by Jonathan Cane
What does the lawn want? To be watered, fertilised, mowed, admired, fretted over, ignored? This unusual question serves as a starting point for Civilising Grass: The Art of the Lawn on the South African Highveld, an unexpected and often disconcerting critique of one of the most common and familiar landscapes in South Africa. The lawn, Jonathan Cane argues, is not quite as innocent as we might think. Besides the fact that lawns suck up scarce water, consume chemicals, displace indigenous plants and reduce biodiversity, they are also part of a colonial lineage of dispossession and violence. They reduce the political problem of land to the aesthetic question of landscape, thereby obscuring issues of ownership, redress, belonging and labour. The question then becomes: Who takes care of whose lawn, in what clothes, under what conditions and for what reward?