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Research Residency SDC

Mufhiri by George Mahashe explores copper traditions in central and southern Africa

George Mahashe

August – December 2020

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South Africa // DRC

George Mahashe is a South African photographer, academic and educator. He works within the wider field of photography, particularly at the intersection of photography, anthropology, archives and artistic practice. His ongoing Camera Obscura project explores the  idea of the 10th century Arab scientist and mathematician Alhazena, that the camera is a space housing a body. George holds a PhD in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town and lectures in anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand where he is responsible for the Anthropology Museum and developing a programme on public cultures. George has a pervasive interest in understanding the role of copper in southern African divination practices (copper features prominently) and to learn about the anthropological “copper belt” (which includes the DRC, but also has reference to wider southern African copper histories). 


“Mufhiri” is the Khilovedu (Khelobedu) word for the brown to reddish metals, mostly copper and brass that has been mined and used in a variety of artefacts (technological and sacred) within the Limpopo province of South Africa for centuries. While this metal is mined here, it is no easy task to obtain it legally as most of it is sold in advance to big multinational tech companies. Despite this, I continue to see a proliferation of artefacts made with mufhiri and have become curious about how the Congo, referred to in anthropology as part of the “copper belt”, navigates this disconnect between the metal one mines and uses, with the demand for it by the big tech giants.  Similarly, I am interested to get to know the metal and have been curious to work it for some time.

As a project Mufhiri is interested in getting to know different copper traditions from both southern Africa and the DRC. I am mostly interested in the processes used to mine and melt the ore, as well as the second-hand copper market drawn from reclaimed copper in discarded electronics and other sources. The project is in collaboration with Joseph Kasau and Patrick Mudekereza of WAZA Art Centre and  in Lubumbashi, drawing on a loose discussion around the circulation of African artefacts in ethnographic museums and the convention of inviting artists of African descent to address the politics inherent in the fraught history of European ethnographic museum collections. My process of getting to know “some copper traditions” will include collecting copper histories and related artefacts currently in general circulation in Lubumbashi and South Africa as part of bringing myself closer to the proliferation of copper in commercial and religious products. It will also include smelting and shaping the metal and its alloys. While I am looking to collect artefacts and make new copper artefacts, the project is not about collecting in the way that museums often collect or making artworks as artists do, but rather to help me think differently about a metal I am yet to understand.