Oral traditions bearing testimony to people’s relationship with water is explored in an art exhibition in Cape Town from June 5 to 10. The exhibition, ‘Whispers of the Sea’, opened on Thursday night at 6pm at the Pan African Market on Long Street in central Cape Town as part of First Thursdays.
It is the culmination of the Eastern Cape Maritime Oral History Project, a collaboration involving the South African Heritage and Resource Agency (SAHRA), the African Centre for Heritage Activities (ACHA) and Cape Town-based artist Janet Ranson.
‘Whispers of the Sea’ is an installation of research that focuses on maritime history and water, from the perspective of residents of a designated coastal area. It delves into mythology, historical accounts, archival records and research data to bring together local perspectives on the history of the sea.
ACHA director Jonathan Sharfman, a maritime archaeologist, says this project “explores some of the forgotten, marginalised and ignored histories of South Africa while investigating ways to implement economically sustainable, community driven heritage activities”.
Ranson created the exhibition based on the research project’s findings, working on the premise that a single bold display has more impact than an overload of information. The exhibition includes sound recordings of local voices commenting on issues of heritage, ownership, sustainability and local economics. The exhibition sound track was created by Eric Michot, a French music producer.
Project manager Tahirih Michot says: “Visitors will enter the space and hear excerpts from the research interviews and literally hearing a range of voices commenting on issues of heritage, ownership, sustainability and local economics.”
“Glowing glass jars will be suspended in the exhibition space in a circle, at eye height. This will add to the ritual mood of the space and engage the visitors’ eyes while they listen to the sound recording,” she adds.
“Each jar contains an image from the research: ceramic fragments washed up on shore, from a shipwreck, beads retrieved from the sand, photographs of the local residents, and an antique gold bell.”
Michot explains that the South African Heritage and Resource Agency (SAHRA) commissioned the research project at the end of last year. SAHRA is a statutory organisation established under the National Heritage Resources Act, No 25 of 1999. The primary objective of SAHRA is to coordinate the identification and management of the national estate which is defined as heritage resources.
According to Sophie Winton, Heritage Officer at SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (MUCH), “This project centers around the collection of oral histories from communities living along the Pondoland coast in order to build a fuller picture of the heritage landscape in the Eastern Cape. This project forms part of the Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit’s efforts to expand the focus of MUCH resources beyond the traditional shipwreck to non-traditional, locally applicable examples of South Africa’s relationship with water. Xhosa culture strongly emphasises the importance of oral tradition, so this research method was a natural choice.”
ACHA was appointed to conduct archival and field research as well as heritage education workshops in Pondoland’s coastal communities in the Eastern Cape. “ACHA undertook this project as the first phase of a far larger community based heritage programme. Its focus was to explore some of the forgotten, marginalised and ignored histories while investigating ways to implement economically sustainable, community driven heritage development activities,” says Michot.
“The project focused on the collection of maritime oral histories for the geographic area between Port St Johns and the Msikaba River in the Eastern Cape Province.” She adds: “It involved the review of secondary literature to create a historical context for the research and field work to gather oral histories from people currently living in the designated area. The objective of this project was to share the research findings in the form of both report as well as a public exhibition.”
ACHA, a non-profit international heritage centre based in South Africa, is inspired by innovation, people, water and identity. It intends for this exhibition and ongoing work to have a positive impact on the heritage sector by focusing on innovative, sustainable community owned heritage activities.
Its objective is to support shifts in attitudes, values and perceptions of communities in relationship to their heritage and the heritage of others. The focus is on improving people’s lives through increased awareness of their own context, sense of place resulting in a great degree of empathy and connectedness.
Whispers of the Sea runs at the Pan African Market on Long Street at these times:
Thursday, June 5, opening night 6pm to 9pm
Friday, June 6, 10am to 5pm
Saturday, June 7, 9am to 1pm
Monday, June 9, 10am to 5pm
Tuesday, June 10, 10am to 5pm
For more information, have a look at these online links:
ACHA blog about Under Water Heritage https://underwaterheritage.org/
ACHA website: http://acha.co.za/
SAHRA website: www.sahra.org.za
For more about the artist Janet Ranson http://janetranson.withtank.com/