THERE isn’t anything intimidating or thrilling to a creative as a blank page, a naked canvass stationed solely for your ideas. The feeling of pressure engrosses the creative when they’ve fallen off the horse of inspiration; constantly banging their heads against the hardest surface, for the sweetest creative juices to spew outta them.
Wordsmiths will tell you of the writer’s block they go through when attempting to take their work to the next level. The agitation they get during this period, is similar to understanding a language but not being able to speak it. Or knowing where home is, yet clueless about the directions. Or simply losing the remote and not knowing where to find it. It gets really bad. Not just for writers, but all creatives.
Alcohol and drugs are then seen as keys which unlock doorways to multiple eureka moments. They help one unwind and not overthink the process of creating, but that’s only for a little while. Many times we’ve seen artists rapidly go from using a drug for unwinding, to simply utilizing it as a crutch. So drugs aren’t a long term solution to get you back on the proverbial horse of inspiration. For singer songwriter Fortune Shumba when that time comes, it hits quite hard. “I usually go looking for inspiration. I find inspiration in the oddest of places. Sometimes I go for a walk, sometimes I watch a series or porn, sometimes I start texting some of my friends-I make it a point to not listen to someone else’s music though, to avoid unintentional jacking. It happens.”
Other creatives have taken the psychedelic micro-dosing route, where a person takes a sub-threshold of psychedelic drugs daily for creative improvement, emotional balance and various other reasons. “For me, I usually wait it out. It’s frustrating in the moment, I wait it out and trust the process and just start looking for inspiration,” says lyricist Ginger Trill. “It will usually happen while listening to other music that I find genius, or even different enough to be dope. The key is patience and trusting the process, sometimes you need that drought to help you unlock another level.”
What makes this whole shandis worse is that, as a creative you’re spending long hours and days fretting over something that the average reader or listener will momentarily engage with, turn and then ask you, ‘what else do you have?’ So the pressure to keep churning out the good stuff is constantly on your back like AfriForum on Julius Malema’s rear.
Chefs thoroughly think through their meals which are consumed within minutes, long before stepping into the kitchen. It’s a double edged sword. But creative work has the ability to leave a lifetime effect on a person, even after brief interaction with the work.
Ironically some artists will engage with works by other eccentric thinkers, to spark their creative juices back to life. This act is not done to make one Austin Kleon (author of Steal Like An Artist) proud, but rather inspire you as a creative to get back and do what you do, which works for visual artist Thandazani Ndlovu, when he’s in no man’s land in front of a canvass. “I usually visit other artists that inspire me, or galleries,” he says. It could be a conversation with a fellow artist or sometimes collaborating with them. “Artists feed off each other,” Ndlovu says.
“Personally, I meditate,” singer songwriter Tsoness, from duo Tribal PunQ tells me. “[I] go to shows that inspire me, watch music on YouTube in hope of bumping into some inspiring tracks.”
Music producer Kabelo ‘KaeB’ Tsoako also finds himself pressing the same keys one too many times trying to break new grounds sonically. “When I don’t make actual music I’ll either mix songs or clean up all songs, but there’s a time [where] I don’t even touch music, then I’ll binge watch stuff on Netflix.”
Angela Mthembu who is a poet from live ensemble, PG13 doesn’t see it a drought per se. You know how Kanye West saw his breakdowns last year as breakthroughs, well Miss Mthembu’s views on clogged creativity vessels are on the optimistic side of life as well.
“I remember placing all the poetry that I’ve ever written on my bed you know, and I was like none of these are actually good enough. I remember saying to myself ‘what if the idea of writer’s block is the ability to improve your previous work?’ I held each poem I placed on the bed and rewrote it as Angela at that moment-from that day onwards, every time I go through the idea that I might have writer’s block, I have interpreted it as the universe saying it’s time to improve. ”
Each to their own right? But once you’ve coherently saturated that intimidating blank page with your ideas, it becomes work. Which often leaves you with a ting of pride and an avalanche of vindication for all the agony you went through, just to create.
THANDAZANI NDLOVU is big, quiet and quite meticulous-like an elephant. A herd of elephants has tight matriarchal bonds, led by the oldest and largest of the female elephants-similar to Thandazani’s upbringing.
The Zimbabwean born artist understands and knows the significance of a home led by a strong woman, so much so that he’s dedicating his first solo exhibition to women, titled Depicting Woman. This of course was inspired by the head of the Ndlovu herd. “My mother, who took over and raised us as a single parent after my father passed away,” Thandazani tells me.
For nearly 10 years it seemed like his passion for the arts was gonna be buried in a nine-to-five he had at a factory. “To provide for my family I designed shoes. The visual arts was my first love and I felt torn not being able to give 100% and dividing my time between both places. I took a chance on my passion and it worked out for the better.”
“I’m inspired by the role my mother played in my life and the role women have in the township and around the world,” says the self-taught artist from Nkulumane Township, in Bulawayo.
