Art director Noluthando ‘Texture’ Lobese might have long left the DiepCity set, but she was recognised for her work on the telenovela winning the Art Direction award at this year’s SAFTAs. “Our vision, determination and team’s effort is what’s paying off today. Hard work is meaningless without a vision,” Lobese tells Tha Bravado.
Losebe left DiepCity in January after spending only one season. “I resigned end of January
from DiepCity. I felt that I had served my purpose and it was time for other people to breathe
new life and energy for season two,” she says.
DiepCity is produced by the award-winning creator and director, Mandla N of Black Brain Productions. The story explores the struggle of four young women trying to make their way in the world. In February last year before building the set, the art department went to Diepsloot for research to understand the living conditions and environment. “The props and the furniture we got it from Diepsloot. We got it from the community of Diepsloot, which was amazing,” Lobese shared with me. DiepCity will end after two seasons, with the final episode set to air on Friday 3 March 2023.
Lobese’s work on the tv show, which was a first for her, brought a lot attention of Lobese’s incomparable skills. “Most people have had an interest in collaborating with me while I was shooting DiepCity. However, it was not possible at the time because I was dedicated to Diepcity and it was a delicate art piece I had just created, so I needed to see it through,” Lobese says. “However, after my resignation I collaborated with various Directors and DP’s which is refreshing.”
Lobese is somewhat of a nomad, whisked off to various places by her work. “I like going to places where no one knows my name, learn a new language. Learn to crawl and walk as a reminder of where we come from.”
She’s currently on holiday in Brazil, but she was in Kenya for the past few months. “I was invited as a production designer by Mpho Thwala and the entire team was from there. Art Director, Costume designer and Make Up Artist all Kenyan. What a wonderful team to work with.”
Lobese can’t disclose more about the production since it’s still in post. “We finished [shooting] in July. It’s always wonderful and challenging to work away from home. You need to have an open mind and open heart,” says Lobese.
She is currently a Costume Supervisor for a production in London, UK. “Still in pre prod and unable to disclose.”
I’m unsure of the context around Malcolm X’s words when he said “I believe in the brotherhood of all men, but I don’t believe in wasting brotherhood on anyone who doesn’t want to practice it with me. Brotherhood is a two-way street.”
But I am certain of how these words capture the genuine camaraderie between Bloke Modisane and Langston Hughes. The friendship between the two writers and activists from Sophiatown, South Africa, and Harlem in New York, respectively is explored in the Bloke and His American Bantu-a play currently showing at the South African State Theatre.
Written by author Dr Siphiwo Mahala and directed by renowned television and theatre actor and director Sello Maake kaNcube, the story is based in the 1960s when Modisane was in exile, in London England. Experienced thespian Josias Dos Moleele plays the character of Hughes with such swagger while young actor Anele Nene puts in a career-defining performance as Modisane. The play traces the intellectual discourse that transpired between the two scribes from 1960 to 1967, a period during which they exchanged well over 50 letters.
Langston’s Reverence of Africa and Its People
Langston was a revered American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist whose life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, who saw Africa beyond the drums and wildlife but appreciated the number of intellectuals the continent produced.
Throughout the play he fondly speaks of the Drum Boys-these were a group of writers for Drum Magazine during the publication’s halcyon days in the 1950s, which included Henry Nxumalo, Can Themba, Es’kia Mphahlele, Lewis Nkosi and Bloke himself. He insinuates that the rest of the world is sleeping on the brilliant minds that the South Africa has.
Langston travelled to other parts of the continent, exchanging ideas with other African intellectuals such as Wole Soyinka. This play showed his genuine affection for the continent.
Langston affectionately refers to Bloke as his favourite Bantu, this is quite significant considering the number of Bantus Langston came across. But his curiosity for and about Africa was fed by Bloke, whether it was language, people, or culture.
Bloke’s Trials in Exile
Being an artist or a creative looking for work is stressful enough, but that pain is doubled when living in exile in the land of your coloniser. In one scene Bloke writes to Langston about his woes and in it, Bloke’s pain is palpable-it seemed as though he was nigh taking his life. “…All I know is that I’m tired, nothing I do is good enough. Things don’t change, yesterday is just like today and tomorrow will be just like yesterday. I don’t know man, sometimes I just want to go back to South Africa, at least there I was alive Langston! something was happening all the time. But here, here I’m just dead,” writes Bloke in the letter which Nene powerfully portrayed on stage. Bloke’s words speak to that double-edge-sword that is unemployment and being exiled.
