Author: Stefanie (page 1 of 6)

On Cape Town (Art Fair), Zuma and ‘rooting for everybody black’

This article appeared on on 23 February 2018.

Image: Variety

Missing a flight to Cape Town from Joburg on the opening day of art fair wasn’t the best idea. The timing was off. Zuma had just resigned as president and everything stopped. Then simultaneously went ballistic. The airport was chaotic and airliner counter tops dressed with signs: “ATT: Flights to CPT are fully booked”, as people made their way to Parliament as the next president was ushered in.

There was a fresh pandemonium about the space. But a plead and a prayer later, with ticket in hand, we were all being transported to the Cape on a turbulent political zephyr (even people like myself, who were just attending the opening of an art fair).

Last Thursday was a reminder of how art festivals are often times the site for political mayhem and other times, the backdrop to climatic social events. (Remember those burning cars outside the opening of Joburg Art Fair last year that could’ve been art installations but instead marked the ongoing taxi/uber violence? Or years prior when Ayanda Mabulu’s artwork depicting a penis flashing Zuma was removed to much debate. Or farther afield to the Whitney Biennale in 2017, where artists demanded the removal of Dana Schutz – a white painter’s –depiction of Emmett Till, titled Open Casket.)

In the case of Cape Town Art Fair, it’s mostly a bit of both. The very nature of the city, with its violent past and present, renders it inherently a site of political mayhem.

Before attending the art fair, I had already planned to do a round-up of highlights. But a tweet by Nomonde Tshomi as I disembarked the plane, about the lack of love that Cape Town’s creative scene has for black women, encouraged a piece on the Black women creatives presenting at the fair.

The piece, in celebration of our expression and in defiance to the city’s legacy of othering, marginalising and erasing of us, through spatial planning, suffering, racial discrimination, economic exclusion and more.

“Identity politics of Cape Town have their origins in slavery. If we are going to make sense of this piece of earth called South Africa, we have to make sense of the Cape colony and what happened to the people here,” poet-activist Lebo Mashile tells me at Design Indaba, a day before she premieres her collaborative production, Saartjie vs. Venus.

The theatre piece is on the life of Sarah Baartman, a Khoi woman brought to the Cape as a slave, and who in 1810 travelled to Europe where her body was exhibited, while alive and dead. Sarah’s voice was taken from the pages of history and her body physically removed from the Western Cape until her remains were repatriated almost 200 years later. (“As visible as Baartman was, her voice has been erased,” Lebo says in this interview.)

“[Engaging with this trauma] is where art becomes important because artists have vision, artists are the custodians of story,” the poet shares with me. “Art and creativity is that site of transformation, where we develop a language for dealing with these things that are so much bigger than us. Things that swallow us.”

Days after the closing of the art fair, seated in the Artscape auditorium, I listened to the inspiring presentation by Thomas Heatherwick. The British architect spoke passionately on the importance of retaining heritage and reconstructing as opposed to deconstructing, and unpacked how he looked to the history of Cape Town to recreate what is now regarded as the first African Art Museum in the country.

Looking around the room, one might expect — due to geographical location — a crowd of representative faces eager to arm themselves with the words of Zeitz designer. Instead, I was engulfed by a sea of whiteness, in a region reeling from drought. (The crisis in city clearly goes far beyond water.)

So in the vain of “rooting for everybody black” — Issa Rae’s reaction to a journalist who asked her on the Emmy Awards red carpet who she was there to support – as a response to our invisibility in the audience at Artscape, and under-representation in the city and its history. This piece is rooting for our presence, for Black women making art, which showed at the fair, and for women like Kwezi (Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo), Gladys Mgudlandlu and Sarah Baartman who they’ve tried to remove from our collective memory but have failed.

*Time and word constraints has limited the full survey of black women creatives at Cape Town Art Fair. So here’s a look at 10 artists at CTIJF2018.

Turiya Magadlela

Turiya Magadlela’s work has a quiet potency to it. Presented alongside Lungiswa Gqunta and Sethembile Msezane as part of the Unframed section, Turiya’s art — made of the frills and pantyhose –might appear dainty until you look closer at the weight and seriousness of it. Using materials like pantyhose and correctional service uniforms in her art, Turiya’s works have explored Black South African history and the Black woman experience.

Alka Dass

Winner of the 2017 Young Female Residency Award, Durban-based artist and curator presented thoughtful pieces of needle work. According to the Project Space, where Dass is spending six months in residency, her interest lies in female identity and gender equality, as well as the relationships women have with their bodies.

Nontobeko Ntombela

Nontobeko Ntombela is the guest curator of the fair’s new section, SOLO, which featured the works of solo presentations by artists that include Buhlebezwe Siwani (South Africa), Parul Thacker (India), Keyezua (Angola) and other important women artists. According to the curator, the works on exhibit are about “upsetting the norm and upsetting the image of women”.

