19 January 2008

Recall and recreate: memory and art-making in the Vaal

In November 2007, SAHA and Khulumani Support Group (an organization established in the mid 1990s to assist victims of political violence to gain redress) conducted an art-making and memory workshop in Evaton, in the Vaal Triangle, south of Johannesburg. The workshop was the second in a series of pilot workshops aimed at exploring people�s memories, their personal histories, and their understandings of South Africa�s heritage of struggle.

The workshops brought together 23 members of the Evaton Branch of Khulumani Support Group. Participants came from a broad range of backgrounds, linked primarily through their own experiences of violence and loss during the decades of repression, resistance and the struggle for national liberation, in the communities of the Vaal Triangle. The workshop explored both the shared and varied impacts of these events, tying together individuals and groups in a common heritage � even where people fought on different sides of battle lines. (Despite this conflict, however, none of the participants in this workshop saw themselves as working willingly with the police, army, and the ruling apartheid state.)

The workshop consisted of three day-long sessions. On the first day, participants began by drawing images of their own experiences, the events that they felt shaped their lives and their awareness of the struggle. They then used these pictures as a springboard for a group discussion about what had happened.

A historian working with SAHA, Tshepo Moloi, researched the experiences described on that first day, and brought news clippings and written material dealing with those events to the next workshop session. These allowed participants to compare the existing �historical record� with their own perceptions.

Following this, participants drew further pictures of their personal past. Researchers from SAHA then interviewed each person in some depth; and again, the group discussed their experiences, and their memories, as a whole.

On the final day, the group discussed what they believed should emerge from these events, and from the workshop. Participants spoke of the need for redress, reparation, and reconciliation based not on forgetting or white-washing, but rather on understanding and recognition.

At the end of the three day workshop, participants celebrated. They said they felt empowered by remembering and recording these events that shaped all of our lives; by making these images with their own hands and minds. SAHA is committed to ensuring the stories that came out of this workshop are preserved and printed as part of our historical record.