Troubling Archives: Namibian Auto/Biographical Accounts and Artistic Practices as Archival Interventions

Namibia’s complex colonial history casts a long shadow on the present. In the endeavour to grapple with the legacies of 30 years of German colonial rule and more than 70 years of South African colonial occupation, the archive remains an important and yet complicated resource for contemporary authors and artists. This PhD dissertation explores the traction that continues to draw creative practitioners to archival repositories, with a particular focus on the role of photographic archives. By analysing auto/biographical accounts by Trudie Tshiwa Amulungu and Ulla Dentlinger as well as artworks by Tuli Mekondjo, Imke Rust, Vitjitua Ndjiharine and Nicola Brandt, this thesis examines how they creatively respond to the troubling resonances of historical material, archival power dynamics and, more importantly, archival omissions and silences. The authors and artists turn to inherited traumas and postmemories, interfere with found and passed-on photographs and scrutinise one-dimensional narratives of the past to trouble archival logics and create alternative Namibian archives in the process. By exploring different strategies to intervene with archives and produce counter-archives, this thesis interrogates the interconnections of archival research, narrativisation and fiction by cross-examining André Brink’s novel The Other Side of Silence (2001) with findings of my own archival research on a family estate by the German settler woman Lisbeth Dömski. The variety of case studies from literature and art thus presented expand and diversify conceptual understandings of archives, contest hegemonic modes of commemorating the past and prise open the view to the divergent experiences that make up Namibian social fabrics and diverse mnemonic cultures.

Supervisor: PD Dr. Lorena Rizzo 

Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Julia Tischler and Prof. Dr. Nomusa Makhubu

Short bio

Julia Rensing is a PhD candidate at the History Department and the Centre for African Studies of the University of Basel and a scholarship holder of the Humer Foundation for Academic Excellence. Previously, she earned an MA degree in Cultural Studies at the University of Freiburg, where she pursued her interest in post-colonial studies and wrote her MA thesis on “The (Im)Possibility of Reconciliation: Perspectives on Namibian National Unity in Taming My Elephant and The Price of Freedom.” She is a member of the initiative Freiburg-postkolonial and in this function promotes public debates on colonialism in Freiburg and beyond. Her research focuses on German-Namibian colonial history, its repercussions in the present as well as projects and potentials of decolonization through literature and art.

Portrait Julias Rensing

Julia Rensing 

Graduate School of Social Sciences
Petersgraben 52
4051 Basel