Lhola Amira

Featuring photography and video, Lhola Amira’s evocative series Sinking: Xa Sinqamla Unxubo – shown as part of the SOLO section of the fair — draws from the sinking of the SS Mendi in 1917 and will be exhibited again at Smac Gallery in March.

Stacey Gillian Abe

Kampala-based conceptual artist Stacey Gillian Abe is a finalist of The Project Space’s Young Female Residency Award. Her work – surreal, experimental and enigmatic — draws from past experiences and attempts to to critique stereotypical depictions of black womanhood.

Kimathi Mafafo

TBH this was my first time seeing the work of Kimathi Mafafo in person. And I’m near healed. Textured and peaceful, her canvases are filled with lush greenery and featured black women prominently. This self-taught artist once said, “If I produce artwork, I feel like I’m healing the people, the black people, who are scarred from apartheid, and black women who have been scarred and put down.”


A booth of beautiful installation work and photography that features a lone masked person in an immaculate red gown and standing before different settings comprises Keyezua’s Fortia. A celebration of her Dutch-Angolan identity, Fortia was part of the show’s SOLO section.

Renee Cox

US artist Renee Cox’s photography on exhibition merges performance, photography and activism, and confront womanhood, racism and sexism. Renee self-describes as “one of the most controversial African-American artists working today using her own body, both nude and clothed to celebrate black womanhood and criticise a society she often views as racist and sexist”.

Bronwyn Katz

Salvaged bed springs and wool make up the talented Bronwyn Katz haunting piece, aptly titled Spookasem. The award-winning artist and founding member of iQhiya, an 11-women artist collective, presents this harrowing work days before her exhibition.

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum

The space of physics and ancient mythology is an important one in our creative society, and the Motswana-South African-Canadian artist is intrepid about her artistic exploration of natural science, identity and self. Pamela’s works presented are small in scale but expansive in subject and landscapes, and characters.

Stefanie Jason x Mushroomhour: ‘VN Music Vol #1 – Mombasa🌴’

I dropped a mix ‘VN Music Vol #1 – Mombasa🌴’ for your ears and mind via experimental music imprint Mushroomhour.

VN Music is the first of a series of mixes featuring some of the voice notes I’ve received (sometimes forwarded) and beats I’m obsessing over. This mix – a mélange of sounds from Makeba to a jazzed out Gucci – is a sonic trip I curated after traveling specifically to Mombasa Island. Check out the rest and listen to the mix.


Guest edit: Chicago publication MADE’s Global Issue

Got the opportunity to guest edit up and coming Chicago publication MADE’s Global Issue (November 2017) featuring Spike Lee. In it – and with the help of writers Esinako Ndabeni and Tiger Maremela (who catalog house music over the years and its migration) – we connect our cities and countries through history, culture and craft, and bridge any oceanic divide. 🌍

Thank you team Made (esp Kris Christian and my bro Todd I. Walton) for this wonderful opportunity. 

Read the issue.

Go newd! Our faves show why inclusive underwear matters in our new body positive campaign

This post originally appeared on in October 2017.

You never know how ill-fitting something is until you find your size (or your colour). This is more apparent after attending the recent launch of underwear brand Gugu Intimates, and trying on the “first African premium skin coloured underwear brand for brown skin tones”. With a newfound awareness of why we need more inclusive basics like underwear; I looked down at my chest, through my white shirt, to my brown skin unintentionally unmatched against my pale “nude” bra. And the revelation was real.

Despite us actively being instrumental in creating our environment and the products in it, it’s absurd to think that not much in this manmade world was made for us. Only now, after centuries of work put into developing fashion, the entertainment industry, beauty products and more, are our needs as black people (hell, pretty much all marginalised groups) included and catered for — still only to certain extents — in these markets.

“For many years, the beauty and hair space has treated women of colour and our specific beauty needs as an afterthought and a special case to be handled when it suits the needs for sales,” Afrobella founder Patrice Grell Yursik was quoted as saying in an article about Rihanna’s new make-up line Fenty, lauded for catering to all shades, particularly dark brown skin tones often neglected by beauty brands.

