Settler Country

This is a project examining the traces and heritage of early 19th century British settlement in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

The famous immigration of the 1820 Settlers acts as a starting point for a meditation on settler culture in Africa, geographical and cultural passage, and the fate of the settler project under post-colonialism.

The project is centred on an enquiry into how “Britishness” looks after nearly 200 years in Africa, but uses this both as specific record and as a vehicle for more general enquiry into settler culture in Southern Africa.

So the images explore the subjective dimensions of the settler experience and influence, from encountering a strange land, to the way the settler presence remains inscribed on the landscape, in architecture, and in the preservation of heritage. The project is also concerned with the ways settler culture in Southern Africa has been changed, effaced, or re-appropriated under current “post-colonial” conditions. A significant element is new portraits of direct descendents of settlers living in South Africa.

The larger purpose of the enquiry concerns the nature of the colonial presence in Africa. As a descendant of generations of white South Africans, I am intimately concerned with the ambiguities of the settler presence and settler culture.

The images produced are as much about the invisible and subjective dimensions of settler experience as its outward forms, and should be explored at leisure and in relation to one another. The “Settler Country” that is the subject of the project is as much a country of the mind as a physical space.

A selection of photographs from the completed project was exhibited in the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol in November 2007, and a slightly larger selection was shown at Knysna Fine Art in March/April 2008. The second phase of the project was exhibited in Bristol in 2009.

Go to the project at Settler Country.