After viewing Sphephelo Mnguni’s exhibition for the first time, I wanted to remark that his work, although probing into uncomfortable racial and gendered narratives, appears to NOT BE ANGRY. Yes, there is a lot of red and a lot of aspects that provoke one to reflect with concern over the un-transformed state of our Urban settings, but the Artist appears to have measured his message quite evenly, making his testimony in what seems to be a more reflective/ mirroring and objective way. Speaking during the launch of the exhibition, Mnguni mentioned that though he has a story to tell, he is eager to emphasize that his is “Not the only story.” He urged us all to find in his work, a way to tell our own stories and face our own fears and prejudices. To question the spaces we exist in and often take for-granted as merely given. It is possible that I may be misreading his messages but as a person who also grew up in the Township before moving to the Suburbs, I saw so much of myself in this depictions of taxis moving along the ‘white area” along the walls, the White routes in and out of the Ghetto. It is a story of Separate Development and deliberate race based underdevelopment, it is also a story of violence against the black body and as Mnguni also mentioned, the “Shameful violence against the Black woman.” The image of the primus stove, conjured up images of nights in the Township of KwaMashu where my Grandmothers would vigorously pump this hazardous ‘poor peoples stove’ in order to cook for us and keep us warm. But let me begin this way.
It was a serendipitous to walk into TheOtherRoom, an arts, books and music space situated next to Khaya Records at the corner of Lilian Ngoyi and Florida Road in Durban’s Morningside suburb. Being one of Durban’s burgeoning vinyl record companies which is just one area where history is brought alive so vividly by the kind of music that issues from within these walls. This particular afternoon was even more special as I walked into the space while a song called Ma-Afrika by Sister Cool was blasting from the record player. Sister Cool happens to be a Afro-Pop group which released this record through Cool Spot Productions way back in 1989. Before I proceeded towards my mission of viewing Sphephelo Mnguni’s installation titled Compositionz* in the OtherRoom and displayed all over the passage walls, i read these interesting words on the back of the Sister Cool album sleeve: “Afrika, Everything About You Appeals To All Nations.”
Entering The OtherRoom I sat down on a stack of magazine cuttings, to view a film titled Ubuqhophololo/Staircase, Created and Directed by Sphephelo Mnguni. I was not too surprised to hear the distinctive guitar refrain aka Madala-Line of KZN legend Madala Kunene forming the first part of the film. The all too familiar Township scene that is shown against this musical background is both disturbing and intriguing in its ordinariness. Mnguni’s rendering of black and white light, space and the textures of the shacks is a cinematographic masterstroke. After we see a Black boy running through the precarious pathways in the shack-lands carrying a 2 liter Coca Cola bottle half-filled with a clear liquid which we later discover to be paraffin, the scene shifts to a depiction of an older Black youth going to fetch water from the communal tap. While everything around him is rendered in Black and White, the 10 liter containers he uses exude a golden glow. Once he returns into his one room shack he proceeds to have a bath, but while he is doing so, the screen is halved so that we also see a white woman in an advert for Palmolive soap, which appears to be a skin-lightening ingredient. The youth is applying soap and water on his face while the white lady also wipes her own face with this Palmolive, the image immediately reminds me of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin-White Masks*. Mnguni’s work as evidenced by many juxtapositions and scenes in this short-film and shot-through the whole gallery space presents us with the unmistakable nuances of the Black Consciousness tradition. So the Fanonian imagery is obviously not a mistake. Infact, although the young Mnguni does not come across as a deliberately political or ideologically motivated Artist, it is clear from viewing his work that there is no fence sitting here and that everything is political whether we want it that way or not.
I am not sure which aspect of this expansive and thought-provoking work to begin with as all of it is composed in such a way that one can see the politically fraught transitions from Township to the Suburb that part of this work explicitly focuses on. I am also careful not to give away to much information, as it is best to view the work for oneself. I will revisit this work and write a little more and perhaps add some images.
