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Who is this Man Whose Words Bruise and Heal

By Tinyiko Maluleke

I recall how in my teens I joined hordes of giggly village boys and girls to watch the Saturday graduation rites of traditional healers. This phenomenon, which takes place amidst the thunder of the pulsating rhythm of African drums, will hypnotise any curious young mind. For Pitika Ntuli, one such occasion changed his life forever. Whatever he would become or do in life he was going to be it and do it as an African. Thus started the awesome story of the boy from the shanty town of Blesbok Masakeni outside Witbank.

At a young age, Ntuli responded at once to the call of his ancestors and the Africanist liberation message of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. Sensing a deep resonance between Sobukwe’s call for political liberation and the ancestral project of cultural and spiritual liberation, the young Ntuli immersed himself in political and cultural activism. Comrades and ancestors were drawn to him as if to a magnet. But he also attracted the attentions of the apartheid police. In the year when Nelson Mandela’s “Black Pimpernel” days were put to an abrupt end (when he descended into the hell of jail, there to stay for the next 27 years) 20-year-old Ntuli fled South Africa. Swaziland was first and he nearly died there. You do not get closer to death than being on death row! Thirty-two years later, several countries later, a dozen qualifications later, several artistic works later, Pitika joins thousands of fellow South African personae non grata. He arrives back home to “rejoin an ever-fluid flow of my umbilical cord”.

But I digress. This was meant to be brief review of Ntuli’s new book, published by Unisa Press, and launched on Sunday, August 22 at the Africa Museum, Newtown. Sitting in a packed auditorium last Sunday, mesmerised by the eloquent poetry of Pitika and his collaborators (Bra Don Materra was also in the house!) I rediscovered what I had known for some time. Ntuli is a one hell of an intellectual!

But how do we define him? How do we define an intellectual who insists on being an African even when it seems either unnecessary or detrimental to do so? And how does one so diverse, so educated, so well travelled, so knowledgeable about peoples and their cultures, insist on privileging his Africanness? What words and what categories do we use to explain the things he does?

I bathed in the soft rain of his finely chiselled words, deftly sprayed upon an audience in semi-trance. I conversed with his life-like human busts and figurines of wood, stone, bone and metal on display at the Africa Museum in Newtown, Johannesburg. I looked at them. Some of them looked right back at me. Others hid their faces. Others looked away. The works of Ntuli form a community of interlocutors. I gave them answers, but their questions were sharper. This book, which I am failing to review — if I may admit this upfront — is no ordinary book.

It is at once a manual, a collection of academic essays, an artistic biography, a compendium of poems, a book of healing, a book of romance between Pitika and the “goddess of his heart”; a book of struggle between Pitika, stone, wood and bone; a book of love between Pitika, his country and his people. The department of education will be at a loss as to how to classify this book.

Who is this man whose words tease, soothe, bruise and heal? Who is this man at whose touch dead wood comes back to life? Who is this man who battles with stone until it smiles? Who is this man who, bypassing flesh and blood, goes back to the bone to draw meaning and invoke immortality? Who is this man who causes an uprising of the debris of Western industrial culture, instigating them to revolt against their users and their uses? Under the spell of this man, derelict wheelbarrows, abandoned exhaust pipes and irreparable motor engine parts come back to haunt us — as works of art!

This is the son of preacher man Ndlebe ka Ntuli. Sompisi! Mphemba ngamabele abafokazi bephemba ngezibi. He is healer, sculptor, subversive bricoleur, philosopher, writer, poet, performer and academic.

Do yourself a favour and visit Museum Africa where Ntuli’s work is being exhibited till August 31. Do yourself yet another favour and get hold of his book Scent of Invisible Footprints: The Sculpture of Pitika Ntuli. This is a book you must read. It will read you back — backwards and forwards. It will blow your mind. You shall be healed.

Scent of invisible Footprints

By Prof von Kotze

Angel wings – turn into pelvis

open, exploring with curiosity: here I am ready for the embrace!

(pregnant with life she envelops her body with long fingers, protecting the becoming)

An embrace: intimacy and protection.

A stone-heart, skepsis –mouth clenches hands. How far do fingers reach?

Ionic embrace

Twin faces on stalks, suspended, ready to pounce,

a pyramid of portraits turning and looking.

