by Lindiwe Dhlamini
It is a few weeks since the opening of Ikhono Lase Natali (ILN)at A4 Arts Foundation in Cape Town on the 31st August 2019. Taking place for the first time in the Western Cape; ILN is a commissioned project by Professor/Sir Zanele Muholi to have Somnyama Ngonyama interpreted in different styles of art.
This project is a collaboration with twenty-five (25) artists from KwaZulu-Natal where Muholi was born and bred. The 25 artist selection is done to commemorate 25 years of democracy in South Africa. And to inspire established artists to share wealth by working with community artists who may not have the same privilege to occupy spaces that show off their artistic talents. ILN is curated by Bajabulile Dhlamini and Thobeka Bhengu who work closely with the artists and conduct schools’ educational programs on art and photography to encourage young artists in high schools.
A4 Arts is an organization that is founded by Wendy Fischer and directed by Josh Ginsberg who shared their vision with the crowd at the opening. “A4 is here for the type of art that creates dialogue about social issues…”, said Josh while giving a speech at the opening. The statement by Ginsberg confirmed the works on display, already, Muholi’s work challenges social issues and norms about queerness, race, class, and gender. The interpretation which was done by the artists depicted exactly that even though most of the artists identified as heterosexual and male.
At the opening Reverend Tebogo Moema was the Master of Ceremony (MC) who opened with a prayer to bless the proceedings. Christie Van Zyl collaborated with Thoko and gave a stunning performance of “Dudlu Ntomb’ emnyama” a poem interpretation of Somnyama Ngonyama. The last performance was done by Sisipho Ndzuzo who serenaded us with a song she had written as her interpretation of Somnyama Ngonyama. All the commissioned artists were given the freedom to express their talents and use their own creativity in articulation of Muholi’s images.
Each of these artists did their best to show off their talent, on display, there was a variety of different art expressions ranging from beads, drawings, oil, paint or sculpture. ILN seeks to open space for freedom of expression and to change the artistic narrative where Black artists create works that are rarely exhibited due to either; language barrier or lack of access to information or spaces. Muholi’s vision with ILN is to create space for these artists to get exposure to galleries and to network so they can flourish.
Although, ILN was born from a depressive period for Muholi; also, Wits University had invited Muholi to do a Phd. Muholi’s interest was documenting 100 men in KZN who have never been convicted of any crimes. Instead of accepting the offer to study, Muholi thought it would be best to share space, wealth and love with fellow artists from their hometown. At the opening Muholi also expressed the gratitude to Inkanyiso crew for the hard work and support for the vision to work together as Black artists.
Furthermore, Muholi expressed their hope and wish to commission 25 female artists only to do the next round of ILN. This project cost more than 2 million Rands, all of which comes directly from Muholi’s pocket. What inspired me the most was the announcement that none of the works were on sale as they formed part of Muholi’s private collection. As a young person working with Muholi this taught me the value of preserving our own history and the importance of telling our own stories as Black artists. Equally, the fact that this kind of collaboration has never been done before. Muholi is truly one of the artist that are here to change how Black artists are valued, seen and celebrated in the art world.
During the speech that Muholi gave at the opening, they expressed their ongoing support for Black young artists of different genres from photography, poetry, writing, music and any other forms of expressions. They further encouraged all the artists present to read Sarah Thornton’s book; Seven Days in the Art World stating how the book helped them in their journey as an artist. Apart from being one of the best artists of our time; Muholi is a philanthropist, an educator, a parent and above all a visionary with a heart of gold.
Muholi sponsors young aspiring photographers paying for their fees at Market Photo Workshop where Muholi also studied. Additionally, they have opened their Johannesburg (JHB) home as an art residency for the students who are from outside JHB. Personally, I think the most powerful part of Muholi’s work is the creation of a children’s book; an interpretation of Somnyama Ngonyama done by Thembi Mthembu one of the artists from KZN. I believe the children’s book will encourage younger artists to be able to learn, explore and express their race, class, gender and queer identities while young. I am certain that this will motivate children to know that they are worthy and that they are beautiful despite how they identify or where they come from.
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