Personal Artefacts of Pain and Power

Jun 1, 2019 | ArtSpeak, News

I am drawn to items and articles that inform and that have directly affected my family and my trajectory that exists within the settler nation of ‘Australia’. This is evident in my previous artworks, and again in WE KOPPEL, WE DALA.

Many of these items represent, for my family, memories of pain and segregation, but also memories of love and community – the memories from both of these opposing, yet relative fields, have been shared with me since my birth in various forms. At times, such memories were kept from me so I would not know this part of my family’s life of pain and segregation experienced back in southern Africa. Simultaneously, I learned about love and my community in simple gestures, via visits, phone calls and my mother, who upon hearing a kaap accent would become very excited and make new best friends. But at times it also did not make sense. If we loved it so much, why were we not there?

“The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.”[1] 

My practice is fueled by my obsession with identity: how it is constructed; why it is so often compacted to a point of singularity and categorisation; and how this is represented. As an artist, producing work in a public arena, I feel there is a social responsibility to the artworks I create, and why I am creating them. This is also purely because of the constructions and ideas that have been rendered to me through the various institutions that I have inhabited, which have been very irresponsible.

The research and artwork I do can lead to opening very traumatic and emotional places within me. However, it is also a process of learning to equip and empower myself, my communities and our identities, rejecting colonial constructions and writing one’s own narrative, of love, of representation, and of power.

I have come into contact with, and chosen to exhibit, four particular artefacts in my upcoming exhibition at Metro Arts. All of which I reject really, and which frustrate me, though one also reminds me of where I draw strength. They reflect the depths of the responsibility of encouraging love and empowerment in my community, to recover from the xenophobia, and learn to love our identity in all of its cultural complexities.

  • a 1 Rand coin of Hendrik Verwoerd
  • a Social Atlas Cartography study of the Metropolitan of Cape Town
  • a ‘Pass book’, also known as a ‘Dom Pass’
  • an identity card, with a K for Kleurling (Coloured)

These items serve as painful reminders of our past and present, reflecting systems that are still pertinent today, and of dangerous people in political positions of power.

Our community is diverse and rich with histories and identities of First Nations Khoi and San peoples, Cape Malay peoples, ‘brown’ and ‘black’ displaced peoples, that were reduced to the word ‘Coloured’, a difficult term, that I appropriate at times as Coloured™ as a strategy of reclamation. These communities have come together and have created a unique complex identity with a language that is often, in my opinion, mistaken as the coloniser’s language. The title of my exhibition at Metro Arts is in Afrikaans, WE KOPPEL, WE DALA. The exhibition hopes to centre acts of reclamation, reflecting on past histories that continue to inform present issues, struggles and memories and pathways of empowerment.

Roberta Rich
June 2019

[1] Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions. New York: Harper, 2000.

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