Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

South African Performance and Archives of Memory

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

South African Performance and Archives of Memory

Article excerpt

South African performance and archives of memory, by Yvette Hutchison. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2013. xii +238pp. ISBN 9780719083730. £ 65.00

Yvette Hutchison is known for her work on narratives of memory and performance of identity. She is one of the editors for the African Theatre series, and serves on the editorial board for the journal, Performing Ethos. Thus, her book South African performance and archives of memory is theoretically grounded in established research on historical and contemporary African theatre and theatre-making. However, in this book, Hutchison shifts the perspective of South African performances of memory to multiple spheres of public space beyond the theatre to an analysis of performance as public engagement with social justice and public place as the "theatre". She introduces this concept by analysing the 1995 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings as civic performances, as performances of memory, the blurring of boundaries between public and private, theatre and society, and by analysing performance as real civic engagement.

In this book, "performance" has an expanded meaning, as well. The concept of what it means to perform civic engagement is supported by textual research for which Hutchison provides a comprehensive list of sources. The performance of civic engagement is found in texts, documentary film, literal archives and journalistic accounts of the TRC. For readers who are familiar with Antjie Krog's Country of my Skull, Hutchison provides a useful theoretical response, as well as, contextualisation on how the TRC was a stage for national identity building fraught with all the complexities of South Africa's political and social history. If fact, Hutchison points to the ubiquity by which Krog's work has had an impact on the public consciousness, even though Krog's work is a "creative non-fiction" (p.52). Hutchison takes the research further by including content from transcripts of other "iconic testimonials" (p.53) to flesh out the argument that the testimonials engaged civic memory which leads to the real possibility of social change.

In the chapter on "Staging a nation: the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park", Hutchison focuses her ideas on traditions of "performing memory spatially", as was done with the District Six and Robben Island Museums. The transition from an Apartheid State to a post-Apartheid state can be mapped through national monuments and official commemorations of historical events. …

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