The Fook Island concept was Walter Battiss’ reaction to the Conceptual art movement of the 1970’s, art for which the concept, or idea, behind the work was more important than the finished art object.
This was at a time when he travelled extensively. Battiss said that he was tired of going to exhibitions where there was nothing to see; and decided to have a “concept” of his own. He travelled to many islands; and decided he would create a “Fake” or “Fook” island; and found the word in a London telephone book.
For Battiss and his followers, or Fookians, Fook Island represented cosmic freedom, and tolerance. Once he had invented his Fook alphabet, he had licence to comment on the Apartheid system of the time, and to tweak the nose of the South African censorship authorities, with whom he had a running battle. Although playful, Fook had a serious message for the South Africa of the time.
He created his imaginary island, an alphabet, a language, a Creation Myth, stamps, banknotes, and much more.
Fook Island by Norman Catherine
Norman Catherine, dubbed Norman King Norman; created birds and animals to populate this Island. Battiss proclaimed himself to be King Ferd III of Fook Island, and other friends were given appropriate titles. Eventually Battiss travelled to several countries using a Fook Island passport, and he drove in America using a Fook Island driving licence.
The development of the Fook alphabet was not just play; during his travels he investigated Egyptian hieroglyphics, pre-Islamic calligraphy in the Yemen, and graffiti wherever he travelled. Fook font is found on the computers of modern Fookians.
In Fook Nooks, a newspaper/work of art he and his friends published, he wrote, as only Battiss could, many strangely original thoughts on Fook –
A Fookian pastime is to play the stringless lute
Join Fook – achieve fookfillment
There is no progress…….only metamorphosis, Fook is the now
Fookians believe in the meaningfulness of empty space and fruitful voids.
People who become Fookian by chance are known as Flukians
Fook Island and King Ferd live on in his writings, his paintings, the many articles written about him, in the memory of his friends, and, of course, in the Museum in Somerset East where a little boy once began to develop his unique creativity and his one-of-a-kind personality. Youngsters who visit the Walter Battiss Art Museum – of all ages – very often pronounce him to be “Cool”!