Despite the negative connotations that the words ‘coloured identity’ conjure, the artists exhibiting at Eclectica have chosen to celebrate this culture with the hope of creating a positive awareness of its diversity. This exhibition hopes to contribute and reinforce positivity towards change in our coloured community.
We wish to highlight the rich contributions of coloured people, both culturally and politically. The contributions to culture have been diverse and unique across language, music, theatre, literature, the arts and food! Politically, and especially in the Western and Eastern Cape, the legacy is long and impactful with many heroes, luminaries, leaders and movements. ‘Coloureds’ have and continue to make, an enormous contribution to South Africa.
Even though the aim of this exhibition is to celebrate ‘coloured’ identity we should not forget the systematic way in which ‘coloured’ people in South Africa, especially in Cape Town and its outskirts, remain marginalized. Their shared sentiment seems to be a feeling of imprisonment in a cycle of invisibility and exclusion. A concern often expressed is, “Wat van ons?” – which talks about exclusion from opportunities, be it economic, social or political. The outcry amongst ‘coloured’ people in the townships is that they have been forgotten.
Do we want to be defined?
How important is this definition in a South African context?
Opening a dialogue can act as a catalyst in understanding our identity and can simultaneously provide a means of healing. We need to openly speak about the impact of our slave history, our imposed identity, our struggle founded within the cruel and oppressive Apartheid state and the consequences of social and economic injustices our current democratic state has inherited. Understanding the past, how it links to the present, and lived experiences, should create deeper insight into the community and identity of ‘coloureds’ and deeper insight into their fears, hopes and dreams.
Embracing the ‘coloured’ identity is not easy. ‘Coloured’ people have been stereotyped as uneducated, lacking in heritage; as drunks, gangsters and “tik koppe”. As a result of an oppressive system, we are met with social ultimatums that require us to either accept or reject an oppressive consciousness in order to attain some socio-economic benefits and/or higher social status. Our choices throughout recent and colonial South African history, has been either to align ourselves with the dominant white race, assimilate into it, or fight against it.
Many in our ‘coloured’ community lack a sense of origin. This can be destabilizing because it creates a deep unsettling emotion of not belonging, of not being part of anything, of having “no culture or heritage”. It is often aggravated by our lack of knowledge of where we come from. Most of our elders refuse to talk about the past, either simply because they don’t know, or they were embarrassed or traumatized by their slave history. Instead, European ancestry is celebrated. Additionally so are other more place-able heritages, whether from India or elsewhere in the East. Ironically, racism and orientalism manifested in ‘coloured’ communities, using the same hierarchy that promotes whiteness, white culture and the West as superior.
When we look back on history that extends outside of race and class, it is evident that there needs to be a disruption in the oppressive cycles for further liberation to occur. The stories told, the songs sang need to be brought to the forefront. It is within the creativity of our ‘coloured’ communities that many of them have found refuge and have managed to create aspirations for a better future. Many eras have passed, each of them imposing their own context onto an entire nation. Yet, we have reached a time, where there is necessity in not only celebrating who we are and our diversity, but to speak up against new forms of oppression and systematic control.