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‘Ndoimadzi’—an unstoppable force

Meet the seven young artists for Ndoimadzi exhibition currently showing at the Botho Project Space

By Gugulethu Mkhabela  | May 28, 2021 | Category

Visual artist, Zandile Tshabalala. Image: Supplied
Visual artist, Zandile Tshabalala. Image: Supplied

Botho Project Space is an exciting Pan-African and artist-run visual arts space in the heart of Joburg’s CBD. Developed by artists and centred around artists—it is the brainchild of a project created by internationally renowned artist Nelson Makamo, DJ Black Coffee, and Maxhosa founder and designer, Laduma Ngxokolo.

The beautifully curated gallery hosted its very first show in November 2020 with Nelson Makamo’s solo exhibition, Botho, Motho, Batho—Setswana for humanity, a person, people. It was a celebration of Nelson’s incredible work and his prolific career, over the past15 years. A body of work that sets to recreate and interrogate our humanness as a people. Art that captures the candid nature of everyday life in the most haunting yet beautiful way—and always centered around urbanism, migration, community and childhood.

Ndo ima dzi, a TshiVenda term, by definition an unstoppable force—is the second exhibition currently running at the contemporary art space. A space that aims to ‘represent an interconnection of independence and isolation, stemming from all of civilisation being separated from others during the pandemic. The exhibition provides a perspective into the creative independence each artist found in this period, where they were able to go on a journey of self-introspection, harnessing the courageous act of owning creative brilliance.’

Exhibiting diverse visual art forms, Ndoimadzi explores various themes from seven talented pan-African artists. It opened on 6 May and will close on 26 June 2021.

The show includes vibrant figurative paintings from Congolese-born and Belgium based painter Bahati Simoens; the use of Prison and Basotho blankets mediums from artist Frans Thoka; mysticism influenced paintings and photographs by Imraan Christian; portraits of influencers that reflect current pop culture from Katlego Tlabela; exploration of the human condition with Lulama “Wolf” Mlambo; driving a space owning black women narrative with paintings from Zandile Tshabalala; and a collaborative set of works from Zwelethu Machepha who partners with Themba Khumalo for his showcase.

In the spirit of Africa Month each artist shares what being Africa means to them, their greatest influences, and more on their artwork.

Bahati Simoens

I am an African because…Here is where I feel most myself and at home. I genuinely don’t care how cliché it sounds, but I feel most connected to my African roots and my mother’s ancestors. Our identity and how one defines the ‘self’ depends on different aspects. And I know my personal experiences and how I see myself won’t be the same as a black woman living in Africa.

The same way a gay man, living in America won’t have the same experience as a gay man living in Russia. Which separates us, yet parts of our identity are the same and one does not diminish the other.

If I look within myself, go through all of the parts that define me as a whole being, being an African woman is an extension of the deepest part of me. When I’m at home I keep longing for a sense of home, through my art as well as feeling the constant need to move around.

Returning on African soil and being surrounded by people who look like me kind of stops that feeling. Here is where I feel most grounded and most proud.

To me, being African means choosing joy and laughter above anything. Yet being very much aware of our pain. Feeling connected without verbally communicating or having to explain.

Who are your biggest influences?

For a long time I kept going back to my childhood memories and my mothers stories, in relation to everyday life.

But I’ve noticed slight changes and parts that are shifting within myself lately.

May be because I’m more in touch with myself or because I’m creating new memories as a grown black woman.

But definitely my personal experiences and the people closest to me.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

I describe my work to be a love letter to the black body. That itself could be seen as a political choice to some.

But I keep it subtle through tattoos or textile prints, referring to black pain and trauma. Rather than putting all the focus of those topics.

I still want black people to feel uplifted and seen first.

Frans Thoka

I am an African because...Being an African means not compromising every segment of beauty within you for the sake of a two seconds assimilation into the western culture. In this post-colonial Africa, to me, being African means unwinding the bale of trauma we have become, working on reconstructing, nurturing and rewriting our narratives, and most importantly preserving these narratives for the next generations.

Who are your biggest influences?

Badimo ba gešo (my ancestors), and all that they went through and passed down.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

My works reflects on the post colonial struggles in black communities; such as inequality, uncertainty, colonial trauma and land expropriation.

- The use of prison blankets as my ‘canvas’ represents any form of colonial imprisonment in black communities.

- In O hlokofala pele o belegwa (2021), I reflect on how marginalisation of black bodies has become worse since 1994, to a point that even dead animals are more human than the marginalised. For instance, in the middle of composition, there’s dead animals stacked upon dead human black bodies; somehow reminding the viewer of the pyramid of hierarchy where the marginalised are put at the foot of the pyramid and dehumanised.

- Furthermore, that juxtaposition of the corpses highlights how killing a black person is closer to killing an animal. This is similar to what happened in Marikana and other similar cases (refer to the murder of George Floyd (USA), Lindani Myeni, Collins Khoza etc.) In Mohlomongwe ba tla robala (transl: Maybe, they’ll rest in peace), I reflect on the memory of Marikana Massacre. For instance, the shirt (as found object) commemorates the memory without glorifying or awakening the wounds caused by the so called democracy.

Zandile Tshabalala

I am an African because...For me being an African means pride, pride in my blackness, pride in my Africanness and also giving myself or understanding rather that I have the responsibility to protect black women, to protect my heritage and to protect my Africanness.

I think what makes me African is more like the choice of the universe because I was born as a black African woman so I guess I am African by the universes grace.

Who has been your biggest influence?

Artists that influence me, my practice and my thinking are certainly Kerry James Marshall, Henri Rousseau, Mickalene Thomas.

Also influenced by the women around me, my friends, acquaintances, women that I have just met and had a conversation with, my family, my grandmother and my mom, all these people have an influence in the person that I am and the kind of works that I put out there.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

I would say that the main aim of my works is to always centralise and give a black woman a very dignified image and also encourage assertiveness and confidence so I think my work is very much about giving the black woman the spotlight and a chance to express their experience, emotion and to feel and to just be.

Katlego Tlabela

I am an African because...I always tend to dodge this question merely because being African is a constant interrogation. More so when you don't know how to be anything else. I often wonder if Europeans or Americans question themselves in regards to this.

I will say that our collective traumatic and celebratory histories have moulded us into a fearless and creative force - a force to be reckoned with. We are finally on the world stage and they are all listening and watching attentively.

Who has been your biggest influence?

The list is long, but I can confess that there are certain artists I look up to for certain things. Some of these artists are inspiring for their work and their work ethic, business ethics, collaborations, research and writing, and global reach. I am fortunate to have been working alongside these artists.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

My work envisions the new Black Elite.

Within every artwork there are social issues encountered, be it the lack and or presence of a Black father figure, or socio-economic issues like a Black single mother buying lavish property for herself and her kids. All in all these statements made in my work are political because they challenge images of ourselves and histories of the Black Body and poverty-porn in Art. I would like to think that I am going against the grain with hopes that we envision ourselves in a more positive, unapologetic, and successful light.

Lulama “Wolf” Mlambo

I am an African because...I am simply born in the skin of an African and the burdens and blessings I gladly carry.

Who has been your biggest influence?

My current influences stem from culture, spirituality and vernacular architecture.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

My work doesn’t comment on a specific political issue but rather geo-social issues. My introspective nature has made it easier to find more issues that have been embedded in political landscapes but focus on the introspective human condition.

Imraan Christian

I am an African because...I am a son of the soil.

Who has been your biggest influence?

I’m inspired by those who are true to themselves.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

My identity is an anomaly because in the soil I have found roots beyond colonial praxis - my existence in itself therefore becomes resistance.

Zwelethu Machepha

I am an African because...That’s what I have become. To be an African means to be resourceful...And what make us African is the undeniable qualities we all possess.

Who has been your biggest influence?

I don’t know who’s the biggest but I’m generally influenced by the modern and contemporary movements that are constantly shaping our culture.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

When you live in a country like ours, it’s is almost impossible to separate on your commentary... I believe my work taps into both.

Contact Botho Project Space at [email protected] or visit www.bothoprojectspace.com