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On solid ground: Re-mapping the history of identity 2009 | Association of Arts Pretoria

On solid ground: Re-mapping the history of identity.

To know where you are going, one needs to take a solid stand and choose a starting point. One of my options was to refer to this work as “neutral ground” in order to remove myself from confrontations and conflict I may find when looking at all the facets. In a sense this would then be the standpoint of someone who remains anonymous without identity. By remaining neutral one leaves too many options open, maybe in a way being scared of what you may find and realize what you may or may not be responsible for.

What interests me is how my rich cultural background has influenced my identity and how this may relate to the environment I find myself in. My family come from all walks of life. From the British parliament in the 1800’s, to second world war Spitfire pilots, from Dutch immigrants and settlers to Boer commando leaders and prisoners of war. These ancestors have occupied a variety of different places in our country from farmers to urbanized businessmen. Their ideology and cultural identity, no matter how diverse and at times conflicting, interconnected with the environment they occupied and existed in. This in turn has and will set off a chain reaction of socio- political events.

In South Africa, the struggle for land and the reform thereof has been at the fore front of this country’s history and a burden in terms of establishing a true African identity. The struggle continues coupled with a massive surge in South African urbanization. As a member of the lost generation X, it becomes difficult to find a sense of belonging. We are blamed for certain events and actions, and then forgiven. Our ancestors are hero worshipped and then erased in a circular turn of events. History repeats itself, turning faster with each rotation.

I am an African. Where I come from (including the ground my family walked on) has established my identity. It forms part of a micro history that echoes in world history and continues to write itself. Who I am and where I fit in, forms part of this history that cannot be changed. Through painting, especially the landscape, I re-map my own history of identity and re-visit my ancestral grounds. This becomes problematic in a sense as there is very little left to re-map. One cannot deny the issues of colonialism and the post-colonial struggle that play a major role and have a great influence on my existence. These factors are not of such great importance to my investigation as they are historical in a broader sense, and my journey becomes more personal.

“Do you remember when?” becomes an important part of the South African ideology of identity. I, for one, have grown up in Pretoria and struggle with this identity. The house in Hatfield I grew up in has made way for an office block. My mother’s home in Menlyn has been bulldozed to make way for “Menlyn Maine”, a modernized hotel, office and shopping complex. My father’s home in Lynnwood has recently been demolished to make way for the new Gautrian, linking two major cities, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The landscape is disappearing at a rapid rate. The environment becomes betrayed in a sense for something bigger and better. Beautiful vistas are laid claim to by property developing millionaires, seeking further investment.

In a sense the open spaces of Africa are being robbed of their own identity by man’s ability to alter and urbanize space. By re-mapping the environment, deconstructing it in a sense and recording it in a manner that makes sense, strengthens my identity and conjures up feelings of warm nostalgia. When you are robbed of personal sacred spaces, you are robbed of your identity in a sense. These historical and urbanized spaces and events are what I am attempting to re-map.

Peter Binsbergen - June 2009

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