Between Modernism and Memory: The Art of the !Xu and Khwe of Schmidtsdrift
The historical rock paintings and engravings of the people generally called Bushman, or more frequently today San or Khoisan, has long been the subject of widespread admiration and academic research. These works have been linked in popular imagination with a concept of the identity of the ‘first peoples’ of southern Africa as hunter-gatherers pursuing an untrammelled lifestyle, unchanged from the beginning of time. The most celebrated academic interpretation of rock art as an emanation of shamanistic trance rituals has, despite the meticulous scholarly basis of David Lewis-Williams’s research, unintentionally served to reinforce romantic notions of people leading a ‘primitive’ existence characterised by unfamiliar ‘magical’ practices. The prevalent view of hunter-gatherers following a nomadic existence in a utopian world, undisturbed by historical events and the march of ‘civilisation’, has been nurtured by exhibits linked to tourism and by representations in the media. Films and advertisements, for example, present Khoisan life as a timeless continuum reflected in an unchanging art.