An art exhibition is a confluence of creative minds and the perfect opportunity to understand the current thinking of a country’s intelligentsia.
Lebohang Kganye and Nandipha Mntambo are two of 13 female artists – from Ethiopia to Egypt to Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa – we meet showcasing their work, at the historic Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg on May 10, for the exhibition, Being her(e): Meditations on African Femininities, examining what it means to be “a female body in contemporary Africa”.
Searching for mother
“I am excited to be part of the exhibition, because it is not a show overseas, about Africa, but it is an exhibition in a historical space in Africa. I have no reservations about the future of women in arts across Africa, and this exhibition emphasizes that,” says South African photographer Kganye.
Her first piece of art, B(l)ack to Fairy Tales, in 2011, explored her memories of a fairy tale world by Walt Disney.
“I identified with fairy tale characters – the white skin, long hair, blue eyes, perfect figure… My black skin and location became an increasing disjuncture with the fantasies I believed in. Hence, I paint myself excessively black for B(l)ack to Fairy Tales”.
For her collection, Kganye uses photographs from her 2013 series, Ke Lefa Laka, dedicated to her mother.
“Her death sparked the need to trace my ancestral roots. I initially began navigating my history through geographic mapping, attempting to trace where my family originated and how we ended up in these different spaces that we all now call home. I visited the different locations where my family lived in South Africa and found old family photo albums.
“I began looking for pieces of my mother in the house. I found many photos and clothes which had always been there but which I had ignored over the years. There she was smiling and posing in these clothes. My re-connection with her became a visual manipulation of ‘her-our’ histories. I began inserting myself into her pictorial narrative by emulating these snaps.
“I would dress in the exact clothes that she was wearing in these 20-year-old photographs and mimic the same poses. This was my way of marrying the two memories; mine and hers. I later developed digital photomontages where I juxtaposed old photographs of my mother retrieved from the family archives with photographs of a ‘present version of her’ – she is me, I am her, and there remains in this commonality so much difference, and so much distance in space and time,” says Kganye.
In 2011, she completed an Advanced Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, where she displays her self-portraits. She is now busy with a new collection of photographs, Reconstruction Of A Family.
The Cowhide Chick
It’s a gloomy day in Johannesburg when we meet with South African sculptor, photographer and videographer Nandipha Mntambo at her apartment-cum-studio in New Doornfontein but around her are bursts of color. Mntambo is surrounded by her paintings and sculptures. Art has always been in her blood.
Mntambo was born in Swaziland and grew up in South Africa. She graduated with a master’s degree in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town (UCT), in 2007. Her father was a bishop, so it was a nomadic childhood.
“We moved around the country because of my father’s job and at that time it was still under apartheid because of the neighborhood that we lived in there were certain schools that didn’t accept me so I ended up studying at a Jewish school, then a Catholic and a Methodist school, the different cultures and religion had an influence on how I deal with things,” she says.
Mntambo, 35, wanted to study forensics pathology but couldn’t deal with dead bodies.
“I wanted to be a scientist; the Stellenbosch University had a good department and I was even job-shadowing but then I thought seeing dead people every day wouldn’t necessarily be the best thing for me.
“Luckily, I had a portfolio from high school, I sent it to UCT and then they accepted me into their art program. At the time, I didn’t imagine I would be a full-time practising artist. I was just happy to create work and learn more about art history,” says Mntambo.
In her work, Mntambo focuses on the human body and the organic nature of identity, using natural materials and experimenting with sculptures moulded from cowhide. For this, she is known as the ‘cowhide chick’.
She uses her own body as the mould for these sculptures and does not intend to make statements about femininity.
“One of the challenges I’ve had was to have a language that would help me explain to somebody that because I am a black female within a particular context, the issues of lobola, women, cows and culture are there but it’s not what my work is about,” she says.
One of Mntambo’s favorite materials is the skin of the cow. Her art works explore the similarities and differences between animals and humans; men and women, and attraction and repulsion.
“I was really interested in mythology when I first started and the fact that throughout many civilizations there are stories of animals and humans and how they inter-relate.”
The job wasn’t always easy.
“I work with organic material that gets insects and had to deal with cow fat. Because at first I didn’t understand the material enough, it felt like a bit of self-punishment; dealing with flies and losing studio mates. There was also a time when finances were a problem and the work wasn’t selling,” says Mntambo.
“In South Africa, we have few female black artists and sculptures. It took a long time to be accepted in certain circles in terms of how people interpret my work, and how they view me. You’re not allowed to exist as just as an artist or sculpture, you exist as a black female artist, so there all these preconceived ideas that people either put on you or their interpretation of the work. There are also strange limitations that people put on you,” she says.
