Garth Erasmus and Siemon Allen
Mechanical Hall Gallery
September 9-December 11, 2015

Garth Erasmus From the series Xnau Drawings, no. 3, Nemours, 2015. Saturation monoprint, ink, collage elements, stencil. © Garth Erasmus
Garth Erasmus
From the series Xnau Drawings, no. 3, Nemours, 2015
Saturation monoprint, ink, collage elements, stencil.
© Garth Erasmus

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.

Since the 1980s Erasmus has been deeply invested in the cultural heritage of South Africa’s earliest inhabitants, the    indigenous peoples for whom present-day Cape Town was home long before European contact and colonization. The soundscape in this exhibition honors Goringhaikona chief Autshumato, whose advocacy for the rights of indigenous peoples led to his imprisonment on Robben Island in 1659 by order of the Dutch who settled in the Cape 1652.

The musical bow—the earliest string instrument—serves as both a tangible and symbolic reference to early indigenous sound. The arc of the bow and its string represent the connective tissue of history, a chord that can be restrung; remaking the bow is a regenerative act, its resounding is palliative for a society conditioned by the violence of colonialism and Apartheid. Erasmus loaned two of his musical bows for ReSoundings. Seemingly a caprice, the bows are exhibited in cases, as though static cultural objects of extinct cultures. Like James Luna’s The Artifact Piece (1986) or Jimmie Durham’s The Dangers of Petrification (1998–2007), the display is the artist’s antithesis: it recalls and then rebukes troubling histories of display and presentation of living indigenous traditions.

Siemon Allen
Daar Kom Die Alibama, 2015
Installation detail showing the label of a 1942 recording by Josef Marais from his 78 rpm album set “Songs of the Veld Vol. 2”, Decca No. A-302, USA. Marais came to the United States in 1939 and popularized a number of Afrikaans folk songs including “Daar Kom die Alibama” (There Comes the Alabama) through his wartime radio show “African Trek” hosted by NBC (WJZ).

Siemon Allen’s installation is inspired by his on-going analysis of the beloved Afrikaans folksong, “Daar Kom Die Alibama (There Comes the Alabama).” It is among the best known of the Cape ghoema liedjiesghoema songs—sung to the rhythmical beat of a small drum or ghoema, and popularized though minstrel troupes during New Year celebrations in Cape Town. Though the origins of the folksong are contested, its purported namesake is 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.

An Afrikaans folksong associated with maritime trade and the Confederacy has connected the artist to his port of birth in Durban, South Africa and his present home in Richmond, Virginia. Allen brings visual order to interrelated histories and conflated trajectories that include South Africa’s maritime and colonial histories, the American Civil War and the transatlantic slave trade.

Dredging recorded and submerged histories, Erasmus and Allen encounter discordances worthy of their artistic inquiry, appropriation and resounding. They share a fascination with dissonance and misusage, linguistic and otherwise. Hence, their work in ReSoundings responds well to the etymology and multivalence of sound: as music, to protest, as a water channel, for healing, and lastly, to survey by means of soundings. Their exhibition forms part of the broader UD Creative Campus grant-funded project, Cape ReSoundings, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center (IHRC).

Banner image: Siemon Allen, Alabama Artifacts, 2015. Installation detail. © Siemon Allen

Click here to visit the Cape ReSoundings Project Resource Page.

ReSoundings Installation Images


ReSoundings Opening Celebration
Wednesday, September 9, 5-7 p.m.
Celebratory opening with Garth Erasmus, Siemon Allen and performance. Programming begins promptly.

  • Opening remarks: Dr. George Watson, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences and Unidel Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Artist walk-about with Garth Erasmus & Siemon Allen
  • Informance interlude:UD Dance & friends
  • Musical jam with Garth Erasmus & Colin Miller, Director of Global Arts, CAS
  • Reception following: 2nd floor Mechanical Hall

RSVP: and (302) 831-8037
Mechanical Hall Gallery

Perspectives is a series of informal afternoon discussions led by curators and invited faculty about the objects, exhibitions, and ideas on display in University Museums galleries. Scheduled for your lunch break, these varied, short and informal noontime talks offer an introduction to each exhibition as well as time for discussion.

Tuesday, September 22, 12:30-1:15 p.m.
Kaila Schedeen, Graduate Student, Art History
Mechanical Hall Gallery

Monday, October 5, 12:15-1 p.m.
Julie L. McGee, Curator of African American Art, Associate Professor, Black American Studies
Mechanical Hall Gallery

Thursday, November 5, 12:30-1:15 p.m.
Colin D. Miller, Director of Global Arts, CAS
Mechanical Hall Gallery

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