With my upcoming exhibition, Delta & Desert: Journeys into the Wilderness only a few weeks away, I thought I’d take a break from the studio and bring you a little bit of background to the theme.
The wilderness is something that has always interested me, both on a literal and metaphorical level, and having been brought up in both Zimbabwe and Botswana, I have spent much of my life either living in or exploring some of the most beautiful wild places in Southern Africa. It is no surprise, therefore that the bush and all that it entails has been a major source of inspiration for much of my work.
‘Wilderness’ is a debatable term these days, and there are times when I wonder whether it actually still exists, despairing over this over populated, over developed world, where just the thought of something unexplored gives us license to bulldoze our way in, and exploit it.
Although exploitation is rife is in Southern Africa, there are however, still places that one can go to feel a sense of the wild, and one of these places is the Okavango Delta in Botswana. This vast inland delta is situated in the north western section of the country and is approximately 18,000 sq. km’s in size. The Okavango River originates on the Benguela Plateau in S.E Angola and enters Botswana at Mohembo. After a 500 metre drop, the land levels out in Botswana, which causes the main Okavango River to divide into a number of rivers, floodplains and smaller channels, forming the Okavango Delta system. The resultant slow pace of the river allows for sedimentation and the establishment of the swampy vegetation.
As teenagers, we used to fly in and out of the delta on a regular basis as my father was a pilot and he often had work up there. We were based in Francistown, which was a relatively short distance away, and in time I will write a fuller account of this period of my life. Suffice it to say that the memory of those trips has remained deep in my psyche, and has influenced much of what I do now.
So my recent trip to Botswana was one of those rare opportunities to go and see for myself whether the playground of my youth was still as wild and untouched as I remember it. Although there were obviously changes, mainly the result of the mushrooming safari industry, overall I was not disappointed and was thrilled to be back in this unbelievable place.
A flight over the Okavango is an exhilarating experience, to have one’s nose pressed against the plane window, as one scans the papyrus patchwork below. It is a vast and watery landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see. The river and all its tributaries form a dense maze of water and floating papyrus, that creates an ever changing, ever moving scene.
Most people fly into the delta by light aircraft and land at one of the many sand airstrips that have been built to accommodate the safari industry, and the drive from the airstrip to the camps can be a great opportunity to view game, large herds of which can be seen grazing quietly amongst the long grass. The trees that grow on the islands in the delta are magnificent and vary in species according to the area.
The Okavango is home to all of Africa’s big game and a multitude of smaller mammals, fish, insects, and birds, and to lie in bed at night, listening to the sounds of the animals, grunting and swishing their way through the water, it is truly Africa at its best.
There is so much that one can attempt to say about the Okavango Delta, but words cannot really do justice to the experience of spending two weeks in this paradise, so in my exhibition, which is just the beginning of what I hope will become a much greater body of work, I have tried to bring the viewer close up to some of the things I saw, and to share just a whisper of the magnificent delta magic.
A few months after this trip, I had an opportunity to visit the Richtersveld, so in my next post, I will show some images of the desert.
What a superb post this is, Sally! Makes me wonder why it is I have never yet visited the Okavango Delta. Must put that omission right before long. Meanwhile, your exhibition at the NAF is clearly not to be missed.