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Look Up, Look In
An Exhibition by Michael Chandler and Nick Marcus-Robb
June 2 – July 2 2016
My interest in African cosmology began this January when I attended a UCT Summer School and began studying the stories of shipwreck survivors on the South Eastern Coast of Africa. It was in one of my alma mater lecture theatres where I was introduced to the story of Bessie, an English girl who survived a shipwreck on the Wild Coast in the first half of the 18th century. Bessie was welcomed into the local Xhosa community and would go on to be the wife of the great Xhosa chief of that time. Her genetic influence would ultimately result in a tribe of that area which became known as the abeLungu, or, ‘the whites.’
What interested me about this was how a European, now living with the amaXhosa community, would view their new world. Would their learnt European mannerisms follow them as they adopted new ideas and beliefs? Would they practice their old religion or adopt a new one? Would their attitude to beauty or raising a family change - or stay the same or change into hybridization of both worlds?
The one thing that I became really interested in was the ways that shipwreck survivors would look at the sky. Growing up upon the Wild Coast, I spent many nights peering into the inky sky's depths, familiarizing myself with the stars which we all know so well today: The Milky Way, Orion’s Belt, the Southern Cross, etc It was after my introduction to Bessie that I began to wonder how indigenous African people saw the sky and what their stories might be. What did the amaXhosa call Orion’s Belt? And so upon much research I came to learn many wonderful stories and explanations for the stars above.
My show hopes to raise these narratives, share them and remind South Africans that there are loads of stories about the stars. Isn’t it odd that we still refer to the three bright stars in a row with an Ancient Greek Warrior’s name? I have nothing against the Greek, but I do feel strongly about learning about our own stories that are particular to this country. I hope that the show illuminates just a few of these narratives so that we can look up, look in and all get along a little better.