Fragile Histories | Fugitive Lives

Fragile Histories may be viewed as a "book" comprising four sections or "volumes" that narrate the tensions and textures of early colonial encounters at the Cape in South Africa. The work alludes to the rich though unsettled histories of the people who inhabited this globalised space that was characterised by an astonishing cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, comprising indigenous Khoi and San people; slaves from Africa and the Indian subcontinent; slaves, political exiles and convicts from the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia); free blacks; slaves born at the Cape; Chinese and European visitors and settlers; and the offspring of the mixing of these groups. The only traces left behind by many of these people are in the form of court records of trials at the Cape. Fragile Histories is informed by trials that took place during the 1700s, and in particular by the atrocious sentences that were meted out for transgressions against a social order in which these people found themselves. The images on this exhibition map and inscribe texts from these trials over the body, with agony and sorrow depicted as rays of energy radiating outwards from bodily organs.

The artist's book Fragile Histories, Fugitive Lives | Justice and Injustice at the Cape, 1700 - 1800 is a collaboration between Keith Dietrich and the historian and genealogist Prof Hans Heese. The material for this book was researched by Prof Heese for the publication of his Reg en Onreg: Kaapse Regspraak in die Agtiende Eeu (Justice and Injustice: Administration of Justice at the Cape in the Eighteenth Century) published in 1994 by the University of the Western Cape. As the title suggests, the book comprises 1 204 court decisions regarding the trials and sentences of European settlers (burghers), soldiers and sailors, Khoi, slaves, Chinese, convicts and free blacks at the Cape of Good Hope between 1700 and 1800, and provides the dates of the trials, the names and origins of the offenders, and summaries of both their crimes and sentences. This book supplements the series of four photomontage triptychs of the same title.

Cover text photomontages exhibition