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Maps – such as atlases, google maps and ordinance maps – have come to be commonplace; but the maps that we use every day, have their histories in systems of military and colonial power. Even the GPS mapping that many people rely on to get around the city has its origins in a project by the US Defence Force. In South Africa, maps have played an important role in surveying and claiming ownership of land, usually by force or coercion.

Most maps depict a view from above which shows a detached relationship with the land, a perspective that humans normally would not be able to see other than with expensive machinery. Far from being neutral representations of place, they mirror the values of the society that made them and are usually an expression of power. Other ways of knowing the land, such as through song, story, and craft, are much older and perhaps more intimate ways of communicating relationships between places and all the experiences they hold.

Talking at a workshop

Participants from the Greater Muizenberg area getting to know each before mapping the possibilities together.

An initiative of Amava Oluntu and several of the organisations we collaborate with seeks to use mapping techniques to build community and connection between people and spaces through an interactive map focussed on the needs of young people from the Greater Muizenberg Area.

The most recent step in this collaborative process was a workshop held in the first week of June that brought together nine organisations from Muizenberg, Vrygrond, and other parts of the South Peninsula, who are engaged with questions of sustainability, resilience, literacy, and creativity. These included Loxion Mobile Library, Waves for Change, Roots to Resilience, and Gugulethu Urban Food Forest Initiative. Facilitated by Zoe Palmer, the workshop was designed to feel the sense of shared vision amongst the participants, rather than diving straight into mapping. This approach led to a tender sense of cohesion from which many different possibilities could emerge, the map being one of them.

mapping process

Working through a number of facilitated processes to define what this project means to us.

One of the workshop processes involved mapping the archetypes of people in the room to find out how people experience the world differently and have different gifts to bring to a project. Thereby, understanding that the way an artist and an athlete would engage with the world would be different, for example, and that they would have different strengths and weaknesses. The process brought to light the tensions that different world views generate and also what territory it enables the group to cover. Where can we travel together when we know who we are travelling with?

expanding map

Expanding space for your authentic self to emerge.

The workshop made space for thinking creatively about some of the best possible futures, as well as the worst. And to think about what each person is doing to contribute to either of these outcomes. Which practices could be deepened and which ones need to change? Some of the things we are doing could change immediately, today, if we truly were able to shift perspective. Some of the best things we are already doing, we might not even see as part of a shift to a more life honouring and loving community, but they are.

Other things are incremental and are part of wider arcs of time. Things got pretty scary pretty quickly when we focused on the violent and unequal society we live in and what the future could look like if we continue down this path. In this difficult part of the session, it also became evident what each of us individually and collectively are already doing that is part of the change we want to see and things we can shift to accelerate that change towards brighter versions of the future, even where these possibilities may be hard to see in this segregated society. Not magical thinking, but a reinvigorated sense of what is possible collectively, with the map as a visual and interactive tool for connecting across spaces, organisations, and sets of knowledge and resources.

mapping process

Refining emergent ideas as a group.

Through these processes, what began as an idea for ways of connecting young people in the area to each other, supportive organisations, and opportunities, it soon became clear that this work is underpinned by deep desires for belonging, shared dignity and the possibility for everyone involved to live into a deeper sense of purpose. This may be a lot to ask of a map, but aside from its practical applications, it has the potential to be a collective endeavour, where imagination and vulnerability are warmly welcomed, timid voices are emboldened, and the muscles of participation and co-creation are strengthened, amongst many other possible outcomes. And if the more beautiful worlds our hearts know are possible are to become reality, worlds beyond the violence and segregation that colonialism and apartheid have left us with, these are exactly some of the tools that are needed.

Claire Rousell

Claire is an artist, writer, activist and researcher focused on the intersection of extractivism, food sovereignty, environmental justice and art. Her work takes a variety of forms including visual harvesting, animation, poetry and she has played a key role in Straight from the Ground NPC, a vegetable box scheme working with local small-scale farmers in and around Johannesburg.

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