I have left the snows of England and am in the middle of an all too brief stay at
!Khwa ttu, before flying to Toronto for a symposium on indigenous mental health. At !Khwa ttu I am working closely with the Heritage team and the wider building team and staff. Over the last week we have spent a fair bit of time working through details of our new digital archive site, which we have been testing in a trial format since October. While all signs are looking promising, working out exactly how San communities might like to engage with it and what it is possible for our satellites pioneers to achieve, is no easy question. We want to leave it open enough such that people can run with the idea but give enough structure that people feel they know what they can do. We are also working through the practical difficulty of payment to our pioneers, who are spread across three countries. Working with the Post Office seems the way to go. Once we relaunch we will invite museums and archives with significant holdings of San material to post selections from their material on the site, with the aim that our c Satellite Pioneers can introduce the material to their community and establish if and how they might wish to engage with it – see khwattuarchive.org
At the beginning of the week we had a large meeting in which I asked for more input into our ‘orientation film’. The conceptual challenge we have with this film is how to present San. Do we start in a contemporary village and people carry on as they are and we film what is appropriate, hoping to catch some recent hunter-gatherer life – or do we present a ‘traditional’ village mock up or find a ‘traditional’ looking community and follow them into the bush, or do we structure the whole film around traditional hunter gather San scenarios, making things look modern or traditional as we do it. Traditional skins on or off; litter removed from camera etc – old problems but no standard solutions.
When the regular workload of text writing, photo selection and exhibit design coordination, gets a little bit much I go back to my favourite theme of plotting out the contents for our new building. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to have the freedom to help design and populate this building from scratch. But it is no easy enterprise. We have had repeated meetings with different San groups when we walk through the space and I am constantly trying to talk to the trainees and staff into throwing ideas at me as to how it should look and be used. It is hard though for everyone to come up with ideas from scratch. So inevitably, I do end up suggesting a few possibilities first just to get the ball rolling – despite my persistent reluctance to lead the vision – this is San space after all.
At the moment I am thinking the best way we can use the new building is to treat it like a compressed San home territory, like the Ju/’hoan !nore – and maybe this extends to our whole 850 hectare site. What goes on in that territory can be captured with our immersive film exhibit and in the wider space. We gather what makes territory and village home and meaningful in our compressed space (sounds, wind, smells, seasonal fruits, hunting places, animal warnings, trading relations, music etc) and we try and introduce physical objects and spaces that recreate these ingredients of home areas. This way each guide can relate to the space from their own perspective and their guided stories can consist of their knowledge and thoughts inspired by what is around, without us having to provide some artificial script. Anyway, more meetings today and just still time before we fix the shifting sands!