By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
The quartet of visual artists collective who go by the name of Umzabalazo, Mnaphi Terry, Slovo “Black Jew’ Mamphaga, Neo Xaba and Fortune ‘Afrocology’ Dlamini, and who believe in communal approach in art making and exhibiting are at it again. After mounting a relatively successful exhibition in 2019 and in 2021 in Newtown, this time around they will be exhibiting their works in at 54 Houses of African Restaurant, 32 Von Brandis Street, inner city Johannesburg on July 4, 2021 at 1pm.
This is a quartet that despite being shunned by those who control the purse strings in the arts, continue to defy difficulties of putting together a show without funding even though with some funding these committed artist’ life would be much better.
For example, they would be able to put up shows in a proper gallery space that is accessible to those that have deep pockets. But without that support, they continue to look for any space in any part of the city that will accommodate them, and leave the rest in the hands of art collectors, hoping that they will follow them to these spaces to collect their body of work, which is always rooted in the everyday struggles of people.
Theirs is a deliberate art practice that is centered on giving a voice to those whose voice has not been allowed to be loud enough to be heard in society, and whose visibility continues to be erased by those with the means and well equipped to tell the narrative of contemporary South Africa.
However Umzabalazo refuse to have their voice and the voices of those they represent in their body of work silenced, and hence their continuous struggle to continue putting together decent exhibitions under difficult circumstances without the support of those who control arts funding.
The fact that this quartet is organized to work together and put up an exhibition as a tight collective is good enough in a normal society to attract patronage and funding from those whose official duty is to support such efforts, but sadly such funding has eluded these committed visual artists. It is clearly an indictment of government funding agencies, who seem not to see the work done by this lot, and therefore do not seem to see the wisdom of investing in these young artists.
No wonder two of them, Mamphaga and Dlamini were part of a group of artists known as Abahlali Base NAC, who occupied the offices of the National Arts Council for 60 days this year, complaining generally about lack of support for the create sector and specifically about the chaotic nature of how the NAC handled the Presidential Economic Stimulus Package (PESP funds. That mishandling is currently being probed by both the Public Protector and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) known as the Hawks. The reports from both institutions are still pending.
But both Dlamini and Mamphaga told me that even though they took part in the protest at NAC, they did so to support and the highlight the plight of artists in the country, but themselves had not applied for funding from the PESP. They did not apply because they had long lost faith in the system, predating the current PESP scandal. It is indeed a sad thing to hear such an organized lot say they no longer have faith in the people who are supposed to fund them, and instead choose to scrape together their own limited resources to buy material, dedicate time to create works, hire venues and put up their exhibition on their own while at the same time fighting for the rights of the rest of the creative sector.
“I joined the protesting artists because believed that was the right thing to do. Personally I did not apply for the PESP because I believed I did not stand a chance to as my previous experience with the process was arduous and fruitless. I have no faith in the system,” said Mamphaga.
This is aldo a similar experienced shared by TERRY who told CITYLIFE/ARTs that he had previously applied for funding from the NAC and the exercise did not bear good results and therefore he has lost faith in the system. He did not take part in the protest an NAC though just because his girlfriend has just given birth to their baby shortly after the artists occupied the NAC offices.
Umzabalazo have framed this latest exhibition as “a demonstration against social , mental and systematic ills .The collective’s effort to create body of works based on communal struggles from different periods ,spaces and emotions .All inspiration is being spike by learning from events taking part in neo-colonial countries having instability due to most people getting confused by the media’s sold out acts.” .
The collective produce and exhibit their works based on clearly defined objectives and philosophy as the explain here.
“A variation of lifestyles can be expressed through people’s common interest for freedom and change in any setup .Freedom of existence ,being able to make choices on Nordic essentials that benefits the whole community at large .The fight is not just for hashtags ,likes and recognition but balancing a state of harmony be iteconomically ,socially and also religiously .With the ever existing black Tax regardless of trade nor industry it forces that ideology for change of systematic setup which ties/blinkers a being from full filling certain desires in their quest for purpose of existence .
Just like Mvelo nyanakantu would say: Ozisuzibomnvu balithenga ngelikantulo, Canvassing in food stamps ,our fellow brainwashed brothers still embrace the master ,They hug bullets in the mountain and beg the ferrymen with roses .Lafel’ esphambanwen’ iphupho lika Biko..Raising your arms in solidarity nama menemene, Drunk in that Madibamagic, Disguise ifana ne Recognize ,these inconsiderate treasure pick pockets, these unparalleled, unrivaled, blatant liars .For their information, we have retired from active politics what soever in every sector structured to empower our fellow countrymen hence we creatively march on Sizabalaza(Umzabalazo).
The main objective in the art space is to be the voice of the voiceless, a disruption to the prevalent pompous nature of being, a constant reminder that we need to be independent in our thinking and doing. Reclaim everything that belongs to you. Be yourself with no inhibitions. Umzabalazo a Nguni word meaning the struggle is a constant theme in all our lives, whether conscious or unconscious.”
However it does not have to be like this, especially when government has funding programmes meant to assist such young artists to do what they know best, which is to create works that collectors adore and in the process create jobs for themselves and support themselves and their families.
Umzabalazo exhibition opens on Sunday, July 4, 2021 at 32 Von Brandis Street, Johannesburg CBD at 1pm.