Our task for this exhibition is to “deconstruct the image of Etosha as an untouched and timeless wilderness” and to “broaden the historical and contemporary story of the area and provide new inputs and to present a different picture of Namibia than the one currently shown at Vänersborg Museum”.
My research takes as its starting point the 1000 birds of the Eriksson Collection that have been entombed in the museum since 1836 as well as the Andersson map of the area (1853).
The Vänersborg Museum kindly provided a list of the Latin names of the birds and I researched the common names in English. From a cross-section of the total birds, I selected 10 specimens and matched them to their unique call, with the idea to ‘liberate’ the birds through sound.
This has resulted in a conceptual piece that links both audio and visual rendering of sound to the discourse on the perception of the landscape of Etosha from the viewpoint of the visitor and the original inhabitants of the area, the Hai//om.
In the introduction to ‘African Landscapes – Interdisciplinary Approaches’, Michael Bollig speaks of colonial expeditions as being primarily exercises in ‘in-scription’. By framing their enterprises as scientific research, and “putting names on a map and native words on a list…they laid the first and deepest foundations for colonial power” and exercised this power in a “pure and subtle form – as the power to name, to describe, to classify.”
Namibian researcher Ute Dieckmann in her chapter: The Spectator’s and the Dweller’s
Perspectives: Experience and Representation of the Etosha National Park, in the same book, speaks of the landscape of Etosha as being merely “a stage for the daylight and nightly performance of African Animals”, with tourists entirely disregarding the fact that historically and culturally, people and animals are integral to this particular landscape.
She argues that already during the time of the Swedish explorers, “the actual landscape experience was guided by culturally embedded epistemic structures”, and the landscape serving as mere background.
In the same book, Bollig speaks of the appropriation of the northern Namibian floodplain by Galton and Andersson and their erasure of the “autochthonous readings of the landscape through a discourse of blankness” which is in sharp contrast to the perception of the landscape by the original indigenous inhabitants.
For the Hai//om, “the landscape is constituted by a multitude of features (topographical, vegetational, faunistic, and historical in the sense of including humans) organized around a network of paths both of human and wildlife origin,” and “is charged with emotion and personal identities.”
Working from the printed sonograms of the selected birdcalls, I have created 10 pencil drawings that suggest and are reminiscent of landscape. The audio component of the installation contains these as well as generic bird sound as would be found at Etosha.
In conceptualizing this work, the dichotomies in the perception of the landscape by the ‘spectator and the dweller’, restructuring of the landscape through colonial conquest and mapping and the material evidence of these, the Andersson map and the Eriksson bird collection, come full circle.