Saturday, February 3, 2024

Basotho - Life In Two Tales

"These two stories have remained very close to my heart as a filmmaker and activist who always strives to expose those voices that would otherwise be not heard. They are a culmination of expressed resilience of the two families documented in the films."

Filmed in 2013, the two documentaries capture rural lives of two families living on the highlands of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. 
Told through unobstructed observations of occurrences and events in lives caught within the continuum of time, it is a record of hardships as they unfold and stagnation of aims and dreams.
On this journey we encounter faces and voices of those seemingly forgotten communities braving the brutal winter in a landscape of immense beauty.
We glimpse into a realm that will soon be relegated to nostalgia, while unlearning some myths woven about lives of people deemed to be defeated by poverty.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Fashion For African Futures

For centuries, the global fashion industry has referenced African fashion, but it has not always done so without blatant appropriation without acceptance of the origins of these fashion trends.


Often misconstrued as ‘tribal’ or ‘exotic’ or simplified to leopard skins and mud cloths, the African perspective of fashion has been trivialised by many cultures, and it has become a scapegoat for sentiments of Africa’s backwardness.

But the truth has always been the country because Africa, over and above a vast array of civilisations and cultural expressions has given humanity its identity and vote, and taught humanity how to conceal it’s  nakedness before the majesty of the natural world.

When many “civilised societies” pursue their consumerist urges to destroy the natural world for self-gratification, Africa is now looking to re-evaluate its relationship with the planet through its dress, food and means of shelter.

It is often said that in Africa garments communicated status or marked a ritual or passage of time as people moved from one communal state to another; but can these ideals become also objectives for contemporary garment makers for present generations with transient cultural trends?

And having witnessed how the COVID-19 epidemic turned the global fashion industry on its head, what new interventions can African fashion designers endeavour to resuscitate the ailing industry which on the other hand can lift many people from poverty? Even post-COVI-19, designer production is halted, fashion shows and events are postponed or moved online, and brands have had to scramble to set up proper online businesses to make up for sales lost to store closures. As the global fashion industry grapples with the effects of the pandemic, Africa’s network of designers is particularly vulnerable to disruption.

But what innovative strategies can be used to resuscitate this otherwise fossilised industry, which is also facing a variety of socio-economic challenges steeped in local markets sentiments that have put many African economies under duress?

Solutions, of course have to come from fashion practitioners themselves, and while the future is bright for African fashion, it will only be if fashion practitioners they take hold of the narrative and get in front of the current boom. In order to avoid another tale of exploitation, designers must also learn to be business savvy, putting the correct infrastructure in place for the manufacture and sale of their products, as well as training a new crop of creatives who will carry the touch into the future. 

When I first read a media release from a fashion design company that was conducting portable skills training in Matlosana, I was intrigued and at the same time enthused by the notion that there is an initiate that is taking eco-friendly and sustainable fashion to the masses. Naively, many fashionistas assume that under-resourced communities have no notion of preserving their environment through their means of subsistence, dress and shelter, and this initiate which is dubbed for Change is doing exactly that. Transforming minds at grassroots level, and conscientizing them of possibilities of up cycling, and recycling, thrifting for pre-loved garments to create even more strikingly fresh trends.

“Each one, teach one, we found that an appropriate motto for the Portable Skills Training because it speaks to Ree-Joy Designs not giving the youth fish, but teaching them how to fish, says Tebogo Mgodoyi, the training facilitator for the Fashion For Change Portable Skills Training Initiative. And she further alludes to the idea that through the initiative, the trainees are now becoming skilled to confront the ravages of unemployment, which they now can confront with skills that can be turned into livelihoods.

The training initiate, in its fifth month has trained seven abled women and youth, together with three trainees from TechFord Disability Centre, and this audacious one to impart skills to the disabled is also an essential objective for the initiate. And through the support of BASA PESP Grant, Fashion For Change is clearly making waves within the Matlosana Municipality, as now the trainees are preparing for a fashion show to be held on the 14th of February 2024 at The Klerksdorp Museum.

With their audacity and indelible efforts and the hard work they have put into the creative garments they constructed, they will have an opportunity to exhibit for their community, proving their true grit to a number of fashion industry stakeholders attending to witness the resurgence of fashion talent with “The Platinum Province”.

“Through this show, we will be exhibiting proof that with resilience and passion, our arts can become our saving skills and take us out of poverty. And with the garments that are bro be seen, the theme of sustainable fashion and eco friendly practices will be clearly displayed with the hope that may people will move towards recycling and upcycling their garments for upcoming trends”, concludes Ms. Mgodoyi.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

What Is Africa To Me

A derelict geography strewn with dead statues and monuments of colonial self-gratification, sterilised museums of European affluence and plunder, exhibited as trophies for the natives to envy or vicariously mimic. 

Africa is where they mined for fossilised relics that people their architecture, filling mausoleums with skulls of ancestors of erased civilities and artefacts of seances with divinity now desecrated.

Africa is a locale of bruised psychologies, lived double into dreams created by falsities in galleries and malls, advertised through cathode tubed LED screens, like windows spying on lives which Africa was deprived.

Africa is a mirror reflecting the tyranny showered on Mother Earth through acid sprinklers spewing toxins from mine-shafts onto fields of de-nutritionalised vegetations, an arid burial grounds of the nameless.

Africa is named after elites of trophy kingdoms built on bloodshed and diseases exported through exploratory missions ordained by monasteries and their patron lords.

Africa is home to the lost remaining among their outspoken dead, ghosts possessing children born in a new century, those speaking in tongues of misery learned from disgruntled parents.

Africa is mother and cradle to a new breed forged through spare parts stolen from ransacked cargo ships scattered on shores whitened and bleached, and her oceans wrung like an endless sheet painted with fish and coral.

Africa is mapped by jail-bird descendants of rogue royals in castles sieged through godly wars, ruins labeled for the memory of killers, a tomb for a billion dreams squandered and forsaken for the prize property.


With a resilient pandemic of Afro Pessimism spreading to every corner of the globe, it takes artists of African descent to concoct remedies that will inoculate many more generations from that sentiment. 

And only through an elaborate exhibition of Africa as the centre of a positivist future, through exploratory questioning of the past to correct the present, can there become version of Africa that would once again be the guiding light of wisdom for the rest of the world.

That Africa, at this juncture might seem a fiction, especially when the continent is cloaked in darkening bloodstain of colonial wars, wars for liberation, guerrilla wars and the insurgency of terror that is displacing millions.

Yet, there are new horizon looming with every technological innovation, and even though Africa hasn’t tapped into the full potential of these technologies, it is best to prepare for them with robust representation of a truer and not romanticised identities, not vicarious avatars that depict Africa as should be in light of western vision of the future.

Africa to me becomes the remaining frontier for humanity to re-invent itself in regards to relations to earth as mother and home; Africa can be a breeding ground for a new humanism that does not deem humans superior to the natural but a seedling of our threatened earth.


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Heritage Re-Imagined

Articulations of national heritages through recognisable material spaces that speak to the colonial history, as well as identities portrayed in images and artefacts housed in these spaces, are contested terrains of collective memory.

This contestation implies that contemporary researchers, academics, historians, artists and communities need reconfigure these architectural sculptures (buildings) as revelatory spaces for truths that haunt that present from the past. 

And when such spaces are devoid of historical details often omitted on purpose, any construction of memory through omitted details within a historical narrative can only happen through deliberate asymmetry between these collections and the audiences they inform.

That is why most black museum visitors feel alienated by exhibitions of foreign realities that stock many of these clinical, stale heritage preservation spaces with visual priorities of the colonial vantage point.

Museums often exhibit decorated lies that black people loved their servitude, that their labor can be labelled as leisurely acceptance of their superiors’ wishes, and overlook contemporary realities fraught with racial histories of mistreated communities.

Examining archives and investigating modes of remembering as expressed by dominant white cultures, there is a penchant for dwelling on happy and jovial moments of momentary triumphs and their “perfect” familial dynamics, but how true are these representations in the face of the absence of “servants as witnesses” who could also be witnessed?


Narratives worth remembering seem to be constructed through institutional establishments such as the many museums who are funded to purposefully exhibit only imagined archives and histories that cannot be unearthed today. 

The immateriality of missing details also hampers memory, the stories around the loss of these details also have narrative worth. 

And to destabilise conventions of these spaces by bringing alternate techniques of history construction and preservation also means including those persons whose histories have been omitted and erased.

