By Edward Tsumele
The position and the status of an African woman in society has been erased in the past, and unfortunately continues to suffer the same fate in the contemporary world.
In the past African women have played important nation building roles in the evolution of the continent, but recognition continues to be elusive. Recognition for a meaningful life lived for the African woman, has either been misrepresented or given to someone else or even erased. As a result, African women have suffered an injustice and trauma and this needs to be reversed.
A new exhibition by two collaborative artists Carla Fonseca and Nthato Mokgato called Again She Reigns, which is currently on at 99 Loop Gallery in Cape Town till 29 August, 2020 deals with these issues of erasure, trauma and problematic representations of the female African body, going back deep into history.
These works are a series of oil painted portraits coming from the two artists who are iconic cultural figures on the African continent and internationally, with their art practice spanning visual art, music, film, and the digital world. Mokgato for example is a Standard Bank Young Artist (2020) for Music, but is well known and respected internationally as one of the foremost electronic music producers to emerge out of the African continent, going by the name of Spoek Mathambo.
As a visual arts collective Fonseca and Mokgato use the trade name F&M.
Using a multi-media approach in their body of work in this exhibitions, Fonseca and Mokgato’s intention is clear that they yearn for the recognition to be given where it is supposed to be given to. They however through this body of work also want to deliberately force the viewer’s gaze to the contemporary, such as general ills that still bedevil society and specifically Gender Based Violence. These ills have a past full of trauma and that problematic past is feeding to the present.
Essentially Again She Reigns is around the issue of representation when it comes particularly to how African women have been represented in the past and the artists are unhappy about such representation or misrepresentation, and they indeed explain the motivation behind their work in an interview with CityLife Arts this week.
“Our books were burnt, our storytellers and griots were killed, our fathers and mothers were enslaved. And now when we google search our history and the faces of our ancestors have been replaced with European faces. This is incredibly disturbing and traumatic. We need to excavate our stories and tell them as they are, not only for factual information sake, but in order for us to heal,” explains Fonseca.
But according to Mokgato the work’s intention goes beyond just the expression of anger by two artists.
“Our work is that of trauma intervention, for society and for ourselves. We all know the historical context and it goes without saying. What needs to be said is that it is now time for us to act. It is time for us to define ourselves for ourselves. In this way, we create the images that we need to see for this definition or re-definition,” he says.
And according to Fonseca the body of work should also be looked at as a celebration of African women of the now and those that have long passed on.
“We are happy that the project celebrates people that are still alive as well our ancestors. The project is an extended tribute, celebrating the mother of all human life: the African woman. We explore the length and breadth of her brilliance through a scientist (Hypatia Alexandria), an activist and educator whose life is often reduced to the tragedy that played out publicly in her life (Fezekile Khwezi Kuzwayo), women combatants and revolutionaries (Josina Mutemba Machel, Muthoni wa Kirima, Sibongile Promise Khumalo and Dahomey Ahosi), women of faith (Perpetua & Felicity) and, well, Negeste Saba Makeda..”
Again She Reigns – the title of this exhibition seems to allude to the idea that a once powerful woman existed in the past and she needs again to take her rightful position of power.
“Again She Reigns as a title is calling on everyone to give reverence to the one who gave us all life. As I mentioned, it’s an ongoing project that celebrates contemporary heroes as well as our ancients, so it’s all about right now. We need a change now,” Mokgato argues.
Fonseca adds, “It was important that we unearth these stories and restore some balance. You can see the state that our country is in with GBV, we need to make the protection, honouring and security of African women and their legacies a foremost concern.”.
Speaking to these two artists I also brought to their attention the fact that collaborations across countries is not something new in the arts, but collaboration between Mozambique, whose culture is very much steeped in its colonial Portuguese past and South Africa whose colonial legacy is steeped very much in the English colonial heritage, is quite a curious artistic endeavour.
“We both grew up in Johannesburg…but I have to say that knowing Carla and being exposed to Mozambique as a country and culture has been a greatly enlightening and enriching experience. Our next project, Force of Seizure, explores this colonial dynamic you speak of,” Mokgato explains the rationale behind their collaboration.
“There has been political exchange, cultural exchange, historical exchange, as well as years and years of migration between many African countries. We have to recognise the importance that social and artistic exchange carries as well. Nthato and I have been creating works that speak of combating Xenophobia for some time now…I like to think that our pan-African collaboration and exchange is a reflection of unity. Although we are many tribes in Africa, we are indeed of one another,” Fonseca says.
Though this is not the first time that both artists have collaborated on the concept of representation and the quest for finding justice for the wrongs and injustices of the past.
Mokgata had this to say: “As mentioned, the focus of our work is dealing with trauma, be it our own or societal….we are so blessed to have a way to express and deal with our own pain and find empowerment and strength.”
On a personal basis, the work is very important for our mental and spiritual well-being. We hope other people can find some of the same pleasure.,” adds Fonseca.