Art on the Rocks – Discussing the future of rock art from Namibia

Dancing Kudu from the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site

Last week I was in Namibia attending a colloquium on rock art organized by the Getty Conservation Institute. The aim of the colloquium was to share thoughts, ideas and solutions about rock art management, conservation and public engagement with perspectives from around the world, and it was a continuation of earlier discussions which began in Southern Africa and Australia (you can download the papers and results of the earlier colloquiums here).

Dancing Kudu from the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site
Dancing Kudu from the Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site

The participants were a good mix of researchers, site managers, indigenous voices and artists, who each shared unique perspectives and case studies ranging from rock art films, community engagement projects, fund raising. For my presentation, I shared examples of rock art site protection from Southeast Asia, including bits of earlier research on how religious shrines form around rock art sites; the use of social media to engage the public (such as by reading this site, or following this blog on Facebook and Twitter) and highlighted the ongoing Gua Tambun Heritage Awareness Project run by the team at Universiti Sains Malaysia (also a site I had worked on previously). While my presentation was the only one specific to SEA, there were several other participants who have worked or are working in the region as well – a reflection of the growing interest in rock art here.

Catherine Namono of the University of Witzwatersrand discussing community-led rock art management
Catherine Namono of the University of Witzwatersrand discussing community-led rock art management

We also got to visit the world heritage sites of Twyfelfontein and Brandberg, known for rock art that was created by the Bushmen of Southern Africa. The rock art sites are several thousands years old, depicting animals such as giraffes, elephants, rhino and other wildlife. The rock art at Brandberg was mostly paintings, while at Twyfelfontein the rock art was predominantly petroglyphs (carvings) and it was interesting to see the contrast and also the number of sites.

Visiting the White Lady rock art site in Brandberg
Visiting the White Lady rock art site in Brandberg
The White Lady
The iconic ‘White Lady, which was discovered about 100 years ago – it isn’t actually a lady but a male shaman figure!
Twyfelfontein Lion Carving
The lion carving is the icon of the Twyfelfontein site, and is thought to be a depiction of a shaman because of the human hands depicted instead of paws
Zebra carving at Twyfelfontein
Zebra carving at Twyfelfontein
Dancing Kudu site from the air
Dancing Kudu site from the air

It was my first visit to Africa, and apart from the rock art sites there were also lots of animals to see!

Desert Elephants
Desert Elephants
Springboks
Springboks
Giraffes
Giraffes

Meetings like these are very useful to keep up to date with international trends, and also challenge one’s self with new perspectives. Australia and South Africa had clear leadership roles in the area of rock art management due to the number of sites in their region and also issues and experience in dealing with indigenous communities and having multiple research projects focused on rock art; in contrast, there aren’t many dedicated rock art scholars in this region, rock art management here depends largely on state intervention and in most cases Southeast Asian rock art has no ancestral connection to the people living in the area today. Still, I learnt a lot and will be applying some ideas to future rock art projects at my day job in SPAFA.

Dronie from the Brandberg White Lady site
Dronie from the Brandberg White Lady site

Many thanks to the Getty Conservation Institute for the opportunity to participate in this rock art colloquium, and in particular Neville Agnew, Nicholas Hall and Paul Taçon. There should be a publication from this meeting out hopefully by the end of the year, and I’ll post news about it when it comes out.

Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

2 thoughts on “Art on the Rocks – Discussing the future of rock art from Namibia”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *