Change the world


A collection of artistic, academic and musical interpretations of an ocean-based pilgrimage across various water sources in the coastal Port Elizabeth city is currently being exhibited at Nelson Mandela University’s Bird Street Art Gallery.

The Tributaries Project exhibition pays tribute to the 27 pilgrims – comprising university staff and students under the Chair for Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa (ISCIA) – who found inspiration in their sea-to-source journeys over a period of time. The pilgrims, as the participants in the project are known, then created the multiple and diverse responses showcased in this multimedia event.

The Tributaries Project forms part of the ISCIA Chair’s mandate to engage with the dilemma of the relation between identities and social cohesion, not only through philosophical and theoretical research but also through experiment and experiential learning.

“It also aims to take the research out of the 4 walls of the academy, based on the argument that the academy is traditionally the seat of intellectualized, instrumental education, where theoretical knowledge production predominates and art is underplayed,” says ISCIA Chair, Prof Andrea Hurst.

“However, the underlying hypothesis of this project is that it is precisely art that can play a powerful role both in promoting a transformative, decolonized educational practice and in fostering social cohesion.”

The Chair is one of eight SARChI chairs based at Mandela University and focusses on identities and social cohesion in Africa. This is premised on the understanding that training and retaining highly skilled, internationally competitive innovators able to promote equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth in South Africa, depends on both an ethos of social cohesion and a stimulating environment for educational experimentation.

The works showcased in the Tributaries Project exhibition showcases the responses offered by the pilgrims to their experiences of travelling across the pathway from the wide open sea (starting at Sardinia Bay), along the coastline through the industrial zones (the Cape Recife lighthouse, the waste water treatment works, the PE harbour); and then moving up the poisoned Swartkops Estuary, towards the sacred source of the Swartkops River in Groendal Wilderness Area, where the water is pure enough to drink.

“As [the] name [of the project] suggests, the overall theme of water was chosen. Water was a fitting theme, particularly in view of the shared identity of Nelson Mandela University’s Summerstrand campuses being beside the ocean, and Port Elizabeth as a port city,” says Prof Hurst.

“This came about from a whole lot of micro-events, which I won’t detail here, but the basic idea is that water binds together opposing concepts of diversity and unity and might serve as a fitting metaphor for shaping our engagement with identity and social cohesion.”

The project team said the main questions guiding the Tributaries Project was how to realise a cohesive community in social conditions of extreme diversity, and what such a community would look like and under what conditions it could “work”.

“The guiding hypothesis was that such communities may be realised if they work as ‘assemblages’ in Deleuzian terms, bound by a shared concern, which is rich enough to encompass a diversity of interests and passions,” says Prof Hurst.

The works on exhibition include paintings, photos, musical and photographic pieces that can be viewed in Bird Street until Monday, 25 November, while other responses in the form of academic papers were presented at a colloquium held this week.

Music lecturer, Dr Glen Holtzman’s response to the pilgrimage consisted of a moving musical composition in conjunction with his students that was performed on opening night earlier this week, entitled “Water Works”. He also made a colloquium presentation entitled “Saturated Sounds: Making Water Music”.

Science postgraduate student, Nehemia Latolla’s response, in collaboration with two other contributors, Grettel Osorio Hernandez and Wiehahn Coetzer, consists of a mixed media installation of three garments and a digital display entitled “Unconsciousness, Anguish and Transcendence”.

Artist Luke Rudman’s response to the pilgrimage showcases his performance artwork titled “Plastic Monsters” (image below).

The exhibition is open from 09:00 – 15:00 weekdays until Monday.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777