Leaving the gallery, these are the rough notes I jotted on my journal:
Draft Review: “Compositions, Collages, Co-existence, Confluence, Conditioning, Art as a conduit…
All these terms and more, come together in Mnguni’s installation work, visual arts, music and a psychological exploration of what it means to commute daily from a place of blackness to a place of whiteness while knowing that you are part of the majority population – yet the way the city is planned still makes you feel like The Other, the alien in your own native land. The work somehow reflects the character, personality and current conditions of the artist himself. Whether his work may be categorized as social-commentary, protest-art is speculative and would probably only box the Artist into some concept coined by both liberal and conservative viewers from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
What strikes me about this massive and expansive work is how it is devoid of any condemnation, bitterness or confusion. It is as the title suggests, Composed. It is the Artists work acting as a mirror to a society that is still grappling with the legacies of colonialism, apartheid and a convoluted nationalism. Mnguni’s voice reminds me of how Hip Hop mentions everything that is happening around us yet does not claim to hold solutions or any antidotes. The writing is literally on the wall. Sphephelo Mnguni is really a promising and intelligently articulate young Artist to watch closely. His sense of compassion and revolutionary consciousness is original, distinct and quite refreshing to see.” –
The Exhibition, titled Compositionz is up for the whole Heritage Month of September. Check it out and lets tell our own stories.
Menzi Maseko (c)
Life thrives in the light of being. Life can also thrive in the dark. Like life, art must be felt, in all that words multitudes of meanings. To hear a Bob Marley song, such as Get Up, Stand Up or Redemption Songs, or to view Gerald Sekoto’s paintings and to watch and experience Musa Hlatshwayo’s expertly articulated choreography, the sounds, the colours, the textures, the sweat of the moving bodies … It is sometimes not enough to feel these things with the senses. There is a feeling for the beyond.
But this is how I first wrote these words:
Art thrives in communities
Through civilization –
Without community there is no Art
Without community there is no Indutsry
Although Art is created by the daring deed, the industriousness of the Artist
The Artist is often diminished without the audience, the people, the ears, eyes and even the superfluously nonchalant light of recognition –
While Art need not be appreciated or recognized by the masses for its validation
It requires no validation or confirmation at all, as much as it thrives in the open
as well as in the mysterious shrouds of anonymity. Art does not merely imitate life. Art is Life itself.
If you have not heard grown women and men howling and moaning during a Bokani Dyer, Nduduzo Makhathini or Madala Kunene performance or getting Spirited away through a Bheki Khoza or Tlale Makhene composition, perhaps you have been present at a Abdullah Ibrahim solo piano listening session …Perhaps you have not been present while Sibongile Khumalo sings Mountain Shade, or her renditions of the Princess Magogo songss. . .
But have you heard Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Love & Peace album where she sings Lonely Woman or The Tokyo Blues?
And then there are visual Artists in the city of Durban, people such as Mthobisi Maphumulo, Nhlanhla Chonco and the consummate portrait master Philani Luthuli. Luthuli’s latest work on Jazz legends from Bheki Mseleku to Miles Davis is a work a breath short of a true resurrection of these masters…
There is Poetry in the city called Durban, and the word is lived and loved. There are as many platforms for the delivery and appreciation of the Written and the Spoken Word that one would be forgiven in thinking that the walls are sustained by verbs and nouns, punchlines, admonitions and technicolor-ed metaphors and even proverbs. Our poets are as much soulful singers as they are ministers of a myriad of Gospels. There are private hell’s as much as there are real and imagined heavens. All you have to do is visit the Nowadays Poets at the BAT Centre since the year 2000. Listen to Word Long Ingo aka Ingonyama, listen well to Nkosinathi Ntuli or to the sonorous voices of the Sisters and the youth who pour their hearts onto pages ….
It has been a long time since I have witnessed a contemporary dance piece that moved me so much. Just a few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to witness the collective multi-disciplinary installation of the Iqhiya Artists, a collective of women who met as students in Cape Town and subsequently formed a movement of themselves for various noble purposes. Although I did not spend a lot of time at the KZNSA viewing their installations, I really was captivated by some of the work they displayed and how they articulated themselves both individually and as a collective. Their work had an implicit and also explicit feminist tone. When they showed one of their films at Ikomkhulu Art Gallery, run by Amasosha Arts Movement, it generated a very healthy debate around questions of women’s invisibility both socially and as artists. A robust debate was had surrounding matters of patriarchal dominance of every conceivable social space and how women were challenging that and taking charge of their own narratives – moving away from the predominant colonial and male gazes and conditioning.
