Scratching the Soil is a new solo exhibition by Eduardo Cachucho, presented at the ROOM Gallery, Johannesburg. In connection to Scratching the Soil, the performance Penal Illustrations premiered on the day of the opening, at the Downstairs Theater at the National School of Arts.
The project examines the creation and propagation of education models and law systems imposed by the British Empire over its colonies, presenting a series of imagined root causes and results that institutionalised these structures almost two centuries ago.
On the 2nd of February 1835 Lord Babington Macaulay, a major orchestrator of the education and law systems of colonial India, gave his historic speech ‘Minute on Indian Education’, an argument against the continued government sponsoring of Sanskrit and Arabic tutelage in schools. A little over a month later the Governor General of India, issued a resolution stipulating that English would be taught to the Indian population. Lord Macaulay’s influential speech represented a milestone in the hierarchical understanding of language and the cultural production of the populations of the Commonwealth of Nations. From the anglicised names of the cities belonging to the map of the colonised world, to the literature references that would influence the second ‘mother tongue’ of these colonised countries, the imagery of Lord Macaulay and his contemporaries slowly became a dominant one, reproducing itself through regulations, laws and new customs that were imposed over millions of people. Thus the uprooting of the local education systems, that had been in place for over two millennia, began.
Parallel to the show, the Penal Illustrations performance is articulated around research on the Indian Penal Code of 1862, created as a way of consolidating local Sanskrit (Dharmaśāstra), Arabic (Al’Hidaya), and British law systems into one code, through a thirty year long commission chaired by Lord Macaulay. This code uniquely contains a series of textual ‘illustrations’ which describe the penal codes through abstract representations of legal and illegal acts. In Penal Illustrations three performers are each given two words derived from the Indian Penal Code that, failing to remain on the level of abstraction, let the local contexts emerge in the simulations of the performance. The format of an improvised performance enacts everyday life scenarios that create infinite short circuit situations that might have existed or still exist within our post colonial times.
The gesture of scratching the soil is here used as an overarching metaphor, the same that Mahatma Gandhi used to describe the destructive approach of the British administrators towards the traditional Indian education system: “They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished”. The exhibition aims to reiterate the act of scratching the soil in different contexts and formats, in order to unveil a common ground made of superimpositions of models and structures over the fields of law and education, and eventually over a whole post-colonial social body.
Made possible by Pro Helvetia, South Africa