From Cave to Screen
“A lot of digitisation projects tend to be very empirical, governed by the standard discourse on preservation and dissemination, whereas what I find interesting is the way in which these records speak to an intellectual history of Rock Art research in South Africa in wonderfully direct ways. The early records reveal quite an ad-hoc free-form approach, with people jotting down notes in random notebooks with beautiful little sketch maps… You know: ‘Leave your car on so-and-so’s farm, turn left at the waterfall, walk up the hill, but watch out for the baboons’, or whatever.” – Nick Shepherd
From Cave to Screen is an ongoing digital heritage project focused on rock art sites in the Cederberg Mountains of the Western Cape. Carried out as a collaboration between Nick Shepherd of the University of Cape Town and the IZIKO South African Museum, it has two components. The first involves digitising rock art site records made by the the Archaeological Data Recording Centre (ADRC), now held in the SA Museum. The ADRC was established under the direction of the museum archaeologist, Jeff Leeuwenburg, in 1968. A small team of archaeologists and amateur enthusiasts toured southern Africa collecting and recording rock art site data.
The second aspect of the project involves visiting and re-photographing rock art sites in the Western Cape. Immediate questions focus on questions of preservation and ideas around notions of archive. A deeper set of questions focus on questions of intellectual history. Archaeology in southern Africa has a long tradition of amateur involvement, in which the participants are almost exclusively white. How do we begin to conceptualise this as a white gaze on black histories? And what kinds of claims are staked through the practices of site visitation and recording?
A broader set of questions focus on the resonant landscapes in which rock art sites are located, including the inspirational natural worlds of the Cederberg mountains. These open out to ideas around the performativity of practices of site visitation, excavation and recording. They also open out to questions of contemporary rural livelihoods and land claims, in the contested landscapes of postapartheid South Africa.
At different times, this project has involved archaeologist Cristobal Gnecco, historian of ideas Mikela Lundahl, photographer Sarah Gouveia, and artist/ activist Claire Coetzee.