It’s 4AM and another golden dawn breaks over California. Mark Tonderai is already awake typing up a script in his home office. He is surrounded by film: his favorite film scores fill the air, to his right is a poster of the movie that brought him a taste of success, House at the End of the Street, and scrawled on three whiteboards are writing assignments, ideas and production schedules for his next projects.
When inspiration is lacking, Tonderai doesn’t have to look far. He simply turns and glances out the window. There, on Mount Lee, stands a symbol that can taunt as the years wear on: HOLLYWOOD.
Tonderai was born to a British father and a Zimbabwean mother, in Hammersmith, London. His parents sent him to Zimbabwe where he completed his education at Peterhouse, arguably one of the most prestigious schools in the country, located near Marondera. After high school he headed back England where he studied architecture, but he knew there was something missing in his life.
“[Growing up] I was always drawing or typing on my father’s type writer. Looking back, I guess I’ve always been creative.”
Back in England, Tonderai applied for numerous jobs in the entertainment industry and landed a trainee-presenter job at the BBC. Three months later, he had his own radio show, The Mark Tonderai Show. It played a variety of music—hip-hop, R&B, classic soul and reggae—to a fairly conservative British audience in the early 90s.
Tonderai wanted more and went into TV. One of his proud acting credits was a role in the highly-acclaimed 2002 action drama, The Four Feathers, starring the late Heath Ledger, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson. Tonderai played an Egyptian orderly.
It didn’t get any easier behind the camera. A frustrated Tonderai felt he was fighting a losing battle and began making plans to go to Hong Kong where he would teach English, earn a solid income and figure out what to do with his life. Overnight, his luck changed.
“My wife picked up one of my pitches, read it and sent it to a competition… before I knew it, I was in production.”
In 2005, Tonderai’s film Dog Eat Dog brought him back to his mother’s land for the Zimbabwe Film Festival. His light skin and British accent puzzled many.
“Many people questioned whether or not I was really Zimbabwean because of the way I look. I had to defend myself… it was quite amusing.”
His road-film-thriller, Hush, which he wrote and directed, came three years later. The film did not do well at the box office but Tonderai was not discouraged. He worked harder, burning the midnight oil, to churn out what was to be his big break, House at the End of the Street. The film starred 23-year-old Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence and grossed over $44 million.
“It was really good for us… Suddenly so many things changed. The film was shown on over 3,000 screens in America and I had to pinch myself.”
Tonderai may be settled in the United States but he dreams of making films in Africa.
“I want to do a film set in Cape Town, based on Roger Smith’s book, Wake Up Dead… It’s is a film I was born to do. I would really like to kick it off early [next year],” says Tonderai.
For the man born in England, raised in Zimbabwe and living in the States he still considers Africa home.
“I always tell people I’m from Zimbabwe, even though I haven’t been there in a long time.”
One of the most important lessons Tonderai has learned on his journey is to leave no room for regret.
“Life is short, you have to get up and attack it. You have to make things happen because very soon you’ll realize that half your life is gone, then three quarters or your life is gone and then it’ll be too late. You’ll think back and remember all the things you wish you had done but never did.”
Things could’ve turned out very differently for Tonderai. He could have been an architect, he could have taught English in Hong Kong, but he took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference. Now he sits in the director’s chair yelling “Cut! Take two,” but he remembers that in life there are no second takes. FL
The Art Of Survival: The Art Of Adire Gave This Textile Artist Global Fame, She Now Educates Generations Of Women In Nigeria
Textile artist Nike Davies-Okundaye worked as a construction laborer and carried water and firewood to survive. The art of adire gave her global fame and she is now educating generations of women in Nigeria.
There was no way Nike Davies-Okundaye could look the other way. For after all, she too had been a victim in her early teens.
Too many women were being pushed down the traditional path of marriage and child-rearing in her country.
Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, a small village in western Nigeria known for its spectacular rock formations and traditional art industry, Davies-Okundaye resolved to fight this practice four decades ago.
“By the age of 13, they wanted to marry me off because my father had no money. I had to run away from home and join a traveling theater. I said I didn’t want to marry and wanted to pursue art,” recalls the internationally-renowned Lagos-based artist.
Not wanting to become one of six wives to a minister, Davies-Okundaye found her escape through adire, the name given to the Yoruba craft of tie-and-dye where indigo-dyed cloth is made using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. Growing up in a predominantly art and craft household, Davies-Okundaye is a fifth-generation artist who decided to take the craft seriously due to poverty.
“I had no money to go to school and the first education parents give you is to teach you what they do. So, when I finished primary six and I had no support to go to secondary school, I said to myself, ‘let me master art so I can teach other women to also use their hand to make a living through their own artwork’.”
Davies-Okundaye was forced to work in the male-dominated construction sector, carrying concrete in pans to builders in order to save one shilling, just enough to buy a yard of fabric to create what she called wall-hanging art.
Her goal was to use the traditional wax-resist methods to design patterned fabric in a dazzling array of tints and hues. The adire design is the result of hand-painted work carried out mostly by women and through that, Davies-Okundaye saw a way to help women to become economically empowered. After all, her first break in life came as a result of that.
