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Remaking the Rand

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Nicole Gordon

Student's art from South African interterm trip on display at Boettcher West

Artwork created by Anna Walsh and on display in Boettcher West.
Artwork created by Anna Walsh and on display in Boettcher West.

“There lies so much beneath the beauty of South Africa,” says senior Anna Walsh. “Travelling to such a place was like walking through a dichotomy of sublime acacia trees touching the sky and destitution just below their roots.”

Walsh, a journalism major, traveled to South Africa as part of Geographies of South Africa, a winter interterm course designed to give students a firsthand look at the country's physical and cultural landscapes. The course is taught by geography professors Thomas Lavanchy and Michael Kerwin through the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

For her final project, Walsh opted to create a work of art that is now on display in Boettcher West in the Department of Geography and the Environment. Using water-soluble pencils, she reproduced the country's currency — the South African rand — with an artistic twist. In particular, Nelson Mandela's face is replaced by a woman and child in a township.

“I met this woman and her child in Langa, a township just outside of Cape Town,” Walsh says. “Her eyes are forever in my mind saying ‘You see this country, but you do not see me.’”

The South African rand experienced record lows in 2016 as the country's economy faced a challenging year.

Walsh, who is accustomed to writing for her journalism major, turned to drawing as a way to express more emotion.

“I initially want viewers to be drawn in by the colors, since people are drawn to South Africa for the country's beauty,” she says about the project. “But then I want them to look closer and notice that it's the country's currency. I want them to see what I saw on the trip, which was a lot of beauty but also a lot of destitution and poverty.”

During the rigorous two-week course, students studied the geology and ecology of southern Africa, from Cape Town’s biodiverse Table Mountain to the mountains of Lesotho. They also explored the human history of the region, including the origin of homo sapiens, the colonization of South Africa and the post-apartheid struggles currently enveloping the country.

Students were required to write about their daily experiences and complete an independent project. “Anna’s final creation speaks for itself and accurately portrays the most beautiful and complicated place I have ever visited,” Kerwin says.