the raw female existence.

When questioned what art is for Tracey Rose explains, “...I think that's where the answer lies, in that really fundamental space of what art is. It's for joy, healing, pleasure and sustenance. God help us if we don't have any of that. It is absolutely crucial for our beings and our development as good people."

Sources Consulted:



bottom of page