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Andries Fourie (South African-American, b. 1968) and David Craig (American, b. 1967), Thicket, 2013, welded steel, wood, aluminum, silkscreen, 96 x 82 x 55 in., courtesy of the artists, Salem, Oregon.

Artist Statement: LAND/MARKS

The body of work in this exhibition explores the cultural landscapes and ecology of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, a region where I grew up, and consequently the landscape of my own memory. As an immigrant who has been living in the United States for the past 27 year, I see this work as a bridge that connects me to my past, my identity, and to a sense of belonging. It is an antidote to forgetting who I am and where I come from.

The impetus for the investigation that produced this work was a comment by Vukani Mde, a South Africa political commentator. Mde wrote that the four million white South Africans are in a permanent state of being tourists in their own country. I took his criticism to mean that our history of self-imposed isolation and the common tendency of seeing ourselves as transplanted Europeans rather than Africans even after 362 years of residency, had inhibited our ability to develop a complete and in-depth understanding of our own country and the lives that many of our countrymen live. This prompted me to want to see the familiar places where I grew up through new eyes. I wanted to see the Southern African landscape as the locus of not just my own people’s history and culture, but the history and culture of the people who lived there long before my own. I also wanted to see the landscape and its ecology on its own terms rather than the terms of the skewed and propagandistic “blut und boden” view of the land that my apartheid-era upbringing had provided me with.

I realized that this necessitated viewing familiar places through new lenses and from a combination of disciplinary and ideological perspectives. As such I began a collaboration that entailed conversations with archaeologists, farmers, botanists, ecologists, cultural resource specialists, historians, geologists and ordinary people. These conversations led me to realize that landscape and culture are inextricably linked. To this end each of the works in this exhibition is an exploration of a specific place or rock art site in the Eastern Cape.

It also made me realize that what I was looking for was an understanding of the landscape that was not solely predicated upon my own people’s experience of or history in it. I wanted to get a sense of how people (the San, Khoi and Xhosa) related to the land before our arrival, and I wanted to understand how the way in which South Africans relate to the land has changed over the course of our often violent and painful history.

Furthermore, I also wanted to understand what the landscape and ecosystem was like over its long history, and even before the arrival of humans. Even though Southern Africa is the birthplace of cognitively modern humans, it has a rich and varied ecological and geological history that stretches back long before entered the stage.

I soon realized that one of the most valuable means for me to gain an understanding of the ecology and cultural landscapes of the Eastern Cape province was to study the prehistoric rock art of the region. The Southern San practiced the longest continuous painting tradition in the world. The earliest San Rock art has been dated to 27,500 years before the present, and the last examples of the tradition were produced in the 1870s. Besides being a beautiful and undeniable claim to the country on behalf of its original inhabitants, San rock art also serves as an invaluable record of the plants and animals of the region as well as the cultural practices of it earliest inhabitants.

The work in this exhibition is the product of two research grants: a LARC grant and a grant from the Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology. The generous support provided by these grants enabled me to travel to South Africa, visit numerous rock art sites, and meet with various specialists to conduct the research that informed the work.

- Andries Fourie


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