Artist statement by Emma Willemse
Wounded archive is a wall installation first exhibited at the Woordfees in Stellenbosch, where I had the privilege to be the festival artist in 2018. It was exhibited as part of a series of works under the title Archives of loss, all of which were created with found wooden shelves in various sizes, which were filled and stacked with discarded parquet floor blocks collected from Woodstock in Cape Town.
The semi-industrial Woodstock suburb has an interesting history of being one of the only areas in Cape Town where the group areas act was not enforced in the Apartheid era. Situated very conveniently near to the center of the city, it is known for its small, semi-detached houses which were mainly occupied by coloured people. The homes were passed on from generation to generation. Today, many of the warehouses and semi-detached homes are bought by developers as part of a gentrification process. Buildings are demolished and second-hand building material shops stock the ripped out wooden parquet flooring so indigenous of the homes built in the thirties to the fifties. Woodstock’s character is changing fast, becoming a trendy area with chic coffee shops and stylish boutiques.
Gentrification is known to create the conditions for displacement, a concept that I have been working on for the past fifteen years. In Woodstock, the increase in the cost of living created a downward pressure on low-income residents and many long-term residents were not able to stay to benefit in the upgrade of infrastructure.
My concern is with the effects of displacement on the psyche of the displaced and in my art practice I work with material as a metaphor to express the pain of the loss of a home. In this case, each discarded parquet floor block used in this work can directly be traced to the floor of a demolished home in Woodstock, and the marks and traces still visible on the blocks link each block to a specific place where it was ripped from, during the demolishing process.
If an archive is a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place or a group of people, the intent of this work is to also suggest the information regarding psychological damage, the wound of the experience of displacement of the many inhabitants of Woodstock that have lost their homes.
In making my work, I strive to be very specific, yet I always hope that the visual language that I use will be readable in a more universal way. I had confirmation of this when one viewer expressed the view that Wounded archive somehow reminded her of the Jewish Concentration camps in World War II. Therefore, although Wounded archive is about the loss of homes in Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa; the work is alluding to the many traumatic losses that people had to endure throughout history.