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Feature: Maureen McAdams - ‘Bulldozers, forming little colonies’

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

By Maureen McAdams

Apartheid may have ended nearly three decades ago, but in Cape Town the fears of segregation are more visible than ever before. The internal displacement may be the direct impact of these merciless acts. The Cape Flats are notorious for its poverty and crime and you count yourself lucky if you survive a day in the battleground. The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has admitted the country is facing a national crisis of violence against women as protesters took to the streets to make their voices heard. Each day parents live in fear of their woman and children falling prey to the mindless acts of abuse, rape, and murder.

The police and its efforts to keep the community safe is yet again in the limelight. After three decades of my narrow escape, experiences, and physical abuse, I’ve realised things in Cape Town have not changed. The police failed three generations in my family and the scars are still visible today. I want to re-visit the space and place where many families and I have been affected by these predators and let down by the police force. I want to use art as a medium to raise my concerns about the continued brutality that is facing the community.

I see the perpetrators as oppressors, bulldozers, forming little colonies and dictating movement. It is as if they mimic the previous government actions. I want to create work that shows the landscape for what it is, but also for what it could be for young children to flourish. A place that they can realise their dreams. Although I’ve left the Cape Flats many years ago, I still share that connection with my great-niece. Maryam is six years old and dreams of princesses, barbie dolls, and she tells me that pink is her favourite colour.

I want to bring in these elements to emphasize the innocence and in what colour she and many girls dream (yet shows the flaws and obstacles she will be facing). This is an opportunity for me to bring awareness and prevent history repeating itself to the next generation in my family.


Being saved from the claws of a predator, I feel it is my duty to share my experience and use the platform of art to bring awareness. I want to work alongside woman and children organisations and the community to get a first-hand insight of what they are facing daily. I want to look at the past without going back to the past, share my discoveries and how I have managed to rise above the chaos.

We return to memories and landscape through textile and sculpture.

For many decades textile has proven to be a great medium for telling stories. Looking at the landscape of the subjective areas. I’m hoping to create and finish a quilt that hopefully transport them to an unfamiliar space. Looking at the wealth of the country, South Africa, one of the biggest exports is beads. I will create an immense bead/s, not just to speak about the wealth, but also about the fact that woman has a direct connection with the finished product, creating and wearing.

Landscape emerges through abstract painting.

Abstract painting has always allowed me to bring across the muddled-up thoughts in my subconscious mind. It’s no different in these paintings, it speaks about the frustration as an artist, to make sense of life and its ugliness. The painting shows the dreams and the innocence of the prey. It also directs you to the colonies that dictate and control the landscape. This abstract painting allows the viewer to make up their own mind about the narrative, and this is where we find ourselves, but also through conversations.


Mustapha: GBV has been happening long long time... Woman has been abused by men for hundreds of years...some has gotten so use to it that it's become a way of life, don't get me wrong I do condemn it👎this is a subject that is far deeper than, we think. I've read books and looked back into history... What role has woman played in history? Why is it mostly men that is engraved as leaders? High ranks? Religious leaders? And so I can go on... but to come back to the present yes it’s not right what is happening to our woman and children!!! Before we look at how to stop it? Why not look at what is the cause... meaning the mindset... of both woman and men…

Talking about cape town it's mostly men we hear about what about the mothers, they play a big role in how they raise boys???? The way they talk and handle young men plays a big role!! Like ""JY IS NET SOOS JOU FOKING PA""?? Do you hear but that when you speak about women and children abuse? what about the woman who because of her love for the father maybe he just made a child then left her just so alone then she takes it out on the child because he is a constant reminder of his father!! If we should put it in statistics I think we will be shocked🤫 that outa 100% I think 70-80% of the abuse of children comes from the mother since a young age...

What about the way some women treat men? Like play with their emotions then have a heart to say it's was him? Or he forced her! Manipulation!!!🤔 I think these are important issue we need to address before we go along with the masses… it's easy to just see on TV and hear stories YESS some is sad and it's true but Realty needs to come into play one day that it's not only men abusing children but both parents... that is why I told aunty Maureen I've been thinking about this very hard to see how I can put this into writing...

Mustapha: How many woman abuse their children for the doing of their father?? What mindset does that put into that young man mind? How many woman help young boys to play with girls feelings? by saying my child is a player? That is just some issues which you never heard about some mothers creates men to abuse other women!!!!!! That is a fact which is not looked at, some mothers drills their child from a young age that to be aggressive is being a MAN?😲 LIKE "JY MOETI JOU SOOS MOFFIE OF BABY HOU NI"" WHY do we never address these things when we speak about abuse??

Mustapha: I think abuse should be labelled to men and woman.

Mustapha: Alike

Mustapha: Then we will see more progress.

Maureen: Very true.

Maureen: All you are saying is fair and true but I believe its religious books and fairy tales that has always given men the leading role.

Mustapha: True yes and because of that some women assign a silent battle against men.

Mustapha: You do get good men.

Mustapha: But really aunty Maureen, mothers play a big role in how they raise a boy and most fail!!!

Mustapha: What does this words to me a boy when he is small"" jy is net soos jou FOKING PA""? OR if your mother stress then you looking for love then you get hit or pushed one side for something you don't know about?? Why does people never address these issues?

Maureen: But raising children does not come with a brochure.

Maureen: It’s also these fairy tales that has blurred woman’s minds.

Mustapha: True but why are these not highlighted when we talk about GBV??

Maureen: True but to what point, do we want a man or very rarely a woman rape and kill a helpless boy or girl?

Mustapha: Those are crimes of but it doesn't mean that the whole population of men must be labelled.

Mustapha: Crimes are committed by some.

Mustapha: It won't be the 1st and surely not the last.

Mustapha: People kill people, that is since people exist.

Mustapha: So why does it come as a shock to us now? Compare to history it's far better now than way back.

Maureen: But if it is the failing of the system that makes it a far different subject.

Maureen: Many many years ago systems were not there, and you were exposed.

Mustapha: Human behaviour is very unpredictable.

Mustapha: 🤔

Mustapha: Courts and systems are in place since before we were born.

Mustapha: It's just grown more.

Maureen: But these people are supposed to be trained and getting paid by the people that they should protect.

Mustapha: It's our own duty to protect and look after ourselves and those dear to us, systems and courts are for those who gets caught there also some gets away.

Mustapha: Human behaviour will never be fully understood...

Mustapha: Look at me, if you put me and a guy from a respectable family next to each other and asked people who is more likely to commit crime who will be labelled? 🤔

Maureen: Would you say the same if it happens to your children.

Maureen: How would you react?

Mustapha: You never know what is in someone’s mind, some just don't get caught.

Mustapha: I will protect my children to the best of my ability...

Mustapha: Systems are run by people with emotions and who has hearts, so it will always be flawed.

Maureen: Some have Hearts. And some no empathy, it’s just a job.

Maureen: You can’t keep them safe 24hrs.

Maureen: They have to go to school and grow up.

Maureen: They want to have their independence and be trusted.

Mustapha: That is why you have to educate them about Realty not fairy tales.

Mustapha: That is why you allow them to be themselves.


Maureen McAdams is an artist from South Africa based in the UK. Her work is motivated by social, political memories, and issues such as power, ideology, race, identity and fragility. She uses life as her starting point, so the process is more an experience rather than an imagined one.

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.

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