Reaching into the sky the twins, one flabbergasted, the other fearful, look

with swollen eye-lids and then

a hand pulls down in counter-stretch

Palmfronts and succulents against a Gauteng winter sky:

My arm has twin-bones;

Here, the inside structure of my side-by-side skeleton is revealed.

Where is your smile, crowned-headed warrior? With toads and snakes embalming your head you stand serene.

Your third eye has focused inwards and seen?

Stick-figures flying into the sky – chimney=sweeps, firemen dreams,

one-legged mantis balancing like a circus artist

Ants, playful and athletic

Nuzzling twin-bone figures, multiplying

King and queen of metal, recycled, dancing on a disk of steel against the sky

Ntuli comes to Museum Africa

26 March 2010

pitikantuli_top

Artist, poet and academic Pitika Ntuli is preparing his mixed media sculptures and poems for his upcoming exhibition at Museum Africa.

WHILE galleries and artists have been frantically getting their stands and work ready to display at the Joburg Art Fair this week, Pitika Ntuli is getting ready for his exhibition at Museum Africa in May.

pitikantuli

Pitika Ntuli standing next to one of his wheelbarrow sculpturesArt Fair.

Ntuli is a talented artist, sculpting in wood, metal, bone, stone and plastic. He can add a list of other achievements to his name: poet, writer, academic, teacher, indigenous knowledge expert and government ministerial adviser.

His house and garden in Parktown North are filled with his often powerful works. He plans to put 160 works on display at the May exhibition, which is to be called “Scent of invisible footprints – in moments of complexity”.

The invisible footprints refer to being a refugee, the way Ntuli lived for many years. “No one notices who you are, you leave no footprints. You are wanted and unwanted, always in between, feeling you are losing your identity,” he explains.

This is his first exhibition in South Africa since his return from exile in 1996. The chief curator of Museum Africa, Ali Hlongwane, says he approached Ntuli in early 2009, and he immediately agreed to the exhibition. Ntuli has raised funding for the exhibition – it is to be sponsored by cellphone group MTN.

He says he likes to take found objects – large elephant or giraffe bones, discarded spades and wheelbarrows, old exhaust pipes and motorbike frames – and re-imagine them. This often involves giving them a face, and giving the work an interpretation which takes in history, like the Industrial Revolution, or the apartheid government’s terror tactics, or South Africa’s tripartite alliance.

Often his work has a humorous element, like a metal sculpture entitled “Zulu warrior with pants down”.

Three major Ntuli works are to be found in Swaziland, where he lived for 16 years before he moved to England. He lived in that country until 1996, when he returned to South Africa. In all, he was in exile for 34 years.

Large Ntuli mural sculptures stand in a bank in Mbabane, the airport and a church in Lobamba. His work is also represented in private collections overseas. “For me art is one of those rare things necessary for someone’s self-fulfilment,” he says.

Art scene “sterile”
Asked if his work is represented at the Joburg Art Fair, Ntuli says no, that he finds the art scene in Joburg “sterile”.

“I go to museums and galleries but nothing hits me in my stomach.” He finds leading artists repetitive, and “not interrogating other media”.

He expresses a wish to not have BBBEE types buying his work, with it ending up in sterile environments. “Nice people should buy my work,” he says, smiling.

Ntuli has held nine solo exhibitions and participated in a dozen group exhibitions, mostly in London. He has curated several exhibitions and was an artist in residence in the 1980s and 1990s at schools and colleges in London.

A poet
However, he would prefer to be known as a poet, he says. “I didn’t particularly want to be discovered as an artist.”

Ntuli plans to combine his poetry with his artwork, engraving poems on to bones and placing verses in the titles of works on display. He says he has mastered so many media, in reality becoming an “artist engineer”.

pitikantuli1

Artist, poet and academic Pitika Ntuli is preparing his mixed media sculptures and poems for his upcoming exhibition at Museum Africa.

WHILE galleries and artists have been frantically getting their stands and work ready to display at the Joburg Art Fair this week, Pitika Ntuli is getting ready for his exhibition at Museum Africa in May.

Pitika Ntuli standing next to one of his wheelbarrow sculpturesArt Fair.

Ntuli is a talented artist, sculpting in wood, metal, bone, stone and plastic. He can add a list of other achievements to his name: poet, writer, academic, teacher, indigenous knowledge expert and government ministerial adviser.

His house and garden in Parktown North are filled with his often powerful works. He plans to put 160 works on display at the May exhibition, which is to be called “Scent of invisible footprints – in moments of complexity”.

The invisible footprints refer to being a refugee, the way Ntuli lived for many years. “No one notices who you are, you leave no footprints. You are wanted and unwanted, always in between, feeling you are losing your identity,” he explains.

This is his first exhibition in South Africa since his return from exile in 1996. The chief curator of Museum Africa, Ali Hlongwane, says he approached Ntuli in early 2009, and he immediately agreed to the exhibition. Ntuli has raised funding for the exhibition – it is to be sponsored by cellphone group MTN.

He says he likes to take found objects – large elephant or giraffe bones, discarded spades and wheelbarrows, old exhaust pipes and motorbike frames – and re-imagine them. This often involves giving them a face, and giving the work an interpretation which takes in history, like the Industrial Revolution, or the apartheid government’s terror tactics, or South Africa’s tripartite alliance.

Often his work has a humorous element, like a metal sculpture entitled “Zulu warrior with pants down”.

Three major Ntuli works are to be found in Swaziland, where he lived for 16 years before he moved to England. He lived in that country until 1996, when he returned to South Africa. In all, he was in exile for 34 years.

Large Ntuli mural sculptures stand in a bank in Mbabane, the airport and a church in Lobamba. His work is also represented in private collections overseas. “For me art is one of those rare things necessary for someone’s self-fulfilment,” he says.

Art scene “sterile”
Asked if his work is represented at the Joburg Art Fair, Ntuli says no, that he finds the art scene in Joburg “sterile”.

“I go to museums and galleries but nothing hits me in my stomach.” He finds leading artists repetitive, and “not interrogating other media”.

He expresses a wish to not have BBBEE types buying his work, with it ending up in sterile environments. “Nice people should buy my work,” he says, smiling.

Ntuli has held nine solo exhibitions and participated in a dozen group exhibitions, mostly in London. He has curated several exhibitions and was an artist in residence in the 1980s and 1990s at schools and colleges in London.

A poet
However, he would prefer to be known as a poet, he says. “I didn’t particularly want to be discovered as an artist.”

Ntuli plans to combine his poetry with his artwork, engraving poems on to bones and placing verses in the titles of works on display. He says he has mastered so many media, in reality becoming an “artist engineer”.

A wooden sculpture with multiple faces

For example, working with metal requires the artist to learn about the medium. And he has learned to carve and patinate directly on to hot metal, he says.

“Working with stone requires you to become a geologist. There are so many aspects to it – an artist is not just a dreamer.”

Member of the PAC
Born in 1942 in Springs, Ntuli grew up in Witbank, in Mpumalanga.

He became a member of the PAC in his late teens and went into exile in Swaziland in 1962, where he became involved in the local art scene, teaching and organising exhibitions.

He was arrested in 1978 in Swaziland and spent a year on death row as a political prisoner in a Swaziland jail. Once released, he fled to England, where he lived for 18 years.

In London, he spent time lecturing at various institutions and was involved in helping to form a performance poetry organisation in the United Kingdom called Apples and Snakes.

“It’s the biggest poetry thing in western Europe,” he says, explaining that it began as poetry readings in a pub. This developed to getting a room above the pub, and later the Greater London Arts Association gave the group space for workshops with poetry and music.

It grew and grew and now the “leading poets of the world” participate in readings.

Although he hasn’t published an anthology of his poetry, he has published a number of papers, on topics ranging from African art and healing, culture in the African Renaissance, and equal opportunities in the agricultural sector, to labour law in South Africa.

When he returned to South Africa in 1996, he took up a teaching post in the fine arts department of the University of the Witwatersrand. After a year he moved to KwaZulu-Natal where he headed up the fine arts and art history department at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) for a year.

He was acting vice-principal of UDW for two years, and in 2003 was executive dean of students at the university.

