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A San folk story from Botswana told by Coex'ae Qgam

Artwork date(s): 1996

Qgam (Dada) Coexae
Nxabe Eland
Bob (Enni) Coexae
Cgose Ncoxo
Qwa Mangana
Thamae Setshogo
Paul Emmanuel  - (printed by)
Mark Attwood  - (printed by)

Measurements: 265mm
Edition: #4/100

Type: South African Artists Book

Place publication: Johannesburg, RSA
Publisher: The Artists' Press
ISBN: 0-620-20194-0
Cat. 165
Pages: unpaged

Reference noteIn collaboration with The Kuru Art Project, Gantsi, Botswana. Prospectum and letterpress invitation laid in.

Colophon: 'This book contains eleven colour images which are hand printed aluminium plate lithographs, drawn by the following artist of the Kuru Art Project: Thamae Setshogo, Coex'ae Qgam (Dada), Qwa Mangana, Cgose Ncoxo, Coex'ae Bob (Enni), and Nxabe Eland. Linocuts by Kuru artists Sobe Sobe, Thamae Kaashe and Qhaequao Moses were scanned and combined with text, before being hand printed on a Vandercook letterpress proof-press. The book was hand printed by Mark Attwood, Paul Emmanuel and Bill Hosterman at The Artists' Press, Johannesburg on 250gsm white Arches paper in a limited edition of 100 plus 20 artists' proofs. Hand bound by Johan Maree, Cape Town, using goat skin which has been tanned by the tannery at D'kar, using elandsboontjie roots. The following people, not mentioned above, were instrumental in the creation of this book: Peter and Maudie Brown, Xguka Krisjan, Willemien and Braam le Roux and Tamar Mason.'

The following is from the Smithsonian exhibition 2015/2016:

Qauqaua tells a traditional folk tale of the San people of southern Africa. It is illustrated with vivid drawings by San artists affiliated with the Kuru Art Project in D'Kar, Ghanzi District, Botswana. This collaborative artists' book comprises eleven color plates, most spanning two pages; each is signed by its artist. Sixty-one plates were used to complete the eleven prints, and the plates were destroyed after completion. Qauqaua was published in an edition of one hundred, plus twenty artist proofs.

Master printer Mark Attwood, of The Artists' Press, assisted with the production of the lithographs in Qauqaua. Lithography is one of the more complicated printing processes, requiring the collaboration of an experienced printer. The images were drawn directly onto lithographic printing plates during a workshop in 1994. Attwood then worked with the Kuru Art Project artists at their studio in D'Kar to proof the plates on an etching press. The letterpress printing process has imparted a slightly embossed, tactile quality to the pages. The book is bound in goatskin leather from the Kalahari Desert, which has been tanned in the traditional manner using the elandsboontjiem, or eland's root. One edge of the slightly rough archival-quality paper has its natural deckle, and the other edges have been torn rather than cut.

The story of Qauqaua was told by Coex'ae Qgam, better known as Dada, who is the best known of the Kuru artists. She is fluent in five southern African languages and originally worked as a translator for the Kuru Art Project. Intrigued by their art making, she decided to try her own hand.

The Folk Tale Qauqaua

The folk tale of Qauqaua is an origin story that explains the existence of a very large smooth rock in Namibia, the guinea fowl, the morama bean, and wild potato plants. It is a gruesome story about Qauqaua, a beautiful woman with smooth, satiny skin. Her husband kills her mother after the old woman speaks ill of him to his and Qauqaua's daughter. When she sees what her husband has done, Qauqaua kills him by stabbing his throat with a red-hot awl. Soon the husband's brothers, learning what has transpired, pursue Qauqaua to take their revenge. With her child on her back, Qauqaua flees. With words that sound like the call of a guinea fowl, the little girl warns her of the brothers' pursuit and throws thorns on the ground to stop them. But they catch Qauqaua and kill her. Her blood soaks the ground to become the morama bean plant and the wild potato, and her body turns into a smooth, shiny stone. The child turns into a guinea fowl, continuing to make the same call that warned her mother. According to the notes in the book, “The story is mythically connected to rock engravings which are said to be the footprints of Qauqaua near Mamumo, Botswana. Across the border on a farm called ‘Uichenas' south of Gobabis, Namibia, there lies an unusual, smooth, large round stone. This is said to be the body of Qauqaua.”

Qauqaua “is the first book ever to tell a San folk story in the language and words of the story teller and then illustrated by San artists from the Kuru Art Project in Botswana.” The story was written in Naro, the predominant language of the Ghanzi district, by Dutch linguists Hessel and Cobi Visser, who were the first to transcribe the language. The story was then translated into English by the staff of the Kuru Cultural Centre for this book.

The connection to the famed rock in Botswana and the local flora and fauna makes the story one that is particularly relevant to the people who tell it and compelling to those of us who read it. Kuru Art Project artists often create artworks focusing on the past and on stories of how things were, perhaps in an effort to keep the past alive in the community. This may be the poignant reason they selected Qauqaua to share with us.

Exhibition notesItem 165 in the exhibition 'Artists Books in the Ginsberg Collection' at the Johannesburg Art Gallery 25/8/96-27/10/96.

Included on the exhibition “Artists' Books and Africa”. The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian Libraries Washington DC. 16 Sept. 2015 - 11 Sept. 2016.

Ref: GB/05208

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