Exhibition:They tried to bury us

Friday, 10.08.2018 (ends 08.09.2018)
08:00 - 17:00
National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN)
Crn. Robert Mugabe Avenue and John Meinert Str.
Khomas (Windhoek)

They tried to bury us
An exhibition by Isabel Tueumuna Katjavivi
official opening: 2 August 2018, 18h00

A history that is not fully understood or told or memorialised, is a history that lives in the present. The reign of terror that was the 1904-1908 genocide in Namibia lingers in this way in the psyche of the nation, even 110 years after the closing of the last concentration camp.

For a century the genocide was denied by many, and to this day there are some people who still believe it never occurred. They have not come to terms with the atrocities that took place across our land at that time.

The evidence is there in Von Trotha’s Extermination Orders. It is in the inter-generational memory of the descendants of those who were killed and those who survived. It is in the whispers of the Hanging Trees. It is in the bones that lie in the ground under houses in Otjinene, Swakopmund, and elsewhere, and under the Independence Memorial Museum, which is built on the site of the infamous Orumborombondi concentration camp.

It is estimated that over 50% of the Nama people and 80% of the OvaHerero were killed.

General von Trotha’s extermination order for the OvaHerero, issued October 2nd 1904:

‘I, the great General of the German troops, send this letter to the Hereros. The Hereros are German subjects no longer…The Herero people must now leave the land. If it refuses, I will force them with the Groot Rohr (Cannon). Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. These are my words to the Herero people.’

General von Trotha’s extermination order for the Nama people, issued April 22nd 1905:

‘The Nama who chooses not to surrender and lets himself be seen in the German area will be shot, until all are exterminated. Those who, at the start of the rebellion, committed murder against whites or have commanded that whites be murdered have, by law, forfeited their lives. As for the few not defeated, it will fare with them as it fared with the Herero, who in their blindness also believed that they could make successful war against the powerful German Kaiser and the great German people. I ask you, where are the Herero today?’

We need to unearth this history, bring the truth to light, and heal the wounds of the past. As a nation it is impossible to build a future without righting the wrongs of the past and making sure that the knowledge of the past is availed to successive generations.

They tried to bury us is a continuation of Isabel Katjavivi’s 2017 art piece, 'The past is not buried'. This exhibition deals with the unresolved past that is the genocide, and how it is all around us. We need to stop treading on the past in our present.

The floor installation is made of sand, stones and grass collected from within and around Otjinene. It is a scene of remembrance of those who died. The heads are made of air-drying clay. The fragility of the medium symbolises the fragility of life. The installation allows the audience to walk the thin line between the past and the present.

“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”
(James Baldwin, I am not your Negro, 2016).

Suitable for Kids
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Available on the following days
National Art Gallery of Namibia (NAGN)


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