Miscast: Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, by Pippa Skotnes

Miscast: Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, by Pippa Skotnes

Miscast: Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, by Pippa Skotnes

Edited by Pippa Skotnes, the big, thouroghly illustrated and famous catalogue Miscast, Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen explores the term "Bushman" and the relationships that gave rise to it.

Pippa Skotnes  

On 14 December 1995 Cecil Ie Fleur asked the South African parliament, on behalf of the Griqua people, to intervene in the return of the plaster cast and skeletal and other remains of Saartje Baartman, the young woman who was publicly displayed at salons, fairs and animal acts in London and Paris from 1810 to 1815, when she died. This plea followed a letter sent to the French government in which the authorities were requested to return Saartje Baartman to the Griquas, the "guardians and custodians of continuous, uninterrupted and unbroken Cape Aboriginal Khoikhoi heritage" (Cape Times 12 December 1995). The Griqua National Conference of South Africa is the latest group to join in the campaign demanding her return and burial. Why has the pitiful life, and fate after death, of Saartje Baartman become the focus of so much concern and action? Saartje Baartman is a potent symbol of the humiliation suffered by indigenous people in general and indigenous South Africans in particular. I knew something of her history through Penny Siopis' research and her paintings; I knew that the Musee de l'Homme in Paris housed the plaster cast made upon her death, as well as her skeleton and sexual organs. None of it, however, prepared me for the encounter with Saartje Baartman's death cast at Musee d'Orsay, in May 1994, on an exhibition entitled La sculpture ethnographique de la Venus hottentote a la Tehura de Gauguin. The naked horror of her plight and suffering, the sense of untold pain and shame, and the knowledge that it was part of my own history, were overwhelming.

Saartje Baartman has become a focus of the way in which human beings were used by eighteenth- and nineteenth- century theorists of race to prove the superiority of Europeans; she stands for all those who were reduced to specimens and scientific information. Her people were regarded as closer to the animal kingdom than to humankind, or at least among the most primitive of human types. As a result, they became the most brutalised people in the history of southern Africa - victims of genocide and slavery, stripped of their land and the fabric of their lives and their culture. Until recently, Khoisan resistance to the colonial powers and settler developments has remained unrecorded in our history books, their interaction with and cultural influence on other groups has been ignored, and the astonishing art created on the surfaces of rocks excluded from art history books and art museums. The people were portrayed as wild, as murderers and robbers without intellect or history.

Saartje Baartman puts the decendants of the Khoisan populations at the centre of contemporary political and cultural debates - debates with national and international implications and ramifications. The retention, display and repatriation of human remains and other sensitive material are matters of concern in many countries. So are natural history museum displays of naked body casts and objects that are associated with nature rather than with culture, with primitivism rather than civilisation - and forever relegated to the past. Her odyssey of exploitation and public exhibition finds a poignant echo in the lives of people who are displayed for tourists.

Some see the situation of 'Bushmen' living on the Kagga Kamma reserve as no more than "a modern ver - sion of the old freak shows of the past" (The Sunday Times 25 June 1995). Saartje Baartman is becoming an icon (hopefully not a pawn) in fractious post - apartheid coloured politics. There is a growing pride in having indigenous roots, and people are choosing to identify with the original inhabitants of southern Africa. Many will claim her. For all of us she stands as a reminder of the ago - nies of the past, of our need to face and deal with history and memory, and of our collective responsibility to resist a desire for historical amnesia. The debates around her also impact on issues of redress and restitution of land, and land is inextricably linked to place and identity.3 Facing history, and accepting the challenges to work through the past and find solutions for the present, reside in the exhibition Miscast.

A number of ground-breaking exhibitions have been curated at the South African National Gallery (SANG) over the past few years. These involved working hand-in-hand with the people whose histories and/or visual culture we were representing, or engaging individuals in the production of the exhibition and written documentation.4 Guest curator Pippa Skotnes went to considerable effort to consult with San groups in the preparation for Miscast, but there are few voices around to articulate this particular past, and consultations with groups took place through the medium of attorneys and other agents. What we hope to achieve through the catalogue, the exhibition and associated education programmes, is to begin the process of dealing with the complex issues, to tell the story of genocide in southern Africa, to reveal the extraordinary cultural and artistic achievement of the San, to focus on the need to acknowledge and preserve rock art as part of our heritage, and to raise and stimulate awareness of the conditions, aspirations and interests of Khoisan descendants in southern Africa. [...]"

This is an excerpt from the book: Miscast. Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen, by Pippa Skotnes.

Title: Miscast
Subtitle: Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen
Editor: Pippa Skotnes
Publisher: University of Cape Town Press
Cape Town, South Africa 1996
ISBN 0-7992-1652-6
Original softcover, 23x29 cm, 383 pages, throughout illustrated

Skotnes, Pippa im Namibiana-Buchangebot

Miscast. Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen

Miscast. Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen

Miscast: Negotiating the Presence of the Bushmen explores the term "Bushman" and the relationships that gave rise to it.

Heavens Things

Heavens Things

Heavens Things - A Story of the /Xam: Two groups of individuals from vastly different backgrounds work together with a sense of mutual respect and co-operation.

Weitere Buchempfehlungen

Die Welt der Kxoe-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika Teil 1

Die Welt der Kxoe-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika Teil 1

Die Kxoe-Buschleute und ihre ethnische Umgebung

Die Welt der Kxoe-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika Teil 2

Die Welt der Kxoe-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika Teil 2

Die Grundlagen des Lebens: Wasser, Sammeln und Jagd, Bodenbau und Tierhaltung

Die Welt der Kxoe-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika Teil 3

Die Welt der Kxoe-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika Teil 3

Die materielle Ausrüstung: Werden und Wandel, Wohnplatz und Buschlager