The Serpent’s Skin: A Census Data Archive

Gareth How

2017

Supervisors:

Sumayya Vally and Stephen Hobbs

Unit:

12R - An African Almanac

In Chinese mythology, serpents, such as Fuxi, Nüwa and Gong Gong are often depicted as hybrid – half human, half snake; part dragon, part serpent – and have shape-shifting abilities. Using the shape-shifting serpent as a device for mediating Afro-Chinese enmeshing, the project proposes a new census data collection centre which seeks to expose and reveal the problematics of racial stereotyping. The project derives from the allegory of a serpent undergoing several genetic codifications and mutations giving rise to new hybrid creatures and landscapes, which acknowledge and embody African-China relations.

The Serpent inhabits four significant sites, of historical, cultural and economic importance to the Chinese heritage in South Africa. The first of these is The Old Chinatown in the inner-city, the earliest cultural and trade foothold of Chinese migrants in Johannesburg. The second, Cyrildene, is symbolically a site of the shift in Chinese economic migration patterns in the city. The third site, Zendai Modderfontein, grapples with Chinese economic supremacy on the African continent. The fourth, Langlaagte mine dump, is a place of remembrance, where the unmarked grave of more than 3000 Chinese indentured labourers was recently discovered. Each location concerns a different kind of historical event significant to the people of the Chinese diaspora but to the nature of future relations between the countries of China and South Africa.