Battiss - Fook Island

During the 1970s, Battiss travelled extensively, and was not impressed by the conceptualist exhibitions he saw, where it was only necessary for the artist have the "concept" without creating any art.  Battiss thought this was "fake" and that art should be for all people, for all time. He thought he would have a "concept" of his own, and, as he loved the many islands he was able to visit, he came up with his Fake Island, but found the name Fook in the London phone book, and used that for his concept.

He explains in Fook Nook 5 - (This is a work of art, not a newspaper.) We have a copy given to the museum by his old friend June Orsmond.

I was walking Aylmer Road in the Northern part of London.  I had been looking at art exhibitions, which consisted mainly of conceptual art and was disappointed that nothing was realized by them - they were concepts put up on walls and nothing else was really done.  So I went one step further and made a concept that I could not only participate in myself, but one that others could participate in too.  And then suddenly an island loomed up in front of me.  And then I thought it's a fake island - it doesn't exist.  And then I thought fake is a stupid word, very banal.  And then I went and looked in the London telephone directory under "F".  I found there were some "Fooks" - people called Fook.  Then I thought, yes, "Fook" is better than "fake" and so the name of the island became Fook Island.

Some Fook quotes from Fook Nook 5

  • FOOK IS THE BETTER PART OF EVERY PERSON
  • people who become fookians by chance are known as flukians
  • fook fondles fantastically
  • join fook - achieve fookfillment
  • a fookian pastime is to play the stringless lute.

FOOK ISLAND was the imaginary world Battiss created - his "Island of the Imagination".  "You will seek in vain on maps for the location of the island, for it eludes conventional cartography.  It is not a place you arrive at, you are either there or not there."  Fantasy and reality merged in Battiss's vision, so this world produced concrete artifacts such as real stamps, real money and real passports.

FOOK - in spite of all the fun and games -   was a serious philosophy, to be taken seriously by the poets, artists, and writers who gathered around him at his Menlo Park, Pretoria, home.  Abstract ideas, he believed, not only exist in the minds of their creators, but can also live on to become an essential part of reality.

In essence, Battiss was the loveable "King Ferd the Third".  The Fookian flag flew proudly in the garden when he, Rex Insular Fookis, was in residence.  Around him he gathered the results of his fertile imagination - like his own Fook alphabet and language.

For years Battiss delved into writing systems such as graffiti, hieroglyphics, and pre-Islamic calligraphy as preparation for creating his Fook Alphabet. In the years when apartheid was the way of life in South Africa, Battiss was anti censorship, and using his Fook writing and Fook language enabled Battiss to speak out against the government's attempts to censor people's thoughts and artworks.  A large  retrospective exhibition in 2005 was called "Walter Battiss Gentle Anarchist" and celebrated the man who protested, stirred, and tweaked the nose of the authorities, but always with a twinkle in his eye.

Fookians of all ages who visit the Battiss Museum can fill in a form and apply for Fook citizenship.

Back to Walter Battiss Art Museum Page