Zoe Wicomb and the Translocal: Scotland and South Africa

13-14 September 2012, University of York

Kai Easton

Travelling Light: Images (via Wicomb) from the Gifberg(e) to Glasgow

My main title – not original – is borrowed from a book by the South African photographer Paul Weinberg.  Two other books (Remarks on Colour and International Waters) of photographic exhibitions by British photographer Roger Palmer (originally from Portsmouth and for nearly two decades based in Glasgow with stints in Cape Town in between as well as a professorship at Leeds) also frame this visual travelogue on the work of Zoë Wicomb.

We know, from biographical blurbs, that Wicomb was born in the rural northern Cape – Little Namaqualand.  We know, from her first collection of stories You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town that the Gifberg(e) is a mountain.   It is not that far from the green Beeswater sign that dots the N7 on the way up north from Cape Town.  Beeswater, we are told in these biographical blurbs on book covers, is where Wicomb was born – there or nearby. If you pull in from the main road towards Beeswater, you see a gate and a track.  No distance is offered. You do not know how many miles it is or how long it will take.  It is near Vredendal, a town big enough to find cell phone repair shops, supermarkets and dentists. Cape Town is the metropolis; Beeswater the hinterland.

Overseas, Wicomb comes first to London; Nottingham follows; Glasgow later.   This cosmopolitan Scottish city  – edgy and elegant at the same time – has also been home to Wicomb for nearly two decades.   How true would it be to say that Scotland (or Glasgow) contributes to the shape of her work?  How much does South Africa (or the Cape) (or Namaqualand) continue to ground Wicomb’s writing and what form does this take?

Exploring ideas of origins and relocations, place and (auto) biography, this essay negotiates the borderlines of  image and text. The snapshot and the quick moving image are integral companions to the essay, documenting and mapping ideas of the translocal, and the ways in which we might get there.


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Zoe Wicomb and the Translocal

September 13th, 2012
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