by Lindiwe Dhlamini
A blissful evening filled with pride, joy, warm energies and what I could call; an educational spiritual awakening. The opening of Makaziwe exhibition on the 30th of March 2019 saw the community of Tembisa and outside guests gracing the #Yes4Youth Community Art Centre. It was a night to witness the beauty and talent displayed on the walls. The Centre was established to support local artists and it did not take much for the organizers of the event Dineo Mnyaba, Shirley Mtombeni and Collen Makgongwa to bring an experience that supersedes the perceptions of galleries, their location and assumed audience.
This group exhibition was born from a true-life story inspired by a young woman named Makaziwe who has survived most of the harsh realities of life. Makaziwe (let her be known) has her story turned into a theatre performance piece written by Shirley and produced by Dineo. They were inspired to find other creative ways to keep the spirit of Makaziwe alive that is how an exhibition idea was embraced.
Although the event started over an hour late, one could not deny the talent and powerful messages that the images on the wall were telling. Speaking to the artists gave a much deeper understanding of their work. There was a total of eight artists that were showing, seven women and one man. I was very impressed with the level of talent and felt honored to be allowed the time to interview the showing artists.
Phumzile Nkosi, photographer, a queer, traditional healer and Faces and Phases participant exhibited her own body of work. With a theme titled; ‘Nkosazana ka Baba’ which means my father’s daughter, she displayed images of what I see as gender disruption. It was self-portraits of her wearing what is socially identified as “women’s two piece or “twee stukke” as it was called in the 90’s, a fawn checked skirt and blazer. She wore this with silky black stockings, the images were a cohesion of getting dressed where in some of the images, she is only wearing a vest, underwear and in a process of pulling up her stockings. Her message was “I wear as I wish, it does not define my sexuality”. I found this very powerful as it disrupted the norms of gender and offers us the opportunity to question the social constructions of clothing and gender identity or expression.
Cleo Matiwane a young talented film maker turned photographer who was motivated by the theme to submit her powerful work titled; ‘Consent’. A topic so relevant and highly important in the current world we live in where rape culture and violence has become our everyday norm. Cleo’s work displayed participants with their mouths covered with red tape written CONSENT in black. Cleo’s message was clear, women are human not sexual objects they deserve respect and consent is paramount in these interactions.
Mosa Sekele a film student who was showing works of a trapped woman fighting to be free and seen. Her body of work highlighted the struggles of a young woman who deals with her past and seeking to break free from those bounds. Mosa’s participant; Luthando Simoyi is seen in sequence showing different types of entrapments from daily struggle, in the end she is seen smiling and happy to have broken free from those bounds. Mosa shares the passion of telling woman stories in order to be seen and known. Although it was her first exhibition, her story line and chosen images indicates a passion that will flourish beyond measure if the fire is kept burning. I loved her passion when the presentations opened, you can feel she believes in letting her be known.
Bud’abuphangwa Mtombini the only male showing artist in Makaziwe says he is concerned about the levels of violence against women in South Africa. Bude had beautifully drawn images which carried emotionally heavy yet powerful messages about women. He states that; this body of work was inspired by daily living experiences of the women around him in his community. In his series, he covered issues of rape culture, education, silencing, body shaming, heartbreak, poverty and sexuality. He argues that his drawings were designed to show men the power of a woman which is not acknowledged much in his community. He says that; “women are stronger than what we men think and growing up around women has taught me to raise my voice through action, hence I am participating in this exhibition, I want these women to be known and seen; Makaziwe”.
Lebogang Molote showed work that filled with bright, beautiful colors. Her images had a sense of familiarity with who we are as Black people and how we choose to express our cultural differences through attire. Lebogang’s work was a reminder of who we are and where we come from, its presented in a modernized expression shown by the women in her images. The pride on their faces wearing traditional attire in relation to tribal judgements that women may face because of their body sizes, skin color or their age. Instead, Lebogang, chose to celebrate these women regardless of the negativity that the world imposes on women and what they choose to wear. “I am choosing to let these women be known that they exist and that they are beautiful in their own skin”.
Matheko Malebane in her series used images of a young woman half nude covered in animal skin mat. Matheko described her work as a journey one takes with creation of anything like, beautiful art. Indeed, her images reflected the beauty of loving our own skin, bodies, hair and our flaws. In this body of work, Matheko is highlighting the transitions to womanhood and the policing of women’s sexuality expression by society. Her model, Nosisa also gives you the facial gestures that suggests the different phases of being and existing in a world that polices women’s bodies and how they are displayed in an artistic form. Matheko’s message was short and clear; “Black woman, own your sexuality”.
Sinethemba “Okima” Mthembu her work was of dual art where she had drawn images and photographed images all of which were conveying the same message. Okima identified her artistic talent to be for and about women empowerment. She started drawing as young as 12 years old as a way to speak out as a timid child growing up. Her images were filled with nuanced voices of demanding to be heard, seen and acknowledged. Okima themed her work; ‘Define the soul not the body’. Her reasons were direct and her message; “I wanted to unmask the faces we wear daily to hide the scars of society”. Charmain Carrol was the final showing artist. Her work was displayed on a Plasma screen as a slideshow and not only did that make you want to view it, the message was just as important as the display. She first spoke about how she was happy to be showing her work in a township where exhibitions are not a norm. Carrol works with young people teaching creative arts in the Eastern Cape, where she grooms young artists in a rural area known as eNgqwara. Her selection for Makaziwe was much broader whereby she is highlighting issues of religion, spirituality, same sex love, fashion and death. Her view is that; “let her be known that we are here, Queering love and religion – fashion and art, let her be known she exists”.
The show was a success, the messages from the images and the artists were as valuable as the time they took to create such intelligible and thought-provoking work. Dineo, Shirley and Collen really got something going with this concept. I love what they are doing as it was fun and educational. The space was perfect for that kind of content to be displayed in a township, where most of the hate crimes against Queer people happen, where violence against women and children is normalized. Where issues of body shaming, violence and consent never get discussed. They have decided to open Tembisa Arts Centre, which will continue highlighting the important issues highlighted in Makaziwe.