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11min1090

Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City Thelma Golden once said an exhibition is in many ways a series of conversations. Between the artist and viewer, curator and viewer, and between the works of art themselves. It clicks when an exhibition feels like it has answered some questions, and raised even more.

In his first exhibition as the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery Curator, Thabo Seshoka has managed to facilitate the series of conversations between the artwork itself, the observer and the paintings and without imposing himself in the conversation, he lubricates these dialogues in Privileges of Proximity. “When I started curating the collection and working through it, I wanted to see myself, because as a curator you develop a relationship with your collection, you fight for it and you look after it. It’s interesting that we never show our collection and what’s in it and I wanted to start doing that. It was also about how there’s different messaging that exists in certain works and certain paintings, but we never really engage with them and that’s what I wanted to do,” Seshoka tells me on the opening of the exhibition, at UJ’s Auckland Park campus in Johannesburg.

Willow trees by PIERNEEF, Jacobus Hendrik. Photo supplied

The first item in the exhibition hangs on the wall on the left as you walk into the UJ Gallery. It’s Maggie Laubser’s Landscape with Sheep, while below it is Jacobus Hendrick Pierneef titled Ladskap. “I intentionally curated it this way because the Maggie Laubser is placed above the Pierneef, and Pierneef is considered to be a master and etiquette says it should be on top and by himself. But for me it’s about saying Maggie Laubser is also a master given she was painting at a time where women were either not allowed to paint and if they were allowed to paint, they painted still lives because that’s the only subject they had access to,” says 28 year-old Seshoka walking me through the works.

The first paintings depict various South African landscapes which some date back to the early 20th century. But Seshoka warns me about landscapes as I get immersed in the artwork. “Landscapes are problematic, especially the ones commissioned by the Government made by Pierneef. They depict South Africa as being empty but it wasn’t!”
A John Meyer painting of a house on what seems like a farmland hangs on the same wall- the house in the painting is in the Cape Dutch architectural style. Shoka encourages to look directly back to the opposite wall in the gallery where a line of black and white images of District Six dangle, buildings with the same Dutch architectural style feature in some of these images.

“I wanted to raise the question of land ownership. Because people from District Six were forcefully removed and their houses were demolished. Now in our new democratic dispensation they claimed back the land, but they haven’t been able to fully settle back in the space. For me it’s about how we exist, but also about how we present certain things and certain individuals,” says Seshoka. Adjacent the photos is a Willem Boshoff painting titled ‘n Huis in die Hemel (Kykafrikaans) which pays homage to individuals who were forcefully removed from District Six, but never got a chance to go back.

Landskap by PIERNEEF, Jacobus Hendrik

Seshoka took up the role of UJ art gallery curator in January following the retirement of Annali Cabano-Dempsey who was at the helm for 24 years. “Building on the work of the legendary Annali Cabano-Dempsey has been a tough act to follow, however, I am up to the task. Annali had deep commitment and dedication to the UJ Art Gallery over the past two decades, and I am able to build on the foundations that were laid by her. It is important to note that curation is diverse and complex. Every Curator has their own style of curation, operating a gallery, and executing their priorities. Since, my assumption of the role, there has been a lot of change management. We are repositioning ourselves within the broader South African and International Arts Communities,” says Seshoka. He previously worked at Robben Island Museum’s Exhibitions and Development, Research and Natural Environment units, as well as the institution’s Creative Team and Mayibuye Archives.

From questions of land, the exhibition changes gear through Gordon Vorster’s Gebroote-grond. The 91,4×182,2 cm oil canvas which depicts a male and a female obscurely drawn but with vivid eyes gazing at works on the opposite wall, conversing with it. It’s paintings and photographs of various women, including a picture of an African Jubilee Choir member which Charlotte Maxeke was also part of in the late 1800s. “The space here is to raise questions around gender, the role that women play but more especially the unseen role that they play and how they’re not actually appreciated.”

