Robert Slingsby


Robert Slingsby

My work has predominantly engaged with the art and traditions of the indigenous communities of Southern Africa. I am from Cape Town - As a child, I encountered the Nama people’s geometric and complex rock engravings, it sparked my imagination. Their art inspired an interest in indigenous communities throughout Africa.
I have invested 30 years of fieldwork developing a unique archive, in terms of scale and sample, focusing on the Richtersveld rock engravings; occupying a remote dolomite littered desert, situated in the north-western corner of South Africa’s Northern Cape province. Over the years, I could not help but notice the expansion and impact of open cast diamond mining, industrial agriculture, and private land ownership in the region. Many of these developments took place over land that was not only home to traditional Nama artefacts, but the Nama communities themselves.
In 2012, I was doing research on the impact of the development of industrial agriculture and damns on indigenous communities, such as the Himba of northern Namibia, in the Kunene Region, where the Kunene River runs. Through my research, I became aware of the construction of the Gibe Dam in the southern Omo Valley of Ethiopia. This region is home to Mursi, Suri, and Kara communities. Their art and traditions are increasingly recognisable. Mursi women have the practice of wearing lip-plates, the Kara adorn themselves in flowers. That same year, I made my first trip the Omo Valley.
The communities of this region have cultivated a life that is in harmony with the Omo river, which empties into Lake Turkana on the border of Kenya. The local communities, who are traditionally pastoralists, have historically resisted colonialism, allowing their traditional way of life to remain intact – until recently.
They practice body scarification in rites of passage ceremonies. The geometric patterns made permanent on their skin serve as living and contemporary reflections of depictions made in other remote regions of Africa. These markings echo those of traditional, indigenous communities around the world. Their universal symbolism reveals a wisdom that has been almost forgotten. Tragically, it also communicates an awareness and technology of exceptional value in guiding humans in the present.
Recent exhibitions Crossing the Line, 2013; I am, 2015; Great Rift, 2017 and In/Dependence 2019, have been dedicated to the complex cultural, social, and economic issues surrounding the people and land of the Omo Valley. I also consistently expose issues concerning cultural authenticity and misconceptions of remote rural Africa.
As a contemporary artist, I am in awe of the art these communities – they are the foremost mark makers on the African continent. In all my work, I effort to showcase and celebrate the artistic contribution of traditional indigenous communities. My passion for the origin of sacred geometry is universal, however, I strive daily for the understanding and upliftment of the artistic heritage of Africa.