In July 2015, I travelled to South Africa, to meet the makers of the Keiskamma Guernica (2010). I went to the coastal village of Hamburg, the home of the Keiskamma Trust, where the Keiskamma river meets the ocean.
I stayed for two weeks, the first of which I spent talking to people, gaining an insight into the workings of the Keiskamma Trust and its different areas of activity, which include Art, Health, Education, and Music. Spending time with people involved with the Trust in this way was a very powerful and moving experience; I learnt about the activity carried out by the Trust in the Peddie District in the Eastern Cape to combat the suffering caused by the HIV / AIDS crisis. I began to gain an understanding of how poverty deeply impacts upon health. For some HIV medicines commonly known as ARV’s (antiretrovirals) need to be taken with food. If there is no food this effects the performance of the medicines. This is a problem which is far too common in the Eastern Cape, the poorest region of South Africa.
In the second week I began to film interviews with some of those involved in the workshops that surrounded the making of the large scale Keiskamma Guernica (2010) both facilitators and participants. Picasso’s weeping women images were used in workshops to explore expressions of grief and suffering. Notably there are acceptable time periods and public places for mourning but beyond that grief is largely contained, so discussing personal expressions of grief, crying and suffering traversed this private / public divide.
Picasso’s Guernica Translated
I also interviewed people who participated in the making of the Keiskamma Guernica (2010) and in the creation of the three smaller-scale Keiskamma Guernica’s that have since been created (2011, 2012, 2015). I took the Guernica protest banner with me on this trip, which was incredibly helpful. It created an opportunity to compare the banner with the Keiskamma Guernica to reflect upon our differing approaches, interpretations and adaptations of Picasso’s Guernica. Significantly the Keiskamma Guernica uses a local iconography that combines important symbols within the Xhosa culture with narrative motifs experienced by the people in the local community living through the HIV / AIDS crisis. The horse of Picasso’s Guernica is translated into a cow in the Keiskamma Guernica. The cow is an expression of wealth and value for the Xhosa people, therefore the death of the cow expresses a powerful meaning of loss within the community. The narrative also departs from Picasso’s Guernica and focuses on the impact of the HIV / AIDS crisis to enable it to be better understood by those who view the Keiskamma Guernica. For example the mother holding her dying baby in Picasso’s Guernica is notably changed in the Keiskamma Guernica to show a mother holding her adult child. This indicates that in the height of the crisis, HIV / AIDS related illnesses were killing adults in larger numbers than infants. Many mothers lost there children to HIV / AIDS and are now left to care for their grandchildren, this narrative of loss but also of matriarchal love and resiliance is widely found in the area.