Death and invisibility

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Empty Graves – Unarchived Narratives.

There’s a day left to see Rhodes University Fine Arts Masters student Gladys Kalichini’s final examination exhibition at the Albany History Museum. ‘ChaMoneka: UnCasting Shadows’ opened on Tuesday 5 December and will come down Friday 8 December.

It explores the erasure of women’s narratives from Zambian history and collective memory.

As a point of entry into the broader conversation of narratives of women marginalised in history, the body of work in this show, draws from the narratives of Julia Chikamoneka and Alice Lenshina held in the collective memory of Zambian history.

The show focuses on the representations of narratives of women during and beyond colonial times, particularly these two characters’ encounters with and against British rule in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). Titled ChaMoneka (It Has Become Visible): UnCasting Shadows, it explores representations of death.

Death is conceptualised as a metaphor for the erasure of women’s historical narratives and the female body is a metaphor for women’s narrative.

Death within this exhibition is thematised as the course of fading away and a continuous process in which women’s narratives are erased. This show examines the representations and positioning of women’s political activities within the liberation narrative that is recorded in the National Archives of Zambia (NAZ) and the United National Independence Party (UNIP) Archives.

Kalichini works with oil paint and ink, variously combined with water, linseed oil and turpentine, as well as pieces of black cloth that evoke burial cloths. At times the cloth that she uses is barkcloth, which is made from the bark of trees and is associated with royal funerals in, for example, Uganda.

In her opening address at the exhibition Professor Ruth Simbao, National Research Foundation Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa based at the Rhodes Fine Art Department described the largest work in the exhibition – an 8-metre-long piece of cloth titled Empty Graves – Unarchived Narratives.

“It represents no figures. There are no bodies. Step close to it. Move around it. Imagine yourself stepping or falling inside the soil and the shadows of the empty grave,” Simbao said.

Kalichini is from Lusaka and hopes to exhibit in Zambia. She’ll be doing her PhD at Rhodes University next year.

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