HISTORY BEGINS WITH A GARDEN - KHAYA WITBOOI
Sometimes we ask flowers to speak for us, to tell our love, jealousy or gratitude; but flowers can reveal other truths if we let them. They can tell about the love and hate of our past and the controversies of our present, unlocking the political history of their beauty and poetics. The same inquiry would unveil the sinless space of the garden itself as a place of symbolic and material production. It is here where the sublime beauty, accessible to few, emerges as the surplus value of the dirty hand labor of the many.
History begins with a Garden is an exhibition by Khaya Witbooi curated by Mariella Franzoni, that explores the colonial genealogy (or counter-history) of gardens and
gardening in South Africa, bringing to light its relation with slavery, land dispossession and nationalist propaganda. Questions like, “how the beauty of South Africa’s nature is produced, protected and celebrated? For whom? At whose expense?” motivate the exploration of the notion of garden as an ambiguous space of beauty and violence. In school books, the (colonial) history of South Africa is made to start with the creation of an innocent garden – a small portion of land in the Cape cultivated by the
travelers of the Dutch East Indian Company to supply food for their journey towards and from India. But the genealogy of gardens in the region does not end with
vegetables and fruits. Beside the utilitarian motives, the rhetoric of aesthetic and civilization was at the origin of the colonial and apartheid enterprises that built the
Company’s Garden, and later Kirstenbosch in Cape Town, as symbols of power.