In between, he served as senior fellow to the African Renaissance Institute and as director of the Sankofa Institute for the African Renaissance. His most recent appointment was executive director of organisational development in the merged University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Read more: http://www.joburg.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5006%3Antuli-plans-exhibition&catid=212%3Aarts-and-culture-2010&Itemid=193#ixzz3pTvCRmMG

Pitika Ntuli, An Artist with a Soul

Sowetan Live
By Edward Tsumele | Mar 24,

THOSE who would like to get into the mind of one of South Africa’s most celebrated authors and cultural gurus, Pitika Ntuli, need to visit his exhibition in Newtown in May.

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THOSE who would like to get into the mind of one of South Africa’s most celebrated authors and cultural gurus, Pitika Ntuli, need to visit his exhibition in Newtown in May.
Academic Ntuli, who achieved international acclaim while in exile in Europe and the US, will exhibit in South Africa for the first time. His exhibition, Scent of Invisible Footprints – In Moments of Complexity, is coming to Museum Africa in Newtown from May 20 to August 31.
Ntuli is a sculptor, painter, poet, writer and academic who has taken part in many international exhibitions.
The Museum Africa exhibition will comprise between 140 to 180 sculptures in a variety of materials including metal, wood, bone, stone, plastic and bronze.
The beauty, diversity and complexity of this show are a major contribution to Ntuli’s artistic language and achievement.
His combination of visual and literary images places him in that rare group of artists that defy categorisation. While in London, Ntuli became the radical cultural face of the South African exile community in the UK.
He was instrumental in the development of Jenako Arts, a multidisciplinary centre promoting the arts and culture of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. He has held workshops in France, Germany, Nigeria, Senegal, Switzerland, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, UK and USA. ITV featured him in Echoes of My Land, the Art of Pitika Ntuli.
Swiss TV documented his life in An Artist in Exile. Recognised as one of the country’s most significant intellectuals, Ntuli was invited to join the Fine Arts Department of Wits University on his return from exile.
He holds a Masters in Fine Art from the Pratt Institute in New York and a Masters in Comparative Industrial Relations and Industrial Sociology. Ntuli is an expert in African indigenous knowledge systems, a frequent guest on radio and TV and a regular political and cultural commentator on SABC2’s Morning Live.
Ntuli spent a year in solitary isolation in Swaziland

Thoughts on Sculpture

P Ntuli

Scent of Invisible Footprints in Moments of Complexity

“The societies and cultures of Africa have long been considered through the sign of closure and immutability, their arts contracted in the rigid space of classification that consigned them to immobility within the confines of a static and mannered otherness. In the gran partage that contrasted the “primitive” and the “civilized”, “cold” societies from “hot”, “closed” societies from “open”, Africa found itself on one side, with Europe on the other” Ladislas Segy[i]

 

Conversations with Alberto Giacometti, Ernst Neizvestny and Amedeo Modigliani

I choose to converse with you in the language of form
Wrestle the octopus of memories of fire
Memories of death foretold and witnessedLike you I reject the unlinear progression of timeFrom birth to deathI choose to measure my being from my demise

Walk away from its grim grip

To the embrace of pulsations of creativity

In the epicenter of my inner core

Neizvestny you were left for dead

You saw also your comrades mowed down by machine gunfire

They executed mine before my eyes and let me live

A cruel gift of life now

I live multiple lives witness my stones!

Giacometti death debilitated you

Till you saw nothing but echoes of absences

Your elegant sticklike sculpture

Armatures of spirit

That speak volumes!

Who am I?

In my country we have just returned

From the edge of delirium and doom,

Almost catastrophic genocidal, through chaotic force fields

From the grid of emotions to chaos and complexity

Fragility, vulnerability, knowledge and power

We court memories of tomorrow through

Spirals of spirituality at dawn in welters of violence!

Me, I kissed the fragrance of dawn

In a night of electric storms uprooting trees eMalahleni

I inhaled coal smoke and flames

Today I breathe fires of poetry

In my land!

I was caressed and blown by winds of exile

There I learnt to crawl on my stomach like a viper

I hallucinate sculptures

Dream paintings and shed ideas as trees

Shed dead leaves in cactus land!

In the time I was in exile my parents were constantly harassed by South Africa’s security police. Whilst in Swaziland I escaped several assassination attempts during seasonal raids by security police. I was described as dangerous. All exiles are dangerous! And then suddenly in February 1990 de Klerk declared that we were no longer dangerous – we were free to return to our homeland.