President Kruger by Van WOUW, Anton. Photo supplied

Everything in the exhibition is strategically place, serving a purpose. A sculpture by Naomi Jacobson titled Bushman looks out the window of the gallery. “For me he’s admiring that how much we have advanced, at how UJ has advanced. He intentionally looks the building called Madibeng because when RAU started you would have not seen a building named Madibeng,” Seshhoka poignantly says.

Privileges of Proximity has given me the opportunity to critically engage with and reposition the collection, I am not disregarding what has been and in no way are my curatorial decisions absolute in nature. They seek to be questioned, engaged with and most importantly create dialogue,” Seshoka says.

“Our art collection is still in the process of evolving, there are major gaps that exists within the collection, especially when it comes to female, queer, black and differently abled artists. Privileges of Proximity recognises and highlights the gaps that exists within the collection, hence the desire to create conversation and dialogue about the limited representation of marginalised groups.” He says the University will be hosting more exhibitions in the near future, Privileges of Proximity being the first conversation of many that leave observers asking themselves questions.

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7min980

As I write this, many South Africans are celebrating the Easter Holidays and Good Friday, which is a misalignment when we refer to the African calendar because during this time the sun is moving away from the Southern hemisphere and is entering the Northern hemisphere. Hence we are getting into winter which signifies death or stagnancy, so it doesn’t make sense to celebrate that, rather we used to celebrate spring which signifies rebirth and life as it’s seen when the flowers bloom.

Colonization did not only take away our land, livestock and minerals, it also took with it our spirituality and sacred knowledge systems, and that is the reason we’re still in bondage. But through the African calendar we could change all of this. The ancient African Royal calendar is of high significance in the decolonization process, for it’s the basis of African knowledge systems and our redemption.

It’s a passage and a gateway to greener pastures, and the ruling chief principle of all our knowledge system. Our entire civilization from the South to the North was built upon this phenomenon. Our existence centered around it, activities such as farming, tracking of time, prayer, ritualism and other key life components were guided by the teachings of the calendar. Like how the moon was known as the feminine principle and was used to calculate women’s menstrual cycle, and the sun was the male principle and kept track of time and seasons. Since the majority of people in South Africa are Christians let’s reference the Bible and look at the story of Moses who in his journey was guided and directed by stars, and even when Jesus was born the same theme occurs.

Moreover, the calendar was an instrument used to track cosmological movements so as to align humanity with the heavens. The Science and Mathematics of Astrology and Cosmology were derived from the calendar. It also gave us knowledge of seasons through studying the sun’s movement and gaining understanding of the imperatives of cycles. Using modern terminology one could say it’s similar to a Global Positioning System (GPS); it gives us directions and is a guiding device.

To the ancients the calendar was more than just a piece of information with dates, it was how the universe communicated. It was a way of life and they believed that everything is energy, and that when the stars and cosmological bodies move they emit energy and radiate certain vibrational frequencies which have a direct impact on earth and its affairs. For example, the African New Year is in the month modern people call September, this was known through careful studying of the equinoxes and solstices. The forefathers realized that during spring nature births or rebirths itself after having had come from autumn and winter. In the winter season nature temporarily dies or rather more precisely it hibernates before it could rise again in in spring, so it only makes sense that the new year be celebrated in the Spring Equinox when nature is anew.

It was understood that months and seasons have their own characteristics and vibrational frequency which embody life happenings on earth. Such knowledge gave birth to modern astrology, tarot reading and other spiritual or religious disciplines such as Christianity. The whole point was to master the laws of energy by synchronizing the people with the heavens. All this beautiful knowledge and sacred practices was stolen and hidden from us, to misalign us as we’re today off-beat and not harmoniously flowing with nature.

