From a silent past to a spoken future. Black women’s voices in the archival process

10 Dec 2019

In post-colonial societies especially there ‘has been a growing recognition that western archival science and practice reflect and reinforce a privileging of settler/invader/colonist voices and narratives over Indigenous ones, of written over oral records’ (McKemmish, et al., “Distrust in the archives,” 218) and that the archival profession has failed to ‘embrace Indigenous frameworks of knowledge, memory and evidence.’ (Ibid., 212). Dealing with the dilemma of locating marginalized voices in archival collections, scholars have recognized that in order to address the paucity of records on disadvantaged communities, the parameters of what ordinarily would be considered the ‘historical archive’ have to be enlarged. Over the past decades a number of embroidery projects have been established in previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa, focusing specifically on black women. Proponents of these projects claim that the construction of story cloths involves the active participation of a community in documenting and making accessible the history of their particular group on their own terms and in providing them with previously denied participation in the archival process. This article will look at the Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation embroidered story cloth project as an example of such an archive that could contribute in the writing of a more inclusive history and add another perspective to the history of South Africa.