In 1969, in Botswana, Bessie Head built her house, Rainclouds, with the proceeds from her first novel ‘When Rainclouds gather’. It is in this house that she later, mostly in the evenings, wrote her landmark novel, ‘A Question of Power’. During the day she worked with other volunteers in Serowe as a gardener and as part of, Boiteko, a communal gardening project. The gardening project would later become a central part of her novel. It was also at this time that South Africa, her country of origin, was undergoing the most extreme and violent destructions of historic black neighbourhoods under the racist Group Areas Act. Bessie Head wrote that she is ‘mainly concerned with the manner in which the people lost the land’ and thus, saw her work as in conversation and in continuity with that of Sol Plaatje, who decades earlier documented the effect of the Land Act in ‘Native Life’ and for which she wrote the introduction to its republication in 1982.
Today the house is a Botswana national heritage site and this film attempts to thread together, her voice, her writing, her spatial practice and her conversation with the work of Sol Plaatje. It is within this context that we give thanks to Bessie Head, to Sol Plaatje, to prophetic constructions such as Rainclouds and Boiteko Garden, and to the people who made them.
Directed by Ilze Wolff
Edited By Khalid Shamis
Original Score by Cara Stacey
Cinematography by Heinrich Wolff, Lerato Maduna, and Malik Ntone Edjabe
With kind permissions from the Bessie Head Heritage Trust and the Khama III Memorial Museum, Serowe
Produced by Wolff Architects 2021
Conversation about the film at Chicago Architecture Biennial with Julie Nxadi, Cara Stacey, Khalid Shamis & Ilze Wolff.
Coordinated by Marguerite Wynter.