By Uyanda Ntloko, Journalism and Media Studies student
Julia Arbuckle, a Rhodes University Master’s student in Fine Art, has been awarded the Javier Rosón Prize for her work entitled “Root/Rot: The Family Bible. The work is based on and inspired by the artist’s family history, which is centred on the British colonisation of South Africa in 1820. The Javier Rosón Prize is awarded by the Ankaria Foundation to a young artist of promise under the age of 28, with the aspiration to create a platform to promote culture and art by supporting creators in Spain and in other parts of the world at large.
The prize is specifically for the book arts. Arbuckle went to Epworth High School in Pietermaritzburg, and she arrived at Rhodes University in 2017 to do a Bachelor of Fine Art. She is currently doing her second year of a Fine Art Master’s Degree.
She said she applied for the award via the foundation's competition every year and was awarded out of 220 other participants. “I feel very grateful for the award, I think it's important for a young artist like myself to be showcased in such a way in Madrid. I've always been told that it's incredibly difficult to be recognised within South Africa, and artists must break out into other countries. She explained that this opportunity for myself and my work to be included in the endeavour is astounding and very exciting for me,” she explained.
Arbuckle’s family is directly descended from Thomas Charles White, who, with his entire family, settled in the district of Albany in the 1820s. “While I grew up hearing stories of this family heritage, I never felt so tangibly connected to the history as when I moved to Makhanda to complete my degree. I have used the deep familial history that is embedded within the town as a departure point for my graduate work. I successfully connected with the family who still own the historic Table Farm of 1828,” said Arbuckle.
She said this history, coupled with the desire and pressing need to know more about it, has motivated her research into the family history in Makhanda. “With receiving the prize, my book will become part of the Ankaria Foundation's permanent collection and will be included in a travelling exhibition in Madrid. Along with buying the book, the Foundation has awarded me 1000€,” she added.
This artist's book is based on the dimensions of the historic family bible and culminates the disjunct between disgrace and connection, between the slippage of the monumental station of the 1820 Settlers in town and the tales of her ancestors. “This book confronts my own reconciliation with knowing that my history exists because that of others was devastated,” she concluded.