Burna Boy’s The African Giant Debuts On The Daily Show With Trevor Noah
What happens when one of Africa’s global comedians meets an African global recording artist? African greatness, that’s what. Burna boy was interviewed on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, making it a proud moment for Africans world wide.
South African born comedian Trevor Noah hosted Nigeria’s singer and song writer, Burna Boy on The Daily Show on Tuesday night.
Born Damini Ogulu, Burna Boy spoke about his recipe for Afro-fusion music, performing at Coachella and producing his album African Giant.
In a video released showing behind the scenes footage, Trevor Noah expressed his love for Nigeria.
“That’s the one thing I’ve always loved about Nigeria; it’s the love of Nigeria from Nigeria. If every African could have that, ‘we love our thing’,” Trevor refers to the zeal Nigeria has about their talent.
While at the show Burna Boy performed a medley of songs Ye and Anybody.
Burna Boy who is one of this year’s Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list makers made waves recently after releasing his much anticipated album earlier this year.
The album was released in July and includes hit songs like African Giant, Dangote, Spiritiual, and international artists like Jeremih, Future, Damian Marley and Jorja Smith.
In the album categorized as afrobeats has some Fela Kuti influences, he asserts himself as an African and conveys the message of how Africa should not be marginalized.
“I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means,” he wrote on Instagram.
The album was released a month after he won the BET Award for the Best International Act at the end of June.
Already garnering thousands of listeners and viewers on platforms such as YouTube and Apple Music, Burna Boy has teamed up with Spotify to launch Burna Bank.
Inspired by the artwork for the African Giant album, Burna Bank is, “the installation features a unique ATM which will be dispensing custom, collectible bills designed by Sajjad Musa.
Each bill is inspired by Burna’s Nigerian roots, and his quest to call out corruption and the disproportionate distribution of wealth.”
The Burna Bank is an ATM that distributes these notes and launches this week making him one of the first African musicians to have his own currency.
Another one of his wins this year was recording a song with Grammy award winner Beyoncé, in a single titled Ja Ara E as part of her The Lion King:The King Album.
Burna Boy continues to prove he is a force to be reckoned with as an African giant and continues to put the continent on the map.
Executive Travel: NaakMusiQ’s Dubai
The South African actor and musician was impressed with the city’s architecture, food and work ethic.
South African actor and musician Anga Makubalo, known by his stage name NaakMusiQ, calls the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai a luxury destination.
NaakMusiQ, who hails from Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, shot to fame after appearing in the award-winning South African soap opera Generations and has since been in a number of television shows.
He has also had a chart-topping music hit, Ntombi ft Bucie.
NaakMusiQ’s first trip to Dubai, known as the melting pot of the Middle East, was last year on an Emirates flight when he traveled Business Class. The fashion-lover admits to being a light packer, although there are some items he would never travel without, such as cologne, a pair of sneakers, and his music.
READ MORE | Executive Travel: Nomzamo Mbatha’s Kenya
“I also carry my scripts all the time. Because of the long flights, I can get tired of watching a movie, I can get tired of listening to music, so the next best thing is to get into my script and get a head start.”
He has been to Dubai before, but only transiting the airport connecting to another flight, so this was his first official trip into the glistening city.
“Dubai is everything that people say it is,” he says. “We went to the mall. It was crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it before. [The Dubai Mall] has a full-on aquarium inside. In the middle of the center, there’s like this huge fish tank. It’s crazy! That was probably the highlight of my visit.”
The actor was also intrigued by the city’s architecture and skyscrapers.
“I’m actually very huge on architecture. It’s actually something I wanted to study. Their engineering is absolutely insane. The way they’ve built this place and the designs – it’s luxury, one after the other. We drove for hours admiring the architecture because I’m such a nerd when it comes to that. I love it.”
Dubai has a sizeable African expatriate community, and no dearth of African culture. As a musician, NaaqMusiQ had been invited to the city.
“Africans that have immigrated to Dubai request their favorite African artist to come over so that they’re still connected to Africa and home. The nice thing about that is, as much as it is our people that have invited us there to perform, they have influenced people from there [Dubai] and other parts of the country [UAE] to come and listen to our music.
“Because they’ve become residents there, they have friendships where they introduce African music to the people of Dubai. So when we went there, there were quite a lot of people, even though some couldn’t sing along, there were a lot of people who went crazy when my song [Ntombi] played.”
During his time there, NaakMusiQ was also taken to restaurants serving African food. This came as somewhat of a surprise for the actor that the Arab city boasted a range of eateries specializing in African cuisine.
“We had a lot of Kenyan food that I hadn’t tasted before, which was really nice. They’ve got Tanzanian food, they’ve got South African food, Zambian food; it’s just a whole African experience there. And they do well actually.”
READ MORE | Executive Travel: JJ Schoeman’s Prague
While NaakMusiQ didn’t interact with the natives of Dubai, he did get a sense of what they are like. The hustle and bustle of the city left him greatly motivated.
