Our multimedia exhibition Future Pasts: Landscape, Memory and Music in West Namibia journeys through themes we have explored through our research. Click on the links below to find out more.

 

To date we have curated the exhibition at Gallery 44AD in Bath, UK (2017) and COSDEF Community Arts Venue in Swakopmund, Namibia (2019).  Also see our blogs about how the exhibition was received in both Bath and Swakopmund, and our accompanying booklet which is free to download. 

West Namibia, an area that for us comprises the Erongo and southern Kunene Regions of Namibia in the south-western corner of Africa, has long been the focus of overlapping indigenous and global(ising) concerns...

West Namibia map compiled by Sian Sulliv

Place, storytelling, cultural identity: all these elements are poetically entangled and expressed through songs and dances. For elderly people who are no longer able to live in and move to places in the landscape they remember, it is often the loss of playing their aruti (healing songs) and |gaiti (praise songs) in these places they recall on returning to these places...

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The repeat landscape images above tell us something about settlement patterns and the lasting impact of historical episodes in the past. Given the dramatic events that have shaped the present socio-economic landscape of west Namibia – which over the last 150 years have included the establishment of colonial enterprise, a genocidal colonial war, seven decades of apartheid rule, and the ushering in of broadly neoliberal policies since independence in 1990 – it is not surprising that traces of such impacts are inscribed on the landscape. They create layered landscape ‘palimpsests’ in which past influences can be read and deciphered in the present...

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... the landscapes described as ‘wilderness’ in tourism brochures advertising the area are also full of the traces of former dwelling places and the graves of known ancestors. People alive today are amongst those who lived at these places and who remember what they were like in times past...

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Reminding us that predictability may be short-lived, that life often brings surprises, and that things may not be what they seem, is the character of Haiseb. Haiseb features in stories and songs remembered throughout west Namibia. He can be described as a culture hero or trickster figure spoken of by Damara, Nama and Haiǁom, who overlaps strongly with wider San / Bushmen trickster figures from across southern Africa. In the heat of the day a distant mirage – fluffy white against red land – is spoken of as a flock of Haiseb’s sheep, evoking the elusiveness of both water and wealth in livestock in this arid landscape...

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The historical events and processes outlined for west Namibia contribute to the contemporary character of west Namibian places. Places tend to be complex sites of dwelling, memory and activity and the key centres of settlement in west Namibia are no exception. Layers of historical events are compressed in such centres, inscribed on the landscape through built structures and worn down tracks and pathways...

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An arus centres around a fire and involves one or more healers, at least three people who sing, clap and beat percussive sticks together, and one or more others who play an arus drum and assist more broadly. The drum is small and simple and when combined with the hand-clapping and stick-beating helps to drive the powerful repetitive song cycles...

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To mention the name ‘Namibia’ is to conjure images of spectacular landscapes – from the dramatic cold Atlantic coastline with its famous shipwrecks, to the dune fields of the southern Namib desert and the flat-topped red basalt mountains of ‘Damaraland’. The landscapes of west Namibia seem to pulse with both silence and presence. When viewed from high above the surface of the land is alive with watercourses snaking through rippling expanses of hills, coloured in vibrant blues, purples and golds...

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Since colonial times the cultural landscapes of west Namibia have been shaped considerably by industrialised mining. A recent ‘rush’ for resources is for uranium, but over the last 250 years Namibia has seen many such ‘rushes’ for the commercial extraction of resources to be sold on distant foreign markets. In 1796, the British administration of the Cape Colony claimed exclusive rights to catch whales and seals in Namibian waters. These ‘rights’ were later deployed in an 1840s ‘guano rush’ on islands along Namibia’s coastline that exhausted this resource in around four years.

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Many people and organisations have played a part in bringing this exhibition together, and we are extremely grateful to you all...

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