2017 is still fresh. For me it all started with a journey to the UK. The first two days were dedicated to exploring the city with as special person. It’s amazing how traveling in my own pace and discovering surroundings with excitement can connect me to my child self again…
Past, present and future connect in a beautiful way. Whenever I cross borders physically, I also cross mental borders and the world around me in all its differences becomes a unified whole.
The traces of one of my homes – South Africa – were waiting for me at every corner. Signs of decolonialisation, past struggles for freedom and present connections. The first day we discovered Ruth First’s house in exile just around the corner from our accommodation. She was a South African freedom fighter and gave my student accommodation at Rhodes University in South Africa her name. I felt reminded of my friends there, my temporary family – the ‘Ruth First Girls’.
We spent our first day exploring Camden Town and praying at the Baps Shri Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir. It’s the biggest Hindu temple in Europe and I spent a lot of time looking at every detail of the central room, standing in front of Shiva, Ganesha and Hanuman, while C was sitting in the center of the room with tranquillity.
The temple is a contrast to the loud Tamil temple full of colors I experienced in Hamm/Germany with my religious studies class. In London, I found it interesting to see how the founders of this particular religious group within Hinduism were seen as godly with their own statues you can pray to. In the museum of the temple we saw how politics, identity and religion can be connected… A man told us the exhibition was about Hindu religion, which in his opinion equaled Indian culture. After this encounter C and me had a long conversation about this notion – as a Bahá’í I believe in the truth within all major religions and I could never attach this truth to a particular physical place. Many questions were formed in this experience and I am very happy that we found the temple!
In the evening we walked around the city, experiencing the different colors of the place and filled the night with laughter:
The next morning the connections between places became even more evident. While walking to a breakfast place, Gandhi was waiting for us in a park. After I witnessed how the South African student protests lead to the removal of a statue of the colonialist John Cecil Rhodes in front of the University of Cape Town, it was very refreshing to see the statue of a person who actually changed the world for the better!
Our next encounter with our child selves was the beautiful tea house ‘Tea and Tattle’ where we did a tea testing and ate scones and discovered that there is an Oriental and African bookstore connected to it! C loves ancient myths and for me as an anthropology and religious studies student this place was heaven on earth, too, of course! We’ve spent a lot of time there and bought some great books that could hardly fit our small suitcase.
Our last part of the touristy experience of London was going to the British Museum. C explained to me a lot about the Egyptian and ancient Greek sections and I jumped around with excitement talking about every small detail in the South African exhibition. This museum is huge, full of every ethnographic collection you can imagine and we could have probably spent a whole week there, but I am super grateful for the things we were able to see in the short time.
I feel so lucky that we came exactly at the right time of the year to see the temporary exhibition about South African art from 100.000 years ago till now. We saw cave paintings me and a good friend of mine were shown last year on a hike with a private guide who could tell us everything about San|Bushmen life, art from the last century made by witnesses of apartheid segregation politics and the struggle for freedom as well as recent contemporary art.
One of my favorite artworks of all time was one of the center pieces of the exhibition: The Creation of Sun (2015) by the Bethesda Arts Collective. It is made out of textiles and depicts part of San|Bushmen myths of creation. The San|Bushmen are native people of South Africa who do not have a say in many things concerning their lives and what happens in the nation. Their struggles can be – very cautiously of course – compared to Native American and Australian Aboriginal struggles.
The San|Bushmen artists in this collective narrate stories that matter to them. It filled my heart with joy to see one of their artworks in London after seeing an exhibition of their work in the National Art Gallery in Cape Town in 2015. The most exciting detail I found was the small town the artists come from… 2016, after returning to South Africa in order to study at Rhodes University for five months, I stayed in their home town for research – a very special place full of art in the Karoo desert, that taught me so much! It’s funny that I found out about this connection on a trip to London, not knowing beforehand that I would see my favorite artwork again.
The last days were spent in the suburban town Reading on a family visit. Behind this door we found love, shared prayers, lots of laughter, a game night, great conversations and amazing food…
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[…] traces of South Africa on my trip to London in January made me think about my return to Cape Town in March 2015. Right in the student revolution. There […]