The craziest thing is that the calendar which I am talking about still exists in South Africa, Mpumalanga province. This sacred place is where the ancients used to go for prayer, ritualism and alignment. Now it’s entirely up to us, should we desire to be African again for the ancestors left us immense knowledge.
For a detailed study of this topic people should get ahold of Mkhulu Ntsingisa of The Great Empire Of Kemet, who has constructed a booklet version of the calendar and is also co-founder of The Zinzi Mandela foundation and a former student of the ascended grandmaster Baba Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa.

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8min2290

The first thing which comes to mind when I think of South Korean Netflix hit-show Squid Game is “money is the root of all evil”. I have to admit I am a little bit late with my review and my excuse is that I have been writing so I couldn’t find the perfect time to watch stuff. But now that I have finally checked it out, here’s what I have to say.

Before I watched the series I asked a colleague who’s a photographer, for his opinion and he said the language was a turnoff for him. When I heard that, I kinda lost enthusiasm because inasmuch as I’m a bookworm, I don’t like going through subtitles. There I was on a Tuesday evening feeling cozy with a fawn-coloured throw over my lap and a cup of coffee stationed in my chair. The first intriguing thing I picked up was the hook and sound track of the game and also the white and green tracksuits which in my opinion look cool.

In turns out my colleague was wrong after all about the language being a turn off, well at least for me because I thought it brought out a particular mysticism which coincided well with the tension of not knowing what to expect from the games. Honestly I never anticipated the malevolence that followed but in my opinion the writer is a genius because he cleverly used a contradiction of two things far apart. He took an innocent and purity such as a children’s game and linked it to evil desire. In doing so there’s balance and the theme doesn’t seem like a horror.

The Main Man: Seong Gi-hun who is referred to as Player 456 on Squid Game. Photo by Netflix
The Main Man: Seong Gi-hun who is referred to as Player 456 on Squid Game. Photo by Netflix

The core assertion of the series is based on the idea that cash rules the world and this statement is supported by how the characters were willing to risk their lives by playing the game of life and death. In the outside world characters’ predicament is debt and a desire for riches and comfort and that’s what lures them to the dark game.

I also like how the protagonist is not your typical hero who writers generally attribute good qualities. This guy is an idiot and a bum who stays with his old mother and has no job and always gets himself into trouble. His baby mama broke up with him and got married to a successful guy and took their daughter with. But the hero is still appealing because of his funny and goofy personality which makes him relatable and that works well in contradiction with the antagonist who is vile and cruel and would do anything to get his way.

One of the most important characters is the wise old man (in film theory the wise old man is the idea that every hero needs to have some kind of divine guardian and guidance which doesn’t necessarily have to be a human, it could be God, the inner voice or a late parent) who is the adviser to the hero. The old wise man is the voice of reason which makes up for the hero’s shortcomings and channels him to his journey. Perhaps the bravest and most heroic thing the hero did besides playing the game of life and death is fighting for his daughter and risking his life to save his old mother.

Old Man Wisdom: O Yeong-su who plays the character of Player Number 001 on Squid Game. Photo by Netflix
Old Man Wisdom: O Yeong-su who plays the character of Player Number 001 on Squid Game. Photo by Netflix

What kept me captivated to the story is the games; the suspense is nail biting and the tension makes you want to see what’s going to happen next, which is wicked if you ask me because it’s a matter of life and death. And that’s why I say it doesn’t get any eviler than that because the games make you numb to violence and brutality because it’s just a game. The chronological incidents and flow of story is cool; It’s like an arcade-game with stages and as you advance the more difficult and interesting it becomes. One could say each episode is a climax from the previous one. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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10min2630

This is an interview between Tha Bravado Editor Bonginkosi Ntiwane and multiple award-winning playwright Napo Masheane. The interview took place in late 2021 around the time when The South African State Theatre (SAST) presented TSOGO (The Rise of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke), a biographical theatre play exploring the life and times of the iconic social and political activist Mama Charlotte Makgomo Mannya-Maxeke (1871 -1939). While the season of the play coincided with her date of death 16 October 1939, this piece fittingly gets published today on what would have been her 151st birthday. She was born in Botlokwa, Ga-Ramokgopa in Limpopo. She is the first black South African woman to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree and is the founder of the Bantu Women’s League in 1918.