“Everyone in Dubai is there to work. Everyone is there to hustle. People think that Dubai is this big, fun place, which it can be, but even people from there aren’t out partying every night. It’s people from the countries that are visiting that are out partying. Everyone else is really working. Some people are so hectic when it comes to business and money that they don’t have a life outside of their work.
“When they do have nights off, they choose to be at home or to put in extra hours working. It just made me want to work harder. That is the impact… Everyone there wants to do better. The standards there are incredibly high. What we would consider as good here is probably entry-level there,” says the hit-maker who now plans to return to Dubai wealthier and with more cash to splurge.
Stone Town: From Freddie Mercury To The Farms
The sights, scents and sounds of Zanzibar include a 73-year-old tale of the iconic late British singer-songwriter.
Dress conservatively when walking the streets of Stone Town,” advises the tourist brochures in the predominantly Islamic society of Zanzibar, yet, the tiny Tanzanian archipelago proudly claims Freddie Mercury, the controversial frontman of British band Queen, as its own.
The singer, born in the windswept streets of Stone Town in Zanzibar in 1946 and one of the world’s most iconic voices in pop-rock, is this tourist town’s biggest currency-spinner.
Stone Town, which is a maze of historic alleys and spice bazaars with timber shutters, an old Arab fort, churches, mosques and 19th-century stone buildings, is a World Heritage Site overlooking the sea. Within its dusty bowels, leading up from its myriad walkways, is Shangani Street, starting with a white-washed, two-storied yellow building that was once Freddie Mercury’s home.
There are countless tours offered to what is emblazoned in gold outside as ‘Freddie Mercury House’, featuring four fully-furnished hotel apartments with balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Outside are framed glass cases with sepia images of the songwriter and vocalist, describing his famous connection with Zanzibar. Born Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury’s family had immigrated to Zanzibar from Gujarat in India. He was born to Bomi and Jer Bulsara who were originally Parsis (a Zoroastrian community that migrated to the Indian subcontinent from Persia). In 1964, the Zanzibar Revolution forced the family to flee.
The island community’s lucrative tourist trade is even today cashing in on Mercury’s global image, with tours offered at the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where the Parsi family once worshipped, and to a restaurant named Mercury offering fresh seafood.
“Imagine, Freddie Mercury played on these white sandy beaches and clear waters at one time,” says my tourist guide, Amour, proudly, before taking me on a two-hour walking tour of Stone Town. He points to the domed white Zanzibar High Court where Mercury’s father once worked as a cashier.
His house on Shangani Street, where the first settlers arrived, is a hub of activity, with tourists, and touts selling everything from icecream to tanzanite jewelry and African bric-à-brac. Just a few steps up, is the Shangani post office and buildings boasting Indian, African and European architecture, where you discover your own Bohemian Rhapsody.
Amour helps me weave through the heaving mass of human traffic in the busy streets, to a fish and vegetable market in Stone Town that also sells spices in pretty bamboo gift-packs. The fish is sold fresh and the spices overpower the stench.
“Zanzibar used to be the largest exporter of cloves in the world, but from 70 percent, it’s only nine percent now,” Amour rues, thrusting a packet of cloves into my hand, “and that’s sad, because of declining prices, more competitors and the poor encouragement of farmers.”
Earlier, I had visited the spice farms Zanzibar is so famous for, finishing off with lunch in a Swahili home stationed on a peak in one of the scented valleys. It was modest home-cooked fare but with aromas as strong as the spice farms the ingredients came from: a banana dish with coconut milk and cardamom, flavored cassava from the fields, fried tuna, rotis and the most fragrant pilaf (rice dish) I have ever eaten, watered down with lemon grass and ginger tea.
I had been to the Muyuni village in the south tasting the sweetest mangoes and bananas in all of Africa, passing seaweed-strewn beaches, paddy fields and potholed roads with bullock carts, dala dala taxis and motorbikes.
In the lush mangroves of Jozani, I encountered the endangered red colobus monkeys. In the spice plantations, down slippery forest paths, I tasted nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves off the trees.
The natural treats along the way also included lemons and sweet green oranges. As we passed the red mahogany trees, “beware of the green mambas or pythons”, my host had warned. A vendor in the middle of the forest showed us his wares in a wicker basket: soaps and perfumes made from the Ylang-Ylang trees by the womenfolk.
“In Europe, Chanel No. 5 is made from this. Here, we call it Chanel No. 0, our products have no chemical or alcohol,” he says, pointing to the tiny bottles filled with red liquid. “These farms are so rich in spices that the chicken running around are already spiced, you don’t need to flavor them when you cook them,” laughs Amour, towards the end of our outing. From Freddie Mercury to the farms, Zanzibar beckons the senses.
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