"Law and the Land" at Assembly Arts Gallery, Lancaster

A photographic exploration of justice, place, ancestors, and spirit in Namibia is taking place in July and August in Lancaster. The exhibition is co-curated by our Dr Saskia Vermeylen. 

The “Law and the Land” exhibition at Assembly Arts Gallery is open to the public from 19 July until 2 August 2024. There are also two specific events taking place on Wednesday 17 July and Saturday 20 July 2024, details of which are below. 

Law and the Land 

Luke Kaplan's powerful exhibition explores the spiritual, cultural, and legal relationships between a San community in Namibia and the land in which they live. The photographic work emerged through a collaborative research project with the Ju/’hoan people of N//homa village, which sought new ways of representing the law: not merely as a codified set of texts, but by portraying the land claims of this community, and others like it, in a manner which does justice to an embodied and spiritual sense of living law. 

The San of Southern Africa are a widely dispersed and diverse group of people, who despite language and geographical differences share deep cultural commonalities and historical experiences: they were hunter-gatherers with a particular relationship with the land in which they lived, and were the first inhabitants of most of the region. They also experienced fierce hostility and prejudice by most who came into contact with them, which often continues to this day. Those who survived the drawn-out genocide lost most of their ancestral land through the period of colonialism, and still struggle for redress. 

The stories of this community are told through a number of interweaving photographic series. In a collaborative portraiture series, women’s stories of birth rituals and generational connection to place are surfaced. In these portraits, women present themselves in places of deep significance: the places, and trees, where they gave birth. These are the physical sites of their rites of passage, representing the living and emerging nature of ‘sacred place’ – sites made and consecrated within each persons’ lifetime, and connecting generations in both directions. 

Alongside these images are portraits of others within the community – elders, leaders, healers, and young people. Also included are images of the healing dances held by the community to evoke the ancestors and the spiritual power – “N!om” – which is accessed by the healers, and which underpins and sustains the world. These images work in conjunction with audio of the songs and percussive beat of clapping of the dancers, to immerse the viewer in the world of the Ju/’hoan. In this way, living law is being woven within and between people and place in the here and now, connecting past, present and future. 

Luke Kaplan's photographs were produced as part of a wider research project undertaken by !Xun youth activist Kileni Fernando and legal anthropologist Dr Saskia Vermeylen. The exhibition has been curated by Luke Kaplan and Saskia Vermeylen. 


Private View of "Law and the Land" at Assembly Arts Gallery, Lancaster on Wednesday 17 July 2024 at 5.00pm

Short introduction by Luke Kaplan and Saskia Vermeylen at 6.00pm. 

Please RSVP to alan@assemblyarts.co.uk

Saturday 20 July 2024 at 2.00pm

Free introduction to "Law and the Land" at Assembly Arts Gallery by Luke Kaplan and Saskia Vermeylen at 2.00pm (for one hour).


Project supported by UKRI/ESRC, Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (Bristol University), Environmental Learning Research Centre (Rhodes University), the Namibian San Council, and the National Arts Council.