Written by Napo Masheane and directed by thespian Mapula Setlhako, TSOGO which means rise or the awakening is a resurrection of one of South Africa’s Pan African, black conscious, and feminist pioneers.  “Yes! Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke must rise in all of us, so that all those who come after us can also rise from us,” Masheane says.

The moving play is told through seven actresses who are all also strong vocalists, intensely telling Maxeke’s expansive life before she even got married. The ensemble represents seven portraits of Maxeke, focusing on seven prominent milestones of her life, almost symbolizing the seven decades of her tapestry, against not just tradition and religion, but also patriarchy and politics. “Majority of the girls in the play, I’ve had the pleasure of working with before. And actually some of them have a musical background. So I had to mentor them into becoming actresses,” Masheane says.

The playwright: Napo Masheane. Photo supplied
The playwright: Napo Masheane. Photo supplied

The seven actresses are Hazel Mehlape, Zamachunu Mchunu, Tshepiso Madikoane, Thokozile Manakomba, Solani Maswanganye, Ncamisa Nqana and Katlego Tlokana. “People I tell stories about always choose who will best portray them on stage. As I always say; theatre for some of us is not just a church but it is a ritual practice and an initiation process of constantly telling her-story.” The chemistry of the all-female cast felt genuine, as though they were carrying each other on that stage, similar to how Maxeke carried some of her sisters in the African Jubilee Choir while touring abroad in the late 1800s. The premise of the story-arch draws on ‘Re-Birthing- Re-Imagining and Re-flecting’ on Maxeke’s her-story, which is echoed through the seven female voices on stage.

Tsogo cast
The Seven: These are the seven charlottes each representing milestone of the political activist Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. Photo by Mpilo Zondi.

“For every playwright before you write a play you have to flesh it out, you have to decide on the artistic treatment and approach. You need to imagine (from the page) who your character is, what do they want, need, seek and what could possibly be blocking them from that. Then you need to create a world (on stage) for them to exist in which is the defining premise for their existence. Hence in the case of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke knowing that she lived almost to her 70s, I highlighted seven milestones that epitomised her journey thus in meeting the magic of theatre created seven voices through seven portraits, to be carried out by seven girls,” shares Masheane.

The actresses’ command of the rich Sepedi language was a marvel and through choral and Afrocentric melodies, TSOGO also suggests Maxeke’s imaginative childhood, her coming of age, her undying resistance and resilience, her bravery to travel the world as an artist (chorister) in persuasion of a dream to empower the black child.

Sitting there watching the play, I was personally taken aback and inspired by Maxeke’s story, that well over a century ago this black woman was actually the true definition of being woke. If it’s had such an effect on me as a man, you can imagine how much it would fuel women.

Seven charlottes each representing milestone of the political activist Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. Credit Mpilo Zondi..
Songbirds: The seven charlottes each representing milestone of the political activist Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. Photo by Mpilo Zondi..

“Whatever Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke experienced in the 1800s still hits home to most of us in the 21st century; so in imaging and knowing who she was I am able to articulate and reflect how all of us overtime (across different eras) are affected by patriarchal standards, political landscapes, academic settings, religious controversies, cultural and traditional norms that have no interest in our true existence. So, every interaction or immediate response during the performance affirmed that we all know, agree and fully understand hers and our journeys. She was us and we are her even today, period!” Masheane says defiantly.

In statement director of the play Setlhako said “Not many know about her as a creative during her life and activism in the 18th century. We need to set up unity of sisterhood in the arts fraternity, which will help raise the next generation of female artists to the next level. We need structures which will help shatter the ceilings of patriarchy and gender inequality in the arts.”

