What? SKOP, the Sutherland Kuns & Ontwikkelings Projek (Sutherland Arts & Development Project).
Sutherland (population ±2800) in the Northern Cape, known for its architecture, sheep farming and observatory housing the Southern Africa Large Telescope (and being the coldest place in the country)... Involvement from the South African Astronomical Observatory has increased the quality of science at the local schools, but there is still no art education of any sort and despite the town’s charm and attraction, the majority of the residents live in poverty.
SKOP, is artist Nathan Honey’s ongoing initiative with the intent to collaborate with locals in this small, remote town in the Karoo, through art.
By using his knowledge to bring skills, tools and empowerment to the community of Sutherland Nathan has built six big artworks in the old town square, transfering carpentry and construction
skills. During the last project in 2019, design workshops were included and together the participants contributed to the structure’s design.
That’s also where we fit in, after retiring from our positions with Afrikaburn’s Department of Public Works in 2018 we signed up to help with SKOP X in 2019. And since we all know what happened projects for lovely big gatherings of people who like to hug between then and now, lets fast forward to this project.
SKOP had proposed a build to the National Arts Council, but by the time the confirmation (and budget) came through Nathan was employed in the film industry full time and approached us to take over as project manager and build lead.
The original concept had looked to build two San/Khoe hut like structures - one in Sutherland where the temps can drop to -15, and one on Quaggafontein, where summer highs can easily climb into the high 40s - and to monitor weather conditions inside and outside the structures, to observe their resistance to extreme conditions.
With time and budget constraints we significantly scaled down from the original proposal -
We decided we wanted to work with women and recruited unemployed local ladies to research, design and build (in prototype) a hut inspired by the dwellings of the original inhabitants of the area, the Khoe/San.
We wanted to reimagine a hut through the combination of relevant ancestral knowledge and the use of available modern materials and sustainable methods. To explore the potential of similar huts for locals to stay in as an alternative to sharing RDP housing / wendy houses etc. And we hoped that the process would inspire some pride in the heritage / knowledge of their ancestors.
For Research we:
Consulted books & encyclopedias at the town library.
(Learned to) use the internet as a resource.
Explored the veld around town for plants with medicinal benefits and to use as potential building materials.
The crew engaged with elder community members for wisdom and knowledge.
Attended an online workshop, by a member of the Indigenous Liberation Walk (!norisasib !gu) around designing and building huts (that they had planned for the cancelled 2020 edition of the burn) and demonstrating mat weaving techniques.
In the design phase everyone had time to draw their ideal huts as inspiration for building our prototype structure but design was an ongoing development as we started to find materials and played around with ideas
Looking for materials we:
- Explored town & surroundings for suitable materials to use. Due to drought viable natural resources are scarce (and precious).
-Identified plastic waste as potential solutions; like braiding plastic bags & putting harder plastic (like the rooi doppies, from cheap bulk wine, that litters the town as a reminder of alcohol's impact in the community) through a process of shredding, melting & extruding it into new products.
-And we used previous SKOP builds' leftover wood, stored in workshop, to build the base of the structure.
During the build we:
- Played around with various ways of construction, using a combination of reeds and extruded recycled plastic beams coming from each corner of the hexagon. For the top joint we melted down rooi doppies and made the hut it’s own red cap with holes for the beams.
- Made two types of mats from reeds and biesies
- And eventually covered the frame in the mats, thicker (and more prone to poke you) biesie mats outside and pleasant to the touch reed mats for inside and on the floor.
SKOP is a serious and ongoing attempt to make a real difference in the lives of as many as
possible of the inhabitants of Sutherland. Previous projects have had positive effects but
have not yet created a sustainable project. Although they have succeeded in the transfer of
skills, they have thus far failed in creating a feeling of ownership and responsibility.
For the current project, future plans and ambitions includes:
-Building more huts as housing or social spaces for crew members who have expressed interest in this. Also further exploring ways to insulate the hut and solutions to catch and use water and moisture off the structure especially considering the current restricted and regulated water supply.
- Keeping plastics out of the landfill (where it gets burned) by establishing an ongoing collection depot project and potential regular visits from a mobile extruder | shredder in order to make products for the crew from what’s been collected. This has potential positive environmental impacts while equipping the community with much needed infrastructure. This includes collabs with staff and pupils at Sutherland High School, collecting plastic waste that can be turned into infrastructure since most of the building was ruined by a devastating fire in 2018 and still not rebuilt.
-And potential future artworks, from repurposed plastic, with strong educational messages.
The possibilities are endless really. Money not, so consider a donation via the QR code below.