Kalk Bay Modern is privileged enough to hold one of the largest collections of contemporary San (Bushman) art in South Africa. The San are the aboriginal people of Southern Africa. Their distinct hunter-gatherer culture stretches back over 20 000 years, and their genetic origins reach back over one million years. Recent research indicates that the San are the oldest genetic stock of contemporary humanity. Sparingly dispersed throughout Southern Africa, rock paintings can be found, dating back thousands of years. These images are the only threads of history left to tell the story of the San way of life that no longer exists. As an indigenous people deeply connected with nature and animals; they visually reference oral tradition of expressing daily life and mythological beliefs, which continues to be both integral and vital in passing down from one generation to the next. Contemporary San art is a natural evolution of their creativity to interpret their dreams, their morals and retain their world which is rapidly disintegrating.
Approximately 7000 San live in resettled communities and the majority of San live in commercial farming areas, forming a small proportion of the population, living under difficult conditions. Ekoka is one such resettlement area situated in a remote part of the Ohangwena region along the Namibia/Angola border. Ekoka is home to 60 San families with a San populuation of approximately 272 people. The village is set up along linguistic lines; the Ongongolo on the one side and the Kwagga on the other side. The Kwanyama, the dominant tribe in the Ohangwena region encircle both groups. In 2002 the Rossing Foundation was approached by UNESCO and WIMSA (Working Institute for Minorities in Southern Africa) to develop a community income project at Ekoka for the San community to improve living conditions. Noting the success of two other art projects, one in South Africa at Schmidsdrift and the other at Kuru, Botswana, it was decided to trial an art project at Ekoka with external funding. Cheryl Rumbak, KBM Director, was engaged to facilitate and run six product development workshops organized by the Rossing Foundation. The objectives of the first three workshops were to identify artists and provide basic skills training. The focus on the remaining three workshops was advanced art development and skills training amongst the artists. 2
The !Xun (!Kung) and Khwe (the two largest San groups in Southern Africa) are originally from the region of Cuando-Cubango in southern Angola and the Caprivi region of the former South West Africa (Namibia), but they have been living in precarious circumstances in a state of migrancy since the onset of the Angolan war of Independence in 1961. Between 1975 and 1990, the years during which they emigrated to South West Africa and South Africa, many !Xun and Khwe men were embroiled in warfare as trackers and soldiers by the former South African Defence Force (SADF). They were settled on their land Platfontein at the end of 2004, approximately 15 km outside the Northern Cape provincial capital, Kimberley. There are approximately 3 500 !Xun and 1 100 Khwe left. 3
In 1990 the Kuru Art Project was developed by members of the Naro and Dcui San based in the settled community of D'Kar, Botswana. This community of San have all grown up in the vast Kalahari sandveld, in and around the Ghanzi district of western Botswana. The focus of the Kuru Art Project continues to be one of encouraging the artists to share their unique visions and experiences as they interpret the world around them.
San artists have no formal training thus retaining the purity of their innate visions, and are able to express and give insight into their rapidly fading culture and way of life straight from the heart. For these artists, composition, choice of colour, and other principles and elements of art, form an intuitive part of subject choice and the manner in which they are depicted. They use contemporary art materials and techniques to originally represent animals, weather, insects, the hunter, mythological creatures and many edible plants familiar to the stories past down from their elders or their daily existence. They reveal what they consider to be distinctive about their culture.
1. South African San Institute, 2. Rossing Foundation / Omba Arts Trust, 3. Jessica Stephenson, "Memory and Magic, Contemporary Art of !Xun and Khwe", 4. The Kuru Art Project