by Xana Nyilenda
I shut my eyes for what felt like a brief moment in passing. I woke up to realize I had passed out on the bed for a good three hours. It sounds like enough resting time and usually is the amount of sleep I have on a regular basis.
Only it was a different kind of fatigue one I couldn’t explain, I was completely finished only I couldn’t sleep. I sluggishly awoke to Zanele who was already out of bed full of energy editing and posting a few articles on the Inkanyiso website.
We were still pretty much operating on South African time, there’s a nine-hour time difference. Which meant while we were wide-awake, Los Angeles city was sleeping.
As Zanele and I were busy conversing and planning our itinerary for the day.
I decided to join the wagon and start writing too. There is nothing like putting a few thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper to pass the time.
A result was a blog about leaving South Africa and my experiences here in LA as a first time visitor. As the new day dawned, the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise appeared as the sun emerged from beyond the hills.
I anxiously stared out the window and watched the city come alive, albeit three maybe five people walking on the street, a cyclist or runner.
You should know that Little Tokyo District is as the name sounds a small Japanese community within the confines of the city. There are a lot of other similar parts of town inhabited by just a certain ethnic group or cultural group of people that will be something that is glaringly obvious to you as you explore the city.
The division of race groups all around which is masked behind reasons such as the preservation of culture and sticking together as minority groups.
In spite of this I got a chance to experience a world where all cultures merged harmoniously to form a collective. A group of young intelligent minds seeking to change the world of which you will later read about later.
Having been too tired to even eat the previous evening, Zanele and myself set out downstairs to the hotel restaurant for a good hearty, healthy Japanese breakfast. I tell you I’m a big fan of Japanese culture and lifestyle so for me this was pretty big for me. We enjoyed our breakfast buffet at a side bar overlooking a window allowing us a view of the city. I then noticed something really odd for me, there were hardly or no people on the street.
At first I thought that maybe it was because no one kicks it into gear early in the morning around these parts, but unlike South Africans there’s a huge driving culture here.
If you’ve ever been to Johannesburg, South Africa you’ll understand to what it means to live in a big city where with everything so close yet so far apart from each other. On a larger scale add some good weather with a dollop of theatre and you have Los Angeles.
It is with that observation that I began noticing that everything we had seen being portrayed about this city in particular as in actuality completely different in real life. With breakfast done and our stomachs filled to our satisfaction and a bit of typing done, nature called. I requested to use the restroom and with no surprise, little old lady almost messed her pants, refusing to use the toilet whilst I was still in there.
Something that I experience constantly back home; being mistaken for guy, I digress.
It was now time to get ready for the rest of what seemed was going to be an eventful day.
With all the featured artists and guests namely; Lyle Ashton Harris, New York-based artist and Associate Professor at New York university (Global), Nana Adusei-Poku, Applied Research Professor in Cultural Diversity at Rotterdam University/Willem de Kooning Academy & Piet Zwart Institute and Lecturer in Media Arts at the University of the Arts, Zurich.
Zanele Muholi, a Visual Activist/ Photographer from Umlazi, Durban, also founder of Inkanyiso converged in the lobby to meet up with our driver who would then take us out in to Claremont where Pitzer College a member of the Claremont Colleges is situated.
After a forty-five minute drive on the highway and getting to know each other. We passed every imaginable fast food restaurant, food chain and American franchise we’ve all seen on our tellies but it still didn’t quite look right.
We finally arrived at the college where we then met all of the other participants and organizers of the Symposium/Exhibition. Carrie Mae Weems an American Artist and Photographer, Ruti Talmor, Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Pitzer College, programmer and curator.
Renee Mussai a Curator and Head of Archive at Autograph ABP a Photographic Arts agency at Rivington Place, London.
Shortly after the meet and greet session over a cup of coffee and something to eat (I had a smoothie called “Naked”-which tastes as good as sounds and the best brownie I’ve ever had in my life).
Everyone headed for the colleges’ George C.S. Benson Auditorium where a Keynote Lecture was given by Carrie Mae Weems, sharing some of her work past experiences within her career. Reflecting on some of the major themes in her thought-provoking work was also sharing wise words which she so eloquently expressed.
As the day progressed the opening of the exhibition “Glyphs: Acts of Inscription” was held at the Nichols Gallery in Pitzer College – this exhibition will run from
19 September – 5 December 2013, -where it was open to all visitors and students alike.
To name a few artworks exhibited that stood out were Mwangi Hutter a collaborative who resides in Ludwigshafen and Berlin, Germany and in Nairobi, Kenya.
Presenting an installation Aesthetic of Uprising II, (2011) of a large photo print depicting a muddy, almost naked woman running on all fours over dry land- which looks almost like Southern Africa where it merges with a pool of black fluid /paint with pieces of materiel that have text on them.
Mickalene Thomas’ “Le dejeuner sur I’herbe: trois femmes noire” (2010) which is a tongue and cheek interpretation of Edouard Manet’s “The Luncheon on the Grass” (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe), 1863.
Zanele Muholi’s “Faces and Phases” (2006-present) a series of black and white portraits depicting the black lesbian in South Africa and John Akomfrah’s “Peripeteia” 2012 a video installation which drew it’s inspiration from drawings done by Albrecht Durer in the sixteenth century.
After the proceedings as per exhibition protocol food and wine was served at a reception to allow mingling of guests and students. We then got a chance to watch John Akomfrah’s “Peripetia” simply put it was beautiful. My attention was drawn to the next section of the video installation part of the exhibition. This one was one that sparked a whole lot of interest from onlookers as they crowded around the piece just to see what was going on. Much like the other curious looking faces I watched gazing into the screen, that at that moment I had no view of. I got up to have a glance at what seemed to be an amazing sight judging from the dumbfounded looks on their faces.
As I turned the corner into the booth I was forced to turn away from the multitude of people crowded around the screen, which made it impossible for me to even sneak a peek.
I then decided to leave the room, and lucky for me a whole lot of others followed suit as they were experiencing the same problem I was at the time. Obviously this was an opportunity for me to turn back before I even exited the building.
In doing so I walked in on a woman attentively gawking at the screen engrossed in what she was seeing. She looked like she could be in her mid-forties, tall slim figure in a floral dress, curly hair and eyes that could pierce your soul.
She turned to look at me, deliberately turning her attention away from the screen and stared into my eyes, passing me her set of headphones even though I already picked up my own. Not wanting to be rude I graciously accepted them without breaking eye contact and thanked her.
I then put my headphones on and turned to the screen and watched South African artists Andrew Putter’s “Secretly I will Love You” video that combine video and photography. What followed conjured up a supernatural encounter and was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. I had one of the most eerie but intellectually stimulating experiences with two perfect strangers with the second seemingly have appeared out of nowhere. I really would’ve loved to stay to see what would transpire at that moment but everyone was extremely tired from travelling.
So we then headed for our hotel for dinner and some rest.
To be continued…
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