Thobile Maphanga

University of KwaZulu Natal


Derrida (2002) reveals that the act of writing history and building an archive is both a way of remembering, and of forgetting. That in the act of choosing what to archive we also choose what to forget or erase. As a Black South African woman whose history is apparently one of silence (Meer, 1974), I have developed a mild obsession with how Black women write themselves into history.

National Geographic Explorer, Tara Roberts, talks about finding healing in piecing together and imagining histories of Africans forcefully taken from their homelands and lost at sea without record or memorial. Erased. I ponder this idea of imagined history. History that is not exclusively reliant on documented facts and artefacts in immovable structures, instead, like Hartman’s “critical fabulations” (2008), pieces together archival omissions. Their ideas on imagining undocumented history push me to consider my attraction and persistent return to the moving self as a way I have been piecing my undocumented herstory together.

My occupation with how I write my own herstory through dance has inspired an exploration and embracement of a practice of non-routine as methodology to find movement that languages the unwritten and resurrects the archive of not only myself in the present but my moving lineage. Xaba (2021) speaks of the “Black body as a moving ancestral archive” describing how its history (and the history of the person and persons of that body) are not only located in the body but are transferred to future generations through the body. Certain body parts and movements are transferred from parent to child and even grandchildren in features and mannerisms.  Clinging to this intelligence of the body to preserve and transfer a physical genealogy that reminds me of African traditions of oral histories and historicising, I explore how my improvisation practice might resurrect, piece together and build on a moving archive that relies on the body to inform when, where and how it moves.

Referencing improvised clips, I explore my improvisational journey as a way of retrieving intuitive movement to recall memory that sits in the body to piece together forgotten parts of self and imagine lost and untold herstory.

This paper was a verbal presentation, sandwiched between two videos that can be found here:  

Biography: Thobile Maphanga

Thobile Maphanga is a Durban-based movement practitioner, scholar and writer currently reading for her Master’s in Performance Studies at the University of KwaZulu Natal.  Her preoccupation is with Black female narratives and how Black women are writing themselves into history now. Her dance career has spanned two decades, working with various South African Companies and choreographers.  She has collaborated with local and international artists to produce independent work and was a co-founder of The Rickshaw Collective.  She currently sits on the Flatfoot Dance Company board, is a curatorial mentee for JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience under the mentorship of Artistic Director Dr. Lliane Loots and holds a position on the JOMBA! Masihambisane Dialogues steering committee.   Her dance writing has featured in the JOMBA! Khuluma, UK’s Hotfoot Online and the USA’s In Dance Magazine.