Depicting Woman opens today at A-Lounge in Nelspruit Mpumalanga, where it’ll run for a month. “Women are powerful, they are strong and can do anything! Looking at how they raise children manage homes.” Thandazani will have 20 pieces on display for Depicting Woman.
He learnt about dedication and focus during his time in the shoemaking industry, which he still uses today in his art. There’s a sense of abstractness to his work, but with a sharp focus of depicting the emotions of his subject.
Although this might be his first solo exhibition, Thandazani got on the scene after creating a series in which he portrayed fading African cultures-which led to several commissioned work, one of which sits in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. “I will do an exhibition in Gauteng, but [with] a different theme.”
As society we often label a sexually liberated damsel isifebe, a whore with no sense of moral standing. While men’s carnal desires are acknowledged and wickedly perceived as a prerequisite to proper manhood. But things is changing, albeit gradually.
Women, especially black women are beginning to be recognised as the diamonds they are, largely because they’ve taken it upon themselves to own their womanhood, in all ways. Photographer Dineo Mnyanga and her partner Shirley Mtombeni are celebrating women this weekend, through an exhibition, Makaziwe, a collaborative project with other lenswomen and female artists.
Hosted at Yes 4Youth, adjacent Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa, the two day exhibition is themed, Her Desires. “It’s work of art, work of expression,” says Mnyanga.
“We feature different women from across the country and we were honoured when women from Black View Finder foundation, women in photography showed interest in our exhibition. We also feature young upcoming photographers locally. ”
The list of exhibitors include Charmain Carrol, Phumzile Nkosi, Matheko Malebana, Lebogang Molota, Mosa Seleke, Sinethemba Mthembu and Cleopatra Matuwane. “Each photographer brings uniqueness, that’s what we loved the most, their work is different yet they all share the same thoughts and feelings.”
Mnyanga and Mtombeni made sure to strike a balance with regards to the age difference of the exhibitors, managing to capture the feelings of various women in their dissimilar phases in life.
Makaziwe is originally a play written by Mtombeni about a woman, who two years into marriage, grows sexual dissatisfaction with her hubby who doesn’t understand her body. The play showed at the Moses Molelekwa Art Centre and was produced by Mnyanga last year.
“Initially when Makaziwe started, it was more than a play, it was a movement! The movement inspired us to create different platforms within the arts and culture industry to express what women feel, think and want through their work. The first platform was Makaziwe the play,” Mnyanga tells me. The play will return to stage later this year.
While the exhibition is scheduled to take place this weekend, there are talks of it moving to other galleries. “So we can safely say the work won’t end here.”
· 30&31 MARCH 2019 TIME:16:00-20:00 AT YES 4YOUTH (MAKHULONG STADIUM, TEMBISA)
“WHAT I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists, who drive around in Mercedes Benzes and use resources of this country to live in palaces and to gather riches,” said the late Chris Hani.
That quote rushed at me, as I read through the Woza Albert! press release, about the classic play by Mbongeni Ngema and Percy Mtwa showing at the State Theatre.
Woza Albert! explores how the second coming of Christ (Morena) would affect the lives of poor black people, and how white apartheid authorities would react. Although the play was created over 40 years ago, it still reverberates hard-hitting truth as it did during apartheid.
The play presents a compelling view of a multitude of black and white characters as they explore themes of race and class and expose the power structures of white supremacy. It concludes with a call for Christ (Morena) to raise the dead heroes and leaders who fought against apartheid.
The likes of Hani, Bantu Biko and Mangaliso Sobukwe would be perplexed by the fact that black people remain impoverished, still grapple with white supremacy and the rise of black elitists. “Even in the current democratic climate, the question that was asked by Ngema and Mtwa during the days of apartheid is still relevant. There is a lot going on in our maturing democracy which arguably makes those who died with a revolutionary sword to turn in their rested graves,” said State Theatre CEO, Dr Sibongiseni Mkhize in the press release.
“Constant contestation over the meaning and direction of the new South Africa’s socio-economic and political dispensation, the debilitating effects of corruption and relentless economic inequalities, are some of the things that perhaps await the second coming of Morena!”
Woza Albert! made its return to South African theatres late last year, commencing at Durban’s Playhouse Company then headed to the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. With its original cast and crew- Director John Christopher, lighting Designer Mannie Manim and stage manager Dickson Malele- Woza Albert! has and will be at the State Theatre throughout the month of March.
It is said that it’s not about how thick the book is, but about the knowledge you get in those thick books. With less than 70 pages to it, Surviving Loss is as thin as they come. It is a collection of poems written by Busisiwe Mahlangu about her abuse-ridden childhood.
The physical copy of Surviving Loss is a reflection of Mahlangu. Petite and pretty on the outside, but weighing so much because of the accumulated experiences in the inside. “It was written solely around surviving depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of the issues there are around poverty, abuse, rape and violence, and it’s written in a style of searching for healing,” she says.
