Training and capacity building are also a critical part of COSMO-ART activities

The research actions planned in COSMO-ART are based on the realisation of several student works, both in France and in southern Africa, with Honours, Masters, PhD and post-doctorate works. In return, the supervision of these student works by different members of the project are as much time of training by and in research for students who may be in charge of managing and implementing heritage policies tomorrow, or who will continue in research on this heritage entry.

Leïla Baracchini

Leïla Baracchini received her PhD in social anthropology and art theory (Quai Branly Thesis Price 2019) from the EHESS-Paris and the University of Neuchâtel in 2019. Her research focuses on the politics of representation and the processes of commodification and patrimonialisation in indigenous contexts. She explores these topics principally in Botswana, South Africa and in the French Lesser Antilles.

Postdoc (Éco-Anthropologie / EDYTEM)

Relationship between San local communities and rock art heritage sites

Leïla did her postdoctoral research in the Éco-Anthropologie laboratory (UMR 7206) at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris) and looked into the relationship between San local communities and rock art heritage sites.

In the post-colonial context of Southern Africa, rock art sites, produced by KhoiSan- and Bantu- speaking populations, are situated at the crossroads of different registers. For instance, political registers, with a process of election of rock art sites as a high place of the South African nation; cultural and identity registers, with the recognition of particularities of social groups in the background; economic registers, with issues of tourism and local economic benefits, etc. As a result, rock art sites combine a variety of potential, sometimes competing or conflicting values. Although current management plans attempt to consider the diversity of values attributed to rock art, there is still a gap between the intention and the reality on the ground. This is due in part to the difficulty of understanding multifaceted, contextual, conflicting and ever-changing values and the lack of a sound holistic and integrated methodological framework to do so. COSMO-ART proposes a new way of approaching the uses and perceptions of rock art sites with the aim of defining convergences between actors located at different levels in a sustainable management perspective.

Within this multicultural context, and taking into account the cosmopolitan framework of posited within the COSMO-ART programme, the Leïla’s postdoctoral research focuses on the rock art site of Wildebeest Kuil, near the Platfontein and Kimberley, South Africa. The objective is to investigate the links between the rock art site (and more broadly the landscape) and the surrounding population as a whole (including the Tswana, !Xun and Khwe socio-cultural groups). The focus is on the appropriation of these sites by the different of population. To what extent do different people relate to this rock art site? Does this site have meaning for different people? And if so, what meanings? And if not, what are the landscape elements to which these people relate? In terms of method, after initial field observations and the study of the available literature, the question of values and appropriation will be addressed from images produced by the people interviewed and the discourses expressed on the images produced (photovoice process). This approach is completed by field observations and semi-directive interviews with the main stakeholder. Ultimately, and with the support of local stakeholders, a photographic exhibition was prepared with the material collected (photographs and interviews). The exhibition shows, from the point of view of the local populations, the places to which they are linked.

Leïla’s scientific production:

  • Partager des images, repenser le patrimoine rupestre : un projet de photographie participative avec des populations san d’Afrique du Sud, 1st Young Researcher’s Day Participative Cultural Research, Particip-Arc, Paris (France), 16 November 2022
  • « Giving » voice, sharing pictures and rethinking heritage. A photovoice project with displaced San communities (Kimberley, South Africa), Annual Meetings of the Swiss Anthropological Association (SAA), “Give and Take – Anthropology as Exchange”, Neuchâtel (Switzerland), November 10-12, 2022
  • De réfugiés à propriétaires de site archéologique. Quelle relation au patrimoine rupestre pour les !Xun et les Khwe de Platfontein (Kimberley, Afrique du Sud)?, 7e Rencontre des études africaines (REAF), Toulouse (France), 28 June – 1 July 2022.

Fieldwork: First contact and start of the photovoice project

(South Africa: 15 March – 29 April 2022)

The first fieldwork done by Leïla lasted seven weeks and allowed her to get in touch with and interview the main local stakeholders, visit some of the archaeological sites around Platfontein (and especially Wildebeest Kuil), collect information from the Africana Library and the Sol Plaatje University, and go to the nitty-gritty of her postdoctoral research: start with the photovoice workshops at Platfontein.


Fieldwork: Photovoice project

(South Africa: 1 August – 3 September 2022)

The five weeks spent in the field in Kimberley gave rise to a second series of photovoice workshop at Platfontein. It started with a workshop on the theme: what is heritage for me? The aim was to have the participants explore the ideas that come up spontaneously when talking about heritage. In addition, several individual interviews were conducted with political representatives of Platfontein as well as with elders who had been involved with Wildebeest Kuil (as artists, storytellers or craftsmen).

