Phillips Explores Art of the Inca from South Africa

On April 3, Ruth Anne Phillips, a visiting Professor of Art History, discussed Inca architectural sites located in Peru.  Her lecture, entitled “Inca Stone in the Round: Performative Boulders and Wise Water,” described the research she has done with Inca sites in and surrounding Machu Picchu.

Phillips began her lecture, given in the library, by describing who the Inca were as “the indigenous population in power in South America from around 1430 to 1532 AD.” She explained not only where the Inca Empire was located, but also how they made use of the materials of the land. Phillips stated that the Inca “learned to cope with the extreme environment.” The Inca accomplished this by constructing remarkable stonework.

Phillips presented her topic through a series of photographs and an explanation of the architecture seen in each.  Due to the spiritual nature of the Inca, Phillips noted that these sites were considered sacred sites or “huacas.” Phillips said huacas can be “any feature on the landscape” and this proves how inanimate landscapes are “active participants” in the Inca culture. According to Phillips, these huacas stood for the Inca’s “belief in sacred landscape.”

Phillips’ research particularly focused on the Chachabamba site located in Peru. This small site, surveyed by Paul Fejos in the 1940s, contains a walled boulder which was the foundation of the research that Phillips conducted. This walled boulder represents the “Inca’s ability to frame natural features of the landscape,” explained Phillips. She also discussed how the walled boulder, which is “one of over eight known walled boulders,” is a good example of fine Inca masonry.

Phillips also mentioned how “water is a major part” of Chachabamba and the other sacred Inca sites.  She described how the Incas believed that “the place where two bodies of water merge together were places of harmony.” On her own research excursions, Phillips noted that “even during dry seasons you can hear the constant rushing sounds of the Urabamba River.”  The importance of the relationship between water and masonry was expressed through Inca baths and fountains.

While Phillips shared her humorous anecdotes about the difficulties of getting to Chachabamba, she also stressed the artistic value that architecture held for the Inca. She looks forward to continuing her research projects on the architectural style of sacred Inca sites.

Gobodo-Madikizela Talks Trauma, Paradox of Remorse

On Oct. 26, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Professor of Psychology at Cape Town University, South Africa and author of the 2011 St. Mary’s summer reading book “A Human Being Died That Night,” spoke at St. Mary’s Hall for her lecture “Engaging the Other: Trauma, Witnessing, and the Paradox of Remorse.”

Gobodo-Madikizela has a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Rhodes University and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Cape Town. She is a Senior Consultant for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town and served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) after the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. She visited the St. Mary’s campus for four days during the week of Oct. 23-29 and gave several lectures to the students taking the first-year seminars, in addition to her talk on Oct. 26.

She began her lecture by expressing her honor at visiting St. Mary’s, thanking the school for the “wonderful few days I’ve spent here.” She described the first-years she had spoken with earlier in the day, as “profound, thoughtful students.”
Her experiences with post-apartheid South Africa have sent her on a personal and professional journey to answer two questions: How have different groups with a history of violence dealt with the experience of everyday trauma and how have experiences of the past shaped these groups? She says that her work grew out of an investigation into the extreme violence of “necklace murders,” a brutal form of torture in which a rubber tire filled with gasoline is placed around a victim’s neck and set on fire. Gobodo-Madikizela wanted to discover how to theorize about this unspeakable violence.

She discovered that the perpetrators of torture distanced themselves from the murders, describing them as a “surreal experience.” Their transformation was influenced by layers of experiences of deprivation, degradation and humiliation. She said, “The capacity for reflection and the ability to emphasize with others is disrupted by traumatic experiences.”

Severely abused individuals cut off a painful experience to protect themselves, called disassociation, and this tendency may persist into adulthood. “The tragic and gloomy aspects of a person with a history of traumatic experiences are taken out on another person. Past traumas do not simply go away or disappear…the trauma reemerges again and again. Conversation about facing the past…remains a critical aspect of transformations.”

Gobodo-Madikizela’s work with the TRC emphasized dialogue between the victims and the perpetrators. She aimed to unravel the “complex legacies of the past.” The sessions set an important narrative trend for the 20th and 21st centuries, showing that people can no longer ignore the importance of facing the past. “The significance of the TRC is not so much in its failure or success,” said Gobodo-Madikizela. “It is in the great insight it has given us about how to engage with ones former enemies.”

She went on to emphasize remorse and its significance in recovering from trauma. She said that it is an easy route to set those who inflict violence aside as monsters, but by allowing them to reclaim their sense of humanity, victims can share that humanity with their perpetrators. Until one feels remorse, he or she remains closed to healing. The TRC was a unique environment where the evildoers did not deny the atrocities they committed, but were encouraged to own up to them and feel remorse.

While discussing the TRC, Gobodo-Madikizela shared several anecdotes about victims who forgave the dealers of violence and helped them redefine their lives after evil. The rehumanization of the perpetrators allowed the people of South Africa to imagine the possibility of living side by side with reminders of pain.

To conclude her lecture, Gobodo-Madikizela answered several questions about her personal experiences during apartheid and her work with the TRC. She emphasized the importance of “witnessing to each other about our pain” and opening dialogue to encourage healing.

Professor of Anthropology Bill Roberts, who attended the talk said, “Personally, I found her talk intellectually compelling and emotionally uplifting.  I found her focus on ‘empathy’ as a mechanism by which we all have the opportunity to recognize our common humanity, something recognizable to an anthropologist.”

The response to her lecture was immensely positive with students as well. “I thought it was spectacular,” said first-year Allegra Garrett. “She’s a real inspiration and a very wise woman.”