Site-specific installation in enclosed space (a light-shaft in the centre of the museum)
Media: 1248 labels of extruded acrylic, fishing line, steel cable, bolts in wall
Number of denominations (languages and peoples on labels): 1054
Supplement 1: 2 X 'Martin' automated gobo image projectors
Supplement 2: 2 X 'JBL' stereophonic speakers
Location: Origins Museum, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Dimensions and layout of artwork: 7m (height) X 3m (width) X 7m (length). There is an open space of 3.5m (height) under the work that allows for pedestrian traffic and the viewing of SIGNS OF PEOPLE as well as other exhibits. SIGNS OF PEOPLE is also viewed from first and second floor windows. A flat roof ceiling allows for diffused light during the day.

Dimensions of viewing window on 1st floor: 3850mm (width) X 1820mm (height)
Dimensions of viewing window on 2nd floor: 1600mm (height) X 1560mm (width)
Installation dates: Friday, 24 February 2006 until Tuesday, 7 March 2006
Maintenance: Small pouches of soft yellow dusters affixed to two thin wooden slats. Labels are gently rubbed between the two pouches. No water, detergents etc. The gobos to be serviced by 'Martin' installations; sound system to be serviced by dedicated company.

Signs of People

  • Exhibition plaque provided by Origins Museum:

    Willem Boshoff is a South African artist whose installations deal with the social use and content of words language and art. In this installation hundreds of terms describe label and identify southern Africa's different peoples - often pejoratively. The nature of the material aptly captures the ephemeral quality of labels used to classify people. The historical fluidity of the terms is also emphasized as the words waft on a breeze. On the lower level of the museum you can hear the words spoken as if in the sound of a raindrop and projected words literally crawl over one, reminding us that even today we are still very much part of a history of labels.



    Central to the Origins Museum is respect and homage for the oldest living people of southern Africa, the Bushmen. Over a period of two or three years I had a number of meetings with Francis Gerard, project manager and some other planners behind the Origins Museum, and I was well familiar with what the museum set out to achieve when I was approached in 2005 to make proposals for an artwork in the central light shaft of the new building. I immediately thought of the Kalahari landscape, traditionally the home of the Bushman and I decided to speak of special moments in their nomadic life.


    My family on my father's side are farmers in the arid land of the Kalahari near the Kagalagadi Transfrontier Park. I visit the region frequently to check on family and to enjoy people, plants and animals. Kalahari people are keenly conscious of the state of the land and they have, above all else, an ardent wish for wholesome rain.


    Rain in the Kalahari, visible against the dark sky as streaks and specks, arrives with the quiet thudding of drops on the dry red sand. Early summer rain in this remote area comes seldom, and when it does, it comes in heavy deluges that cause flooding between the dunes. Soon after the rain two wonderful spectacles fill the air. The first is the flowering of the Driedoring (Rhigozum trichotomum) shrubs. These grey, nondescript bushes of the Begonia family form the staple diet for sheep and antelope in the long, dry season and litter the landscape as far as the eye can see. Their irrigation causes these 'dead' bushes to erupt in an overnight sensation of millions of large thankful white flowers that look like mile upon mile of fluttering butterflies - a sight to stir the poet in the most uncivil amongst us.


    The second spectacl