Tonight at the KZNSA Gallery I and I witnessed two elaborate and well executed dance movements. Part of the Jomba festivals, programs called Jomba! @ The KZNSA Gallery presents; Jomba!’s KZN ON THE EDGE…
The first piece, called “Otherwise” a sort of freestyle and interactive experience where almost all the members of the audience were included in the piece. . . It actually began with some of the dancers writhing and contorting on the floor of the courtyard while some were seated among the audience. There was a lot of running to and fro, and despite the few clear communicative and Unitarian pieces of choreography, the work was rather long and had me lost after a while. But this does not take away from the dancers erudite and dedicated moves, whose language clearly depicted the struggles of an otherwise co-existential humanity.
What moved I and I mostly was the second piece, called ISIFUNGO. An English translation would be, The Oath or The Vow. Choreographed by celebrated dance educator and choreographer, Sifiso Khumalo from the well heeled FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY, featuring a fluid team of Durban’s “young veterans” of contemporary dance; Gcina Shange, Zinhle Nzama, Njabulo Zungu, Jabu Sphika, Kirsty Ndawa and Thobile Maphanga. This was a truly remarkable work, as intense as it was gentle and nuanced with the themes of an Urban-Afrikan wedding, the inner turmoils of the bride and the groom as well as the family and community. The live musical accompaniment by Mdu and Siya was very evocative, I could not help but move…
This sight responsive work was so engaging visually and the choreography was so intense and evocative, it made me look into the oaths I have made myself and the circumstances and consequences thereof.
a poem for John Coltrane
“To tremble in prayer & trepidation
To tremble against trepidation in prayer
Screech – Scream – Cry
To tremble with prayer
and arch the muscles of my back
in face of trepidation,
transparent beads bubbling from my forehead
Screech – Cry.
Bird of blood with razor-sharp
wings of boiling stone falling from God into my throat
claws my tonsils
sticks its feet way down into my stomach
and I double over trying to vomit
forth this bird
to the rhythms of anklets ashake
in the dance of a black-blue-black blue – black a black blue black African
Witch Doctor wailing wailing –
Scream high out into God.
fall heavily from the pole of light He offers to the snow
of doubt that freezes
all Spirits dancing gallop
to slabs of ice across the tongue.
Father, Father, understands me
Make, Purification, Psalm of Warmth
within Light – understand the reverent
screams of this confused devotee. “
It was a very moving experience reading Michelle Constants column in the April 2017 issue Creative Feel.
I was first enchanted by the Stompie Selibe artwork featured as the cover, I had not really gotten to the story yet, but the issues that Constant, who is the CEO of Business Arts SA, raised. She essentially wrote about the same kind of social challenges that Nduduzo Makhathini and I were speaking about lastnight.
Makhathini had called me late last-night as he could not contain himself after reading my spontaneous reviews of his latest musical offering, Reflections.
We basically spoke about the Healing and social responsibility of Artists such as himself. He mentioned the designer of Thandi Ntuli and Salim Washington’s albums. I mentioned the primary functions of literary works such as Paolo Coelo’s The Alchemist, Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers, KMT and also Baba Mazisi Kunene’s work.
I raised the point that The Alchemist reminds us of the importance of Intention. While there are many books, New Age and otherwise, that speak on this subject, it is the simplicity and rather traditional storytelling style of Coelo that captures the essence of this phenomenon.
So what is our collective intention? In broad terms, we intend to change our society for the better. We believe strongly in the intrinsic goodness and natural progressiveness of our people, the Afrikan people in particular. We know that our political and economic systems and conditions are inherited from an era of ignorance and desperation.
We were desperate for freedom and independence but many leaders and communities had not spend enough time meditating about what the quality of our desired society would be. For an example, how did we imagine crime-free communities where the scourge of violence against women and children is no more? How did we imagine a society free of vulgar patriarchy, sexism and intolerance?
