August 29, 2013

Lizabé Lambrechts & Ernst van der Wal: Lingering absences: Hearing landscape through memory (An experiment)

This exhibition offers a visual and auditory perspective on the dynamics of opera production in a time and in places subject to involuntary removals of coloured communities in Cape Town. The Eoan Opera Group was founded in 1933 by Helen Southern-Holt as a cultural and welfare organisation for the coloured community in District Six, Cape Town, which developed to include an amateur opera company that produced the first full-scale opera performances in South Africa. In spite of growing apartheid legislation during the latter half of the 20th century, the Eoan Opera Group continued to play an active role in the cultural life of Cape Town, presenting eleven opera seasons, two arts festivals and numerous tours over a period of two decades. During the 1960s the Group Areas Act gradually edged the Eoan Group out of the centre of Cape Town’s cultural life. District Six was zoned for white occupation, and legislation increasingly enforced racial segregation. By 1969 the group was relocated to the Joseph Stone Theatre in Athlone. This move seemed to be a watershed moment for the group, as from this time onwards support from the white community diminished due to the difficulties of attending concerts in a coloured area. The group was also politically compromised in their own community because they accepted funding from the Department of Coloured Affairs, a contentious apartheid institution that drew heavy criticism from coloured communities for its entrenchment of racist policies. By the 1980s, Eoan was performing to empty concert halls.

Eoan Group

Presenting both physical and lost localities, as well as imagined, political, personal, bureaucratic and cultural landscapes, this exhibition investigates the various layers of history and memory that sediments the Eoan Group’s complex legacy. Instead of presenting a contained and resolved historical narrative of the Eoan Group, this exhibition provides a space for experimentation. It is a site that tests the degree to which memory, archival material, music and noise can act as sites of interaction and interchange. By following the grain of the voice and the traces of memory, this project traverses the Isaac Ochberg Hall in District Six, the Cape Town City Hall in Cape Town’s city centre and the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone, three key sites that stand as markers of the Eoan Group’s relationship to the landscape. As recounted through the memories of members of this group these three spaces bear loaded testimony to the apartheid system’s impact on the human being’s life in sound and image.


Lizabé Lambrechts (Stellenbosch) holds a PhD in musicology on the subject of power and politics in South African music archives. She is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University, where she is working on a project to make a part of South Africa’s unknown music history accessible through sorting, cataloguing and curating the Hidden Years Music Archive.

Screen shot 2013-08-29 at 9.54.51 PM

Ernst van der Wal (Stellenbosch) obtained his PhD in visual arts at Stellenbosch University, and he is a full-time lecturer in the Department of Visual Arts. Working under the rubric of cultural studies and art theory he investigates the embodiment and visualisation of queer and/or non-normative identities within post-apartheid South Africa. He has published widely on this subject.

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