by Julia Arbuckle
200 years ago the British 1820 Settlers arrived in South Africa, eager to “Take root and grow, or die where we stand”. Two centuries later the roots are slowly beginning to rot.
My family is directly descended from Thomas Charles White, a military doctor who, with his entire family settled in the district of Albany in the 1820’s. While I grew up hearing stories of this family heritage, I never felt so tangibly connected to the history, as when I moved to Makhanda to complete my degree. I have used the deep familial history that is embedded within the town as a departure point for my graduate work. I was successful in connecting with the White family, who still own the historic Table Farm of 1828, and uncovered a huge amount of archival information surrounding my settler heritage – much of which I feel incredibly ashamed of. It is this personal shame, coupled with the desire and pressing need to know more about this history, that has motivated my research into the family history in Makhanda / Grahamstown / Graham’s Town / The Zuurveld.
It has proved inevitably to be a somewhat selfish project.
This artist book, based on the dimensions of the historic family bible, culminates the disjunct between disgrace and connection, between the slippage of monumentalisation of the 1820 Settlers in town and the tales of my ancestors. Finally, it confronts my own reconciliation with knowing that my history exists because that of others was devastated.
While this exhibition shows only the final object, this creative work is not finished. There is intentionally no closure sought and it will continue to evolve and mutate with time. I aim to bury this book at historically resonant sites, exhuming it once a year to document its state of progressive decay and the physical toll that time has on history.