Nellien Brewer | | Art in South Africa
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Trousseau - 2017

Artist Statement - Bruidskat/ Dowry

On 1 May 1852, a piece of land comprising 5993 acres, situated between the Umvoti and Tugela rivers, was granted 'on perpetual quitrent' to Christiaan Stephanus van Rooyen, by his Honor Benjamin Chilley Campbell Pine, Lieutenant Governor of the District of Natal, within the Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope. The farm was called Naauwkloof.

Comprising savannah grassland and wooded valleys between the sandstone cliffs, the land abounded with wildlife, and must have held a lot of promise for the prospective farmer. In a remote valley, on the portion of the farm referred to as 'Craiglands' (or the Zulu name `Gezane`), the farmer lovingly built a beautiful sandstone home for his bride. This house was regarded as one of the most beautiful homes in the district, and it was also the first to contain an indoor toilet. Legend has it, however, that the farmer`s fiancee left him before their marriage. Over the years, ownership of the farm was transferred a number of times, and many interesting stories were told about the inhabitants of the home. It even had a resident ghost!

Approximately a hundred years after the first registration, my grandfather, a doctor in the district, bought the farm to retire on. His son, my father, studied Agriculture at the University of Pretoria, where he met my mother. Like his predecessors, he brought his young (Afrikaans) bride to the predominantly English- and Zulu-speaking Natal valley where they raised four children.

Growing up on the remote farm, my siblings and I spoke Afrikaans, English and Zulu. We explored the sandstone cliffs and indigenous forests, and were taught about our own customs and those of the proud Zulu people. We would often find birds' nests under the trees, and I would marvel at the complexity of the beautiful designs.

Our family lived in another home on Noukloof, as Craiglands was too far from the main road. My father, however, faithfully maintained the homestead and outbuildings, and my parents would occasionally let people live there who needed a place to stay. To me, Craiglands felt like something from a fairy tale - surrounded by dark green conifers, the home was silent and spooky, but lovely. The sense of history was palpable - it felt as if the farm would be there for ever, and I fantasised about living there when I grew up.

My brother shared my love for the land. Following in our father's footsteps, he studied Agriculture at the University of Pretoria. He went on to complete a doctorate in America, where he met his future wife. As the farmers before him, the young man brought his bride to the remote Natal valley.

My American sister-in-law embraced her new life without electricity or cell phone reception. The couple valiantly struggled to make a living on the farm. Owing to crime and other factors, they eventually decided to move to America for the sake of their children. Soon after this, a land claim was registered on the land, and it was fortuitous that they had already made the decision to leave.

Times have changed. As expected, both houses and all outbuildings have been destroyed - stripped of all useful materials. A number of animal skeletons lie scattered amongst the ruins, and Wattle and Eucalyptus saplings abound, celebrating their freedom from the neatly defined plantations they were once restricted to.

When we visited the farm a few years ago, I found a man tending his vegetable patch in front of the ruins where my father used to plant lucern. We exchanged greetings, and he called his children over to explain to them that I had lived in the old house as a child. The ancient rhythms have simply continued as before - the approximately 160 years of farming in this particular valley leaving barely a ripple on the face of Africa.

We now live in Muckleneuk, Pretoria. I often think about the carefree days in the remote valley, and I trust that my children will also have fond memories of their childhood. We still find nests, albeit under the street trees, and I still marvel at their complexity.

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