Tuli Mekondjo returns to interpret a map

Tuli Mekondjo

A disturbance of Namibian and German artists continue to subvert the colonial archive in ‘Interpretation of a Map’.

Transforming The Project Room into a space of remembrance, radical reimagining and ritual last Friday, the multidisciplinary cartographic and performance art offering featured works by Tuli Mekondjo in response to a German colonial era map.

Initiated by Germany’s Frederike Moormann and Angelika Waniek alongside Namibia’s Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, ‘Interpretation of a Map’ offered various artists and musicians an intriguing point of departure – a historical map from 1904 depicting the telegraphic connections of the German Schutzruppen during the war and genocide of the Herero and Nama people.

A number of contributions are currently on display at IDEAL Artspace in Leipzig, Germany, including Tuli Mekondjo’s map, which transfers the original to canvas and adds speculative red thread.

Contrasting German colonial era telegraphy used to sow violence with indigenous technologies such as drums and horns, which were deployed to warn indigenous communities of danger, the map is connected to indigenous sounds in illuminating ways.

“To put out a sound into the air is to create a map of some sort, because sound travels. This is why it’s called ‘Listening to the Elderly’, because we’re trying to set up an intergenerational conversation to think about colonial history,” says Mushaandja.

Another layer and a more grim mode of map-making is to consider the bodies that are strewn across the Namibian landscape as a result of the country’s violent German colonial history.

“That in itself is a map of our trauma as a nation, as a people who have been colonised,” says Mushaandja.

“There has been no process of picking up bones, of healing and dealing. Therefore, the idea of speculative cartography is crucial, because what a speculative map does is it invites us to imagine radically, to think of other ways of being in relation.”

Tuli Mekondjo says: “Since I always work intuitively, I knew that the archival image from Basler Afrika, which depicts the lone Namibian women walking past the roadside with directions to Keetmanshoop and Gibeon, would be an ideal image to connect the people of Namibia to the history of telegraph stations.”

In ‘Typewriter’, a performance piece that links to and follows the introduction to ‘An Interpretation of a Map’, Tuli Mekondjo retools archival images to symbolically populate the map.

As Tuli Mekondjo, dressed for ritual, whistles and moves around a mesmerising burning shrine, images of women walking with bundles atop their heads or harvesting in water, portraits of local men, of indigenous communities and of traditional dwellings, meal preparation and dance flash across a screen that fills a back wall.

‘An Interpretation of a Map’ and ‘Typewriter’ credit Tuli Mekondjo’s powerful and particular fight against forgetting.

– martha@namibian.com.na; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com

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