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Fragile Histories, Fugitive Lives

by Keith Dietrich

10 – 27 September 2014


Fragile Histories may be viewed as a "book" comprising four sections or "volumes" that narrate the tensions and textures of early colonial encounters at the Cape in South Africa. The work alludes to the rich though unsettled histories of the people who inhabited this globalised space that was characterised by an astonishing cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, comprising indigenous Khoi and San people; slaves from Africa and the Indian subcontinent; slaves, political exiles and convicts from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia); free blacks; slaves born at the Cape; Chinese and European visitors and settlers; and the offspring of the mixing of these groups. The only traces left behind by many of these people are in the form of court records of trials at the Cape. Fragile Histories is informed by trials that took place during the 1700s, and in particular by the atrocious sentences that were meted out for transgressions against a social order in which these people found themselves. The images on this exhibition map and inscribe texts from these trials over the body, with agony and sorrow depicted as rays of energy radiating outwards from bodily organs.

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