In light of obvious insufficiencies of discourse when it come to issues to addressing past injustices, what if IMAGES, artefacts, monuments, plaques and sketches can assist minds leap out of the confines of framed histories, the box of constructed memory, where reality is viewed as though through windows of a moving vehicle?

What if this is the reality definition necessary for articulating narratives of the forgotten, the invisible, degenerates of a material world?

Are we haunted by the past or are those in the present haunting the dead, mirroring their regrets and pains with the paradoxical aim of not repeating the same regrettable occurrences?


There has been efforts to rename so-called sites of historical importance, stripping them of names of colonial personages they represent or after whom they were named, 

In the names of wars the waged among themselves and against black people, there now are hundred of concentration camp sites that pepper this country, all devised by the machinations of colonial authorities and their brands of atrocity. 

These site of tyranny are often preserved by people who have an intolerable sense of self-righteousness, in the name of their “love for country and culture’, yet, this often happens at the expense of all other facts gathered around those often sinister myths of cultures being preserved.

Today there are even art collectors and gallerists who disconcertingly collect all colonial decorum of elitist art, and express a collective resilience of memory of how black artists were often overlooked by white establishments that commissioned them to make the artworks that adorn their chambers of power.


Will restoring these mausoleums of past hateful epochs be mixed with ideological conceit - a protest where the past keeps its redoubtable landmarks and problematic narratives based on colonial traumas and misrepresentations?

And as museums are vital guide into what had been relics of colonial gratification of their tyrannical murder of people in the name of expanding their culture and preserving their own, museums are maps into the history.


What interplay exists between contemporary mind and these architectural spaces?

A profound contemplation of delicate harmonies that exist between various experiences of history, those flawless statues and replications of historical persons, the conditions that shaped those persons’ individual and collective identities, these come into sharp focus when viewed from the lens of heritage preservationist.

How can present generation weave a multitude of possible strands from history’s unexposed tapestry without speculating on the unsavoury parts of the re-imagined past?

The permeability of history and its political demarcations of peoples who are characters in history’s play, is evident in how various people interface with artefacts and museum content. Others find pride in walking into Paul Kruger’s Office Museum while other feel trepidation and a loathing for the man who sought the oppression of black people at all cost.

Within contemporary discourse there seems to exists a scarcity of details which always seems to require speculation to fill the gaps, but that scarcity tells of a concerted censure, where the coloniser is constantly hankering after glories of wars.

Museums and heritage in contemporary South Africa sustain that lust for retelling of refreshed myths disguised as recent discoveries, but on the other hand they legitimise symbols of white supremacy, sculptures of self-serving general venerated like gospels turned dogma.

An astute social commentator, Molefi Ndlovu, once questioned the importance of these monuments in South Africa, asking whether colonial structures of heritage reservation are actual ‘rhetorical spurs or passive reminder of our country’s ‘sticky history’?

This succinct question could be perceived as an act of aggression towards falsified memorials, where monument of tyrants take precedence over the lives destroyed, with their triumphant poses and sketches of their stories are etched on walls with the good of victims.

And there are those willing to defend the mayhem their kith and kin meted on black people, in high-spirited sermons and self-glorifying speeches at Voortrekker Monument, but seldom acknowledge the black men who died building that monument of tyranny.

But does present preservationist activism consider the permanent implication of sustaining falsities through to eternity without any attempt to correct them as told by victors not the victims, to re-evaluate collections and paraphernalia of exploitation that legitimised the victor as the maker and recorder of history?


The history of how a racist and colonial past has been received and refreshed in the present  through social hierarchies that determines the presence or absence of certain details in art, artefacts and museum collections has a role in sustaining falsifications and selective truths displayed in many of these museums.

And history as process of evaluating facts from fiction in the lives of figures of social importance can be a daunting task when executed as a form of radicalised discourse, but does that mean these monuments of antique oppressors and their deed spur renewed and critical discussions about their validity?

Those voices that remain in those remnants of the past, though belonging to different moments in history are brought together in these museums, where today is that tomorrow when their laments would be avenged.

Perception is often the basis for interpreting and reading history, and the incremental value of viewers from a wide range of cultural influences suggests and expansive constellation of truths that defy individualistic notions.