Fenty isn’t the only “experience” creating breakthroughs for us in 2017. Hit TV show Insecure was praised for its “inclusive lighting” techniques correcting a tech-sophisticated world that has and still mis-lights us. I digress. So, to celebrate our diverse skin tones and body shapes, plus the products that complement them, such as brands like Gugu Intimates and its empowering New Naked range, we invited some of our favourite creatives (Nkulsey Masemola, Lisa Ally, Boitumelo Rametsi, Nolwazi Tusini and Elle Rose van der Burg) to our Glow Up party. This is not an ad, this is appreciation. — Stefanie Jason, ed-in-chief



Photography: Lauren Mulligan
Production: Stefanie Jason
Creative direction: Lee-Ann Orton
Assistant: Aimee-Claire Smith
Make-up artist: Alex Botha of Lampost (using Dermalogica products)
Graphics: Tiger Maremela
Models: Nkulsey Masemola, Lisa Ally, Boitumelo Rametsi, Nolwazi Tusini and Elle Rose van der Burg

*Special thanks to Gugu Intimates

*This article has been edited to reflect model Elle Rose van der Burg’s name change – she was previously known as Luke van der Burg*

Novelist Panashe Chigumadzi on ‘forgetting’ and recovering Shona, finding self through books and (dis)connecting to African print

10and5 brings you a series of conversations featuring five womxn from across southern Africa, centred on topics such as preserving history, culture, self-expression and more. As Heritage Day, which took place on 24 September, evokes further dialogue around culture, this series aims to explore how heritage and tradition is expressed and thought about among a few contemporary womxn in South Africa’s creative community. Photographs by Madelene Cronje.

Panashe Chigumadzi is a writer, founding editor of Vanguard Magazine and an award-winning novelist of best-seller Sweet Medicine, as well as curator of the inaugural Mzansi literary festival Abantu Book Fest in 2016. Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, Panashe — who in 2015 became a Ruth First Fellow — is currently at the University of Iowa, in the US, for the International Writers Program. And her forthcoming book on the interwoven politics of hair and land, is titled Beautiful Hair.

Panashe visited our studio and shared what being at a physical remove from her culture meant while growing up, the intricacies of her “traditional attire” and how she’s used books to engage histories of Zimbabwe and Shona people, plus a whole lot more.

Hi Panashe, can you tell us where you were born?
In Harare, Zimbabwe. At the age of three, my family moved to Durban, South Africa. In the year I turned eight we moved a second time to Polokwane where my family still lives. I moved to Johannesburg for university, and I’ve lived here since.

Would you mind sharing your family’s cultural background?
Without sounding too academic, my parents come from different subgroups of the people who, at least since the Mfecane, have come to be known as Shona. Before the Mfecane, which saw the push of the breakaway Ndebele into what we now know as Zimbabwe and the interaction with the British settlers, we did not have the kind of “Shona consciousness” that we have today. It’s more likely that people would have been identified more closely with the clans that make up the various Shona subgroups that speak different dialects of the Shona language. For example, my father is Zezuru, which is seen as the politically dominant group from Mashonaland Central Province, and my mother is Manyika from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, which is sometimes seen as the more economically dominant group.

Part of the reason why the answer was not a straightforward “Shona” — and when I’m feeling particularly academic, I might say I’m “from the territory that has come to be known as Zimbabwe” — is that I’m wary of reinforcing the coloniality of national borders both at the physical and inter-group levels. I’m also interested in understanding and celebrating my Shona heritages, while being aware of the dangerous consequences of the kind of state-sponsored Shona chauvinism of post-independence Zimbabwe that led to something as devastating as the Gukurahundi Massacres of the early 1980s, which saw the genocide of tens of thousands of Ndebele people. This feels important to state because the celebration of heritage even amongst Africans is not always an innocent exercise, especially when we let the complexities of our identities slip under the guise of “recovery” and “reclamation”.

Relating to fashion, is there a particular dress you don to express your culture?
In terms of “traditional dress”, I, like many other Zimbabweans, typically feel out of place when we are asked to represent our culture because we don’t have any distinctly Zimbabwean or Shona clothing in the way that say you might have Zulu isicholos, the Tsonga xibelani skirt, the Ndebele idzilla and the Sotho shweshwe print. When we talk of “traditional” or “African attire”, it usually means West African or to be more specific, Nigerian and Ghanaian style clothing. So when we are asked to wear traditional clothing for this or that function, we often appropriate the East African kanga or the Nigerian traditional style, albeit a much more conservative version, sans the gold jewellery and sunglasses seen in the society fashion magazines from which we often cut out patterns.

You brought a few books along to the shoot, what are some of your selects?
These are books, fiction and non-fiction, academic and non-academic, that span topics as wide as art, history, religion and politics that have been important to me for the ways in which they have helped me locate myself within the world. Some of the titles included are Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins, Nehanda, and Under the Tongue and Without A Name; Ama Ata Aidoo’s Sister Killjoy; Claudia Rankine’s Citizen; Toni Morrison’s Jazz and What Moves at the Margin;  Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens; Yvette Christiaanse’s Unconfessed; Barbara Thompson’s Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body; and Audre Lorde’s Zami.