The retrospective exhibition that this book was written to accompany is a testimony, indeed, a testament in the bible of my mind and heart as read from my days in exile to my return to my native land! This essay is about Art and its role in my struggles to define myself better to remember who I was and what my responsibilities and self-given mandate was in the struggle for the liberation of our country. It is about exile and return.

Setting the Stage

For me to enter into the realm of the duality creative spirit, is to ceaselessly negotiate the above and to touch the pulsating heart of a spleen in the season of sacrifices!

The creation of a work of art is a system on its own. It has its rules and regulations, its power, its knowledge and its regimes of truth- contested truths. It is a system of lies seen against the mirror that inversely become truths. Truths are suspect or else why would Nietzsche devise a dictum that art has been given to man so that he does not die of the truth?

I have lived 32 years of my life in exile and that taught me that if you are rootless, floating from country to country, detention cell to detention cell, truth becomes eternally contested. In one of his most powerful poems on exile, Berthold Brecht refers to changing countries more often than changing shoes. I can relate to that. How often have I began a sculpture in one country and finished it in my mind in another!

Indigenous Background

When I was eight years old, my elder sister took me to watch a graduation ceremony of traditional healers. There were scores of people dancing to a rhythmic beat of pulsating and throbbing drums. The sanusi (high ranking healer) was speaking in tongues brandishing his flywhisk to identify the true healers. Suddenly, he broke off from the centre of the force field, walked straight to me and touched me with his flywhisk and returned to his task!

When my father heard this he was livid with anger. But when my bab’omkhulu (my father’s elder brother) who was a sanusi heard, he was thrilled! From that day, during school days I was with my father but during holidays I spent time with bab’omkhulu in his healing mission.

When I was sixteen he asked me to sit in front of an ugly tree and not to move until the tree had told me its story! I could not believe that I had heard him say that! I sat in front of the tree until I got fed up and began calling the tree names! He was satisfied. Ten years later I was in exile then when I heard of his death. I sat in front of an ugly tree and saw him in it. I bought a chisel and borrowed a hammer and carved my first artwork!

What worldview did I carry from country to country? My worldview was formed by my childhood experiences. It is worldview predicated on interconnectedness, interrelationships and interdependence. It is a Weltanschauungen that anticipated Castells’ Network Society! Bargna[ii] captures it well when he writes: “African space can be considered a relational field in which the identity of everything that exists depends on the strength that is in everyone, which in turn depends on the position it occupies in the web which makes up the world and whose map is furnished by tradition”

It is a worldview that holds that “a person is a person because of other people”, put differently, “I am because you are!” However, this sense of personhood factors in animals, plants, rivers and mountains because all these are sacred and fit into a neat order of the universe. My work reflects this. Trihn T. Mihn–ha[iii] writes that when we travel we travel with our language and as we change, the language changes too. The language acquires vocabularies of places of sojourn, the idioms, metaphors and similes, and yet the language still remains your language. That is what I hope my art reflects! The Japanese said: “Western technology, Japanese spirit!” I can make bold to say in my art: “Western found objects, African spirit!”

The image of a boomerang fascinates me. The boomerang takes to the air and returns. It suggests movement. The ‘source’ refers to roots. Roots do not only exist to fix a plant into the soil, but they also hold the soil together to prevent erosion and thus contribute to an ecological balance. Roots receive nourishment for a plant to grow. To be rooted in ones’s culture and traditions and to use these as a vantage point to engage with the world is very important to me if my art is to have a desired meaning and invoke viable emotions.

Racism, Otherness

Post-colonial – Postmodernism, a meeting point of two posts clashing and re-enforcing each other at the expense of the ex-colonised. Post-modernism we are told, opens up spaces for others to speak. Supposedly I now speak not from the margins, for margins we are told have disappeared. I speak from a plural pool in a universe of centres, as if there could be centres without margins! For the “other” to still recognise the existence of margins, to construct oppositional models to the Eurocentric ones, is to lay oneself open to the accusation of reproduction of colonial structures of thought. In other words to proclaim oneself as a marginalised artist or silenced person is deemed to be complicit, to accept and to internalise the state/condition of marginality.

