Garth Erasmus and Siemon Allen
Curated by Julie McGee
Mechanical Hall Gallery, University of Delaware, DE
September 9 - December 11, 2015

Sound is an archeological and navigational tool for exploring the richly complicated terrain of South African history for artists Garth Erasmus and Siemon Allen. Through their work in ReSoundings we enter a world of South African chronologies and heritage deeply rooted and specific yet resonant beyond national borders.

Erasmus summons stories of the indigenous peoples for whom present-day Cape Town was home long before European contact and colonization. Their narratives of resistance and resilience inspire his sound art, seen and heard in ReSoundings. Allen’s work is informed by his on-going analysis of the Afrikaans folksong, “Daar Kom Die Alibama” (There Comes the Alabama) and its purported namesake the eponymous Confederate raider, CSS Alabama, which docked in the Cape in 1863 and 1864. Allen’s extensive archival research into its recorded history and its namesake underpins an artistic practice that is forensic and conceptual. His methodical collecting and data mining inform his conceptual construction, and our visual experience derives from the artist’s creative response to the archive.

Generated during his recent exploration of coastal regions in South Africa, Allen’s project investigates the complex relationships between the United States and South Africa through various maritime and colonial histories. Signal Hill, an eleven foot panoramic digital print mounted on a curved frame, shows the view toward Table Bay in Cape Town from Signal Hill, with Robben Island in the distance. In August of 1863 locals watched the Alabama capture the Union flagged Sea Bride from this vantage point. Ensign features 169 photographic details of the ships’s worn, hand-sewn flag. Raphael Semmes, the Alabama’s captain, presented the ship’s Confederate ensign to his agent in Cape Town during the ships’s last visit there in 1864. This Civil War artifact is today housed in the collection of Iziko Museums of South Africa.

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Siemon Allen and Garth Erasmus (photo by Julie McGee)