Could you share how — through work, studies or everyday life — you engage in your personal history and culture?
Having lived in South Africa, away from my extended family since I was three, I have always been at a physical remove from my culture and the ways it is practiced in every day. At some point, my brother and I had “forgotten” Shona. I can’t tell you how exactly it happened. It felt like a very swift and “painless” process. I arrived at my predominantly white pre-school in Durban not speaking a word of English and within a short amount of time, it was the reverse situation where I could barely speak any Shona. This “forgetting” was very much in spite of my parents’ efforts. Looking back, it was mostly due to the fact we were discouraged from speaking our languages at school and at home, and any traces were often erased through compulsory “speech therapy”.

One way that my parents and wider family tried to mitigate this was through books and through the personal narration of our family histories. My grandfather, for example, was a primary school teacher so he would buy us Shona school readers. Because of him I can read and write basic Shona. More than that basic literacy, it was a way for me to get to read and hear some of the stories and fables that traditionally my grandmothers would have told me had I grown up with them close by.

Over time, I “recovered” much of the language. Although when I haven’t been to Zimbabwe in a while, my South African accent creeps around my tongue and people can hear that. Books have since then always been one of the primary ways in which I engage my language and culture and histories of Zimbabwe and Shona people. My academic work, for example, is based on the figure of Mbuya Nehanda, the woman spirit medium who led Zimbabwe’s First Chimurenga in the 1890s, and the ways in which the narrative of her life and death by execution by Cecil John Rhodes’s British South Africa Company, is engaged in Zimbabwe’s national literatures.

I was also fortunate enough to grow up with parents who loved to tell their personal histories with details about the “record evenings” they would have at their mission boarding schools or when they had been woken up at night by “the comrades” and summoned to attend a Pungwe where they had to learn about the “struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoise”. What I appreciate most is our visits to Zimbabwe often included “detours” to both national heritage sites such as Great Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls, and sites of personal history such as the primary and secondary schools they attended or my grandfather taught at, hospitals they were born and the places my father would herd cattle with my uncles as a boy. Along with looking at pictures of their high school, university and early working days, this was incredibly important in ensuring that those histories were not abstract for me but very much real and felt, so that in many ways, I grew up in my parents’ nostalgia for their childhood and youth in Zimbabwe.

What did you wear to the shoot?
We tried on a range of African prints that I have bought from different African countries, as well a few that belong to you 🙂

Can you tell us about your relationship with or thoughts around African prints?
Given that Shona people do not have an “official” national costume or traditional attire, I found that I had to look elsewhere. I started wearing African prints “actively” after I’d just left university. There were a few factors that came together: earning my own money, a desire to assert my “Africanness”, an increase in the number of functions to attend, the “mainstreamification” of African fashion by international fashion houses and, of course, the beginning of the “Africa rising” and “Afropolitan” narratives. I initially bought quite heavily into those conversations but soon I found myself a little more critical of what began to feel to me a brand of neo-liberal cosmopolitanism cloaked in African style.

I also felt restricted by the ways it at time felt narrowly essentialist and unimaginative in the ways we could represent “authentic” African identities. At some point it felt like all you had to do to “make something African” is to add Kente cloth, Dutch wax print or a dashiki. So, from one extreme of wearing African prints to any and every occasion, I almost completely disavowed it.

Having come to understand how the use and incorporation of the iconic Dutch wax print in West Africa is a relatively recent “invention” of African cultures as a result of trade by the Dutch who had initially created wax prints mimicking the local Batik styles for sale in their Indonesian colony, but soon found a better market to adapt the style in West Africa; much in the same way that, for example, the iconic Ndebele mural art and traditional clothing is the result of relatively recent cultural expression, which was in part as a response to the devastations caused by the Mfecane and wars with Boers in the late 1800s.

I came to see that their “inventedness” and even more, their relative “newness” within the periods of colonisation, doesn’t make these styles any less “African”. That freed me in so many ways. I feel much less tied to ideas of “authenticness” and freer to creatively draw from various heritages to express myself, whilst being respectful of mine and other peoples’ histories. So, nowadays, I do still wear African prints simply as a way to bring an outfit together, and at times, as a way of sharing in a broader, maybe pan-Africanist sense of cultures on the continent and the broader diaspora. But I’m far less naive about wearing it to index an “authentic” sense of Africanness or blackness in the ways that I did when I was younger and reacting to a sense of alienation and displacement. I now see wearing African prints as part of a range of the many ways I can express my identity, which is always in flux and yet always tied to being black and a woman in this part of the world at this moment in history, as opposed it being to the absolute way to express myself.

All photographs by Madelene Cronje

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