Ruth Sacks´ artist book Twenty Thousand Leagues Under Seas is made up of a series of textual and visual interventions within French author Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870). Sacks´ main interest in this now-classic late 19th century tale of underwater travel in the fantastical submarine, the Nautilus, lies in the manner in which Western attitudes of entitlement of power are embedded in Verne’s narrative. Early English translators of 20,000 Leagues revealed comparable imperial tendencies in their efforts to make Verne’s text more palatable to a British audience. Beginning with Mercier Lewis’ inaugural translation (1873), the French author’s antagonism towards Britain was obscured and erased. Further liberties were taken in the removal of vast swathes of the book, with alterations made at will. Taking these initial English translations (some of which are still in circulation today) as a starting point, her work treats the process of translation as one of personal interpretation.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under Seas is a contemporary re-working of an early, erroneous English translation of Verne’s French original. She has inserted various additions, removals and embellishments into the narrative in order to accentuate certain political nuances. The Art Nouveau movement, once dubbed Le Style Jules Verne (by Maurice Rheims), is a dominant presence throughout my version of the book. In all of the lengthy descriptions of the submarine, especially her extravagantly luxurious staterooms and art collection, the architecture and interior decór is portrayed as if it were designed by such practitioners as: Hector Guimard, Victor Horta, Émile Gallé, Louis Majorelle and Henry Van de Velde. As the Art Nouveau style only dominated Western Europe for a brief but intense period from 1890 to 1910, this insertion into the narrative is an anachronism, like the Nautilus herself (while prototypes of early submarines had been invented by 1866, they were not yet in use). In using Verne’s 20,000 Leagues as a framing device to ‘house’ the Art Nouveau style, her intention is to draw correlations between the attitudes towards non-Western cultures (particularly those of colonized peoples in Africa) espoused by characters in the novel and those of the Art Nouveau practitioners. In both cases, there is an overriding tone of exoticizing imperialism that I wish to draw attention to. Consequently, in her rewriting of the novel, she have inserted certain narratives describing complex interactions between European explorers and native inhabitants of colonized locations and embroidered those already existing within Verne’s text.



Kitso Lynn Lelliott is a filmmaker and artist based in Johannesburg South Africa. She has Bachelors degree in Fine Art and a Masters in Film and Television from The University of the Witwatersrand. Her work is preoccupied with articulations from positions beyond epistemic power and opening up spaces where the huge silences of subjectivities that have been written out can come into view. She is interested in ways that narratives and histories become privileged, those that proliferate being those that reflect and reinstate the power structures of globalisation as it has emerged from a colonial and imperial past. Her preoccupation lies in ways historical narratives shape our contemporary world and processes of revisionist re-membering of histories as a way of engaging memories, traumas and ghosts of the past.

Her work has shown at film festivals and exhibited in galleries and museum shows around the world including Africa in Motion, Cine Sud, Cap au Sud, Tri-Continental FF, Next Reel FF, the Uganda Museum, Galerija101 Lithuania, the Goethe on Main, Nubuke Foundation gallery in Accra and Johannesburg Art Gallery. She participated in the Durban Talent Campus and the Berlinale Talents. Kitso is alumna of the CCA Lagos Asiko art school residency at the 2014 Dak’Art Biennale. She was named as one of the Mail and Guardian’s 2014 leading 200 young South Africans, is laureate of the 2015 Visas pour la création Grant awarded by the French Institute and will exhibit in the Bamako Encounters 2015. She is currently working through video and installation dealing with socio-cultural formations that took shape over the Atlantic during the African slave trade, a project initiated during a two-month artist’s residency in Brazil supported by the UNESCO Aschberg Bursaries program and the Sacatar Foundation. She is pursuing her PhD, which is concerned with narratives of and enunciations form spaces of elision and the imaginative relationship between the African Diaspora in Brazil and the west coast of Africa.