Several discussions regarding the planning of the exhibition “Places in Me” and its technical components also took place with the partners of the project: SANCD, SASDO, the McGregor Museum and the Department of Heritage Studies of the University of Sol Plaatje.


Fieldwork: Finalising the photovoice project

(South Africa: 21 January – 14 Frebuary 2023)

For this third and last fieldwork session, Leïla’s met all the participants in the photovoice project. Indeed, to have the photographs and texts selected for the exhibition “Places in Me” validated by the project participants. Leïla had indeed been busy with the transcription of the interviews with the authors of the photographs and the selection of excerpts for the exhibition.

These weeks in Kimberley were also used to meet with the different partners of the project. With six months to go before the opening, there was still a lot to organise between the different partners to make this event a success.


Juliette Barthélemy

Juliette’s background is eclectic: Law and Political Science combined with Art History. She is now doing a Masters degree in Archaeology: Arts, Societies and Prehistoric and Protohistoric Environments (Europe, Africa) at the Université Jean Jaurès in Toulouse.

Master 1, Archaeology: Arts, Societies and Prehistoric and Protohistoric Environments (Europe, Africa), Université Jean Jaurès, Toulouse

Epistemological approach to the study of rock art sites in the Karoo (South Africa)

For her research Juliette is jointly supervised by Camille Bourdier and Yann Potin (Université Sorbonne Paris Nord) to apply an epistemological approach to the study of rock art sites in the Karoo (South Africa) over the last century. To do this, Juliette is mainly focusing on three sites: Wonderwerk Cave, Wildebeest Kuil and Driekopseiland. For each site, she is considering three major parameters in the creation of knowledge: the people involved in the research and their training; the issues and objectives considered in rock art archaeology; and finally, the methods: how they have been developed and what the actual research practices were.

This epistemological approach consists of analysing the scientific knowledge produced on Karoo rock art over the last century, in order to identify any biases and gaps. This research will thus contribute to the interdisciplinary discussion on the heterogeneity of the knowledge built up around rock art sites in this region and on the various values that have been attributed to them. It will also open up avenues for future research into regional rock art.

Fieldwork: Archival research

(South Africa: 13 March – 26 March 2024)

Juliette stayed two weeks in Kimberley to carry out archival work at the McGregor Museum and the Africana Library.


Lucas Bruchet

Lucas joined COSMO-ART as an intern as part of the second year of his University Bachelor of Technology degree in Multimedia and Internet at the University Savoie Mont Blanc.

From May to August 2023, he worked on the ‘Places in Me’ photographic exhibition as a graphic designer and video artist. The exhibition is due to open at the beginning of July, so his internship will enable him to work on finalising the exhibition and then to accompany the team of researchers to the opening in order to document the dynamics between the various stakeholders and put together a documentary.

Internship (EDYTEM)

Documenting the making of the Places in Me photovoice exhibition

During the first 2 months of his internship, his skills as a graphic designer were put to good use. During this period, he was responsible for a number of aspects relating to the exhibition: (i) layout of the 21 roll-up banners that make up the exhibition, (ii) creation of an exhibition booklet in five languages based on the content of the roll-up banners, (iii) editing of a film consisting of photographs and recordings of quotations in the two community languages spoken in Platfontein (Khwedam and !Xuntali), (iv) creation of the visual identity for the exhibition and documents to communicate about the event (poster, banner, invitation cards, etc.).

From mid-June, it was his skills as a video-maker that came to the fore. The aim of his internship was also to produce a documentary documenting the various stages and challenges of the ‘Places in Me’ exhibition, against the backdrop of the opening.

Accompanying the COSMO-ART team in the field, the two weeks he spent in Kimberley enabled him to cover the setting up of the exhibition and the various events surrounding its inauguration (meetings, openings, workshop, discussions with communities and researchers). At the same time, in conjunction with the project’s researchers, he co-authored the documentary. On his return to France, the last three weeks of his internship were devoted to editing the documentary.

Lucas production:

Anaïs Empereur-Buisson

Anaïs joined the Cosmo-Art project as part of her Master’s degree in Archaeology at the University of Bordeaux (with a speciality in Prehistory, Geoarchaeology and Archaeozoology) and devoted her research project to the study of rock-art conservation in Wonderwerk Cave (Northern Cape, South Africa).

Master 2, Archaeology & Sciences for Archaeology, Université de Bordeaux

Conservation of the Wonderwerk Cave paintings (Northern Cape, South Africa)

Proposed by the ANR Cosmo-Art, the subject is addressing the question of the conservation of Wonderwerk Cave’s paintings. Indeed, very few studies focused on this point, partly because the paintings are pretty much altered by graffiti. Yet, a conservation study could bring new elements to discuss the authenticity of some figures, and is an indispensable prerequisite to eventually get meaning out of them.

