Reflections: Art & The local economy

By Ziphozakhe Hlobo

 

Vibrancy, dynamic, fresh, black conscious, beautiful, chilled, quirky and arty are the words that best describe the vibe you get when you are at the Soweto Arts and Crafts Fair.

 

There’s music. There’s poetry. There’s clothes. There’s children. There’s photographers stealing random shot, I can personally attest to that. There’s clothes, earings, drinks . . . Hhmm, what else? A lot of fun!

 

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On 16 December, during my first attendance to it, the event was all of this and more. Artists and art lovers were in their seemingly usual meeting spot ready to support local designers and listen to some local musicians and poets. The anticipated performers were Moonchild, Urban Village and many more, who all rocked the stage with fire and beauty.

 

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The most admirable thing about the event is that it promotes a local economy and bridges the gap between potential buyers and mostly designers. This is particularly necessary in the arts as art is always seen as a place for broke people or where no money exists. We certainly cannot wait to see more innovative ways in the communities, which change this idea and makes art something artists can make a living from.

 

There was also food being sold, making the event a real all-rounder, and successfully so. Nothing overpowered another.

 

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Who could forget the performers who graced the stage with wisdom through all kinds of spoken word performances and music?

 

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Keeping to its kasi-vibey tone, the DJ did wonders with his/her old Kwaito hits, something that takes any South African down memory lane.

 

It’s truly a place to even take your children to for a family day out.

 

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Reflections: Art & the Universal “Reason”

What is the universe?

God? What or who is God? Me? You? Us? Plants? Trees? Mountains? Oceans? Animals? Human beings? The sun? The moon? The valleys? Waterfalls? The atmosphere? All of this? More?

 

 

Lately, I have been concerned with my universal reason, not as a woman or black, a writer or an artist, but merely as a human being.

 

 

Of course, the fact that I am a woman and a writer does play a major role in my beingness, but, what I have been questioning is this; if I could not write anymore, what would be my role in the well-being of the universe? If I did not have a womb, vagina and breasts, what would I be? What would be my function in the universal reason?

 

 

Recently, when I was in Cape Town, I watched ISalad at Theatre Arts Admin Collective, which was directed by Mandisi Sindo and was part of the Artsability Festival in November. Isalad was an inter-genre theatre piece which included music, dance, poetry and puppetry. Artistically chaotic as it was, the piece was also humorous and intriguing for the spectator (or maybe just me) because the conflicts and collides for individual existence were heightened by simultaneous expressions of dance, music, puppetry and spoken word. So, at times, you would be listening to the poetry and at the same time be trying to concentrate on the dancing and puppetry.

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Snapshots from ISalad rehearsals

 

It seemed like a deliberate texture of the piece by the director because also, the inter-genre conversation at one go went hand in hand with the fact that a fruit salad is a mixture of different fruits whose tastes compete excessively with each other.

 

 

The competitiveness hung there as a representation of the noise that exists in the world, which I would argue is mainly a struggle for power; the politicians, the activists, the capitalists and so on. I would then go as far as arguing that where this serves a few people or neglects a universal reason, this is mainly motivated by an egoistic “me” reality rather than a “we” reality. Sindo’s motivation is to then arrive at the latter in this piece.

 

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Snapshots from ISalad rehearsals

 

So, this brings me to the conclusion that “salad” was used as a metaphor for the world that we live in, which carries people of different ethnicities, religions, individual and geographic backgrounds, differences which can sometimes be a detriment to a common goal or what I have called the universal reason here.

 

 

In this respect, Sindo used two things to stress this point; the first one was the actual fruits that the characters represented, which make up the salad dish. The second one was the different art forms and groups that the characters portrayed, which made up the theatre piece itself, and which somewhat makes the work reflective of itself in a way. It is reflective of itself because it is true that artists often fail to realise that they exist in a broader art field. Yes, on is an actor, but how do the dynamics of music affect you?

 

 

What does this mean really? Does it not perhaps mean that the equilibrium is when the individual cause meets the universal cause? So, in other words, at a point where it is only about the individual cause (the ego that is), the universal reason is disrupted, as we see with Sindo’s piece that the mother figure becomes distraught when the different fruits are fighting. It is interesting that he uses a woman to be the most affected by the noise of the characters because a woman is fertile, as the earth is. Deliberate or not, the piece carries a heavy weight of an ecological commentary, but also something that requires no studies or analysis, ubuntu. What the play basically says is ‘I am because you are’ or ‘you are because I am’ or ‘we need each other.’ It takes a step further from ubuntu though by finding the link to trees, animals (represented by puppets), plants and humans.

 

 

But, what tools do we need to determine this universal reason for ourselves? Or, how do reconcile individually so we can reconcile with everyone else?

 

 

This question takes me to the 12th of December when I attended a workshop (or rather Imbizo), which was organised by the Hector Pieterson Museum and Mollo Wa Ditsomo Art group. The event was held at Uncle Tom’s hall (Orlando West, Soweto) on 12 December as a Reconciliation Day reflection. Questions that arose were; have we really reconciled as South Africans? What tools do we need in order to reconcile?

 

 

Facilitating the workshop was Mr Michael Muendane, whose first confession was that he would not speak about reconciliation as something that needs to happen between racial groups when Africans had not reconciled as a people, let alone as individuals. We first had to understand ourselves as intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual beings before we moved any further.

 

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Mr Michael Muendane

 

Now, to attempt to answer the question I have posed, Muendane argues that we spend too much time in the physical world. Most of our efforts are spent in feeding this; clothes, cars, houses, etc. These are the things we spend a great deal of our lives trying to attain, yes? Without denying that the human being in a society does in fact need comfortability, he asked, “but what precedes the physical?” After much deliberation, it was agreed that the mind precedes the body, the brain being the organ of the mind. After all, it was argued, the body has no function without the mind, though the two work hand in hand together. This reminds me of a course I did during my Honors, which opposed most religions that the body leads to temptation and is associated with dirt, but that the body is motivated by the mind or what others may call the soul. They work together.

 

 

“But, what precedes the mind?” he asked.

 

 

Again, after much deliberation, it was agreed that the spirit precedes the mind. The spirit is the part of us that encompasses everything, the part that has no colour (or all colours), no gender (or all genders), no ethnicity (or all ethnicities) and so on. The spirit lives beyond anything that is physical and because this precedes the body and the mind, much more effort should be placed in feeding this. My theory then is that we can only see our universal reason and attend to it when we can look at the world through spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical eyes, not just one of these. What energy do I need to be in order to affect positive change in society? That’s the word, “energy.”

 

 

This is why the exclusion of human beings from nature bears ego from them and they forget the ecological purpose, that oxygen comes from the trees, for instance. But also, for spirituality to be truly effective, it always needs to take into account the pressing issues that the human being is faced with, the mental & spiritual poverty, racism, oppression, etc. If it is not inclusive of these daily realities, then tapping into spirituality will always seem like an escapism ladi-da thing for hippies, whereas on the contrary, it is the very thing needed to hold us together so we can make up the beautiful fruit salad we are.

 

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As long as what we do is only motivated by our physical immediate needs, then we are very little use to the entire universe.

 

 

REFLECTIONS: ART & WHITE SUPREMACY

By Ziphozakhe Hlobo

Mina ngiyscathulo, bonke abantu bazinyathela ngami

“My name is Palesa Sibiya; my shoes are polished, my English is polished, a little more so than yours. I can fluently spell and articulate myself in your mother tongue. My skin is polished – It’s even brighter and lighter than yours.”

 

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On 08 December, I was fortunate enough to watch Palesa Sibiya’s performance installation at the Community House in Woodstock, Cape Town under Greatmore Studios.
Her artist statement read;

“Broken Soles & Broken Soul is an expansion of my medium of art, because in this piece, I use video, dramatic arts and poetry to communicate my extent of irritation with the socially acceptable standards we are taught as children very subtly. These standard hugely infringe on our freedom of imagination and the more we grow, the more we become suffocated in these, until we cannot take it anymore; this is when we enter a state of undiagnosed insanity (in the form of debts, depression, alcoholism, etc).”
I’ll be the first to admit my reluctance, at times, for things that are dubbed as “too weird,” but I was genuinely interested this time because she had told me about the concept before.

 
“You know how, when we are young, our shoe soles are broken, but we continue walking because what else are we going to do? When we are younger, what’s broken is visible, and even though our parents have burdens, we are still happy. We are kids. But, as we grow older, we become too burdened as we attain money. Yes, we fix the soles of our shoes or buy new expensive shoes, but how do we repair or replace our broken souls?” she questioningly explained to me a few months back.

 

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Being a brief video and performance fusion, Broken Soles & Broken Souls took no more than 15 minutes in total, beginning with a video representing of Palesa’s childhood. At the same time, she was already on stage polishing her shoes to give them a striking shine as if going to work or school even.

 
She sang;
Mina ngiyscathulo, bonke abantu bazinyathela ngami
The audiences sat there wondering what was going on, where she was going and in fact, what the point of it all was. Then, she took an all-brown Kiwi Polish and wore it on her face, which made her look, well, light brown. Way lighter than she actually is.

 
A mockery of the skin-bleaching culture, perhaps? A mockery of the “accepted” standards of beauty in the contemporary era? Well, is it just the contemporary era? Where do these things stem from?

 
Mina ngiyscathulo, bonke abantu bazinyathela ngami
“[The continuing problem is that] we are shaped to attain white certified sophistication, we are taught certain mannerisms and social standards that are accredited by whiteness,” continued the artist statement.
I would add that Palesa is saying that black people are basically “white-washed.”

 
As the audiences, we got to experience the clear picture of this as she walked out of the stage to outside carrying a beer case, which was used as a brief case.
A comment on the alcoholism we hide beneath our perfect suits and offices?

 
As she walked, one could see that her feet could not take it anymore, she was struggling to carry on with her path. The path of white sophistication, lies, “borrowed dreams,” and so on. Come to think of it, most of Palesa’s work encompasses these ideas, such as her poem, Inkaba, where she hysterically shouts, “ngiliphupha, ngilahlekile, letha inkaba yami!”

 

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“In my own context, although Africanism was promoted at home, Christianity still played an overarching role in the rest of the community, and with that came a lot of criticisms towards the Zulu culture, such as the rejection of ancestors, amasiko, etc. On top of that, media also imposed its influence; this is something I strongly deal with in one of my poems, The Absence Of Love, where I interrogate the education system we, as black children, are subjected to,” she claims in her artist statement.

 
One part of the poem states;
“The education system, our evening binge on soap operas . . . another prick to our skin, emphasizing the absence of us even in us.”

Mina ngiyscathulo, bonke abantu bazinyathela ngami

 
I definitely believe the piece to be poignantly necessary, especially when Palesa finally confronts white supremacy in a manner that seems insane. It goes to show that the decay of the black townships is because of this insane/nervous condition, which we very often hardly recognize.

 
Palesa asks important questions here; what does one do in this regard? Do they continue chasing the cut-throat success life or do they follow their dreams? What are the implications for each choice?