GFI Art Gallery
30 Park Drive Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape South Africa
Virtual exhibition August 12 – October 31, 2020
To watch a recording of Zoom opening click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bq0O4E95kXg
GFI gallery in Port Elizabeth is pleased to present Cuttings 1820 – 2020, a collaborative exhibition by visual artist Pippa Hetherington and the world-renowned Keiskamma Art Project.
Attachment to land is an ever-present source of tension in South Africa. Currently, there is fiercely contested political debate around land reform. People continue to be hurt in this process of reckoning. Land ownership in our country is steeped in our collective —bloody and brutal— history. Tribal wars, Frontier wars, Anglo-Boer wars, and Zulu wars, to name but a few, were all the consequence of disputes about land rights: who belonged to the land and who the land belonged to. Stories of loss and violation and heartbreak in these places have become inseparable from the conflicting meanings South Africans read into the land they inhabit. Our shared landscape is our shared history, a history from which we cannot disentangle ourselves.
2020 marks 200 years since the arrival of the 1820 British Settlers in South Africa. Mostly urban dwellers from the cities of England, the 1820 Settlers were allocated land on the southern bank of the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape on a promise of greener pastures, a new future, and an opportunity to escape from crippling economic hardship in the motherland. The soil was arid and challenging to till, so cattle quickly became a prized local commodity to the British settlers, as they were, historically, to the Xhosa. However, it was soon apparent to the settlers that they were part of a cohort of recruits who had been strategically enlisted to act as a buffer between the Xhosa people north of the Great Fish River, and the British-ruled Eastern Cape to the south.
While there are many written testimonies by British settlers, what we know of the Xhosa north of the Great Fish River comes primarily from oral storytelling. One of the best-known stories is that of Nongqawuse, a young Xhosa prophetess who claimed that the ancestral spirits had spoken to her on the banks of the Gxarha River, telling her that the Xhosa nation should kill their cattle and destroy their crops. In exchange the spirits would drive the British settlers into the sea. She relayed these prophesies to the elders, who then instructed the Xhosa nation to obey what the ancestors had
communicated. This led to millions of Xhosa cattle being killed in 1856-7. This tragic action, together with the destruction of crops, led to widespread and devastating famine.
Two centuries later, a group of artists—female descendants from Xhosa and 1820 Settler families— have come together to share their stories. Using stitching, textile, photography and fabric, they make art that tells poignantly of their painful, entwined histories: histories that are impossible to disentangle.
The word ‘Settler’ is an ideologically-laden term, given South Africa’s bitter history of racial domination and segregation. But the Keiskamma artists show that we can strive to reconfigure our shared histories, in a way that opens up, rather than silences, dialogue and ultimately healing. By sewing fragments of culturally distinctive or significant fabrics into conversation and binding them together as a whole, the Keiskamma women create beauty from an eclectic, and often surprising, combination of textiles and patterns. The garments become sites of dialogue, not singular conversations, expressing interwoven, rather than parallel, histories and identities.