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
EVER found yourself genuinely delighted that someone is happy, despite your opinion of the reason for their happiness?
Like how an attractive damsel would be overjoyed by shedding some kilos, you’d obviously acknowledge her achievement of reaching a personal goal, but in the back of your head know that she doesn’t need the number on a scale to validate her beauty.
That’s how I felt Monday morning, watching highlights from the 91st Academy Awards. It was when legendary film director, producer and writer Spike Lee went to accept his first ever Oscar award for his recent film, BlacKkKlansman.
One of the best films ever to be made, Do The Right Thing, which Spike wrote, directed and produced in 1989 was snubbed by the Academy awards. Earlier this month, speaking to The Washington Post Spike was quoted saying “This is not in any way disrespectful to the Academy, but after Do The Right Thing, I just said ‘you know, whatever award it is, I’m not going to let myself be in a position where I feel I have to have my work validated.”
That quote alone lets us into the pain Spike felt from the 1990 Oscar Awards. On the other side of coin, his elation on Sunday night’s ceremony demonstrates how much the award means to him. And accepted the award with a moving speech.
I have not watched BlacKkKlansman, so I can’t say if Spike deserved the award for that particular movie. But on Tuesday morning I posted on Facebook that Spike is too great to be excited by an Oscar. Without trying to throw shade at the irrepressible director, the point I was merely trying to convey was that great artists don’t need to be certified by the academy institution to sanction their prominence. Especially black artists.
But what stood out for me, was how most of the young creatives on the social site, liked, agreed, loved and even shared the post.
I get why Spike was hurt by Do The Right Thing‘s loss, and why 30 years later, he jumped on Samuel Jackson’s arms like a lil kid, in accepting his award. Think about it, Spike was 32 years-old when the awards that celebrate cinematic excellence took place in 1990, and they had been taking place for more than 60 years. So you can imagine the clout, prestige and significance of a recognition from the Academy to a filmmaker born in the 1950s.
Not to suggest today’s young creatives don’t appreciate or yearn even, for industry recognition. There’s disinterest and distrust towards “honours” from industry gatekeepers. In music and film.
I was my mother’s one year-old sweetheart when Malcom X (also directed by Spike) was in cinemas. I watched the film years later and was astonished to find out that Denzel Washington, who played the US political activist, didn’t take the Best actor award in the 1993 Oscars. Why would I trust them, if they dismally failed to celebrate Denzel’s finest piece of acting?
Young artists don’t trust these institutions. After winning his Grammy last month, Drake gave an acceptance speech that displayed the power that today’s artists have taken from these ceremonies. “We play in an opinion-based sport, not a factual based sport. It’s not the NBA where at the end of the year you’re holding the trophy, because you made the right decision or won the games. Look, if there’s people who have regular jobs coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows. You don’t need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”
Poignant words from the Canadian rapper on the Grammy stage, basically giving the prestigious music awards a polite middle-finger. And this by the way, is from an artist who a few years ago gave away his own Grammy awards on Instagram to artists who he thought were snubbed.
Social media has allowed artists direct access to their fans. Artists are continuously on the receiving end of affirmation from their followers, reminding them of the real impact their art has. Do The Right Thing grossed over $30 million in cinemas, with a budget of less than $10 million. I wonder how Spike would look at that snub, had the movie came out during the prevalence of social media. The validation that comes with seeing people from around the world, celebrating your work would have some effect on your view on awards. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, said he appreciated how 2018’s big movie was appreciated by the audience.
While celebrating the Grammy wins of Cardi B, Jay Rock and Anderson.Paak on Twitter, J.Cole mentioned how this moment for them, is bigger than the awards could say.
Of course there are senior citizens in Hollywood who’ve had this thinking long before, like Woody Allen who has never accepted awards from the Academy. “The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgement of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don’t,” said the dodge old man.
I personally don’t have an issue with awards per se, it’s people running these bodies that I have gripe with. Black creatives are always chasing to be recognised by Caucasian-led institutions.
Someone made a point on my post on Facebook that Spike was also celebrating the milestone because of the tireless work he’s done as an activist for the inclusion of black people in Hollywood. I honestly believe it’s through the work done by people such Spike, that Black Panther and even Jordan Peele’s Get Out won Oscars. It’s through the noise he’s been making.
