My Naam is Februarie: Identities Rooted in Slavery from the Iziko Museums of South Africa aims to memorialize the forgotten history of the South African slave trade. The exhibition is part of the Slave Calendar, which was produced by Geometry Global. Through the calendar Iziko and Geometry wanted to highlight an important aspect of the Cape’s history – one that remains a mystery to many. Cape Town has many people with calendar-based surnames with September, October and November being the most common. Not many know why this is so. The exhibition features portraits of descendants from people who, between 1653 and 1808, were brought to the Cape as slaves, mostly from Indian Ocean countries. Upon arrival they were stripped of their names and renamed after the name of the month they arrived. The exhibition features a documentary film and twelve black and white portraits of descendants, framed as an outsized calendar. Each month pictures a person carrying that month’s name, from John January to Regina December. Though the context is historic South Africa, we know that slavery is not a thing of the past and it is easy to draw a line to the trafficking and slavery that is still taking place around the world today. My hope is that the exhibition gets to travel and be seen by many more people around the world. I cannot think of a more honest or gentle way to start a conversation about who we are as humans and how we see our shared future. Interview by Johanne Eriksen
JE: The aim of your exhibition is to facilitate dialogue on how our often forgotten and neglected past has shaped your identity in South Africa, Africa, and the African Diaspora. My Naam is Februarie channels what I imagine to be the country’s collectively mixed emotions in relation to this part of history, the shame, vulnerability and also the triumph of human spirit. Somehow my difficulties actually finding the exhibition made sense, with the exhibition shedding light on names that have been a mystery to many and a painful memory dating far back in history, not easy to access. In taking up this narrative you wish to pay tribute to the thousands of people forcibly uprooted from their homes in various parts of Africa and Asia, who were brought to the Cape and whose labour contributed to the building of South Africa’s cities, towns, and farms. How did the idea for the calendar happen, who initiated it and the exhibition My Naam is Februarie, could you tell us about the process?
Gavin Wood, creative director Geometry Global: The beginning of the idea for the calendar came from a visit to the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum where I learnt about origins of calendar based surnames in Cape Town. I had never thought what the origins could have been, and yet I had seen many examples from the South African Springbok rugby player, Rickie January, to my colleague Clive April. I am a creative director in advertising, and have always wanted to create something beautiful and meaningful, something that gets people talking or enlightened. I wondered if it existed 12 calendar based surnames in South Africa, and what their stories could be. I pitched the idea of a calendar to the advertising agency I work for, Geometry Global, and they loved it so much that they were prepared to find money to make it happen. I reached out to Paul Tichmann and Lynn Abrahams at Iziko Museums and got their backing to make the idea happen. What followed next was 3 months of research, cold calls, and Facebook-stalking to track down all 12 candidates. We then managed to secure the services from David Prior, who is one of South Africa’s best awarded photographers to do the portraits completely pro bono. He loved the idea and wanted to help bring it to life. The other photographer who was involved originally was David Southwood. The 12 films featured in the exhibition were shot by Brad Theron. He filmed my interviews with the candidates as we took the original portraits with David Southwood at their homes. All fell in love with the concept and wanted to be involved. They all did it for Geometry Global for a fraction of their normal fee. This project was a real labour of love, and we used all the skills at Geometry Global and from our partners at Ogilvy & Mather to produce the most beautiful calendar we possibly could. We then gave it to Iziko to do with it what they wanted. The calendar created quite a stir, and together with Iziko we decided should be an exhibition.
JE: In these times, projects like this must be made. How has the reactions been with the audience? And has the exhibition engaged people to do more, has there been other events in relation to the exhibition?
Lynn Abrahams, Iziko Museums of South Africa: This exhibition was initially scheduled to be exhibited from 20 October 2016 to 31 March 2017 but because it’s been so popular, it has been extended again to 31 March 2018. The exhibition has been described by visitors as:” very important, informative, a “moving experience”, powerful, “enriching experience” , “remarkable and moving”, amazing, enlightening, inspiring, thought provoking, eye-opening”. Visitors viewed it as a remarkable memorial but also very painful and informative at the same time. I suppose we wanted to create dialogue and confront people’s views and opinions of how they perceive themselves today.