My heart resides in South Africa.
I am fascinated by the lives of different generations South Africans: what are their hopes? how are they thinking about freedom? in the afterlife of apartheid, how have different people’s lives changed? what kinds of lives are they trying to live now that they are “free”?
Last month, I arrived in Cape Town the day after thousands of South African women took to the streets to protest the government’s failure to deal with rising violence against women in the wake of a string of brutal attacks that have shocked the country. They dressed in black and purple to commemorate those who lost their lives in August, the most deadly month for violent crimes against women the country has ever seen. Thousands more took to social media to express their anger and frustration at the killings under the hashtags #NotInMYName #AmINext and #SAShutDown. This distressing reality is rooted in the unreconciled traumas of colonialism and apartheid on top of entrenched misogyny and rape culture.
367 years later, and Black women are still telling stories of resistance to a violent reality.
In search of strength, resilience, sisterhood, I turn to the company of artists, Black women artists. The radical thinkers, actors, and practitioners, that I am so fortunate to be a part of.
“I'm inspired,” says Gabrielle Goliath, “by the recuperative, restorative and very socially and politically inclined work of those who seek to disrupt and, importantly, reconfigure this situation.”1
One Christmas Eve in the quiet South African mining city of Kimberley, she tragically lost a childhood friend to an act of domestic violence. The trauma of this event ultimately pushed her to create political and recuperative artwork. Using video, live performance, and photography, Goliath's work unsettles and encourages conversations about violence, and reveals the strength and resilience of human beings.
I worked with her on Elegy, a long-term commemorative performance project initiated by Goliath in 2015 for her solo show at the Goodman Gallery. This thoughtfully choreographed chorus of female vocalists call people to acknowledge and mourn for individuals whose lives and deaths are regularly disavowed on a social and political level. In staging a social encounter, Goliath collapses the space of “distant” suffering because each performance of this work insists on the visitor meeting a specific individual.
In Elegy the musical note sung by each vocalist is the only available form of redress for the monumental crime of taking a woman’s life.
Working primarily with ubiquitous, found, domestic and urban objects—empty beer bottles, torn bed sheets, razor wire—Lungiswa Gqunta’s installations recreate fragmented urban and social environments. Drawing on individual memories and collective experiences of the brutality and beauty of life in townships and suburbs, her work is a cutting critique of daily threats of violence and its aftermath. There is clearly so much pain, loss, and chaos but the work is how she sorts it out, how she withstands it. Propelling her art is a desire for a radically different order than the one people are living.
Buhlebezwe Siwani interrogates the historical entanglements and living with the simultaneity of that entanglement; between African spirituality and Christian belief systems, and specifically, the role women play in the practice, position and power of religion. Her performance and video installations reflect the necessity of healing intergenerational trauma within the contemporary moment. Qab’imbola locates the practice of healing within the image of the Black prophetess. In the combined role of artist and sangoma, the Black prophetess possesses knowledge, makes sacrifices, traverses in-between spaces, and heals past, present, future. In this work, women healers and prophets embark on a journey; from wine farms into urban areas to reveal deep scars and to administer processes of healing.
The children born out of apartheid carry the parents, the nation’s pain; and the experience of struggle and democracy, freedom, and responsibility. They echo new possibilities.
What could I, a curator, enable with artwork fueled by the beauty of survival?
I imagine a generational show about the afterlife of apartheid. It could be the most magnificent way to express what it means to find ways of living and existing in search of beauty in a situation of brutal violence.
But to brazenly put it out there, one risks losing the depth. I need time to explore and understand and distill the essence. It goes beyond curating a show. It goes to the point of creating environments that are living, with art that lives in the hearts of people.
I am fortunate that what I have to work with are the incredible gifts of artists. This is where, following Saidiya Hartman, my imagination of practice lies. This is where my heart resides.
- Jappie, Zayaan. “Meet South African Artist Gabrielle Goliath, the 2019 Recipient of the Prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award,”Okay Africa, February, 18, 2019.