In order to answer this conservation issue, we intend on establishing a condition report of the paintings, by identifying and mapping the different conservation states and weathering processes. This should enable us to discuss some elements, such as the original state of the paintings, the authenticity of some figures, and maybe to propose a stratigraphy for the paintings.

To do so, we will do a multi-scale taphonomic study, from the massif to the wall, and then produce a detailed relevé of a chosen control area. For this, photography and image enhancement will be necessary. Monitoring of the cave and component analysis will be used in order to identify the different weathering processes.

The project is a collaboration with the McGregor Museum and Sol Plaatje University.

Read Anaïs’ dissertation

Anaïs’ scientific communications

  • Conservation of the Wonderwerk Cave paintings (Northern Cape, South Africa), 5th Humanities Seminar Series Online Talk, Sol Plaatje University, South Africa, 6 December 2023.

Fieldwork: Study of the conservation of Wonderwerk Cave

(South Africa: 15 February – 22 March 2023)

Anaïs stayed about nine weeks in South Africa to carry out her research project at Wonderwerk Cave. During her stay she was hosted by the University of Sol Plaatje.

She spent first two weeks in Kimberley to search paper and photographic archives kept at the McGregor Museum and its satellite, the Duggan-Cronin Gallery. She also met and interviewed several people who could provide her with insights into the history of the cave, the conversation interventions that took place there and the management and operation of this public site.

Anaïs then moved to a place closer to the cave to do her fieldwork. She identified the factors affecting the conservation of the paintings and monitored several of them, selected test areas where she focused her recording of the paintings, there alterations and previous conservation intervention. She also collected some samples of deposits and alteration products that she analysis in the Archaeology laboratory at Sol Plaatje University.


Hugo Quemin

After his graduation from a BTS (HND) in Tourism in 2016, Hugo, moved to the Université Savoie Mont Blanc, where he obtained a degree in geography and started a Master’s program in Geography & Mountains and did his research projects with COSMO-ART. He is now doing is doctoral research, still within the COSMO-ART project.

Master 1, Geography & Mountains, Université Savoie Mont Blanc

Gazes on heritagity. The tourism construction of a rock art site in the Kimberley region (South Africa): genesis, issues and limits of a community-based approach to management and reflections on the socio-political issues of archaeology

This research, which follows three months of fieldwork, is articulated on the basis of an observation – the Wildebeest Kuil rock art site (Northern Cape, South Africa) is rarely visited – and on the question: what contemporary issues revolve around the site? The construction of an interpretive centre on the edge of Wildebeest Kuil in 2001 was undertaken to provide economic and cultural support to two San communities displaced and resettled at the same time near the site. Supported by new South African heritage management rules in 1999 and with a view to integrating the !Xun and Khwe communities into the management of the rock art site, the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre is an example of community-based tourism of archaeological heritage. However, the lack of tourism has not led to the establishment of sustainability at Wildebeest Kuil. Hugo analyses at length the multiple causes of this marginality despite the good tourist numbers and the interest in cultural heritage in the destination where the site is located (Kimberley). Throughout his research, the community-based approach is questioned either directly, by analysing in depth the failure of this mode of management at Wildebeest Kuil, or by proposing to shift the focus to the contemporary issues of the communities on the site and to the cultural and political perspectives benefiting from the development of tourism at the site. Therefore, this research proposes to observe the complexities surrounding the development of tourism by proposing a progressive conceptualisation and generalisation of the example of Wildebeest Kuil in the management of archaeological sites in South Africa. On the basis of a study of various expectations on the site and mainly from qualitative data, this work proposes in fine to underline the fundamentally social issues of archaeology in South Africa by using and adapting a methodology inherited from critical heritage studies.

Read Hugo’s dissertation

Hugo’s scientific communications:

  • The tourism development of a rock art site in the Kimberley region (South Africa): genesis, issues and limits of a community-based approach, 7e Rencontre des études africaines (REAF), Toulouse (France), 28 June – 1 July 2022.

Fieldwork: studying limits of the community-based approach to management at Wildebeest Kuil

(South Africa: 2 March – 28 May 2022)

Hugo spent three months in South Africa, shared between a slow itinerancy to apprehend the actuality of the South African society, situated studies, meetings, discussions, participation and data collection, between Kimberley, Cape Town and Johannesburg and writing and discussions/reflections.