That’s good and all, but do we still need to be making noise about not being appreciated by white people? why should we fight for inclusion into institutions created by Caucasians ? Our generation doesn’t want to live out its blackness through white norms.
IT was Kenyan author and philosopher John Mbiti who said “I am because we are and since we are, therefore I am.” It’s Ubuntu. I couldn’t think of anything else, as I heard the story behind the making of Cameroonian artist Blick Bassy’s music video, Ngwa.
“…it’s inspired by a Kenyan story and a South African freedom fighter, the whole album is about a Cameroonian guy…and somehow put all that in a pot and cook it and see what comes out. I think if there’s a future for African art that’s it,” said director Tebog ‘Tebza’ Malope speaking at Blik’s screening in Joburg. Hosted in a chic lower ground floor in Braamfontein, where African jazz oozes from speakers above us, under warm burgundy lights at the Untitled Basement, off kilter attendees converse in their huddles as they eagerly wait to see the video on a Thursday night.
The song Ngwa is from Blick’s upcoming album, 1958 which comes out in March. 1958 is an ode to Cameroonian trade unionist and France adversary, Ruben Um Nyobè and the heroes of the Cameroonian Independence-all in the hope of reconnecting Cameroonians with their true history. Um Nyobè was butchered in 1958 by the French government and buried in concrete to remove any remnant of his legacy in the memory of Cameroonians.
“…making this project and telling Um Nyobè’s story, it was really important for me to come to Africa, to make it here and with people from here. People don’t know my country, they just know this one view coming from one storyteller, coming from a Western country. But here you have a beautiful storyteller, this is storytelling through this video. We have to show things by ourselves,” Blick shares his thought on the Ngwa video.
“He was a fighter, a visionary…he was someone who wanted to build people, not just for freedom but he wanted everyone to be equal. Um Nyobè was fighting for this. If you look at Cameroon today, we’re just living everything he was talking about-we have a lot of tribalism in Cameroon today, he spoke about this. So if we really wana go forward, we have to be connected to the roots-that’s why trees are beautiful, because with no roots there’s no tree.”
To visually tell this story, Blick roped in South African director Tebza, who borrowed from African narratives, to tell the story of these uncelebrated heroes. “I was reading Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o’s book called Matigari and the first chapter is about a Mau Mau soldier, in East Africa in Kenya who, in the first chapter has his AK47…somebody runs up the mountain to tell him ‘yo, we don’t have to train anymore, we’re free now. So come down’…” said Tebza explaining the inspiration.
After burying his rifle and descending from the mountain, the soldier grows a sense of disenchantment with this new world, as it seems he was sold a dream only for him to lay down his arms. “Same narrative with South Africa, same narrative with Cameroon. So when I started chatting with Blick about Um Nyobè, I realised there’s some sorta intersection between East, West and Southern Africa…”
The video was shot on the mountains of Lesotho, in wet and icy temperatures. “This was probably my hardest shoot ever. The horror stories behind this; we lost a day because of someone who was stuck at the boarder gate, we lost half a day because of the rain, had some trouble finding the horses because they ran often and just one thing after another,” says Tebza, who last year won the Best Music Video for Kwesta’s Spirit.
Renowned television and movie director Roli Nikiwe, who was present on the night, drove the crew to Lesotho and upon getting there, he offered to help by being the first AD, looking for locations and even assisting with the catering. “Africans always come together to complain about the enemy, the coloniser, but put two Africans together and there’s beauty. To watch the two of you guys, get together and put your heads together, make something work, for me was a beautiful example of what we could do as a continent,” said Nikiwe.
The video has beautiful wide shots that display the beauty of the African landscape. “…There’s rarely a close-up, because I just want you to see it. We’re talking about Africa that was taken from us, so let’s show it and see what was taken,” said the director.
The video ends off with Blick being stabbed with a spear by pursuing imperialists on open land “…The last bit is actually taken from Solomon Mahlangu’s statement before they hung him, ‘my blood will nourish the tree of freedom’…so in death, in Ruben Um Nyobè’s death, Solomon Mahlangu’s death, in the death of so many of our struggle heroes, they didn’t really die, they multiply, they became trees and they live on forever,” shared Tebza.