Post by Elisa Adami
The work ‘A persistent History’ by Ruth Goddard was the departure point and main trigger of the exhibition ‘Conflicted Memories’. The artist is represented by Alan Cristea Gallery.
Ruth Goddard reflects upon her childhood memories of the end of the apartheid in South Africa, crystallized in the day when the old history books at her primary school were exchanged for new ones. In A persistent History (2011/2012), the artist traces the process of writing and re-writing history through a series of detailed pencil drawings based on the pages taken from a range of textbooks used during the transitional period. These books embody an attempt to present historical events from a different perspective and a way to come to terms with a colonial history of repression, segregation and injustice. Not coincidentally, many of the chosen pages deals with the ideas of discovery and land ownership: the colonial binomial par excellence.
Each drawing is partially erased, highlighting the fragmentary and unstable character of historical narratives in a divided society and the elusive nature of personal memories. The artist rubbed off more the pages from the older textbooks, visualizing how the most distant past loses its contours and fades away in the mists of time. The newer textbooks are caught in a transitional moment, still trying to define a chronological and accepted narrative. In the clash of different versions of the same event, the viewer can read the artificiality of historiography and the biased nature of the apparently most objective historical report. The co-existence of different and contradictory truths reveals the discrepancy between reality and its instrumental representation and transmission. In the meticulous and patient gesture of copying the textbook pages and erasing them, Goddard carries out a process of incorporation, elaboration and in at last rejection of the imposed historical narratives.
At the end, the question that remains to be answered to is what would be the ‘persistent history’ the title refers to. And, ultimetely, we should ask ourselves if a ‘persistent history’ really exists behind this collection of multiple diverse versions. Maybe the only constant element is precisely the process of erasure and rewriting of the same past, which relentlessly re-arranges collective and personal memories.
You can find more info about the artist here.