New Exhibit Highlights the Understudied History of Enslaved Women in Colonial Cape TownHistorians in the News
tags: museums, slavery, museum exhibits, Cape Town
Under Cover of Darkness is a temporary exhibition on view at the Iziko Slave Lodge, a museum in Cape Town, South Africa. The museum building was erected in 1679 and, until 1811, it housed people enslaved and owned by the Dutch East India Company. The space served other functions after that, before its reincarnation as a museum, originally displaying artifacts from Dutch and British colonists. It was not until the 1990s that the museum began to focus on the history of slavery in South Africa, and in Cape Town, in particular.
Under Cover of Darkness was curated by Carine Zaayman and produced by Josie Grindrod, with Lynn Abrahams as the project coordinator at Iziko, and Tauriq Jenkins, an independent consultant for the exhibition. Their ambition for the exhibition is to examine the role of women slaves in the early colonial period in Cape Town, then known as the Cape Colony. It’s hardly surprising that the history of slavery in the colony, and that of racial oppression in general, has rarely focused on women. In my extensive research on the period of the Holocaust, I became acutely aware that its history was written almost exclusively by White Western European men. Even men living in the Eastern bloc were largely excluded as they had no access to Western publishers, and those doing research in the West could not see any of the materials housed in the East. With a few notable exceptions, no women wrote these histories, nor were women the focus of any. The Iziko Slave Lodge’s exhibition identifies the same issue and attempts to revise the predominantly male narrative of the history of slavery in South Africa.
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