“There was no other job I was doing apart from adire. I was lucky the American government came to Nigeria to recruit an African who will teach African Americans how to make traditional textiles or crafts in the state. That is how I was lucky and got picked.”
Davies-Okundaye was the only woman in a class of 10 men who were flown to Maine in northeastern United States in 1974. That is where her whole outlook on life changed.
“Before I went to America, I used to carry three drums of water every day and carry firewood to be able to survive. It was like a breakthrough in my life when I reached America. I said ‘is this heaven?’ I was the only woman in the class and all the men were learning women’s looms and I kept telling them ‘this is for women’ and they said ‘yes, in America, what a man can do, a woman can also do’.”
This was in stark contrast to what she knew to be true in Nigeria at the time.
“If your husband is an artist, you are not allowed to do art. In the 1960s, if your husband has a PhD, you are not allowed to also have a PhD. You had to give room for your husband to be your boss.”
She decided to beat those age-old stereotypes.
As one of 15 wives to her then-husband at the time, Davies-Okundaye, with her newfound knowledge gained in America, started a revolution at home. She encouraged the other wives to create their own art business using adire.
“I said ‘if you learn this, you can earn a living by yourself and get your power because your money is your power’ and that is how they also started learning it. I didn’t stop sharing the knowledge there. I gathered girls on the streets who were selling kola nuts and peanuts and started training them. I said ‘if this textile can take me to America, let me teach other people’,” says Davies-Okundaye.
And that has been her calling ever since. Davies-Okundaye is the founder and director of four art centers, which offer free training to 150 young artists in Nigeria in visual, musical and performing arts.
One of the centers is the largest art gallery in West Africa comprising over 7,000 art works.
“They used to get the police to arrest me because they said I was trying to teach feminism in Nigeria because I went to America. They said I was going to corrupt our Nigerian women but I believe God sent me to liberate a lot of women who have the passion for what makes them happy but are afraid to do it because of what people will say. I say do what makes you happy always!”
Why This Photographer Looked Up During The Lockdown
Steven Benjamin chose to focus on the bird life in his garden in Cape Town to escape the confines of the lockdown.
During South Africa’s five-week shutdown (the country is still on Level 4 restrictions), Cape Town-born underwater photographer Steven Benjamin more used to sharks, whales and dolphins, used the period to look up instead – and indulge in bird-watching, another passion of his.
“Ever since the age of five or six, I have been interested in birds. I was dyslexic as a young child and I still have my first bird book where I ‘ticked’ backwards. I was trying to identify the birds that flew into my pre-school class and begged my mom to let me mark off what I’d seen, so birding has always been a passion,” says Benjamin, who also runs a seal-snorkeling business.
He has spent his life capturing South Africa’s marine world, and now, Benjamin had to redirect his focus to his Kalk Bay garden during the lockdown to photograph Cape Town’s resident birdlife.
He says photographing these feathered beauties is a way to bring joy during these uncertain times.
“They are so beautiful but incredibly difficult to photograph because they are shy and extremely fast. Photographing birds is a challenge but it creates a mental space to observe and admire nature.”
Soon after the lockdown started, Benjamin put white sugar in his bird feeder every morning and enjoyed the sight of local birds and documented them. He posted the images on Instagram and that garnered some online attention.
“The lockdown has made me relax and take the time to do things I would never have gotten around to doing. I settled on this project, which I work on every day. I’m always adding something new to the scene and there are always new birds and interactions happening. It’s made the days fly by,” he says.
During the lockdown, there was only one male Cape Sugar Bird that landed in his garden. This spectacular bird is unique to South Africa and mostly only found in the Western Cape. All of this will go into an exhibition Benjamin is working towards in Cape Town.
‘Our Home Became The Film Set, Blankets Became Props, Windows Became Locations’
A poem exclusively penned and performed in lockdown in the US for the readers of FORBES AFRICA, by Rwandan artist Malaika Uwamahoro.
Malaika Uwamahoro, an artist born in Rwanda, and a Theatre Studies BA graduate from Fordham University in New York City, has performed her own poetry on stages around the world including at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the African Union summits in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Kigali (Rwanda).
In 2014, she made her Off-Broadway debut at Signature Theatre in the world premiere of Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho.
Currently resident in Portland, Maine, in the United States, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her life in lockdown, and about a poem she penned exclusively for the readers of the magazine: “To fight this pandemic, essential workers and medical doctors are doing their best on the frontlines to ensure everyone in need gets the necessary support and best care possible… Before we are all choked and out of breath just by thinking about this, I extend this poetry piece as an invitation to look inward.”
How did she come up with the poem, titled I Don’t Mind!, and its accompanying video?
“It was late in the night, my fiancé was fast asleep, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I really feel about all this, what are my true thoughts about this pandemic, what can I do’? I opened my notes and the words began to flow.”
A few days later, she shared the poem with her fiancé, Christian Kayiteshonga, a filmmaker.
“We had previously been pondering ways to make art in our home. This poem seemed like the perfect push to set us in our new path. Our home became the film set, using blankets and cake mix as props, windows and office space as locations, myself as the talent, him as the crew, and now you as the audience,” says Uwamahoro, who also performed for the ‘In the Spotlight’ segment at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban, South Africa, on March 6.
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