To deny the subtle existence of margins is to deny the existence of racism in society. Racism is a particular form and expression of marginality. It is a power relation, power to include or exclude, to tokenise and patronise – if these are not peripheralisations then what is?

Post-modern theory, which posits decentred-ness, speaks to the evaluation of the centre or the idea of the centre, fragments/splinters and plurality of voices and meanings, and recognition of “difference” and “otherness” but these differences are mortgaged to a theoretical coding which always reaffirms the primacy of the (postmodern) knowledge of the West.

The oppositional model of the other is integrated back into a set up which absorbs all differences and silences contradictions. My exhibitions in exile were a “living proof” of marginality. They existed by virtue of galleries giving space, once in a while, to a Black artist. These “Black” slots had nothing to do with the language of the work, and everything to do with the colour of the artist.

Exile

The art I am putting on display has its very roots in the bowels of exile with its tentativities measured against time lines and space over which I had no control. I began my art practice in exile infused by my African sensibilities. Ntulis are of the hyena clan, and scavenging the skips, scrap yards and derelict factory lots of western Europe became my second nature. To be an exile is to a large degree to scavenge life but, like the hyena, people forget that you are also an able hunter. I returned to my native land where nothing is discarded, where plastics are refashioned into mats, chickens and a host of other creative forms and began honing my hunting skills!

The Insurrection of HyenasMy sister and I plotted the kill

We went separate ways to meet on the plains

We picked the lagging kudu

My sister initiated the chase

From the tall grass I appeared and the kudu

At frightened high speed tried to turn

Off balance we caught it!

Humans called us scavengers

That’s how our insurrection began!

It was the lion that scavenged our kill

The jungle press with its electronic paparazzi

Has a one track mind

Eternal enemies they called us

When we went to war with lions

Our matriarch challenging the male lion

To a duel in the plains ala Shooting in the OK Corral

The lion pissed to mark territory

I pissed on the lion’s piss to cancel his territorial claim

They still called us scavengers

That’s when our insurrection began!

To create art in exile is like carving on stilts, like Caravaggio painting on the run, and in the words of Camus “to live and create in the very midst of the desert.” Exile was about uncertainties, doubts and a stubborn desire to create. I can relate to Rieux and Grand in the “Myth of Sisyphus” struggling and endeavouring within the abyss of a plague (Shoham)[iv]not knowing the ultimate purpose of their activities, not having any decisive influence on the course of events, cling to the life raft of creativity as the only safeguard against the slump of inauthenticity in the anaesthetizing bosom of the generalized other

The metaphor of the plague interests me for in a plague, like exile, there is avoidance, fear of contamination, the ever present aroma of death – Thami Mnyele bombed by South African security forces in Botswana, and priceless paintings destroyed; Themba Speelman disappearing in Swaziland with his paintings, never to be seen again; Jabu Hlophe swallowed without trace by exile with his bright hopeful palette – to name but a few. I had to choose between drinking myself to death and releasing my anger, frustrations, desires, dreams and demons through my art. I am glad I made the choice I did.

Shlomo Shoham[v] speaks my words when he avers: “If the individual has heeded the call to authenticity and embarked on a search for rebellious, creative expression, he still has to find the mode and medium of creativity optimally suited to his specific psycho-social configuration.” I chose a medium that suited me best, sculpture!

I exhibited my artworks throughout the world but not in my native land and yet all my work owes its’ being to the soil that nourished me. The faces of my people, the voices, the movements, the cries and their laughter’s, their struggles and triumphs are the words, the images I use to enter into conversations with the rest of the world. They are my weapons in the fight against the obliteration of our knowledge systems. Throughout years in exile I was involved in projects to interrogate, enter into debates and sometimes turn my back from my fellow homo sapiens.

I enter my dreamings with my nose tracing scents of my footprints down arid avenues of time spent in exile, leaving trails of artworks that speak where words failed. I carry echoes in my eardrums, memories in my mind, and visions in the retina of my eyes, my struggles to remain sane in foreign incubators whilst my country burned with my people frogmarched by racist bigots. I still carry fragments of dreams in those bleak days and nights of struggles.