Chilling on brown leather couches at Black, a restaurant at Pretoria’s State Theatre, I have a two-on-one with Mahlangu and Palesa Olifant. The latter is the director of the play, Surviving Loss-an adaptation of Mahlangu’s book, which opens at the Pretoria theatre today.
The book and the play are more than just close to Mahlangu’s heart, they are her. The abuse she writes about in the book is something she experienced growing up at the hands of her father. When I ask about her dad’s thoughts on the book, with a straight face the poet from Mamelodi says “My father is dead. He passed away end of Grade 10, in 2012. No, it was not good. In all the mental issues, my father always shows up during therapy, during relationships. It was a very violent relationship. Most of the abuse I talk about, is the abuse from my father.”
“I don’t like talking about the specifics of the abuse, but it was physical and emotional,” she tells me. She grew up with both parents, two older siblings and a younger one. “With abuse and violence that happens in the house, everyone gets abused and gets violated in a way. Even my mom went through the abuse, and she was aware that we’re feeling the pain and are being abused. But to an extent, it’s kinda difficult when you’re going through the same thing, it’s not like someone from the outside walking in and saying ‘oh, this is so hard’ and then saves us. It’s different when someone is living in the abuse.”
It was only when she got to Wits that she sought therapy from school, after a friend advised her to seek help from professionals. She only spent years at Wits, then got excluded because of outstanding fees. That’s when her poetry became more of a catharsis, even though she had been writing since high school, the 23-year-old had no inclinations of becoming a poet.
The poems on Surviving Loss date back to 2015. “When I left high school my poetry became more personal, writing more about things that I experience, see and feel. In 2016 is when I started performing, I took poetry more serious.”
“I was studying electrical engineering at Wits. I entered slams because they said you can win R500 and I was a broke student. So I thought, since I do write I might take advantage of the platform”
After her exclusion, she entered the Tshwane Speak Out Loud competition where she made it the finals, and walked away with a big cheque. “R30 000 could’ve paid for my debts at Wits and allowed me to continue with my studying. But poetry was setting my soul on fire, it made me feel lively,” she says without a drop of oomph missing. She decided to put the money into studying Creative Writing at UNISA.
“Then last year, Vangile Gantsho asked for my manuscript of poetry, and when I sent it to her she said ‘we’re publishing you’ and at the time I didn’t know they were opening a publishing company.” The book is published by Impepho Press.
Reception of the book has been amazing, Mahlangu has done readings across the country. “I didn’t think I’d get to experience so many things. I grew up in Gauteng and whenever I left the province, was whether for a wedding or funeral or some big event in Mpumalanga. But within a year into poetry, I was travelling to Cape Town and other provinces and seeing more of South Africa. I was wowed, and I keep getting surprised with the journey poetry has taken me.”
She had been praying to be part of State Theatre’s Incubator program, and then last year she received a call to come to the theatre’s offices. “When I got there, they told me about the incubator but first, they wanted to have an idea of what I will do. I knew I wanted to adapt the book for stage.”
“I knew I want it to be called after the book because every title I came up with, it didn’t feel like it was strong enough. The title of the book was very strong and every other title that came to us at the time, felt like it was underplaying it.”
The play’s director, Olifant says images shot at her as soon as she began reading Surviving Loss. “Her writing is very raw, and I think that’s the thing I enjoyed most about reading the book, because of how raw and relatable it is, it’s sharp. You can’t ignore it. Those images stick out. Coming into the space, I wasn’t trying to make work that’s polished and pure, I wanted to stay true to her voice. It’s so fragmented and that’s how memories are,” says the director.
Olifant continues “She’s talking about so much, that we actually had to make it smaller; we had to find specific points to focus on, so relationships with her father and men, her admiration and the tensions between her, her mother and female members of her family-how all those inform her healing. Then we found music and dance that could speak to what that journey looks like. Basically, adaptation of the book into a production has been about finding her voice through the music, through the movement and through the poetry as well.”
Mahlangu performs her poetry for the play, with Susan Nkatha doing the choreography and a musician, Darlianoh who wrote original music for the piece. “I was very direct. I wanted a black woman director. A young black woman director to direct the piece. I didn’t want someone who’s older and established, besides the fact that I couldn’t afford them [bursting into laughter], but I wanted a young black woman director, and on stage I wanted young black women as well.”
“…the piece is very intimate and I don’t think a man would be able to access some level of intimacy that was needed for the piece because of the different experiences, also some of the poems speak directly to men.”
“I’d be okay with a man coming and giving an opinion, but not the man adapting the whole production. I needed someone who could relate to what I was talking about. As women we share most of our suffering with each other, even if you haven’t experienced it, you kinda understand.”
The play is on for two nights at State Theatre, at 20:00