As an undergraduate Whidden majored in art education with an emphasis on photography, first coming to South Africa in 1996 as part of his university's year abroad program. Since then he's divided his time almost equally between the US and South Africa, where he has developed and nourished a variety of interests including indigenous plants, ethnobotany , traditional music, and rock art. In addition to his educational pursuits, which include an honours in ethnomusicology from UKZN and a full year of elective archaeology credits from Unisa, his work as a freelance photographer, arts & culture teacher, and agricultural consultant in the Ceres district has afforded him unique opportunities for exploring both creative and academic interests which often intersect. Although Whidden's been introduced to San paintings on his first visit to southern Africa, moving to Ceres also marked the beginning of serious rock art research.
Whidden's work at UCT is concerned with the paintings found at a single Cederberg rock shelter. The images are numerous, well-preserved, and include a variety of extremely interesting figures, many of which are finely detailed and possibly unique in terms of their subject matter. However, the site's finely executed depictions of tasseled skin bags are what first attracted his attention. By examining a range of ethnographic resources, such as the San testimony and photographs held in the CCA along with examples of material culture preserved in anthropological & archaeological collections, he hopes to facilitate a fuller understanding of what the painted counterparts in the shelter, whether skin bags, a decorated kaross, set of hunting equipment, or musical instruments, might've represented.
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