Connecting colonial histories with human and cultural movements that fought colonial exploits, requires a new kind of questioning histories and their representations through art, curriculum and economic trends. 

The cue is taken from migratory experiences of dispossessed populations, their choice of settlements and how those settlements grew into organic communities that can extract more histories from their locations.

This extraction of new histories from immediate phenomena that affect those dispersed cultures continue to inspire the need for those narratives of life to renew themselves while flowing beyond the confines traditional education systems.

Through exploration of museums and archives, contemporary artists must excavate and uncover the immaterial, overlooked and contentious histories, in a form of re-rooting, reclaiming agency over these histories and cultural experiences of those misrepresented by these histories. 

And through sharing those strands of heritage with people from other experiences, those whose lands were colonially exploited and annexed, in a manner that translates communal and collective experiences, knowledge and practices; a renewed approach to defining history and lessons can be unveiled for future generations.


Images captured at The Klerksdorp Museum.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

A Conversation With The VOCAL Museum

Cultural connotations of absences can also include concerted erasures of creative languages or even linguistic representations of certain realities, euphoric or traumatic, but how far can languages stretch to recreate the absent?

How does art haunt idea of loss or absence? 

History infiltrates the present through memory and heritage, and any obsessive compulsions to unravel the limits to which history does infiltrate memory are also determined by languages utilised to construct such memories.

At the recent residency in Cologne, her engagements saw her work around diaspora memories of the concepts of " motherland", origins, or absences of origins, and Masello met with various artists who are essentially nostalgic and haunted by sentiments of home.

Their sentiments, communicated during practice-based research were premised on finding and articulating a shared horizon that tracks pathways from Africa to Europe, and this became visible through her performances and onsite encounters that evolved into participant-driven conversations about politics, culture and memory. 


Can such voids created by absences and erasure spawn a new framework for creating imaginative multiplicities of potential definitions and new lessons which can be expressed and documented through contemporary direct reaction?

New opportunities are arising from cross-cultural and trans-geographic interactions, these searches for histories and the immediacy of the need for filling those voids created by colonial injustices prove that an interdependency between the past and present is essentially indisputable.

During her visit as a Guest Artist in Germany and through collaborative performances with Ghanaian artists, it seems Masello had found a way of bonding solidarities between culturally diverse artists fuelled by processes and products of their art making.

And I should imagine that a poetic potential of spontaneous urban engagements with curious audiences had it own thrill, but what often distinguishes exhibitionism from true creative physical interfaces such as Masello’s performances, is the impact on the psyche of the viewer.

Often professing jarring and unsettling truths, and posing critical questions gesticulated through a vocabulary that transcends language, her work still provided a dedication to the incidental and everyday surroundings of our political realities.

Artists were addressing urban material spaces, commonly used building that often retain untold memories of the past, in the midst of interactive audiences, reshaping perceptions and channelling new meanings beyond the logic of mastery and the confines of decorum.


Can you please give us a brief background to enigmatic person we know as Masello Motana?

I come from an artistic background. My father is still writing today. Before I was born; he focused a lot on poetry ka di70s. And by the time I was growing up in the early 80s he was writing plays and ha had his own drama troupe in Soshanguve. My sister and I would go to rehearsals with him. One day, he was trying to show an actor what to do and he kept repeating the action. I got up and walked on to the stage to show what the actor what to do and became a member of the troupe. We performed at some meetings and rallies as the situation was escalating in the townships. We even had to run for cover during a performance in Eersterus. That's the environment I grew up in. Firstly, I did not have to wait to become an artist; I just became it. Music and dancing were part of it; you had to do all 3.

Secondly; the line was blurred between art and politics but what was clear was that the artist has to serve the community. I still think of art as my father and his peers did back then.

When did the urge for creative expression start to grow during your formative years as a performer and lover of culture and heritage?

Performance came first. Identity politics came second. It was a case of losing myself to colonization and REmembering. Language was a big part of that recovery. 

I left a model c school; lived for a year and then went to what some would consider a remote school in Limpopo to relearn Sepedi which i had last learnt in std2. That changed my life and outlook. I am a linguist; translator and home language coach in film and television today because of that necessary lobotomy in 2000.

