"At first we had the land and the white man had the Bible.
Now we have the Bible and the white man has the land."
American Indian saying
THE WRITING THAT FELL OF THE WALL consists of fourteen free-standing walls with solid labels strewn about them on the floor, spelling out various bankrupt ideologies in seven different languages. It is an installation, made for the Africus Biennale 1997 - Johannesburg. The theme of the Biennale was Trade Routes - History and Geography.
The most important commodities offered for sale by Africa's colonists were ideological in nature. THE WRITING THAT FELL OF THE WALL provides a walkabout tour of this philosophical merchandise that has gone out of business. Its pathways grant a look at how idealistic assurances that were once proudly offered for sale by the pioneers, are disqualified.
The Age of Enlightenment presented a rhetoric that gave the world its so-called universal values. Its way with words, extended into modernism, was aimed at creating a 'uniform certainty' and 'reliable principles', - its language regimented our laws, and reinforced universal 'standards' in architecture, art, science and culture. Accordingly, this self-assured discourse was used by the colonial powers to subject and order Africa and much of the rest of the world. In Africa, seven tongues from Europe enforced a trade where an 'infallible message' was peddled in return for material privileges, control of people and the possession of land. Just like the sciences and humanities were organized into clear-cut disciplines with well-defined boundaries, the seven languages of English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French decided for Africa where its boundaries, physical and conceptual, must be.
These seven campaigning forces came with a knowledge of the truth in all subjects ranging from philosophy and religion to politics and science, and in this spirit, they also knew what was best for Africa. They claimed exclusive copyright to how Africa should think, - they knew with certainty what the true identity of the African should be. With the one hand they offered a "truth that sets one free" and with the other they captured slaves. But, just as the crusading zeal of scientists and philosophers became unsettled in the deconstructive drive of our age, so too did the rhetoric of colonial certainty grow unsteady and irresolute in Africa. In a crucifixion it is the truth that is invalidated, and in THE WRITING THAT FELL OF THE WALL the route of the fourteen stations of an imperious cross testifies to the failed bids for the soul of Africa.
Words that were once declamatory of the African reality are themselves declaimed into futile humpty-dumpties, - droppings of non-sense from white-washed walls that neither "the king's men, nor the king's horses can put together again." Times have changed. Africa's diamonds still feature in the crown jewels, and much of its soil and rights are owned from abroad, but its roots are free. It alone will find a way of picking up the pieces from its own shattered past left abandoned by the failed promises of its former masters. It must sift through a wasteland of fallen promises and hopes left by others, and, having re-organize its own devastated reality, it might perhaps dare to offer clues in the broken puzzle of the people who failed it.