THE READER: Thania Petersen


The Cape Town-born Thania Petersen is a multi-disciplinary artist who focuses on photographic “self portraits”, installations and multi-sensory-based performance. A direct descendant of Tuan Guru  (an Indonesian Prince in the late 1700’s brought to South Africa by the Dutch as a political exile), Petersen explores the universal themes of personal and historical identities by reconstructing herself in various guises “of what remain from our ancestors rituals and past in our lives today”.

Petersen studied at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art in London as well as in Zimbabwe and South Korea. In 2015, Petersen was featured by Brundyn+ at the Cape Town Art Fair and with the AVA at Johannesburg Art Fair. I AM ROYAL marked her first solo exhibition at the AVA Gallery in August in the same year. Her next solo exhibition will be at the Everard Read’s Cape Town gallery next February.

What are you reading at the moment?

If reading was eating, I would have to describe myself as a grazer. I nibble all day long but never actually sit down and eat a full meal from beginning to end. I read many books at the same time at various times of the day — a little bit here and a little bit there.

At the moment I am carrying three books in my handbag which I read whenever I get a break in my day. The one I am most gripped by is The Pilgrimage by Iranian scholar Ali Shariati, the second one is Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like, which I have just opened and the third book is a selection of Rumi’s Poems. Next to my bedside I have a pile of books which I go through depending on my mood. Tonight I’m reading the poetry by Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and on my iPad I have an academic text I’m struggling to get through on the history of the Afrikaans language.

How do you decide what to read next?

What I am reading is usually directly linked to a project I am planning to do or something I am currently obsessing about like “how to make sushi” or some conspiracy theory on world domination or current consumerism, and always something on art.

thania-petersen-bookshelfWhat book has had the greatest impact on you?

Oooooooo, I’m not sure. I read Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh many, many years ago and it nearly put me off reading novels for the rest of my life. That left me scarred! I think since then I have only read three novels. One I highly recommend is The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. It’s the true story of the Persian Sufi poet Rumi and his friendship with his teacher Shams of Tabriz.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

I have never been one to read fiction. As a child it must have been Roald Dahl’s BFG.

What’s your favourite book about art?

I have no idea how to answer that question. 85% of the books I have read in my life is art related — I really could not choose.

What were your favourite books as a child?

I loved Roald Dhal. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first book I ever completed by myself, I think aged 9. I was very proud of myself.

Your favourite magazine?

I mostly buy food magazines and find myself buying every supermarket monthly food mag — not glamorous but true. It’s just so easy to pick up at the counter and then know where to find all the ingredients afterwards — not that I actually make anything from these magazines but it seems like a practical and sensible thing to do every time! It’s like reading Metro everyday on the London Underground — you plan on going to all the gigs it informs you about but you never actually go.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

Books are my absolute favourite gift to give! Today I gifted four people books: Making Art in Africa 1960-2010 edited by Polly Savage and three adult colouring in books. Yesterday I gave my friend an interior decorating book to inspire her as she is feeling overwhelmed and excited about a house she just bought and last week I gave my gallerist a book on a contemporary painter I’m currently enjoying, Barnaby Furnas.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

Almost every book I pick up. I use to own a bookstore / collectables shop in Obz and in my excitement of receiving new books weekly I would go from one to the other constantly before completing any — like tasting plates, everything is so enticing you skip to the next before you done with the one you eating. If books were lovers, I would be the most promiscuous of all lovers. Ha ha ha.

What book do you turn to for advice?

It depends what I am needing advice for. If it’s for health I tend to research alternative methods for treating ailments. If it’s guidance in life, I look towards religious and spiritual literature.

Do you read mostly paper books? On your iPad? Kindle? All three?

Almost exclusively paper books except for the occasional academic texts I download from the Internet which I would read on my iPad.

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