The Procession is a part of Nothing of Importance Occurred, a project of recuperation of a Herball for a 17th century Angolan midwife at the Cape, South Africa. This project explores the knowledge that midwives and women of the 17th century had of plants that controlled fertility.
At the heart of the story is the person on Maaij Claesje, an enslaved woman in the VOC (Dutch East India Company) slave lodge, Cape Town, who was, eventually, able to negotiate her emancipation in exchange for her services as a midwife. The project explores the knowledge that an enslaved midwife, attending to enslaved women, might have been called upon – by those women – to know.
The Herball recuperates histories of plants that will terminate a pregnancy. The Procession at Middelheim Museum, Antwerp, concentrates on abortifacient plants growing in Northern France, Flanders and the Netherlands. Embodied knowledge of these plants and their effects would have travelled to the Cape in the 17th century through the bodies of French Huguenot women fleeing Catholic persecution and taking up VOC offers of land at the Cape, and Dutch women accompanying their men there. An enslaved midwife would also have attended to these free women.
The project speculates that plants travelled in both directions and that knowledge would have been shared.
Video by Keen / Bart Kiggen
Photo of procession / Tim Theo Deceuninck