In Memoriam: Chief Maqoma, 1798 - 1873
This video piece was created as part of a presentation at the Africa Fashion conference at the V&A in 2022. Inspired, in part by African political
cloth, notably designs of King Mswati III, and King Goodwill Zwelithini; but mainly by fieldwork in South Africa between 2016 and 2019 in relation to the book project South African Photography. Retrospectively, after extensively studying South African portrait photographs from the late nineteenth century. It recently dawned upon me historical iconic South African tribal leaders and freedom fighters were often overlooked, but were sometimes documented in studio portrait ambrotype, carte-de-visite and cabinet card formats. In the Bleek and Lloyd archive at the University of Cape Town I came upon a carte-de-visite photograph album that contained a portrait of Chief Maqoba taken by William Moore. I became interested in his stoicism in prevailing adverse circumstances. He was a prominent figure in the Anglo-Xhosa conflict and known to be intelligent, brave and completely opposed, unlike his father, King Ngqika to ceding their land between the Fish and Keiskamma Rivers to the British Colonial powers, He committed himself to regaining his ancestral home, the persistence of traditional social structures and Xhosa aristocracy despite colonial depredation and dispossession. While noted for his political tenacity, like other indigenous African leaders he became a victim of colonialisms relentless ambitions. In Maqoba's case this resulted in him being imprisoned on Robben Island for twelve years. In 1869, when released on parole he tried to resettle on his stolen land and because of this was sent back to Robben Island where he died under mysterious circumstances in 1873. In the photograph, taken in-between the two periods of incarceration, Maqoba wears a suit jacket, white shirt and bowtie.
The artwork was assembled digitally in collaboration with colleague Adam Allen-Foord. The next idea was then to situate the design on a model and within an African setting. As it was not possible to do this in reality a fashion avatar was created - who wears the design as a pair of khanga, which all become animated. The figure moves through the landscape accompanied by traditional Xhosa song.
Note: William Moore, Portrait of Chief Maqoma, c.1869, carte-de-visite, Special Collections, University of Cape Town.