Cartographies of Absence The Mapping of erased narratives of “coloured” people within the post-colonial | post-apartheid cityscape

Author: Althea Peacock

Research stage: 1st year PHD student


This paper proposes to think through the potential for a mapping or cartography of archive existing beyond officially sanctioned documents, recoverable artefacts, or physical and iconic buildings. It hints at something possibly ephemeral, and without singular location in space and/or time.

I propose employing a photograph as the first coordinate of locating a family home and history in Johannesburg, South Africa.

If the photograph and its associated memory are the “once upon a time” then the context holds the rest of the spatial narrative. It therefore evokes references to affect theory and archival practices which are neither complementary nor mutually exclusive. The deep ethical dilemmas which accompany spatial ethnographies need to be confronted, and simultaneously recorded and recoded for other accessibilities and readings.

I propose the merging of poetry and a version of cartography as a methodology towards this alternate accessibility or reading.

Several questions then emerge: When projecting into the context of a post-apartheid city - the context beyond that photo - can one map that projected, lived site which reflected, imagined and enacted that apartheid ideology? If one employs a memory of someone from a marginalized community, whose identity was assigned by a toxic ideology, how is that memory represented or recorded? Does the memory or the photograph constitute archive, evidence or artefact or does this ?

Can one employ poetry as a mechanism for mapping the impressions and experiences of the invisibilsed, erased places and people, generated from a photograph as a means of mapping absence? What kind of photographs are useable or useful? How is evidentiary value assigned to the artifact of the photo? What determines this value?

In a practice-based approach it forces confrontations with history and decolonization of spatial practice founded on a Western Canon. The objective is to expand beyond my personal story and uncover similar spatial evidence for more people who share a narrative of dispossession, which has manifested spatially and which has no trace or record of home. There is potential for a collective, alternate version of an archiving practice which is not merely a collection, but manifesting performative, spatialised recollection.

The photograph is the catalyst to re-enact the space in which it was taken. To re-trace the lives, spaces, interactions, performative memories and identities onto the silenced landscape. This will consequently develop a narrative expressed as poetry, drawing and other expressions of place memory which would constitute the re-mapped archive.

Keywords: Photograph; Spatial Erasure; Identity; Trace; Narrative; Poetry; Mapping