Today’s guest post comes from South African artist Ledelle Moe. Although born in South Africa, Moe’s heritage is geographically diverse, as are the many places she has lived. Often dealing with place and identity in her work, Moe created a stunning outdoor sculpture for the Earth Matters exhibition. Below are her reflections on the meaning of this work and her creative process.
Ledelle Moe (b. 1971, South Africa)
Concrete, iron, Collection of the artist
In preparing to write for this blog, I have reflected on journeys travelled. Outside of the everyday of “being” in a place, the conscious trips I have taken feel like important pilgrimages. The ones I will site touch base with the beauty and history of South Africa.
On the 6th of October, I travelled with a friend to Robben Island for the day. During this trip an ex-political prisoner guided the tour through the cells. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography-“Long Walk to Freedom” came to life as my feet walked through the place that he has written about in so much detail. The book itself is a history lesson and an adventure story. It follows a man whose bravery and convictions, trials and triumphs are explained in a way that makes you feel as though he is writing you alone.
I re-“read” the book as an audiotape while driving across the country last year in preparation for making the work at the African Museum. His story and my journey from Cape Town to Durban had overlapping points such as Mthatha and I felt awe at being able to access this amazing country to revisit it and acknowledge its richness no matter how complex and difficult the history.
The trip to Robben Island left me with a heavy weight of the history of the prison and South Africa and as a result I felt compelled to try and understand the people that were victims of horrific injustices. In each cell there is now an image of the prisoner and a paragraph in their own words of the time spent there. Since then I have been drawing small pen and ink cameos of each person. This helps me to slow down and remember and walk through this history.
Both the visit to Robben Island and the trip across country reminded me of the thoughts Carol Becker articulates in her book “Thinking In Place” In this book she speaks about the impulse to travel to a place that holds a personal and political history, her reflections being, that through the act of making a pilgrimage to a place a possible reconciliation with the past and history of that place is possible.
During my cross-country trip last year I stopped in a town called Elliot, not far from Mthatha. It was this landscape that I used as inspiration for the work at the African Museum. The land itself makes up the base of the Drakensberg Mountains and has a unique place in the evolution of colonial South African territorial history and land claim. It marks one of many junctures of land ownership issues that are pervasive throughout South Africa.
The small figures that are attached to the larger form of the sculpture were made from an accumulation of soil that I gathered along the trip. In taking the soil, I acknowledge the place I am in, while also removing a small part of that place and displacing it. In doing this, I felt it was a small gesture of “land claim”- of taking what is not mine and acknowledging that act. This investigation was a reflection of the migrations of my own family.
The articulation of the work itself, I hope speaks to a connection and disconnection, and of collective and individual grouping of peoples as they move transiently through and from the land.
As I sit here on table mountain writing this, I can reflect on this geography, explore this history and yet its with this distance that I begin to understand the place I have called home in the States in more focus. Similarly, when in the States the distance allows me the perspective to understand South Africa. It is with this paradox and duality that I feel very grateful to be able to participate in the show “Earth Matters” – that asks us to consider the earth under our feet and acknowledge it.