CityLife Arts

Fresh visual voices at centre stage

By Edward Tsumele

In Nguni culture, as is also certainly the case in many other African cultures where patriarchy dominates, fathers are the custodians of culture in a family. It is mainly through the conduit of fathers that the family tradition and culture are taught, and sometimes enforced on the children.

 However in a fast changing social environment where the world has become smaller due to technological advancement and effective informational dissemination, it is increasingly getting harder and harder to hold onto narrow cultural practices.

In a group exhibition currently on at Guns and Rain Gallery in Parkhurst, as well as online on artsy.com, entitled Fresh Voices featuring the work of four contemporary artists from southern Africa, this group exhibition is interesting in not only in as far as the various media used by the artists are concerned, but also the range of the subjects the bodies of work deal with.

The exhibiting artists are bold, and soon they will create their own space within the contemporary art scene in southern Africa.

Meet the fresh voices of visual art in southern Africa.

Self-taught textile artist Sizwe Sibisi from Kwa-Zulu Natal., creates colourful, abstract, hand-stitched patchworks which celebrate and honour the LGBTQI+ community and single mothers.

Kuhlonoppha: I am Woman an art work by Sanelisiwe Nkonyane, part of a group exhibition at Guns&Rain gallery in Johannesburg and on artsy.net. Picture/Supplied

Angelique Bougaard, a 4th-year honours student in Johannesburg, works in various mediums, including with handmade paper, quietly and gently exploring the themes of personal memory, death, regeneration and nostalgia.

A recent MA graduate interested in origins, Thebe Phetogo (Botswana) navigates between figurative painting (in conversation with the physics concept of the ‘blackbody’) and abstracted landscape painting (in conversation with Setswana geography, origin myths and knowledge systems).

Also recently having had her MA exam show, Sanelisiwe (Neli) Nkonyane’s (eSwatini/Swaziland) work looks at embodiment and cultural disobedience as strategies to challenge Nguni cultural views of the female body. By disobeying cultural norms through photography, she takes ownership of how her body is viewed.

Londoloza Njalo is Nkonyane’’s body of work on exhibit, which is mainly photographs, seeks to put a spotlight on the role of Swazi culture on girls. Using her own experience of how with regard to her culture, she has learned everything from her father, and using her body as the subject of her photography, her work has a rebellious tone to it when it comes to how she sees the role of her culture in life today.

The work seems to be suggesting that she is rebelling against what she has been taught to think about herself, especially when it comes to the rights over her body. It is a powerful body of work that is sure to make patriarchs and traditionalists uncomfortable, but bound to be hailed by those who hold feminist notions of women owning their own bodies.

Although this opportunity to present their work is aimed at those at the beginning of their career and hence it is aptly titled Fresh Voices, Nkonyane’s voice will soon be loud enough due to the weight of the subject she is focusing on, the issue of patriarchy as custodians of culture within families and within society, and how such hegemonic positions are increasingly being challenged throughout the world.

“Londoloza means to keep, preserve, guard and protect. Drawing on my relationship with my father, which has inspired this body of work, ‘Londoloza Njalo’ was the title of a solo exhibition for my MTech visual arts degree at the University of Johannesburg. It explores how embodiment, self-representation and cultural disobedience are used as strategies to challenge and interrogate Nguni cultural views of the female body, as understood in the context of the custom of kuhlonipha. By disobeying cultural norms through photography, I take ownership of how my body is viewed.

The title of the work is inspired by a siSwati wedding song, sung by the bride. The bride acknowledges her father’s role in her life and how she has had to represent him throughout her life. Most importantly, she declares how her father is the protector and the guardian of her words, thoughts and actions. My father has not only been my protector and my keeper, he has taught me to keep, protect and guard my siSwati traditions and culture emphasising how these define me as a liSwati woman. He has also taught me to question and interrogate the siSwati cultural practices, which this body of work aims to do. I am also telling my story in order for it to be preserved and kept in the viewers who engage with my work,” the artist says in her statement.

The artist however works in other media besides photography, rather photography in combination with other media. This group show only includes a small number of photography-based works. However, her broader body of work also incorporates sculpture – including an installation of sculptural fragments of the lower body, highlighting the invasive tradition of virginity testing. As a precursor to my exploration of cultural disobedience, these sculptures signify conformity to traditions which women may not have chosen to follow, but find themselves bound to. Fresh Voices can be viewed at www.artsy.net or by visiting the gallery by appointment only due to safety precautions relating to COVID-019.

. Fresh Voices which opened on June 10 on artsy.com and at Guns and Rain will run till July 2.  You can view the exhibition at www.artsy.net or by visiting the gallery at its Parkhurst, Johannesburg premises, strictly by appointment at:  julie@gunsandrain.com .

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