Excavations for Opening up Histories: Liliesleaf Farm Mayibuye

Dr. Patti Gaal-Holmes’ paper focused on one aspect of her six-part project drawing on her cross-cultural ancestry and migrant identity, ‘Certitudes of Belonging & Vicissitudes of the Self’.

The project engaged with discourses related to exile, migration, memory and identity and included short films, experimental photographs and artists’ books.

The first part of Patti’s six-part project, Liliesleaf Farm: Mayibuye, focused on the personal and political histories intersecting at a historic site.

Liliesleaf Farm has particular historical significance as it was the headquarters of the military wing of the African National Congress ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ in the early 1960s.

A police raid on the farm took place in 1963, with the notorious Rivonia Trial resulting in the lifetime imprisonment of anti-apartheid activists such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.

Ideas for the project originated with the discovery of 8mm film footage and photographs of Patti’s immigrant family at Liliesleaf as this was their home for a short time in the late 1960s.

The challenges of combining personal and political histories lay at the forefront of this project.

The ‘whitewashing’ of significant political events (as the apartheid government was notorious for), the historical amnesia afflicting traumatic historic events, and the role of complicity were central to the investigations fueling this project.

The idea of the house as a palimpsest, holding multiple layers of history was reflected upon and a consideration of the possibilities opened up through creative engagements with traumatic histories was contextualised with reference to critical/theoretical texts by Mark Sanders, T J Demos, Hilde van Gelder and Nikos Papastergiadis, and the writings of W. G. Sebald.

The completed short film Liliesleaf Farm Mayibuye: In Search of the Spectres of History (2016) was screened at the 60th BFI Film Festival.

The film was supported by Arts Council England, Hoskings Houses Trust & the Nirox Foundation.

You can read more about Patti’s work here.