The production is now available for streaming on The State Theatre’s YouTube channel. Click here to watch

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8min2410

This Operation Dudula business is to our demise as Africans and if we’re not careful, wars will be created amongst ourselves that’s if we’re not already at war. Africans must unite and stop being cowards, the real enemy is the oppressor.

Nhlanhla Lux ideas and assertions about the deportation of undocumented foreign nationals as some sort of a remedy to combat issues such as crime, high unemployment and other burning matters, is misdirected effort however well-intentioned.

To begin with, when people speak of undocumented foreign nationals, we all know they’re actually referring to other Africans who are living in South Africa. The self-hate amongst Africans is sickening, behind closed doors people still refer to these Africans as “makwerekwere;” which is indicative of how we as Africans we view ourselves. African people dare say the European must go back to his continent, but it’s morally permissible to stone an African to death just because he doesn’t have a piece of paper to validate his existence as a human, forgetting what the European did. The fact is, as people of Ntu (Ntu is the Supreme African God, hence we call ourselves Abantu), we find ourselves at rock bottom because of the oppressor but we keep looking elsewhere.

Operation Dudula’s chief principle is that if we deport all the undocumented foreign nationals, then black South Africans will have jobs and crime rates will drop. This is pure gibberish, the reason black South Africans don’t have jobs is because the oppressor killed our ancestors and stole our land and its resources. Our job as Africans is to work the land and nurture it so that it nurtures us in return. I am not even gonna talk about the corrupt black elite who benefits from greedy corporates and capitalism and is a loyal servant of a monstrous system that keeps raping Africa and its children. These scumbags have given the oppressor amnesty for his sins in return for riches. The European has never paid for his sins and he’s not even apologetic, he walks as a free man because he knows he runs the machine.

Another matter that people like to reference when they’re trying to run away from the fact that they hate other Africans, is the issue of crime. I personally didn’t know that crime has a nationality, it appears that when an African from Zimbabwe or Nigeria or wherever in the vicinity of Africa commits a crime, there’s emphasis and the crime is not treated as other crimes that might have been committed by others despite nationality. All criminals should be treated the same and the law must punish the perpetrators accordingly. And we should never forget that the biggest thieves and criminals are the ones who killed our ancestors and did all the other atrocities one could think of.

Operation Dudula cartoon
A cartoon by Carlos Amato, originally done for New Frame.

Isn’t it ironic that when it comes to issues such as that of the Khoi and San people who are still not acknowledged nor recognised as people of this country there’s no militancy; it seems as if we suffer from selective activism. Even when you fill forms there’s no Khoi and San box to tick, this is a clear indication that the government doesn’t care nor recognise the Khoi and San people, and mind you, we’re talking about the aboriginal people of this land we call Mzansi Afrika. Not even their dialect is recognised in the eleven official languages, but surely, you can’t miss English and Afrikaans, it’s even written in bold.

As people of South Africa we have been fooled numerous times by our leaders. The youth mustn’t be myopic when seeking new candidacy to fill in the position of a black messiah. To me, Operation Dudula is a quasi-colonial psychosis system and mass self-hypnosis. This is reanimation of the Pass Laws, the oppressor has taught us to afflict ourselves on his behalf. It’s like the Isotope phenomenon, you can’t use the same elements and or instruments to remedy a system that benefits from disunity and expect different results. We should always remember that, divide and conquer is ruthless tact but a genius plan.

Another important factor to note is that whenever there’s politically ideological mass movements-vigilantism and mob justice are always accompanied by violence and war. It’s belligerent. So even if the intention is pure or sincere things tend to go astray because you’re dealing with individuals and many personalities. The great Ngugi Wathiong’o said it better: “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”.

Tomy brother Nhlanhla Lux, your industrious energy, leadership skills and militant approach is remarkable and much needed to help bring the revolution but I don’t agree with you on this one.


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