Beyond narrative: expressing xenophobia through the use of space

By Christine Price

I am particularly interested in space and our relationships with it, both how social processes influence how we design and build spaces and how built spaces affect our social processes. In the second semester, my first year landscape architectural class works on a spatial model project. The students develop their own narrative or story, which becomes the prompt for exploring ways of communicating in three dimensional space. One of the students, Landiwe (not her real name) designed a series of models based on her narrative of xenophobia, and how this could be exacerbated or mitigated by space. With help from Landiwe, I have described her final spatial model that include a summary of her explorations throughout the project.

Photo of an African hut made as a model for Landiwe's project
Landiwe’s African Hut | Photo: CC-BY-SA Christine Price

Landiwe’s intention for her design is that people enter the space through a traditional African hut which she said symbolises “the same ancient life and that we are from the same elders / ancient people”. The next space is a building that represents modernisation and development. People will move from the traditional hut space into the building through one of two doors that Landiwe says represent “migration and separation”. For Landiwe, this transition from living communally to being separated into apartment blocks, increased the sense of isolation:

Landiwe's depiction of modernisation
Modernisation | Photo: CC-BY-SA Christine Price

“At this point we forgot who we are, we were so divided to a point that the term ‘African’ didn’t exist, rather people turned into South Africans, Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Congolese and more. Now people were territorial and came up with terms like ‘refugees’, ‘foreigners’, ‘colonists’ and all terms to say that you didn’t belong in a certain part of Africa. Here Africans really lost it and Xenophobia was born.”

The third part of Landiwe’s model is a Lesaka (kraal) space with an Isivivana (isiXhosa for a cairn or mound of stones) inspired by a similar space at Freedom Park in Pretoria. As in Freedom Park, this space comprises nine boulders representing each of South Africa’s nine provinces. The boulders are arranged in a circle to symbolise unity and equality. Landiwe’s idea for this Lesaka space is that it could serve as a outdoor classroom for people to come together to learn about Africa’s history. The Lesaka is raised “to show that Africans are stepping up on a different level and to enforce new insights of being African.” The boulders have also been made with different coloured clay representing the mix of African heritage. Surrounding the Lesaka space are trees the represent heroes such as Nelson Mandela. The “trees will assist in providing shade on my site and remind us on the example set by our heroes”.

In diverse classroom contexts, these kinds of projects are of particular value. By encouraging students to select their own narrative, students engage with the subject matter (in this case, learning to design three dimensional space) in ways that are often more comfortable to them. Sadly, multimodal pedagogy-driven tasks are sometimes not viewed as valuable, as they are perceived as far removed from more ‘legitimate’, conventional academic practices. However, as Landiwe’s model coupled with her rich discussion surrounding her meaning-making choices reveal a much deeper engagement with the subject matter than expression through conventional academic practices alone.

Landiwe gave me permission to share her project on this blog. All quotes are excerpts from Landiwe’s written description of her project.

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