On a wall of Rosemary Feit Covey's sun-brightened studio in Alexandria's Torpedo Factory Art Center hangs a delicately made print called "South African Childhood." In it is reflected a somber and disquieting light.

The wood engraving is simple in composition: a young white girl stands near a swimming pool in an opulent white South African neighborhood. She seems to shiver, with a combination of confusion and apprehension in her expression, as a middle-aged black male servant prepares to pour tea for her.

"Maybe it started out being me," said Covey, a 30-year-old white South African artist who spent her early childhood in a Johannesburg suburb, where she seldom saw blacks who were not servants of whites.

"But once I got working on it, I started thinking about the other character in it," she said of the black servant figure.

In recent months, as public attention has been focused on strife and controversy over the deep racial divide in South Africa, Covey has been thinking a great deal about her native land, she said.

"I just realized that I never had strong opinions about it," she said of South Africa's policies and way of life. "People would see the print and we would get into conversations. Sometimes I'm forced into defending South Africa almost like it's a parent being attacked."

And then again, playing the devil's advocate in other discussions, she found that she "had been taught a lot of proapartheid things, and I leaned a little bit toward believing them."

Covey, who immigrated with her parents to this country when she was 8, said sometimes she feels like the little girl in the picture -- helpless, uncomfortable and worried.

She said she is planning to visit her native land soon because, as an American and a South African, "I want to go back and see for myself."