A Land of Flowing Milk and Honey
My practice focuses on the changes that have occurred over the last 200 years in an area of the Eastern Cape of South Africa formerly known as the Zuurveld and colonised in 1820 by British settlers. Promised “a land of flowing milk and honey” by the Governor of the Cape, Lord Charles Somerset, the reality was much different: a semi-arid territory difficult to farm and prone to attacks by the Xhosa, who had been forced back beyond the Fish River by the British troops.
Today, there is a deep-seated sense of violence and loss that pervades this postcolonial landscape. What was once so important is no longer so; many of the settler constructions have been actively dismantled or allowed to crumble and reform into something new as the Xhosa return to the land. By finding these points of intersection, my work explores the tension between different ideas of what land is or does; how loss of control can also become a means of regeneration.
“A landscape is not just a physical place; it is also a many-layered reflection of what the viewer experiences on the inside - a merging of memory and history to create a landscape of the mind.”
The tensions within this land are of deep personal significance to me. As a first generation South African born to British parents, my identity has been partly formed by the British influence. However, I also have a half-sister who is of Khoisan heritage - the first people of the land who were displaced by the Xhosa. As such, I am acutely aware of the cycles of colonisation and the way this has impacted the landscape over time.
Part of my process has involved working on the ground with descendants and establishing a relationship of trust to ensure that a lens of honesty overlays the work. This means not shying away from a prolonged experience of violence in South Africa which has resulted in a state of disgust amongst its people, and a desire to eradicate a history viewed so distasteful that they can give it no credence.
“If a child’s vision of nature can already be loaded with complicating memories, myths and meanings, how much more elaborately wrought is the frame through which our adult eyes survey the landscape… Before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of our mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock”