On Artists

Self as Ghost: Haunted whiteness in Lizza Littlewort’s painting

by Lize van Robbroeck

“In great pain and terror one begins to access the history which has placed one where one is, and formed one’s point of view. In great pain and terror because, thereafter, one enters into battle with that historical creation, Oneself, and attempts to re-create oneself according a principle more humane and more liberating: one begins to attempt to achieve a level of personal maturity and freedom which robs history of its tyrannical power, and also changes history” – James Baldwin [1]

As a composite of ‘haunting’ and ‘ontology’, Derrida’s ‘hauntology’ provides a way of dealing with the spectral presence of a past that is very much with us. [2] Since hauntology is an attempt to make sense of a haunted present, it is a practice that responds particularly to times that are ‘out of joint’. [3] Lizza Littlewort’s forays into South African colonial history can be interpreted as such a hauntological investigation into the ways in which Western capitalist exploitation caused global diasporic spatial and temporal disjunctions not only for the colonised, but also for a settler subject that is haunted by her own ontological displacement. In her more recent works, this interest in the haunted aftermath of global capitalism expands to encompass the apocalyptic environmental effects and affects of the Capitalocene. [4]

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Engaged Art: a conversation with Ayesha Price

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by Greer Valley

I first met Ayesha Price in 2007 when I volunteered for an art project in Cape Town called PEACEJAM where she was a facilitator. I remember how in awe I was of the way she skillfully switched between media and commanded the attention of a room full of young artists who would travel from across the city to attend the weekly art workshops held at the District Six Museum. The joy of making, a pedagogical impulse and a commitment to social justice are central to Price’s practice. The choice of meeting place for this interview – the District Six Museum’s café speaks to her rootedness in the District Six community, the part of Cape Town she calls home, and her ongoing commitment to marking its significance in the city’s history – a history that is often at risk of erasure or misrepresentation through the city’s political and market-driven projects.

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Dress Code: the politics of dress, oppression and self-determination in the works of Zemba Luzamba

By Kirsty Cockerill

Zemba Luzamba sits on a black swivel desk chair in his Cape Town home studio, surrounded by methodically organised paintings in progress, his white t-shirt freshly ironed is neatly tucked into misty blue jeans. The T-shirt is branded with the black logo of Picha, the art biennale held in his home town of Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of Congo). Fire engine red socks assert themselves before disappearing into his brilliantly polished shoes. I relax into a chestnut coloured leather couch warm from the sun, my feet comfortable on a Prussian blue and burgundy Persian carpet. Drinking tea out of crockery decorated with the cobalt blue willow pattern, we begin our conversation on the morning Africa hears that Robert Mugabe has died.

Through our conversation I seek to investigate three distinct yet interwoven aspects of Luzamba’s practise. The first is the inclusion of historically significant articles of clothing and the body posture of his subjects. The second relates to his use of paint, the colour, texture and compositional structure. The third is to understand the reasons that have lead Luzamba to produce his work in this way.

The conversation begins in his studio and continues for the next three weeks, first as a trickle of restrained emails, and later as a bouquet of voice notes. Luzamba is straightforward, charismatic, an easy and generous conversationalist when you get him on a subject he has feeling for. His manner of speaking, the pronunciation and affectation pumps gravitas into words and concepts he has passion for. The repetitive patterns of his speech builds the timing, a story teller of much grandeur, the voice notes are an auditory delight, English spoken with the reverberation of a French- African accent.

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Art harmonious: an interview with Lizette Chirrime

by Keely Shinners

Lizette Chirrime is on a mission to heal us all. Her work, characterised by rich, hand-stitched recycled textiles weave together complex stories about trauma and reconciliation, ancestry and rebirth. Her simultaneously corporeal and abstract figures treat the body⁠ – as Chirrime specifies, the femme body⁠ – not as a site of exploitation, but mutability. But it’s not just about the artworks. There’s something restorative about Chirrime’s way of being-in-the-world. Perhaps it’s the space she creates for herself, so well-curated with objects holy and homemade. Perhaps it’s how she listens to the world around her, sensitive to the violence we continue to enact on the earth and each other, while refusing to tunnel into pessimism. Perhaps it’s the way she respects herself, speaking both candidly about her vulnerabilities and confidently about her life’s work.

Chirrime was kind enough to invite me into her home in Salt River to speak, over strawberries, about personal, political and spiritual healing.

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Gabrielle Goliath: performance as a ‘different kind of inhabitance’

by M. Neelika Jayawardane

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Gabrielle Goliath’s range of works – from her earliest exhibited work, Ek is ‘n Kimberly Coloured (2007), and following that, Berenice 10-28 (2010), Stumbling Block (2011), Roulette (2012), Personal Accounts (2014), Elegy (2015), and her latest work, This Song Is For… (2019) – employ embodied or voice-centred performances, and/or installations that utilise sound and video. Her work situates itself, as she notes, “within contexts marked by the traces, disparities and as-of-yet unreconciled traumas of colonialism and apartheid, as well as socially entrenched structures of patriarchal power and rape-culture.” [1] The imperative to expose – to make visible that which we would otherwise wish to maintain unacknowledged, out-of-sight, or masked by veils of performative concern – is a thread that runs through each of Goliath’s projects. In drawing urgent attention to gender-based and sexual violence, and the broad, long-lasting effects of land dispossession and forced migrations, her work speaks powerfully to present day effects of seemingly distant legislative decisions, and the violent patriarchy behind much of South Africa’s present.

However, although Goliath’s projects unapologetically unmask the brutality with which we treat women, non-binary, and transgender people, they are more than a commentary that seeks to highlight systematic and systemic violence that subtend our ordinary interactions and ways of being. And whilst her works create spaces for reflection and mourning, they are more than ritualised lamentations that highlight victimhood. The endpoint for Goliath’s works is not ‘bringing attention’ to the violence that we, as individuals, communities, and nations are often not ready to address. After all, it takes more than ‘awareness building’ and ‘talking about it’ to challenge patriarchal and state violence. Instead, performance allows Goliath to create more complex possibilities, offering her means of “resisting erasure and violation of bodies routinely subjected to forms of physical, ontological and structural violence.” [2] For audiences, her projects create spaces for “opportunities for affective, relational encounters” that refute “the violence through which black, brown, feminine, queer and vulnerable bodies are routinely fixed through forms of representation.” [3]

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Liberated Mind: a conversation with Avhashoni Mainganye

by Nolan Stevens

At its conception former President Thabo Mbeki’s “I Am An African” speech sounded more utopian than a reflection of the times. As those words age, their echoes etch deeper into collective consciousness of all those with ties to the continent. The truths in those words find us today living in a global age of African ascension; evident in the time where every facet of life and culture appears to be touched by the influence of the African continent. Almost as if the once dubbed dark continent demanded to have its light seen in as many forms as possible – from blockbuster Hollywood Afro-futurist films like Black Panther to cross cultural fashion collaborations, such as that of the Wafrica Collection which heavily features African designs on the Japanese traditional kimono garment. The continent’s latest culturally influential global status can be found in music and dance seen in west African Afrobeats rhythms and southern African Ngqom and Kwaito sounds amongst diaspora communities globally. There is also a rise in Afro-orientated narratives being thrust to the fore in the theatrical sphere, both on the continent as well as abroad. South African theatre is concentrating more now than in previous years on local and Afrocentric content; with inclusions such as The Market Theatre’s annual Black History Month programme which focuses on struggle content – which is as relevant to the African-American slave experience as it is to the South African struggle. The visual arts arena is also one not to be ignored by this African chic trend. This is evident in the ever-increasing appeal of the African aesthetic both seen in contemporary African art fairs such as the 1-54 (which has bases in both London and Marrakech), the Investec Cape Town International Art Fair as well as the FNB Jo’burg Art Fair’s recent inclusion of the fringe, L’Attitudes Art Fair. They all have a vested interest in furthering artistic voices of and from the continent. So much so is the impact of the continent’s appeal of late, that one may be compelled to believing that Africa’s time has truly come. However, for the Limpopo based multidisciplinary visual artist, educator, poet and cultural activist, Avhashoni Mainganye, Africa and its diverse cultural heritage has seemingly never not been in vogue. I stole a few minutes of this artist’s time to discover what lies beneath this his process, and practice.

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White/Left: the discursive cartoons of Stacey Stent

by Keely Shinners

Aristocrats’ potbellies swell out of their suits. Politicians’ heads balloon as one defamatory statement after another pours out of their overgrown mouths. This is the language of the political cartoon. It’s satirical and hyperbolic, cutthroat and to the point. It’s the language through which cartoonists are able to talk about power. The cartoonist draws attention to all that is criminal, atrocious and corrupt about those in power, while, at the same time, upends their authority, making them out for fools. South African political cartoons, for the most part, follow these same tropes, both visually and thematically. See, for instance, the work of Zapiro, Derek Bauer, Anton Kannemeyer, Conrad Botes, and Mogorosi Motshumi, to name a few. [1]

Stacey Stent, however, emerged in the 1980s as a cartoonist of a different kind. Her series Who’s Left? saw a run in the Weekly Mail, an anti-apartheid newspaper which later became the Mail & Guardian, from 1987 to 1990. The characters in Who’s Left? were not politicians nor military leaders, not business moguls nor European royalty, but white political leftists. Her aesthetic tended not to hyperbolise but to represent realistic conversations, everyday moments.

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Jill Joubert’s Joyful Agency

“A folktale must be recreated each time. At the core of the narrative is the storyteller.”– Calvino, Italo, Italian Folktales [1]

by Sindi-Leigh McBride

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I started this essay looking for a golden thread to tie Jill Joubert’s biography to her artistic practice, convinced that there was a simple way to frame my curiosity about her work, to explain the delight derived from poring over photos of her puppet-sculptures. While contemplating critical ways to situate her work, I continued to take pleasure in little things like the precision of simple mechanisms springing apparently-dead wood into action and the fantastic footnotes throughout her thesis submission for her Master of Fine Art degree, an interpretation and transformation of the Italian fairy tale, Apple Girl.

According to Joubert, “a puppet is neither a doll nor a sculpture…[but] a spirit figure with an uncanny sense of life.” [2] Her idiosyncratic tableaux-on-wheels can be described as groups of sculptural spiritual figures with the potential of movement, arranged to represent a scene from a story or legend. [3] Conceived through the properties of carved wood and found-objects, collectively, the tableaux constellations also function as miniature puppet theatres that are either animated through performances by Joubert or viewed as static artworks, fixed arrangements to which the performance has given a framework for interpretation.

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The Land of Cedric Nunn

by Candice Jansen

 W.T.J. Mitchell’s, Landscape and Power (1994) helped change the understanding of the word “landscape” from a noun to a verb. The anthology “asks that we think of landscape, not as an object to be seen or a text to be read, but as a process by which social and subjective identities are formed.” [1] If landscape then is a practice or a process, not just an image, how can we imagine the landscapes of South African photographer, Cedric Nunn (1957-)? “I am not a landscape photographer per se,” [2] he deflects in the post-script to his first photographic monograph, Unsettled: The 100 Years War of Resistance by Xhosa against Boer and British (2015). His book of photographic landscapes evokes a forgotten resistance history and maps critical sites of memory that he writes, are “about imagining, my imagining.” [3]

Nunn photographs both a distant past and an “attitude towards land.” [4] He may not consider himself a ‘landscape photographer’, but his activism has always been touched by land as a history, an identity, and a feeling that colours the lives of rural Black people. He came to photography during the early 1980s as the cultural movement against apartheid gained momentum after the 1982 Culture and Resistance Festival in Gaborone, hosted by the Medu Arts Ensemble. There documentary photography emerged as a collective practice of resistance, called for by late photographer, Peter McKenzie (1955-2017) in his address, “Bringing the Struggle into Focus.” [5] Taking sides became the ethos of Afrapix, the iconic anti-apartheid photography collective, who through the decade served as a critical intermediary between the mainstream and alternative press, between the visual needs of political and grassroots organisations around South Africa and in exile.

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Garth Erasmus: the knots of time and place

“I was Simply Never Part of The Dance. I Was a Wall Flower.”

by Valeria Geselev [1]

I can’t recall the first time I met Garth Erasmus. It might have been in 2014 at one of his performances with As Is in Observatory, Cape Town. Or it could have been in 2015 at an exhibition opening or a workshop hosted by Greatmore in the neighbouring Woodstock. He was around being active, and I was around being curious.

Whatever it is I now cannot remember, the point is that we were already familiar by the time we were to spend ten days together as part of 2018 Thupelo workshop in Stellenbosch.

During that time I started calling him “prof”. Here, too, my memory fails me and I cannot recall the exact moment of “inventing” this nickname. Maybe because I was then working for Gallery of Stellenbosch University (GUS), and the academic title was a wink at that context. It stuck since.

I never asked him what he thinks of it, but I like it. For me he is a professor – a man of great knowledge and authority, a senior committed to education. Grammar probably requires a prof to be a Prof., but I see Garth Erasmus as a lower case prof – because all about him is down-to-earth, non-hierarchical.

And that captures his unique appeal for me, as a curator carving out her way, searching for people to learn from, people who do not act superior. I felt that Garth Erasmus was the ideal mentor figure, mastering the delicate balance of having an impressive track record, and being kind, generous and a good listener. A people’s prof.

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