Michelle Constant writes about the Goethe Institute and the newly established Henrike Grohs Prize for African Artists. Grohs died last year in March in vicious terrorist attack in the Ivory Coast. She mentions Mluleki Sam and Ncedile Daki among some other Artists who recently died under conditions of extreme violence too.
Constant also insists that despite the violence and cruelty in our society, we should never allow ourselves to neglect of forget the Artists, their role as connectors and healers in our society.
So What do we Not Write About?
ARTS and Nature ( Isigaba Sokuqala )
Firstly there is Nature, and the way all the elements of Nature are felt and are treated by we the human race.
Water, Food, Shelter and all the resources that we use to continue our explorative and exploitative lives; these are all almost wholly given freely by what some may call providence, but for some it is hard work and the wilful exploitation of Nature. How does Nature, Arts and Humanity interlink to find a harmonious and symbiotic relationship?
We may write about politics and the intrigues therein, we may have sincere opinions about what policies are correct and deal with matters of justice and injustices that we commit, we may try to correct others behaviour through many dialogues and theorize and set up various social and innovative business programs and projects, but if We do not write about our varied yet essentially dependent relationship to Nature/ Our Environment we are neglecting a really essential element in all our lives.
The spaces we inhabit in our various occupations, lifestyles, our psychological, political/social and private and even dream-lives are all secondary. They are all the stuff of our minds, our passions and ambitions as sophisticated animals. While our preoccupations or works may tend to divine who we are eventually, our initial or primary Well-being is all centred on our relationship with Nature, what it provides and what we make of it and how.
So then, when we write; it may be works of Art, Criticism, Opinion Pieces, Essays, Poems, Music, Stories of different kinds, we are telling just a fragment of the story. While each fragment or each facet of our human stories is relevant to a particular context, it is the collective reception, or the impact each story has on the individual that matters most.
Today I wish to write about the Collective Cohabitation of Arts – Spaces, places and the Ground beneath our feet, The Air we breathe and the quality of the lives we lead – My opinion is that every conceivable space is a platform for the expression of Artistry. Akukho sikhala noma shashalazi lapho ubungcweti nobuciko beSintu bungevezwe khona.Kepha umbuzo uthi siyihlonipha kangakanani imvelo, leyondawo esisebenzela kuyo siyazisa kangakanani, futhi siyayinakekela ngokufanele na?
Amaciko maningi, nobuningi bawo buluphawu lokugcizelela lokhu esengikushilo, ukuthi, Imvelo nendlela esiyiphatha ngayo nendlela esemukela ngayo konke esikuthola kuyo – ibaluleke kakhulu. Maciko kusamele sijule ngokwemvelo, sibuyele emhlabathini, othulini, ezihlahleni nasemithini eyehlukahlukene.
Iyini na imvelo, kanti futhi ihlangana kanjani nezobuciko?
Ngiyakholwa ukuthi konke esikwaziyo nokubambekayo sikuthola emhlabeni, umhlaba ophilayo nonothe ngendlela exakayo. Kukhona abanye bethu abamba igolide namanye amatshe nezinye izinto eziligugu emhlabeni osewakhiwa ngokuhwebelana. Kukhona abaziphilisa ngokuvuna izithelo zonke ezitholakala emithini, bephinde behwebe ngayo imithi uqobo lwayo. Eminye imithi isitshenziselwa ukwakha izindlu, nezakhiwo ezahlukahlukene, eminye kukhandwa ngayo amaphepha, amathuluzi nezinye izinsiza-kwakha, kuphinde futhi kwakhiwe nezinsimbi okanye izinto zokudlala umculo, ezemidlayo nokunye okuningi.
Esikhathini samanje esesivamise ukuthi izinto ebezakhiywa ngezandla zabantu sezakhiwa yimishini ngemishini, kuningi okusilahlekelayo. Izinto zibonakala sengathi ziba lula uma sisebenzisa ama-rubber nama-plastics kanye namathuluzi akhiwe ngezinhlobo-nhlobo zezinsimbi, kepha ngokweso elijulile kuyabonakala ukuthi siloke siqhela njalo kancane kancane kwiMvelo ekuyiyo imvelaphi yethu.
