Civilising Grass Cover

Civilising Grass

The Art of the Lawn in the South African Highveld

264 pages

20 illustrations

July, 2019

ISBN: 9781776143108



Add to Cart Available: 6/10/2019

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Jonathan Cane is an art historian and postdoctoral fellow at the Wits City Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. He works on the ecologies of modernist planning in post-mining landscapes, histories of high-rise building and genealogies of concrete in the global South.

Civilising Grass is a socio-cultural analysis of the lawn on the South African highveld, exploring the complex relationship between landscape and power in the country’s colonial, modernist and post-apartheid eras. Drawing from eco-criticism, queer theory, art history and postcolonial studies, this book offers a lively and provocative reading of texts and illustrations to reveal the racial and gendered aspects of ‘natural’ environments. It argues that the lawn, an ordinary and often overlooked feature of South African everyday life, is neither natural nor innocent. Rather, like other colonial landscapes, the lawn functions as a site of commonplace violence, of oppression, dispossession and segregation. This book explores an eclectic archive of artistic, literary and architectural lawns between 1886 and 2017, analysing poems, maps, gardening blogs, adverts, ethnographies and ephemera, as well as literature by Koos Prinsloo, Marlene van Niekerk and Ivan Vladislavic. In addition, Civilising Grass includes colour reproductions of lawn artworks by David Goldblatt, Lungiswa Gqunta, Pieter Hugo, Anton Kannemeyer, Sabelo Mlangeni, Moses Tladi and Kemang Wa Lehulere. Examination of these and other works reveals the organic relationship between lawn and wildness, and between lawn and human/non-human actors – thereby providing rich and unexpected insights into South African society past and present.


  • This lively, witty text revitalises our view of lawns, gardens and landscapes, challenging a whole range of conventional views of society and nature. Through a close examination of literary texts and visual images, Cane explores the history and meaning of the lawn, social and cultural expressions of land ownership, and such value-laden notions as race and respectability.

    —Ivan Vladislavic, Distinguished Professor, School of Literature, Language and Media, University of the Witwatersrand, and author of Portrait with Keys and The Exploded View

  • Civilising Grass is compelling in its interdisciplinary and scholarly breadth, its sophisticated use of critical theory, and its persuasive analysis of cultural objects. This book makes a significant contribution to the study of the political relevance of landscapes and their representations, as well as to the study of South African society and culture.

    —Byron Caminero-Santangelo, Professor of English and Environmental Studies, University of Kansas, and author of Different Shades of Green: African Literature, Environmental Justice and Political Ecology