I cannot stand these anthropological words we use to describe ourselves to each other. Ge e le indigenous yona, e mbora goed nie bietjie! So I prefer to say home language, that's what it is to me. I know it's not as important sounding but I am not OUTside of that INdigenous so I don't have to label it as such. One man's hut is another one's home type of thing.

How would you describe your art practice?

My art practice is about memory practice and memory. It has become about that; largely shaped by the environment I live in.

How does your choice of themes determine each characterisation (of it does at all), simply, wow do you create characters like Cyrilliana?

To create characters like Cyrilina.....well it's all got to do that with that basic mandate of responding to the environment. To use whatever tools or tricks to get a message across.

What ecosystems of knowledge influence your theatrical and literary art practice, and any special reason you were inspired by these knowledge systems?

I am influenced by the culture of black literary journals from different eras. The Harlem Renaissance; Drum era; Staffrider.

I am also a fan of Eddie Murphys commitment to character through humor and the physical layers of prosthetic. I love the content ya Chapelle and Paul Mooney. I love what Kagiso Lediga has been doing; a highlight of my career was working le yena on Matwetwe.

I love humour; costume and melody. Those aesthetics appeal to me and I tend to reach for them first in the bag.

Sun Ra said something about the costumes telling their own story. Razzmatazz joe, jy ken!

The musical component of your art, please tell us where was it moulded? How does music advance your dissidence?

How does music advance my dissidence? Interesting question. It will not advance your career in atmosphere of go ngcenga; but it will advance your arts practice. 

Artists must distinguish between an industry and an arts practice. I grew up in a township so even if my family (mama, papa le bomalome) did not play music; it was all around me.

Who are The Vocal Museum as a performance troupe? 

The Vocal Museum is a show and not a troupe so it has been played by many musicians and will continue to involve many musicians.

And what inform your performances? Is it social episodes of upheavals, protests and general discourse on issues of public concern?

All those things influence the performances of The Vocal Museum. For example; in 2022; we featured Mak Manaka reading the Onkgopotse Tiro speech at Turfloop in 1972. I wanted to reflect on 76 through its rightful Black Consciousness lineage. So ja, ho ya ka gore di ntshang.

An installation/performance exhibited in Johannesburg recently was in a gallery, why are your performances spaces designed for specific “communal experimentations”? 

I will perform anywhere but the public spots are my favourite. The unintended audience is important for me as someone who claims to speak for community. This year we did a show ko Hammangwane ko Orlando on Freedom Day; the day before we popped up a theatre with a special invite to children and older people.

I don't want kids to think dilo tsa di bente(live music) is only for adults or for drinking places. It was very important for me to include the community including in the research and presentation.

The musicians and their roles within the musical venture seem also predetermined by your intended performance themes, why are you currently working with these specific musicians on the project?

You have to click with the people you work with. They have to understand your purpose and vision. We don't always get it right. Some people are more committed than others; ba bangwe ba nyaka zaka because music has been reduced to a commodity and a money maker as opposed to be a tool for social healing.

There’s a of processes of reclaiming, remembering and reviving the past through language and song, protesting the threat of the disappearance and destruction of the songs and the languages that both carry and are carried through your performances.

Question is how can particularities of such songs/languages in your VOCAL Museum be preserved?

Processes of reclaiming are me reacting to what South Africa is becoming; an imperial colony. So the Vocal Museum is an answer to your question. It answers the question of preservation directly.

In language; I need to make one thing clear. There are no languages disappearing in South Africa. If you go to Moletji; you won't find a community meeting about Sepedi disappearing. Ge o ka ya KwaMsinga; a go na batho ba ba tshwereng meeting ka gore seZulu sa nyella; or similarly a go na batho ba ba tshwereng polelo ko Malamulele gore Xitsonga sa nyella. This is a class issue. There are people who are actively practicing self erasure by insisting to cooperate with a white system at the expense of their identity. They even think it's cute; mxxxxm! Ke e goga bjana ka Mmankwesheng the way e ntshelekang ka teng.

And can you briefly describe the recent residency you attended, and the types of collaborative projects were born from the expedition?