Lokuziqhelisa kancane kancane emvelweni, kungabonakala kuyimpucuko noma ukwenziwa lula kwezinto, kepha ukukhaxhumani noma ukungabi nabudlelwano noma ubunye nemvelo kuyasibulala singabantu, ikakhulukazi abantu bendabuko.
Ngifisa ukuloba ngomdanso, imisebenzi namakhono amaciko. Ngifisa ukubhala ngomculo, abaculi, abadwebi, abalaleli kanye nezingqinamba ezibhekene nokulalelwa komculo nokwamukeleka kwemisebenzi yamaciko emiphakathini yethu, kepha ngiloke nginomuzwa wokubhala ngeMvelo – nami anginayo incazelo eqonqile ukuthi lokhu kungani. Okungicacelayo ukuthi, vele imvelo iyikho konke. Siyayilondoloza noma siyayazisa na, ikakhulukazi thina esisemkhakheni wezobuciko? Sinendaba yini ukuthi ama-instruments ethu avelaphi? Siyazihlupha yini ngobunjalo bamathuluzi esiwasebenzisayo. Lombuzo unokuba nopupolitiki, kanti futhi singawubheka ngeso lezomnotho. Kepha ukuze singachezuki kakhulu ephuzwini noma emongweni wendaba, asike sizibuze imibuzo embalwa ngemvelo nobuciko.
- Kuyiqiniso kangakanani ukuthi kukhuna abantu abazelwe bengamaciko?
- Ukuzalwa Uliciko kuxhumekeke ngangakanani ofuzweni
- Luyini lona ufuzo?
- Izikole ezifundisa noma ezicija amakhono zibaluleke kangakanani?
- Ukufundiswa kwamakhono kuphelele yini uma kungafundiswa ngomlando okanye imvelaphi yamagama nezinsimbi ezisethseziswayo?
- Ulimi esifunda ngalo ubuciko lubaluleke kangakanani ekwakheni isizwe?
- Amaciko angaluthola kanjani usizo oluqhubekayo noma olunzulu olungenza imisebenzi yawo ivele ebantwini ukuze kube khona ubudlelwano phakhathi komphakathi namaciko/nobuciko?
- Imvundo Ekhululayo nemahhala ingasisiza kanjani ukuthi silonde imvelo/umhlaba/namagugu esizwe?
- Imvelo Ne-Tekhinoloji = Kuyosetshenziswana Kanjani Ukuze Okunye Kungachithi Okunye, kodwa kube khona ukubambisana?
And so we write a lot about everything else, but we hardly ever seriously write about Nature. We are caught up in our human affairs, much of it is really petty and insignificant and spurious and we neglect to write and talk and do works that help us to draw closer to Knowledge Of Nature.
As I have already stated, Nature is everything, Land is everything, Good unpolluted and undiluted Water is everything. The Air we breathe is everything. All else is trivial and honestly, a waste of precious time. But the so called intelligent animal, the human being, is pre-occupied with entertainment, and not attainment of a mutually beneficial relationship with the Natural world. We forget so easily that we are Water beings, Spiritual beings, Earthen vessels whether we acknowledge it or not.
if you Love Good music
For Bheki Hyacinth Mseleku
i have heard of that tree
ngiyawazi lowo muthi
ngiyayazi nembali yawo
kepha ngisalibele …
ubuhlungu bempilo nobuhlwempu bomphefumulu
Sengaba kude nalowo owangitshala …
I met an old man in the garden
And he told me
It is a flower from old glorious Babylon
Well they call her Iraq
these frail and fragile days
yes, beautiful Hyacinth
“Hyacinths are forever if you know what you’r doing …”
these howlong blues
we are coloured by
history into names
nations, known unknowns
we are galactic beings
caught in the cruel current of the waves of time
our hearts melodies
our Souls harmonies
are timeless –
boundless energies bursting from the Source
Urging us closer
Closer to the Source.