The Creative Act

“Creation is the expression of a unique personality. In order to be authentic, the creation has to include the artist’s inner self, which comprises the mythogenes ingrained in the work of art, and consists of dynamics which are as specific to the artist as his fingerprints” (Shoham)[vi]

In Art, the creative act is a Titanic battle between flesh and spirit. Each artwork is a diversion of the flesh, the body. Each time the artist dies, a new work is born or rather the opposite. Each time a work of art is born the artist dies a little. A little death invokes a greater desire to live and thus creates another artwork. When the artist dies finally, she continues to live through her offspring – her children and her artworks!

To sculpt is to create a work of art by a series of destructions – violent acts as chisels cut through wood or stone; angle grinders slash through bones; and an electric saw searing through and massacring forms – driven by a desire to leave only one single form as the ultimate! Then the triumph of the EGO! There is often a state of high that accompanies the creative act. A high that is both infantile and barbaric as if one had drunk juices from the tired liver of an alcoholic!

Sculpture is about mass and space. It must be grounded and free to soar, flow or float through space. A grain of wood or stone, even bone, is shaped by the fluids that have passed through it. Metal must first be melted. In other words each material that I use retraces the journeys of its juices, to reflect them, to quote them! The wood must dry up before it is used. The bone must part with decaying flesh and wait for the marrow to harden before the work begins. To sculpt therefore is metaphorically, to revisit the original state of the material, to externalize its fluidity.

In 1984 I was asked what my art means to me. This is what I wrote and I still believe this to be true except that we are now a liberated people!

In my art I seek to express myself in a manner most appropriate, lucidThe self I attempt to express is a collective self,

Ideas are not born in isolation

The brain or body responds to the external world,

Builds storage of facts and feelings to be touched, triggered, cajoled….

In a dialogue with others I am a capsule of love and anger

A memory cell of oppression, repression

And a violent struggle within me to be free

To express my dream

My body is a centre of colliding forces

My brain a matador, a gored bull sometimes

My brain is a film, an art gallery, a war zone.

I try to externalize it

To make comparison with other canvasses

To confirm, contradict, to contribute to a debate

A confirmation, denial.

The brain is a mirror that reflects itself

Feelings are copiers that reproduce themselves

Self programmed, Time programmed

Rebelling against programming

I am a free agent moving in the sky in ever widening spirals of love and hate

War and Peace……..In a state of BECOMING!

Carving Wood

In 2006 a giant 200 years old wild mahogany tree fell at Mitchell Park, Durban. For years the City had tried to prop it up but to no avail. Bolts and screws were used. When it finally collapsed its body was riddled with metal pieces – a reminder of the Industrial Revolution that it had witnessed. What other memories did it have? Where it was chained, it echoed the heartbreaking memories of the Slave Trade. I approached the City to give me the tree to carve. I embarked on a project to produce a series of 20 sculptures highlighting some of the key moments in the 200 years of its existence. The pieces range from Phallic Imperialism, through heroic slaves such as Toussaint L’Ouverture to the Rivonia Conspiracy.

Carving Stone

I enter into a conversation with a piece of granite stone and it degenerates into an interrogation. Knowing it will be a rough encounter I wear my military fatigues. I open the interrogation with a sharp angle grinder sentence. The stone laughs at me. Mocks me, mocks my skill, undermines my conception, my spirit, my emotions, and ardent desires. Thought dissipates and only a stubborn feeling with demonic force remains, a desire to shape and frame this object, to reveal to me our common inner self, mine and that of the granite. I put everything I have, think, emote and dream into the stone. She responds with kicks bashing and battering my spirit, breaking my heart, straining my arm muscles leaving every nerve end in my body aching!

My stone throws up missiles of piercing dust that invade my nostrils, eyes and find ways into my ears! My angle grinder gets fed up with me for pushing it too far; it rips an ounce of flesh from my arm. Sympathetic pain delays his moment of glory to give some respite! Meanwhile blood and sweat mingle. My clothes feeling sorry for me get too attached. Then spacetimelight fuse into a single ball, a single capsule of nothingness. Only a lone feeling, a desire to capture a fleeting moment from a temperament remains!

