It was a treat particular to Festival to be placed in an intimate setting with acclaimed South African photographer Cedric Nunn and be privy to the thought-processes which lead to his latest exhibition. Unsettled: 100 Years of War engages with the tumultuous century between 1779 and 1879, focusing on the remarkable resistance on the part of the Xhosa people against first the Boer and then the British aggressive colonisation of their homeland. Nunn notes that, like that of slavery, it is a history that South Africans are usually all too happy to ignore.
Rather than being daunted by the unknown or deterred by his limited knowledge of the Eastern Cape, Nunn was inspired and curious to find out what lay beyond the stereotype and beneath the Earth, so to speak, of the dysfunctional and pot-holed province. In seeking to depict a time of war and conflict that not only spanned 100 years, but took place almost 150 years ago, Nunn felt landscape was his natural focal point. Requiring extensive travel through the Eastern Cape, the logistics of the momentous project were made possible through the help Mellon Senior Scholar funding from Rhodes University.
Nunn’s eyes are alight as he describes the multitude of tiny towns and majestic landscapes, former battle sites that he visited, and the process of seeing and trying to experience the land as our ancestors would have – both our indigenous African forefathers and our British ‘brothers’ who form our South African family tree – in its pristine and virgin state.
Nunn’s impact does not merely lie in his unique visual capturing of an extensive chunk of South African history. His true magic is in reigniting the awareness with which we view our country, our history, and walk on our land. Within the existing complexities of South Africa, the Eastern Cape can suffer extremely bad press from outsiders and often most vocally from its inhabitants. Nunn’s artistic vision is thus truly remarkable and refreshing in its unblinking gaze – seeking to not hide but expose the past, wipe the seemingly endless dust of the Eastern Cape out of our eyes and regard with awe, wonder and respect this land on which we stand and contemplate the essence embodied in this rich soil.
The exhibition premiered this festival and will be showing at Fort Selwyn, before going on to tour South Africa and then overseas to Germany and America.
See Nunn’s take on Grahamstown in his interview with Grocott’s Mail earlier this year.