Wendy Morris

Tale of Eleven Births
Wendy Morris (South Africa)

Tale of Eleven Births is part of a project titled Nothing of Importance Occurred, conducted since 2017 by Wendy Morris, and centered on Maaij Claesje, a 17th century Angolan midwife and slave who was also her ancestor. Of the eleven generations that Wendy Morris’s father had been able to trace back to the establishment of an ascending family tree, Maaij Claesje was the only grandmother he could not identify. While conducting her research, Morris discovered three archives relating to her life. A first document alluded to her arrival in Cape Town in 1658 aboard a slave ship when she was 12 years old. The second document, dating from 1688, explained how she was able to negotiate her freedom by helping the wife of an East India Company employee give birth on a boat. The third is an excerpt from the diary of a Dutch official of the East India Company in Cape Town who, on December 31, 1731, indicates that nothing of importance happened that day and that Maaij Claesje, an old slave, is dead. Through Tale of Eleven Births, Wendy Morris recreated her family tree where each pinhead pinned onto six panels covered with black cloth represents an ascendant of her paternal and maternal lineages. The linen thread that connects the pins together and materializes the kinship of the individuals they embody, forms an interlacing to the frame more and more tight as the artist goes back in time. The goal of the latter was to “reweave” his lineage, since an individual uprooted and reduced to slavery is denied links with his ancestors but also those with his children who were torn from him. The installation is accompanied by the three archival documents consulted by Wendy Morris and embroidered with a summary on a wax, which also contains pockets containing small bags containing dried abortive plants, alluding to the pharmacopoeia to which could have resorted Maaij Claesje.

Wendy Morris (°1960) is a South African artist living in Belgium. Her work engages with Libraries (of Books Withdrawn), Dictionaries (of Exchangeable Words for Travelling Women, and Migratory Birds), Letters (to an Old Tree) and Diaries (of a young Roman woman unearthed near Tongeren). She is compiling a Herball for a 17th century Enslaved Angolan Midwife at the Cape, and a Travelogue of the Wandering Womb. Morris is professor in contemporary arts at the University of Leuven, teacher and researcher at LUCA School of Arts, Brussels, with the Deep Histories Fragile Memories research group, and future protagonist at Netwerk Aalst, Centre for Contemporary Art.

Wendy Morris’ participation in the biennale is supported by Flanders State of the Art.