The Wits History Workshop and the School of Architecture & Planning with the support of the European Union National Institute for Culture are hosting an online conference titled In Whose Place? Confronting the vestiges of the colonial landscape in Africa on 20-21 May 2021. The conference will showcase original presentations by academics, artists, architects, activists and other practitioners.
Since independence, African countries throughout the continent have been confronted with the relics of colonial powers and, in the south, white minority regimes. Often neglected or damaged, these remains and environments are haunted by the lingering spectre of colonial history and architecture’s largely hidden yet pervasive racist presence. They are a sobering reminder of the everyday bureaucracy of colonialism and apartheid – and of how this history of subjugation and planning continues in part to shape life in postcolonial societies under global capitalism. What is being done with these remnants? Which should remain preserved and which altered or dismantled? Which do we choose to remember and which to forget?
By building and expanding a growing network of concerned and engaged practitioners around the topic, the conference seeks to create and foster dialogue and collaboration between the academy and associated artists, cultural and architectural projects. The historical infrastructure of everyday oppression and ecological devastation of colonialism and apartheid will be address through a number of interrelated, imagined and practical themes and panels. In examining buildings, sites and restorative ecologies, key questions are posed: In what ways do these retain of have jettisoned the formal structures of power and racism in which they had symbolically and functionally operated? In what ways can their lingering past be revealed, contested, reimagined or expunged? Even as the power of these edifices, landscapes and effigies has diminished, the stories embedded can be told, history interrogated, and redress and recuperation take place.
We are supporting the participation of Florence /Khaxas and Yvette Hoebes to present their research around collected oral and material histories from descendants of residents from the small Namibian railway town of Usakos. [At various points between 2014 and 2017 we supported the related collaborative project Usakos – Photographs Beyond Ruins which involved the Centre for African Studies at the University of Basel, the District Six Museum in Cape Town, the University of Namibia in Windhoek and the municipality of Usakos].
Florence and Yvette’s project is intended to re-vision colonial spaces in Usakos and the forced removals of the ‘old locations’ to new townships during the early 1960s. The material collected will be used in the development of an exhibition for the Usakos Museum, that is currently under development in an old colonial building, as well as a memorial on the site of the vacant space where the old location once stood. This memorial is to be produced from rubble reclaimed from the sites of the forced removals by affiliated artists and which is under threat from new developments. The objects and photographs that are collected will be pointers to the cultural exchange, music, fashion and experience of women in this colonially defined space. This memorialisation is intended to displace the memories of destruction and demoralisation with a vision of hope. The research hopes to answer the following questions: Who were the people who lived in the location? What was their livelihood? E.g.: work, food, school, etc.; What was their lifestyle? Arts, music, fashion, culture, tradition, religion etc.; How did they construct their homes?; What were the advantages and disadvantages of forced removal for the people? and Where are they now?
Florence /Khaxas is a feminist writer and storyteller, women rights defender and is the executive director of the women’s rights organisation Y-Fem Namibian Trust. She is a cultural activist and founder of Damara dresses, a movement of fashion heritage of the Damara people in Namibia. She serves as a member of the Usakos Museum Council.
Yvette Hoebes is a tourism graduate and a self-taught abstract and mixed-media expressionist artist. Born and raised in Usakos, she is an activist and member of the Usakos Museum Council.