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Ruth Simbao, Mbali Khoza, Ivy Kulundu-Gotz
Ruth Simbao, Mbali Khoza, Ivy Kulundu-Gotz

Residencies for Artists and Writers-Eastern Cape (RAWEC) is a new and innovative learning project funded by Lotto and under the leadership of Professor Ruth Simbao in the Fine Art Department.

Prof Simbao, who herself is a writer both in the academic and arts worlds, believes that there is a paucity of good writing about the visual arts in South Africa, and the problem is not only in the quality of writing.

“For me it’s also an issue of diversity of voice, diversity of knowledge, and diversity of the type of art that is written about and receives exposure,” says Prof Simbao.

One problem with art writing is that the work of artists who are connected with prestigious commercial art galleries is written about the most, and other exciting work is sometimes ignored.

“If you are a large, established commercial gallery with enough respect and you suggest a particular body of work is important, people generally listen and go along with that. Not many writers are bold enough to critique work with enough substance or to go outside of the hierarchical and privileged structures of the artworld,” adds Prof Simbao.

Hence Prof Simbao believes that there is a need to train young writers so that they have the confidence to share their views and writing.

“In terms of writers there’s a need for new voices; there’s a need for a younger generation of skilled writers who bring diversity of voice and diversity of perspective. There are exciting people around in South Africa, and I think younger writers need a chance to be mentored to develop as arts writers.”

The RAW-EC project consists of two artists’ residencies. While the artists do not need to be based in the Eastern Cape, criteria for the selection of the writers was that they need to be based in the Eastern Cape and they need to be emerging writers who are eager to publish.

Most of the writing and viewing of art comes out of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Although there are a few galleries in Port Elizabeth there are very few opportunities for students and people living in the Eastern Cape to view interesting and cutting-edge art.

“RAW-EC is a way of bringing artists here so we are exposed to stimulating, cutting-edge work in the Eastern Cape, and it is also a way of developing emerging writers based in the Eastern Cape so that their voices are heard, through publishing, beyond the Eastern Cape,” explains Prof Simbao.

Each writer is linked with an artist in residence as well as a mentor. The mentor is a senior writer based anywhere in the country who has a lot of experience in writing and publishing, while the writer is a person who has never formally published before.

The two artists chosen for a residency are Mbali Khoza and Igshaan Adams. Ivy Kulundu-Gotz, in her second year of her MFA has been assigned to write about Khoza, while Jennifer Ball, currently in her fourth year of Fine Art, has been assigned to Adams.

Adams completed his residency in May and has 10 pieces in progress to exhibit in Grahamstown in October. On his way to Grahamstown he purchased an old South African flag, which was really fragile and worn, and this became the canvas for his first piece.

Adams, who has worked with Islamic prayer mats in the past, brought an Islamic burial cloth and other materials with him which have become pieces, inspired by the Rorschach inkblot psycho-diagnostic tests.

He explains the inkblot inspiration, “I really liked them and wanted to unpack them and interrogate them and try to understand what it is about these shapes that are, according to Rorschach, supposedly so universal,” explains Adams.

“I didn’t really want them to look like inkblots. I’m just using the shapes and trying to project whatever I see in those shapes,” says Adams, who is interested in opening up the way we perceive and represent identities in South Africa.

Adams has one piece spread out on the floor, the Islamic burial cloth, with an inkblot symmetrical design stitched into the cloth, any number of interpretations are to be made.

“What I find beautiful about them is that they start to read as maps and the stitching over the ‘maps’ are like meandering, cartographic journeys that someone has gone on” explains Prof Simbao. “One can start linking these to our continuously meandering identities.”

Residencies offer artists an unconstrained space to experiment. According to Adams, “the only constraint is that ideally you would like to see something produced that could be shown, but it can be a space for experimenting, it’s not a show at a commercial gallery where you might have certain pressures on you.”

Khoza’s residency commenced in June and both her and Kulundu-Gotz are extremely excited to be paired together as the resonances between Khoza’s work and Kulundu-Gotz’s MFA are uncanny.

Khoza is inspired by literature, especially that of African writers. “My attraction to African writers is the desire to find a style of writing outside of European style of writing. That’s my main interest,” explains Khoza.

She has been inspired by great African writers such as Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger, and Lesego Rampolokeng’s Horns for Hondo. “I think in my own work, I look at artists who deal with the idea of works that are autobiographical yet fictional, and that’s what Marechera does in his own work. I really enjoy that ability to use text in work, whether it be in video or performance work,” says Khoza.

Khoza believes that the act of translating a text from one language to another is a violent act and that there is a great loss, “When I speak isiZulu there is a certain way that I speak it, the sound and the feel of it is what creates the language and when you translate from one language to another you sort of mute that out and what you have is sort of a dead sound, it’s just sound.”

Khoza’s performance for Blind Spot at the National Arts Festival was based on a project in which she recorded a Senegalese man living in Johannesburg and proceeded to transcribe this recording into Zulu phonetics. In the performance What difference does it make who is speaking? that took place at the Eastern Star Press Museum, she sat in a chair with a microphone right next to her as she used a needle to puncture the paper. “I sit there and I stitch, and you hear these amplified, violent popping sounds as I push the needle through the paper,” she explained. This sound of the needle piercing the paper creates a dialogue with the recorded sound of the Senegalese man’s voice.”

While Khoza explores the translation from one language to another KulunduGotz’s MFA deals with her inability to speak her mother tongue.

“I’m from Kenya, and I’m looking at the production of English within my maternal lineage, because I think it’s important to speak about the mother in the mothertongue; so I’m looking at those dynamics of production.”

Speaking about Khoza’s work, Kulundu-Gotz says, “I find her work very interesting because she deals with the flow of language, the intersections of language and the collisions of language, and she considers what happens in those translations.”

Both Adams and Khoza performed at the National Arts Festival in Blind Spot which was a collection of four performance art pieces curated by Prof Simbao. Adams performed in Bismillah, with his father who washed and prepared his body in an Islamic ritual as if he had died.

Khoza’s piece What difference does it make who is speaking? deals with the translation of languages and the inherent violence and mutilation that it entails.

Although there is only sufficient funding for two residencies, Prof Simbao will pair up another two artists with writers who will also gain some experience in writing and publishing.

 In October both Adams and Khoza will exhibit their work at the Alumni Gallery at the Albany Museum, and Prof Simbao, through the Visual and Performing Arts of Africa Humanities Focus Area will organise a colloquium in which the writers will present their work as conference papers. The mentors will comment on their work and the artists will also have the opportunity to comment on what has been written about them.

The colloquium and exhibition will take place in October and will be hosted by the Visual and Performing Arts of Africa Focus Area in the Fine Art Department. Both events will be open to the Rhodes community and to the public

Photo; Jennifer Ball and Igshaan Adams stand in front of one of his artworks in progress


Article was also published in Rhodos 2014, p.12-13

Source:  Rhodes University

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