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An art exhibition that captures young South Africans’ hopes, ‘fears, aspirations and disappointments’

An art exhibition that captures young South Africans’ hopes, ‘fears, aspirations and disappointments’
‘The soil will continue to nurture a tree even after it is cut down. With the will to live, it can grow.’ – Quentin Mnisi, Tshwane University of Technology. Above: Convince Mongwana. (Photo: Peter Glendinning (c) 2019)

The ‘Attached to the Soil’ exhibition began in 2019 as a series of 50 three-part artworks, finalised by the artist Peter Glendinning during his seven months as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa.

In his 1994 inaugural address, President Nelson Mandela shared the following metaphor expressing his aspirations for the new South Africa and its people, one that most viewed as hope for unity: “I have no hesitation in saying each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal.”

Attached to the Soil began in 2019, the 25th anniversary of that statement, as a series of 50 three-part artworks, finalised by the artist Peter Glendinning during his seven months as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa.

‘The thorns of the past that have wounded the land must be cleared before a bountiful harvest of the future can be ours.’ – Vukile Macingusana, University of Fort Hare. (Photo: Peter Glendinning (c) 2019)

‘When the soil is in your blood, mixed with the sweat and tears of past generations, you can work the land all night and day.’ – Marianne Hennig, North-West University. (Photo: Peter Glendinning (c) 2019)

Each work resulted from his collaborations with a young South African who shared their aspirations for their country, their reflections on what they had inherited from past generations, in the form of their own soil-related metaphor. A third collaborator was a person with a life experience related to the young person’s metaphor, whose story was the subject of a portrait both in words and photography. Each young person’s aspirations and each subject’s story are true to themselves while also being representative of so many others like them.  

Read in Daily Maverick:A stitch in sacred time – exhibition weaves our oceans back into the realm of the divine

As Professor Adam Habib wrote in his insightful foreword to the project: “It tells the stories of these individuals, capturing their hopes, fears, aspirations and disappointments. It speaks of a people who are distinguished by their diversity, emanating as they do from a variety of racial, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds. All have been marked by the tragic history of racialised exploitation in this land. But all demonstrate in their activities, ambitions and voice how this tragedy did not scar their souls… Peter Glendinning’s South African collaborators have bared their souls and thus provided hope in the midst of social gloom…”

‘Society is like soil, shifting and changing for new species that arrive but sometimes becoming less supportive of older ones.’ – Lifang Zhang, Rhodes University. (Photo: Peter Glendinning (c) 2019)

The 50 works that will be on display at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory until the end of August are the foundation for a new phase of expression, in which young South Africans may add their own completed projects, created without Glendinning’s participation, crafted with their phone cameras, intelligence and unique creativity. See here for more information. DM168

‘When the ancestors are unsettled below the soil, we will all be unsettled above the soil.’ – Binjun
Hu, Rhodes University. (Photo: Peter Glendinning (c) 2019)

‘As dried leaves are scattered they are reborn as they nourish the soil. Through love, we scatterlings can be joined together as well.’ – Santjie Viljoen, Cape Peninsula University of Technology. (Photo: Peter Glendinning (c) 2019)

‘The marks on the soil from the people of our past were made to share a message, not just with their descendants but with all of us. – Babette Ludick, University of the Free State. (Photo: Peter Glendinning (c) 2019)

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rory Short says:

    Young South Africans’ hopes keep being dashed by older South Africans whose only hope is self enrichment at the expense of everybody else.

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