In his response, Langston as any brother would, chastises Bloke for not asking for help.
“Blokey, don’t be simple-minded just be simple. Why didn’t you write to me if you’re having things so tough, you know I would’ve sent you a little something…and no, no obligation, you don’t have to say thank you or anything,” Langston wrote back.
This honesty from both men, enabled the strengthening of their bond.
Chemistry of The Two Actors
The chemistry between the two actors is palpable as they bring to life a slice of history that is little known about the bonds that connected the South African liberation struggle with black America. It shines the spotlight on the role of artists and intellectuals in forging international solidarity during one of the darkest hours in the history of South Africa.
I imagine one of the most important things when doing a two-hander in any production, is the chemistry of the pair. Nene and Moleele’s combination epitomised Langston and Bloke’s friendship.
Sometimes when an experienced actor works with a young thespian, you cringe at the thought of the latter not being able to keep pace with the senior. But Bloke was channelled through bold acting by the talented Nene, who hails from Durban. The 25-year-old won the Ovation Award at the 2020 National Arts Festival for his one man show The Hymns of a Sparrow.
Moleele is multi-award-winning theatre and television writer, actor and director who has also appeared in international work such as Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood and a BBC television series Strike Back.
Moleele doesn’t just look like a grandson of Langston, but he also nailed the American accent without coming-off as a caricature. But beyond that, the actor made the audience feel Langston’s affection for Bloke.
It is by far the best play I have watched in years.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
“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.
“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
I couldn’t help but ponder on Perfect Hlongwane’s description of black joy, as Eskom’s blackout hit right in the middle of Malcom Jiyane and Nonku Phiri’s performance at the Joburg Theatre.
“There is laughter and there is festivity in the very pits of hell, because that is the only way to escape the searing licks of these flames, even if only briefly and in bursts whose volatility already gives an indication that they may not last,” the Culture Review‘s Associate Editor, Hlongwane said in describing the theme at last week’s Kulture Blues Festival.
The Uprize Ensemble which was performing on stage together, were the night’s last act. It was also the first time Jiyane played his much-admired album, Umdali. It was symbolic that the last song they performed before he lights were cut was, Sizwile. Nonku was just getting into performing her solo work went the theatre got blacked out. While a handful of people decided to leave as the organisers were re-connecting the sound to the generator, the rest of us were patient enough and watched the rest of the performance.
Phiri and Jiyane on stag together are a joy to watch. While Jiyane is the mad scientist dripping of sweat on keys, Phiri stationed under the blue lights she sorely asked for, was like a spiritual guide on her voice changer with her sound effects.
They were supported by Lungile Kunene drums and The Brother Moves On’s Ayanda Zalekile on bass. The latter’s singing took everyone aback, even Nonku turned back pleasantly surprised, with a smile she asked “And then wena?”. You could see it, feel it and definitely hear the joy that Eskom tried to steal as we sat in the audience enjoying the talent on stage.
Before their performance was Gabi Motuba and Tumi Mogorosi alongside. Gabi looked elegant in her green dress and her natural hair in fine splendour. Her voice exudes the tranquillity one would experience in a view of Mpumalanga’s Three Rondavels on a quiet morning. Every South African deserves to at least experience her voice live. While Mogorosi doesn’t fight with the drums, but somehow caresses them with intent. Bokani Dyer on piano, Daliwonga Tsangela on cello, Dalisu Ndlazi on bass complimented each other and that too, was black joy in action.
The day’s first performer was East London’s Luyolo Lenga, an eccentric artist with strong vocals. He opened his performance playing the Uhadi traditional instrument and then later played from his acoustic guitar. One would’ve liked to hear more of him playing Uhadi.
A common thread of the night was the artist’s complaints of the sound, which seemed to lie with the sound engineer of the day. While comedian Roni Modimola’s jokes left the handful audience cringing at times.
“It was a beautiful day. On and off the stage. Black love permeated the Joburg Theatre and when loadshedding hit us during Malcolm Jiyane/ Uprize Ensemble’s set, the spirits remained high and the musicians continued playing with high esteem, much to the adulation of the audience. It was a special night man,” says satisfied producer of the festival, Kulani Nkuna.