Dissecting Batswana’s Identity in German print, Politics and societal concepts with Ann Gollifer

Meet Ann Gollifer, an infusion of British and Guyana roots who has been living in Botswana for the past 30 years. Part of the group that ticks the ‘other’ box when it comes to race, Ann battled mostly with her identity – and interestingly so do we. We know we are African, we are Batswana, but who are we really in terms of being rooted? What outer cultures and global changes have affected our identity which makes us who we are today? Our resident blogger Boitshepo Motsamai dissects the nature of our identity and what sparked this conversation with Ann.

What inspired omang?

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Photocredit: BM Photography

It’s because I been here thirty years, and I always felt like an ‘other’ to Batswana, not to Botswana, I know I belong to Botswana but to the community of Batswana and I sometimes find it okay but I also sometimes find it difficult. So I wanted to address those issues that were in my head. And being a foreigner in another country probably all my life, because I’ve never really lived in England and I’ve never really lived in Guyana, I’ve always been in this position so a lot of my work has to do with identity and belonging.

So this is addressing it as in Botswana, and I think it’s really important to ask Batswana also what they thought, and my work is really a question it’s not an answer, basically omang? It’s not really a statement. I’m asking questions and I also want the work to make people think about who they are and how they react to these who are not the same as them. Expatriates – how they relate to Batswana and how Batswana relate to different expatriates- Zimbabweans, Tanzanians, Chinese, British, how we all relate to each other. And often it’s not good, and often it’s very good

Its polarizing isn’t it?

It’s a difficult subject and I don’t like it when people get polarized. I think it’s challenging

Can one say it’s a part of a quest of seeking ones originality?

It is, but it’s the whole thing of the individual and the community. Let’s say traditional African community are about botho (humanity) about everyone sharing but the negative to that is that is an individual allowed to blossom? Or if your head comes above everyone else’s they’ll chop it off. I think that’s horrendous but I also don’t like rampant individualism, where its ego and it’s all about the one person- all about accruing wealth and you forget about the community that is also wrong. So the fundamentalism is important.

So it’s more on achieving balance?

I think most people do, most people kind of do… I think a lot of people don’t really think – they don’t think about things and kind of accept whatever they told about at times. And for example if someone goes and beats the women next door you’d be upset -but we don’t think what is wrong with the society, why did that happen? What can we do to stop it?

Let’s get into you artwork. On the surface, it doesn’t speak as much volume for those unaware of historical value. What inspired you to take the route of utilize the ink which is indicative of oppression in history and its material indicative of colonization and the adaptation of German print into Tswana culture?

I think I’m probably quite angry inside with things that are going wrong in this world. And I think I make work that I want to be beautiful, but at the same time I want my work to have more to it than just being breath taking. it’s taken me a long time to learn that, over 30 years, how to get that meaning. This work would not have the same resonance if it was drawn or printed on – I could do that – but the fact that it is actually leteisi gives it specialness. It’s actually the cloth we use. And the wonderful thing about leteisi is that it’s almost a national dress. Buts it’s not from Botswana. I’m not from Botswana, but I represent Botswana. So the leteisi is a mixture of me and Botswana. It’s the two coming together – in a sense it’s kind of poetic!

Apart from its beauty or the poetry behind it, it addresses a lot of issues.

I would like to speak on this particular art piece about the 5 D’s. I note immediate controversy though the ladies are all posing provocatively, with four of the five D’s printed over these images, and the president’s silhouettes as well. Was this all deliberate?

sixfour_708_internet-Untitled-1Absolutely! I started this piece thinking about gender issues, so the first pieces were men and I was thinking of the different roles they play in Tswana society, and how it always seems like the men sit around at the kgotlas in chairs and just talk all day and the women do all the work. But when the women go to the kgotlas they sit on the ground and they weren’t allowed to speak. Then I started thinking about how some men see women and how some women see men. I started thinking about stereotypes so I wanted to use stark images. All these pictures are from my photography apart from the President’s silhouettes. The heads are like stark images, and represent images of power. The women, although are objectified by men are also quite powerful. Often women use their sexuality in a very negative way for power as well. So it was kind of what I was thinking about making this.

It’s just a snapshot of the stereotypes of society with men and women. The whole thing with the five D’s – my husband said to me that I can’t do this because it’s really disrespectful to Batswana, “and what about the 5th D- democracy he asked,” and I said… “Omang”?

You don’t need to be told -well I don’t think I need my president to tell me how to live my life.

read on her political views in Botswana on the next page: