Stephen Garan’anga Visual Art
A befitting artistic night of performance, art and music to mark the third year of Njelele Art Station serving visual arts in Zimbabwe was as unique as one could imagine locally. Visual art performance pieces by our artists at exhibitions are a rarity like something alien whilst performances of all sorts have been with us since time existence.But it was the main course of the night served by our South African colleagues in collaboration with one of our own who provided an astounding artistic costume.
The event on a nippy evening at 131 Kaguvi Street, Harare, was also warmed up by mapping projections by Kombo Chapfika, appearances by Sinyoro (Nhare DzeChirorodziva), Philo and a host of other artists.
It is puzzling why local visual art practitioners do not find a niche in using their performance traits as the vehicle through which they explore the aspirations, the dreams and the threats inherent within and beyond the geographic, political, racial and cultural boundaries of their identity, their country and their continent.
From childhood everybody play games, create imaginary stories and make funny performances and crazy dances of them, or make performances out of fairy tales, books they have read, real stories they have been told and various events, and everybody found amusement in that.
In today’s world where money dictates pace many are claiming huge sums and decent careers in the creative sector. Performances of kind at various platforms claim the biggest population of the creative personnel. So is it local visual artists cannot express themselves better through performing or there are other reasons why they prefer to be painting, sculpting or printmaking?
South African Sikhumbuzo Makandula’s performance piece ‘In Search of a Nation’ was amazing with creative imagination and incredible physique in a massive rigid crimson long-sleeved costume like a new bride’s wedding dress with a half meter elongated neck concealing the artist’s head.
The two-metre plus outfit of plastic washing liquid’s squeeze tops was classically stitched together by our reputable Moffat Takadiwa in a pattern format like the classical primary school fizzy drinks’ bottle top basket but with a degree of flexibility. Moffat has a habit of elevating detritus into sculptural form and the squeeze caps were no exceptions.
Sikhumbuzo out of the dark streets of Harare reached Njelele Art space and wondered about outside catching a breathe and recuperating for strength before attempting to find his way into the light through the gallery’s open door. Several high energy attempts in failed and luckily there is even a narrower passage but with enough height to the performance open space and that saved the day for the concept.
On the floor of constricted spaces mothered by a buzzing crowd, Makandula went on his paces deliberately slow bending at times giving dominance to the artificial long hairlike manes of a dominant stallion running down his back in a background of his jingle.
“My grandmother narrated to me how she was healed of a mysterious illness by sending hair strands in an envelope from De Aar to strangers in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia)” he said. ‘In Search of a Nation’ is an introspection of self and country, performed in public space, investigating questions around migration, foreignness, atrophy and healing. The exhibition traces and negotiates cultural exchange and spirituality between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Through oral history, Sikhumbuzo Makandula explores postcolonial African identities in space, mediated by performance that is embedded in ritualism and indigenous cultural signifiers.
Together Moffat and Skhumbuzo were exploring the continuity of relations through objects that pass across borders highlighting the interconnection of modernity and colonialism. These found objects/excretes form the metastasis of postcolonial urbanity.
‘In Search of a Nation’ formed a complex dialogue articulated through performance art, print, video, sound and installation.
Not to be outdone for the night was gorgeous Buhlebezwe Siwani in a stylish floral net like designs in navy blue dress with a visible white undergarment. The sleeveless dress with strips tied at the back exposed tattoos on her half necked back with sky blue tinted hair longish in the middle like a punk.
She sat comfortably upright in an executive brown office chair behind an old single person desk with an ancient luminous orange typewriter planted next to its black cover top ready for duty. On a clean off-white wall ahead of her, lower than her desk level were projected motion pictures of her supposed mother in communication with her.
Buhlebezwe turned on to us and in a soft voice said “I’m writing a letter to my mum, she is dead…..” we couldn’t hear much of the ensuing conversation as there was loud sound of communicating voices on the PA system just outside the room.
It was her mother also screened on a wall in correspondence to what her daughter was doing inside. Buhlebezwe continued with her typing of pages in voices touching on various subjects including her love life.
Siwani was performing ‘Indlovukazi’ which explores the ambiguity of survival in the city, the paradox of the body’s decay, explicitly its resistance and its propensity to degenerate.
Buhlebezwe interrogates the decay of the body and place through her lineage, the memory of Johannesburg and her family’s relationship to it. Focusing on the trace – what has been left behind, by whom and how it eventually disappears, Siwani presents the matriarchs in her family as subjects creating a space where they investigate their own traces.
She presents these women as liminal beings – dead and alive, accessible and inaccessible with the intention of making sense of her own subjectivity. ‘Indlovukazi’ is a personal and political homage that incorporates performance, print and installation.
There was also a multi series of prints themed ‘Izilo’ hung on the Gallery walls of the largest exhibiting space by versatile Sikhumbuzo Makandula and a complex swinging construction hanging from the ceiling by a fish line in another smaller gallery room.
Congratulations to Njelele Art Station for their early endurance in the local visual arts with quality project.