I spent most of my childhood living in-between the pages of books and the intimate shelving of libraries (sometimes frivolously through the love triangle trope of Betty and Veronica comics). Over time I found narrative could be encountered even in my constricted school history books.
In 1999 I enrolled at UCT majoring in South African history and archaeology – fascinated with exploring the complex, contradictory and marginalized narratives and identities of our South African pasts. I completed my MA in Historical Studies in 2004 with a thesis that examined what heritage (and whose narratives) was represented within the landscape of wine tourism, using certain wine farms situated around the Cape as case studies. From the pages of my thesis I went straight into delving into the history of a farm that was turning back to wine making.
Since May 2004 I have been the principal researcher and resident historian for Solms-Delta wine estate, situated just outside of Franschhoek. Initial archival and archaeological research involved unearthing all the various historical and deeper time layers of Solms-Delta farm - exploring pre-colonial habitation as well as colonial settlement and engagement, all the way through to the present day oral histories of the farm workers.
My archival research centred on the complex and nuanced contact zones between colonists, indigenous inhabitants and slaves, farm owners and farm workers. The visual and physical expression of this research was the installation of a permanent exhibition called ‘Museum van de Caab’ (opened in 2005), and its satellite exhibition ‘Music van de Caab’ (opened in 2014, similarly themed on the contact zones omnipresent in the global and local influences in Cape music). The use of archive, history, narrative and archaeology was at the core of developing sensitive transformation work within the microcosm and dichotomy of a small Cape wine farm and the broader context of a struggling South African democracy. Unearthing the long history of loss, dispossession and ‘slow violence’ on this landscape, in partnership with the present day residents on the farm, incubated a relationship between farm owner and farm worker that moved towards a fragile journey of reconciliation.
The curatorial method undertaken at Solms-Delta saw a marriage of community and historical engagement within the contested space of white-owned farm land as we navigated the difficult course of transformation and land reform. With the specific context of Solms-Delta as backdrop, my PhD will explore the central role that the process of curation and engagement with the archive and historical representation can play in heritage and transformation work.