Assembling: Exhibition making and women’s labour

The exhibition presented a moment of reflection on Under Cover of Darkness, a project concerned with the history of women in servitude, especially slavery, in the early colonial period at the Cape. Using exhibition-making, project members considered the development and outcomes of the Under Cover of Darkness exhibition (2018)  and the Uncovering: Women’s Invisible Labour in the Cape symposium (2021), focusing on how feminist modes of collaboration and care can be enacted through the curatorial.

Both the exhibition and symposium honoured the lived experiences of women of the Cape, from the colonial period to the present day, where many women’s lives are shaped by the service and textile industries. Viewers were invited to engage with these stories as well as the research methodologies and sources on which the curators drew for both the exhibition and symposium.

Assembling also aimed to deepen its feminist modes of collaboration, especially the decentering of a singular curatorial and historical voice, by inviting a group of womxn scholars from the University of the Western Cape’s History department (Robyn Humphreys, Mischka Lewis, Robin-Lea Karating, Amina Molatelo Malatji and Vuyokazi Luthuli) for a workshop, whilst installation was underway. During the day, the group shared their views of the materials on display and conversed about the links between the exhibition themes and their own research. The discussion held during the workshop informed a response presented by Robyn Humphreys at the exhibition opening event.

Assembling demonstrated how curatorship as a practice, instead of exhibition as outcome, fosters synergies and draws out points of conversion across time between the stories of women and the labour they perform. To this end, the curatorial team are working to produce a publication reflecting this exhibition and the previous symposium.

Here, Humphreys reflected on the curatorial strategies and materials in the exhibition as well as some of the discursive points raised by the UWC delegates during the workshop.

photo credit Xolani Tulumani & Nina Liebenberg

Exhibition credits

Curators: Carine Zaayman, Nina Liebenberg and Jade Nair

Design: Terry Adams
Special thanks to the Institute for Creative Arts, Under Cover of Darkness and Michaelis Galleries for funding support.

Toni Stuart
Maia Lehr Sacks
Robyn Humphreys
Suzana Sousa
Robin-Lea Kerating
Mischka Lewis
Ruvimbo Tenga
Dr Nancy Jouwe
Zayaan Khan
Dr Susan Levine
Fayruza Abrahams
Professor Siona O’Connell
Dr Erica de Greeff
Professor Pippa Skotnes
Assoc Prof Fritha Langerman
Soraya Naidoo
Alison Snyders
Karin Bachmann
Ntshadi Mofokeng