Conversations with StoneGranite, dolomite, sandstone, serpentine, verdite

A roll-call of tongues, imprinted conversations

As our country twists and turns

To decide who must have a turn to be corrupted

Faces confront each other

Race sometimes with manes of the four

Horses of the apocalypse

I carve images of those who snore through the revolution

Soulless ambitious ones

Mothers squatting on hand grenades about to explode

I reveal grains of thought and deep concern

Granules of ideas

That speaks to touch, to visions, to memory

We are children of the soil, the land, broken boulders

I reveal beneath, from within the stones

Vibrant dreams of new beginnings

Tender hopes and frustrations

Jostling with those who wish

For control of the lucrative seat of power

Carving Bone

Insurrection of Bones

Slowly I followed the scent of invisible footsteps

Into the valley of death

I caught sight of fleeing flesh leaving a trail

Of putrid smells

Under the resplendent sun at noon

In the season of insurrection of bones

Symphonies and orchestras of rattling bones

Shouting anti flesh slogans

Flesh the betrayer of dreams soon tattooed

With criss -crossing fibulas and tibulas

We of blood and flesh

Have betrayed the spirits of our gods

From graves skeletons rose

Brandishing glistening teeth of vampires

Like jettisoned ancestors in the night of death dances

To celebrate the new moon

Armies of bones rattling more symphonies and orchestras

Harmonies and melodies with contrapuntal war cries

Baying at the approaching hyenas with bone crushing arsenal!

In my culture when an individual or the community as a whole is faced with a crisis in the form of illness, or if demons wreak havoc in the lives of the people, the individual/community turns to isangoma -the healer- who will in turn “throw bones” to divine the problem. It is bones in Sterkfontein that told us that life began here in Mzansi (South Africa). My bone sculptures seek to divine myths and mythologies. I divine the state of our nation with my bone scultpures!

Separation of flesh and spirit, an animal dies. This is followed by the separation of flesh from bone. After a while the marrow dries up. A foetus of a work of art is conceived. The dialectic of the destructive-creative is played out!

HIV and AIDSThe bones beneath the shrivelled

Skin protrude in

Tired gestures of appeal to

Silences at the tip of our tongues

And embarrassed eyes that

Drink visions of unconcern

I carve each bone to

Reveal family secrets

Of coffins of Ubuntu hidden in

Rondavel corners

I carve the bone to

Reveal the secret of human folly

I saw bones beneath the

Shrivelling skin of my beloved son

Reach out for my aching bones

I touched his forehead

My fingers tender with love

Promised to carve every bone in the universe

To speak to the world of silent wars

Waged in the privacy of young bodies

Whilst indifferent eyes dance

On floors of mute palaces

Elephant bones protrude with

Gusts of energy

Attempting to flee culling gurus

I see each bone clearly beneath

Thick hide appealing to me to be saved.

After the fourth insurrection of human bones

Who could not make the ancestral list

Who ghosted in stadia

Causing strikes actions across the land

Of football players without strikers

We marched into battle against the express command

Of the dreaded long-maned oppressor

And attacked the bones to end their insurrection

Our seventh insurrection ensued

With cunning against these fluid fast footed

Hate filled bleached calcium skeletons

With bone crushing jaws we set to work wonders

There were no witnesses

The jungle paparazzi said this was not news

Now humans called themselves Sompisi

The masters of the hyena

How strange!

Carving Metal

I use wheelbarrows as metaphors for travel, as contributors to the creation of monuments that speak of our conquests and reminders of our subservient positions. My wheelbarrows also turn into tourists/shoppers.

The African mask has held a powerful fascination for western artists. Today I use plastic oil/milk containers as masks. I benefit from what Kroker and Cook describe as an “Excremental Culture”.

Wheelbarrows, differentials, spanners,

Drain grids, spades and forks, hoes and picks

Welded, “carved” and twisted

To spell out each nerve ends, each ache

On the workers back echoes betrayed dreams!

Hook eyes become Senufo

Slim and raising questions

I initiate conversations with Alberto Giacometti

With my slim figures piercing space

With dynamic force

Just a Matter of a Wheelbarrow!

 

I turn the horizontality of a wheelbarrow

Vertical

The wheelbarrow becomes its user

Subvert its self sufficiency by adding hoe feet

And spade head

I give it medals of computer circuit boards

My wheelbarrow travels fast

From feudalism to the Information Age!

[i] Ladislas Segy

[ii] Bargna

[iii] Trihn Mihn T ha

[iv] Shoham

[v] Shoham

[vi] Shoham