Exhibition in South Africa featuring the Marshall films: Bringing Back the Archive

Marshall Exhibit at !Khwa tuu San Cultural Center

Visitors at the opening of Bringing Back the Archive at the !Khwa tuu San Cultural Center

We are delighted to announce an exhibition featuring John Marshall’s films and Marshall expedition photos now open at the !Khwa ttu San Heritage Center outside Cape Town, South Africa. The exhibit opened in September 2023, following a multi-year collaboration between !Khwa ttu, Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and DER. Led by !Khwa ttu’s first San curator, Magdalena Lucas, Bringing Back the Archive: The San Exploring the Marshalls’ Archival Legacy features a selection of films and photos reflecting Ju/hoansi lives as semi-independent hunter-gatherers and their efforts to become subsistence farmers.

The impetus for the exhibition arose from the resource of newly digitized photographs of the 1950s Marshall expeditions to Nyae Nyae in Namibia. Funding from an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (where the photos are housed) made possible the digitization of the 32,000+ photos and 16,000+ records of the Marshall archive. These visual materials constitute a record of a cultural history that was severed decades if not centuries earlier for the majority of San communities in southern Africa, who faced waves of colonization, genocide, and incorporation into new nation-states as an underclass.

Members of the !Kwha ttu San Cultural Center visited the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, where the Marshall Family Expedition archives are held.

Representatives of the !Kwha ttu San Cultural Center visited the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, where the Marshall Family Expedition Archives are held. Photos © President and Fellows of Harvard College

The !Khwa ttu curatorial team, led by Magdalena Lucas (curator) and Chris Low (former director) journeyed to Cambridge this summer to delve into the archive. DER was invited to help welcome and host the visitors along with the Peabody. This opportunity inspired the team to expand the exhibition to include John’s films, which enabled !Khwa ttu to reference Nyae Nyae  history in subsequent decades. Lucas returned to South Africa with a hard drive from DER containing the complete collection of Marshall’s films for use in training programs for staff and interns as well as public screenings.

The exhibit was developed with feedback from members of the Ju/hoansi community in Nyae Nyae, a contingent of whom attended the opening. Among the Ju/hoansi attendees was Leon Tsamkao, an assistant cameraperson and translator on A Kalahari Family, and whose father and grandfather were prominently featured in John’s earlier films. I caught up with Leon on WhatsApp to hear his reflections on the event. When asked how the films were received by the larger San community at !Khwa ttu, Leon explained:

"Most of the people at !Khwa ttu don’t know what Nyae Nyae was like in the 1950s. I explained to them when the film was made, who was in the video, and how long John was coming, when he first came. I think people at !Khwa ttu started to understand. They were so interested to see [the films]."

Leon affirmed the importance of these films for his community in Nyae Nyae as well, particularly for the younger generations who he said “don’t exercise the culture anymore.” Magdalena also emphasized the value of the films for the San, saying that the footage provides insight into the past that most San cannot visualize, allowing them to imagine that experience. She also shared that the San are interested in learning more about who the Marshalls were and what their relationship was to their community. 

DER is grateful for the privilege to assist in the repatriation of these materials to San people. We look forward to learning about how !Khwa ttu uses these resources and to continue supporting them and the local San communities in their cultural heritage programming.


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