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'VABVAKURE' (People from Far Away) - MFA Exhibition Opening

Date Released: Mon, 8 April 2013 14:10 +0200


By GERALD MACHONA, MFA candidate in the Fine Art Department and member of
 the Visual and Performing Arts of Africa Focus Area research team.

Date: Wednesday 10th April
Time: 5:30 pm
Venue: The Guy Butler Theatre stage, 1820 Settlers National Monument

Opening speech by Prof Ruth Simbao

Drink and snacks will be available. Admission free.

 Vabvakure, which means, 'people from far away', is a Shona word used to
 describe a 'foreigner'. This exhibition produced by MFA candidate, Gerald
 Machona, explores feelings of estrangement associated with 'foreignness',
 but playfully disrupts negative associations of 'the alien' through
 futuristic representations of an astronaut in the work Ndiri Afronaut (I am
 an Afronaut).

Central to this body of work is the use of decommissioned Zimbabwean dollars
 as an aesthetic material that signifies the forced economic migration of
 Zimbabwean migrants into neighbouring SADC countries and abroad. While South
 Africa hosts the largest population of these Zimbabwean nationals living in
 the diaspora, there is a growing need in the postcolony to deconstruct
 notions of individual and collective identity, for 'nations', 'nationalisms'
 and 'citizenry' can no longer be defined through indigeneity, autochthony or

This exhibition adopts the premise that forms of cultural mediation such as
 visual and performance art can offer insight and potential resistance to the
 intolerance, misconceptions, social trauma and violence associated with
 Afrophobia. Nyau, a masked masquerade originating in Malawi, which Machona
 subtly references in much of his work, is a potentially subversive form of
 performance that was used by the Chewa people while living as 'foreigners'
 in Zimbabwe and other diasporas. When performing Gule Wamkulu, Chewa Nyau
 masqueraders often used performance to comment on foreigners-the mulungu or
 muzungu Caucasian Settler, the Chinese trader or the Arab trader-as a
 strategy of creatively negotiating potentially precarious relationships. In
 Zimbabwe, Gule Wamkulu performances became a signifier of 'Chewa-ness' for
 those who sometimes faced xenophobic name-calling such as mabwidi or

Adding a contemporary layer to the negotiation of imposed 'strangeness',
 Machona creates performance characters that perform specific occupations
 typical of African immigrants in South Africa today. For example, in a
 beautifully woven mask made out of Zimbabwean dollars, he performed as a DJ
 in the work Ndiri DJ (I am a DJ). He has also produced Ndiri Barber, Ndiri
 Barman, Ndiri Cleaner and Ndiri Bouncer. Extending his use of the woven Zim
 dollar mask, which references the Nyau masquerade, Machona has produced a
 new character, Ndiri Afronaut that performs in an astronaut's suit made from
 decommissioned currency. This out of space character journeys through the
 mundane spaces of our everyday lives, seemingly oblivious to his/her alien

Machona received his undergraduate degree from the Michaelis School of Fine
 Art, UCT, in 2009. He has exhibited/performed at the Goodman Gallery, the
 Stevenson Gallery, the National Gallery of South Africa, the National Arts
 Festival and the Standard Bank Gallery. VABVAKURE (People from Far Away)
 will only show for one night.