Ke Lefa Laka / Heir-story
Project info

Heir-story traces my ancestral roots through stories that were narrated to me by my grandmother regarding spaces which were inhabited by my matrilineal family members. My grandfather passed away before I was born and we carry his surname Khanye. He represents the central patriarchal figure in the project, as he was the first person in the Khanye family to move from ‘di’plaasing’, which means ‘homelands’, in the Orange Free State to the city in Transvaal to find work because he didn’t want to be a farm labourer like the rest of the family. As apartheid was ending and the majority of the family moved from the homelands to seek work in Transvaal, they temporarily lived in his house in Johannesburg which was at the time one of several cities in the province of Transvaal. As a result everyone in the family has stories about my grandfather, and even though I was born in ‘his’ house I never got to know him except through stories passed down from family. So the project is also about being at the same place at different times and not meeting.

I enacted these stories of my grandfather to construct a visual narrative, in which we meet, through the use of life-size flat-mannequins of the characters related to me in various family stories. In these fictive narratives I am the only ‘real’ person, taking on the persona of my grandfather, dressed in a suit (a typical garment that he often appeared wearing in the family photographs) and ‘walking in his shoes’ (both over-sized). As a young woman enacting a patriarchal figure in a family, I address the shift in my role as a woman, having to be a provider and protector of the family since my mum’s death, by assuming the role of a man that most of the women in my family have had to take on because of the absent father figure. So we have had to learn to become these roles and by taking on the persona of my grandfather, I also perform a degree of masculinity associated with certain provisional roles.