Paalini's exhibit at Wits pays homage to the role of a forgotten quarryman in discovering the Taung skull

Paalini Moodley

Paalini Moodley

Published Dec 6, 2023


Anthropology student Paalini Moodley whose art work is on exhibition at the University of Witwatersrand, says exhibit pays homage to the role of a forgotten quarryman in discovering the Taung skull.

The 24-year-old, formerly from Durban north, and six other students are exhibiting their art at the Ngwana Mogolo Kwa Gabo Mogolo exhibition, as a component of their anthropology masters course at the university.

The event is linked to the student's artistic interpretations of their studies around the famous Taung Skull.

According to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the fossilised skull was among the first early human fossils found in Africa in 1924, and the first early human fossil discovery to draw major attention to this region as a place of origin of man. It is believed to be around 2.5 million years old and the skull of a child aged about three when it died.

The exhibition will remain on display until the next cohort of anthropology masters students present their exhibitions in 2024. It is housed in the Anthropology Museum at the university.

Moodley said her contribution, titled Harmony Unearthed: Taung's Vision, attempts to embody the aspirations of the community of Taung in the North West, and their longing for a better life with the anticipation of the return of the Taung skull, which is currently housed at Wits.

“My exhibition begins with a gold cloth on the base of my display, and a golden skull mounted above it. My significant use of gold is symbolic of the discovery site of this fossil, being within a gold mine, but, more importantly, of the often overlooked narrative surrounding the true discoverer of it.

“While history has credited Raymond Dart, an excursion taken to Taung alongside my Master’s cohort has unveiled a different narrative attributing the discovery to a quarryman who received no acknowledgement. My intention is to pay homage to this overlooked figure, shedding light on their crucial role in the discovery.

“The emerging branches on both sides of the golden skull, reminiscent of a tree, symbolise growth, life, hope, and the interconnectedness inherent within the community. Accompanying these visual elements is a powerful quote by Lungile Keswa, an integral figure within Taung, a true representative of the community, and an embodiment of unity, solidarity and harmony. His inclusion in my project serves to highlight his dedication to the Taung skull and his exposure of the beauty that is Taung."

Moodley said her interest in anthropology and human evolution began early.

“During my first year of undergrad, I attended my initial anthropology lecture, which I found absolutely alluring. Finally, I had discovered a domain where my talents could flourish; a space where I felt entirely in my element.”

She said based on her own experience, colourism became a central part of her Master's research.

“In my personal experience, colourism manifested in the realm of beauty, where I found myself labelled as either 'pretty for a dark-skinned girl' or told I would be pretty if I were lighter-skinned. I often heard these loaded comments throughout my youth and experienced a looming feeling that my dark skin hindered my attractiveness and desirability.

“Against this backdrop, I began to question the existence of our vibrant diversity and how it determines our worthiness in the world. I wondered whether our impact and significance are influenced by our external appearance, prompting a deeper study of the meshwork between social perceptions and individual identity."

Moodley completed a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in anthropology and history at the University of KZN in 2020; a Bachelor of Arts Honours from the University of Witwatersrand in 2021; and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from STADIO Embury College in 2022.

By way of encouragement to the youth, she said: “There is nothing in this world beyond your reach if you set your mind to it. Cultivate the inner strength to chase your wildest dreams, defy expectations, and reveal your true, exceptional self to the world.”