There is a crisis of museums in Europe because batho ba utlwile ke bohodu ba yona. In the age of restitution; they have to give people's treasures back so they have a crisis of relevance and method. So I was invited to Cologne in Germany to showcase my museumology. I had an official program of 3 offerings

• The Vocal Museum Performance

• A Public Lecture on June 16 featuring my friend and mentor in radical 

anarchist artistry Lefifi Tladi

• A Performance of The Diaspora Experiment

For the last show I worked with Ghanaian musicians who have been based in the NRW Province for many years and a Turkish saz and our player.

My political statement was that my definition of my continent is very different to that of colonizers. I listen to the map rather than read it.

I am looking to expand and tour the experiment in the near future.

“How Do We Become Plastic?”

Art Installations have always intrigued me, mainly because they seem to intra-sensorial experiences, where artworks immerse all sense from the auditory and to the olfactory, more so when audiences are allowed to touch and taste those craft-based experiments that are interactively guided by environmentally conscious art practices.


GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS are two sculptural pieces which I have recently been captivated by, having come across the work of artist Coral Anne, and each work depicting bodies frozen by the medium chosen by the artist, transformed into testament of what effects has plastic had on the natural world.

Her construction of these bespectacled non-verbal figurines, their expectant faces gazing in anticipation of, be it a miracle of catastrophe; contemplate how “the worship instinct” in humanity tends to seeks solace in the skies, while meting destruction on the planet we call home.

This couple of forlorn figures are sculpted works that seems to focus on observing these products of destruction, in a form of contemplative worship, a supplication to the ancestral of the future, to become cognisant of their present actions, and how they can evolve “destroyed or destructive bodies” of their own.


And like a cage of human metamorphosis, an enclosed realm that borders the spiritual and animalistic, the installation is full of hypothetical meanings of a realm bursting with wonder and decay.

These figures - seated in a manner of childish supplication, or one with folded arms implying acceptance - are an invitation to see an animalistic perspective that shatters human stereotypes, and these are what makes this installation profound. 

These unpretentious forms wrapped in plastic transform innocence in frozen poses, where the notion of their durable death or new life inflicted by or infused with plastics, seems to birth another unnerving awareness of the permanence of our collective futile activities.

And confirming truth of man’s permanence through items such as plastic, this installation explores what human inventions and their inherent contradictions mean for the unknown dimensions impacted by human action.

These somewhat indelicate creations that flake to form micro particles, like toxic remnants or memories within an object that lacks beauty, and is resistant to impermanence, these overt sculptures speak of man’s urge for immortality and the consequences of that expedition.

These GIRLS are deformed elastic abstractions offering a glimpse into a personification that gives value to both the artworks and the objects of environmental degradation, questioning whatever consumerist urges for the creation of such tools from the onset of innovation.

The artistic and conceptual value of plastic activated in these sculptures seems environmentalist, in that they avows a life to inanimate objects that have very animate impact. 


Allegory On The Vanity Of The Spoon

Lately, I have become spellbound by a project titled Allegory of The Vanity Of Spoon, which seems an ambitious project that is increasingly architectural in its approach of physiology and shapes, objects and their value, pushing yet against the formality of social truisms we would expect from environmentally conscious artistic practice.

Setting the bar around issues of ecological sustainability, this work launches a debate around rethinking interventions that would repurpose as well as reimagine damaging materials for the future, and while the artist undertakes personal investigations of the world the surrounds us with comfortability, she reinterprets these itemised comforts as forms of vicarious destruction.

Clad in a garment made of fragments of discarded plastic cutlery formed into a highly personal inventory, the figure bears a history written with non-biodegradable objects, speaking to forgotten patterns of fashionability, materials and industrial forces that shape contemporary degradation of the natural beauty of earth.

Together with her installation in a cage signifying an analogue to a tragedy where trees, their branches suffocated by densely-layered plastic, gesture from our discarded and abandoned detritus, like characters with lost innocence, like fleeting and macabre figures textured with an eerie air of futility and fragility.

Could this be Coral Anne’s approach to artistic explorations of ecological concerns, focusing on the impact of modern consumerism, where “damage” interfaces with the polluters as identities, strangely resembling human behavioural and physical dimensions?


Through these glossed imperfections and shrink-wrapped forms of stifled innocence, Coral Anne has captured from her surroundings, with an intent minimalist lyricism, her gaze introducing a sensitivity to the imperceptible around us, a form of searching for new aesthetic beyond a mere observation of natural vs built environments.

Images: Roger Jardine