Master 2, Geography & Mountains, Université Savoie Mont Blanc

Heritage in translation. Past and present perspectives on the making of rock art heritage in Namibia

This research, which includes six weeks of fieldwork in Namibia, looks into the issues and socio-spatial effects of heritage-making of rock art sites in the Erongo Mountains. Preparing the ground for a comparative approach between the Namibian and South African (Wildebeest Kuil) fieldworks, it builds on the previous work carried out at Wildebeest Kuil in 2022. At the crossroads of human geography and legal anthropology, this research investigates the connections between values and heritagity – between correspondences and contradictions, similarities and contrasts, conjunctions and disjunctions. This input from values sets the background for an analysis of the valorisation and preservation issues of rock art sites from a perspective little explored within heritage studies: the construction of a legitimacy on and through heritage. While highlighting the valorisation/preservation of rock art sites as a finality implying the legitimacy of action of different actors (in order to justify their actions with regard to the management criteria of rock art sites), this study however mainly tackles the valorisation/preservation initiatives as a means, for different actors, to constitute their legitimacy in a range of other legal domains.

Dedicated to the analysis of the heritagity of rock art sites and the issues that revolve around them, this research pursues the methodology developed by Boltanski and Thévenot (1991) which proposes the pragmatic analysis of inter-individual relations as regular trials between different models of justice. As their approach is deeply rooted in a European framework, it needs to be extended to social contexts where territories do not harbor a common ontological matrix. The Erongo Massif is a place of interaction between people with different conceptions of what ‘justice’ refers to. By adapting Boltanski and Thévenot‘s approach to this territory, this research fully integrates the issues raised by postcolonial studies by extending the understanding of interactions bridging, through a shared material, different horizons of justice.

The rock art sites of the Erongo massif are thus analysed as vectors of multiple interactions and justifications underpinning a set of considerations of justice whose common grammar, in this place where worlds intersect, remains to be studied.

Read Hugo’s dissertation

Fieldwork: excavation in the Erongo

(Namibia: 3 – 13 October 2022)

Hugo spent ten days participating in an archaeological excavation on Omandumba West Farm in the Erongo Mountains (Namibia), as part of a team led by David Pleurdeau (MNHM). During this time, he met with some of the actors and partners working on this field or in southern Africa and prepared his return to Namibia planned for the following year.


Fieldwork: Heritage values and constructed issues in Namibia

(Namibia: 21 March – 4 May 2023)

During this fieldwork Hugo looked into the connections between small-scale mining activities and policies for the preservation and promotion of rock art sites in the Erongo Mountains and at Spitzkoppe. Interviews were therefore conducted with various actors (institutions, farmers, guides, archaeologists…) and were complemented by informal discussions (inhabitants of Spitzkoppe and the Okombahe community). Later, I was also able to spend four days in the national archives in Windhoek, a time that allowed me to acquire important information, such as the history of rock art site preservation in Namibia. Finally, this time in Namibia allowed me to further develop my PhD project by completing the initial overview from October 2022, answering some previously established questions and extending my focus to a more specific analysis of the differentiated interests of actors towards rock art and the selective and exclusionar processes surrounding their preservation issues.

Later, Hugo also spent four days in the national archives in Windhoek, a time that allowed him to acquire important information, such as the history of rock art site preservation in Namibia.

During this time in Namibia Hugo also further developed his PhD project by completing the initial overview from October 2022.


PhD, Geography, Cultures – Societies – Territories, Université Savoie Mont Blanc

Rock art in translation. Politics and discourses of Southern African rock art, and the everyday geography-making

This doctoral research investigates the spatialisation of rock art as a specific geographical entity. In many ways, ‘rock art’ is an elusive concept: its boundaries are blurred, both in terms of spatiality and in terms of understanding and extension. At the same time, its elusiveness generates an ambivalent aura that conditions individuals to imagine that they share a common living context, but also a common type of relationship to rock art. In order to shed light on the variety of relationships to these objects/places, I propose to study both the geographical contexts in which past archaeological knowledge was produced and the situated nature of the various relationships to rock art in the ethnographic present. This reflection will be based on three main sites: Wildebeest Kuil in South Africa, the Erongo Mountains in Namibia, and the Spitzkoppe in Namibia.

The main aim of this research is to analyse, in these three places, the influence of the geographical context on past and present ways of designating, spatialising, giving meaning to, interacting with, negotiating, claiming – in a word, translating – rock art. I therefore propose to observe both the effect of socio-geographical contexts on the ways in which rock art is translated, and the relationships between these translations and the spatialisations of rock art. I am therefore studying the socio-spatial configurations through which certain specific discourses (conservationist, ethno-archaeological, biographical, etc.) become tools in a given geographical context. Thus, at a time when rock art is increasingly proving to be a fundamental tool in the construction of postcolonial subjectivities, this research aims to study the political and spatial dimensions of the translation processes that underlie and shape different relationships to rock art.