The Archive of Forgetfulness is an exhibition dedicated to remembering both our personal and collective histories.
Cheriese Diljrah‘s Existence is An Occupationis a six-minute video installation that starts with the artist creating a paper jet to the sound of Miriam Makeba‘s “A Piece of Ground”. “When the white man first came here from over the seas. He looked and he said, this is God’s own country. He was mighty well pleased with this land that he’d found and he said, ‘I will make here my own piece of ground,'” sings Makeba. The song sets the emotional tenor of Diljrah’s piece, which compares the state violence in occupied Palestine with the forced removals enforced by the City of Cape Town. The video ends with her asking: Can people be illegal invaders in their own country or continent?
The video is a commentary on the circular nature of colonial history — how it’s bound to repeat itself — and the inextricable link between the past and the present. Bubbling beneath the images of forced demolitions and her poetic spoken word piece about a mother cradling her child through a forced eviction, is a simple question: Why do we seem to forget the past when it informs so much of our present social realities?
Diljrah’s piece is one of hundreds that makes up The Archive of Forgetfulness, an online exhibition that interrogates the failure of memory and the histories of racial violence and forced segregation. The exhibition, funded by the Goethe Institute, compiles essays, podcasts and visual art from artists across the continent to tell personal and collective stories about our different histories.
Accessing The Future Via The Past
Digital Beings by Kwasi Darko (Ghana)The Archive of Forgetfulness
The question is posed multiple times throughout The Archive of Forgetfulness, which mainly speaks to the malleability of memory. And on a continent such as ours, whose history has been so widely defined by violence and colonial contact, The Archive of Forgetfulness is an exhibition dedicated to remembering both our personal and collective histories.
In Bicycle Stories, an essay about women cyclists in Tanzania written by journalist Wanjeri Gakuru, she shares her memories of women cyclists in Kenya from 2013 to 2017. Expressed in fragmented vignettes, she writes, “To cycle is to be highly visible. It is to be vulnerable to the elements. Yet to cycle is also to trust in oneself and be propelled forward by muscle and sheer willpower. In this context, the image of a woman cycling is oppositional, always a challenge, always-already embodying and performing the power to refuse.” But then she also remembers in 2013, how an MP in Kenya proposed a law that would ban women from riding bicycles because “the act of sitting with legs astride is demeaning and uncultural.”
Let Me Come & Be Going by Nkeiruka Oruchei (Nigeria)The Archive of Forgetfulness
Siyagoduka: Ka Flying Saucer Babez is a multimedia art piece which features an augmented short film with a short prayer from artist Malebona Maphutse. A shadowy figure is surrounded by Greek pillars and celestial bodies. “We demand that we are unburdened through public communal confessionals of our collective traumas,” a piece of text reads in the middle of the film. “While witnessing the forced and now declared illegal inhumane removals in Hangberg, Ocean View and Khayelitsha in Cape Town during the COVID-19 storm, I was reminded of the long history of forced removals in South Africa, and beyond, from the 1913 Land Act to the Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre, writes Maphutse”. “History has a cyclic recurrence that has a way of reminding us of the cracks in our systems of governance and existence. This prompted me to consider the process of coerced, forced or ‘voluntary’ black migration due to unfavourable circumstances and living conditions, to find new life and prosperity.”
Qhakuva by Umlilo (South Africa)The Archive of Forgetfulness
As a whole, The Archive of Forgetfulness is a lot to take on. While one can admire the sprawl and ambitions of the project, the execution can feel both exhaustive and exhausting.
Beyond the essays, videos and podcasts, each month there is a “regional project” with an artist from the continent interpreting the themes of forgetfulness and memory in their own way. In June, theatre director Princess Zinzi Mhlongo produced a work called Izibongo, which collects 25 personal stories from people who share their family histories. It was inspired by Mhlongo finding out that her father is actually her stepfather but his surname (and its attendant praise clans) were all she knew. Izibongo is a cartography of her own search for identity, other people’s search for meaning and how entire histories and identities are tied to something as simple as a surname.
Hers is a perfect interrogation of memory and it’s limits. But in some parts, some of the work feels dense and seems to run away from the exhibition’s central theme. Still, as a whole, the exhibition is worth your time. If only for the fact that it offers an exhaustive examination of the ties that bind our past and present.