By Lindiwe Dhlamini
A week after the opening of the Yith Laba exhibition I was asked to observe and trace the traffic of guests who come to view the show at the Market Photo Workshop (MPW) in Newtown, Johannesburg. Yithi Laba has drawn attention to many and the media has been following through since its opening on the 28th of February 2019. It is no surprise, after all, Prof/Sir Zanele Muholi, Bernie Searle, Ruth Motau, Neo Ntsoma and Lindeka Qampi know how to express themselves through photographs and this time they seem to have outdone themselves, the response from the public has been very impressive.
I first arrived at MPW on Monday 11 March 2019 at 09:00 to make sure the set up for a register is positioned and that I give myself enough time to settle in before guests start coming in. To my dismay, I was not expected to arrive on that day by the MPW staff, the gallery was closed, and the receptionist did not know anything about the agreement between Inkanyiso and MPW me coming to work in the gallery till the end of the show 14 April 2019. I asked to meet with Khona Dlamini, the liaising person between Inkanyiso.Org and MPW who was aware I would be coming but not on that day, she was busy and could not attend to me immediately. I had to wait approximately 30-40 minutes to be introduced to the person who is responsible for the gallery. Despite, this little mishap the staff was friendly and ready to ensure my comfort was paramount and that all the information I needed was supplied.
The day went on well without any problems except for few students with an attitude who would either walk in and out without greeting and some refusing to sign the register saying they have never been expected to do so because they study here (MPW). On the contrary, some of the students are friendly and cooperative, the same applied to some of the guests who would choose to rather walk out without seeing the show because they are refusing to fill in the register. The days were different throughout the week, on Monday we had 11 guests who agreed to sign the register, I did not keep track of those who refused to sign or who were rude to avoid unnecessary anxiety for myself.
There was one guest who caught my attention, a teacher from Alexandra High School who was in the vicinity and decided to walk in. The teacher was very friendly and loved the show and uttered that he wished that his learners could have an opportunity to see the exhibition but, due to financial strains for the school it was not possible for them to come. I was touched by our conversation as it reminded me of how the issue of access disadvantages black children growing up in township schools. It reminded me of my own experiences as a young writer in high school, designing and handwriting my school newsletter I was told it is just a hobby, I should put more focus on subjects with career prospects that would put food in the table immediately, not by chance. My passion was not aided in a way that would put me in the same level as my peers who went to Model C schools and had access to spaces that motivated their talents.
As the week progressed, there was a fluctuation in the numbers of guests who visit the gallery; on Tuesday there were 24 visitors and just before I knock off, a group of 17 tourists from Canada came in and I gave them the tour and explained about each of the works on the wall. On Wednesday we had 31 guests and 12 of these were a group of students from E.D Mashabane High School, from Sebokeng, Vaal area who were in Newtown to visit the Market Theatre and they wandered around till they saw MPW gallery they were fascinated and excited that they could view the images free of charge. I took this group around the gallery while answering their questions, I had a conversation with a few of them who were interested in the arts but with not much knowledge of how to break into the industry, shared a few links to art opportunities for young people.
On Thursday I requested to go and welcome my niece to the world as my sister had just given birth to a beautiful healthy baby Lesedi. I asked Khona Dlamini to assist with opening and laying out the register for guests to sign but only 1 guest signed, I am not sure how many people came in on this day. By Friday, I was happy the end of week one had finally come, though I was not in the gallery in the morning 2 guests had signed in before Muholi and the Inkanyiso crew brought in learners and educators from Umbelebele High School in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) who came to Gauteng on Educational Tour.
Muholi is an alumni and they decided to give back to the school by covering the costs of return flights, accommodation, food and entertainment to 15 Tourism learners and 3 educators. The group were taken to a weekend tour around Gauteng and exposed them to spaces they had no access to in their school or hometown.
I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop on intersectionality, bullying, gender and sexuality for the learners and the teachers. This excursion made it a perfect ending to a somewhat interesting and challenging week.