On the Trail of Qing and Orpen

In December 1873 a party of armed men from the Cape Colony and its north-eastern borderlands travelled through the Maloti highlands of Basutoland. Among the members of the party were the British official Joseph Orpen and a young Bushman guide named Qing. They passed a number of rock-shelters whose walls were decorated with paintings. Although the party had an essentially military purpose, the exchanges between Qing and Orpen on the topic of the art have become the most famous result of its operations.

Orpen recorded what Qing told him about the painted images in terms of the myths of the surviving Bushman communities in the region. Orpen also made field sketches of some of the images. From these materials, he published an illustrated article in 1874 in the Cape Monthly Magazine. As the only known source of ‘insider’ knowledge of the subject, the article has become a canonical text in southern African rock art research.

In this exhibition and book, the members of the Qing-Orpen Project give prominence to various elements in the story of Qing and Orpen – landscapes, material objects, pictures, people, ideas – that help to enrich our understanding of that original encounter, how it has been imagined since, and why it remains significant in the present.

Exhibition:     On the Trail of Qing and Orpen

Curators:       The Qing-Orpen Project (Justine Wintjes, Jill Weintroub, John Wright, Jeremy Hollmann, Menán du Plessis, José M. de Prada-Samper)

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