Category: Our Work

Presenting an introductory workshop to isiBheqe soHlamvu at Umuzi, Pule kaJanolintshi, an artist and linguist, projects an image of what appears to be an “upside-down” map of Africa onto the wall. Someone in the audience quickly remarks that the map is facing the wrong way.  “You mean, the right way round… We’re in the South why can’t we be at the top? Whether the map is the right or the wrong way around depends on your orientation”, Pule pushes back. Decolonisation in practice, Ditema tsa Dinoko, challenges us to recondition and develop ways of understanding beyond conventional Western practices. Much like the disputed map, isiBheqe is an exercise in reimagining and reconstructing.

Developed over the past three years by a team of linguists and designers, isiBheqe soHlamvu, also known as Ditema tsa Dinoko, is a syllabic writing system, meaning the symbols are expressed as syllables as opposed to individual sounds like alphabetic letters. The system is informed by indigenous Southern African symbolic design traditions, considering Sesotho, isiNdebele and isiNguni symbols, like the beading artform ibheqe.

IsiBheqe soHlamvu makes use of triangular forms prevalent in these traditions that can create patterns as a means of communication. And while isiBheqe is a writing system the triangular symbols aren’t like conventional alphabets but, like music, representations of sound. Also known as a featural writing system, isiBheqe symbols are informed by articulation – the use of physical organs such as your lips, tongue and jaw when pronouncing the syllables of words – the way words sound.

The first featural writing system of the 21st century (featural writing systems, such as Korean Hangeul, date back to the 15th century), the developers of isiBheqe hope to encourage the use of the writing system through their website isibheqe.org which boasts an isiBheqe keyboard, and eventually have isiBheqe recognized by the Unicode Consortium.

Bringing isiBheqe to life, Umuzi in collaboration with Afropunk, an influential community of young people of all backgrounds speaking through music, art, film, lifestyle sports, fashion, and photography, present Ringa, an exhibition exploring  the concept of language in Southern Africa as a complex singularity, rather than languages as separate entities.

On 5 October, as part of the Braamfontein’s First Thursday programme, a group of Umuzi young artists, partnering with Sandile Radebe and Pule kaJanolintshi, will use Isibheqe, an indigenous writing system for Southern African languages, as a medium to convey an everyday, pan-lingual experience.

As summer rolls into Jozi we are back at 70 Juta Street for our 5th First Thursday collaboration RINGA! Exhibition of Taal.

Umuzi are excited to be partnering with Afropunk, Sandile Radebe and Pule kaJanolintshi to offer up a thought-provoking exploration of language in Southern Africa as a complex singularity a river system in dynamic flow full of all the varied styles of speech around us, and their graphic representation in different systems of writing, not just the Roman alphabet that we learn at school, but the writing systems that are indigenous to this continent.

Language as a fundamental part of experience is actually a special kind of natural code we use in conveying thoughts between us, whether it be with the voice (spoken languages) or with the body (signed languages).  We further encode the code of language graphically through writing, which is nothing but a cultural technology that transports words across space and time. Speech, sign and writing are as much markers of identity as they are ways of expressing our beliefs, desires and history. They are the inqolobane where we store culture, through which we often unconsciously reflect and share collective memory.

This exhibition, mounted by young South African artists of Umuzi Academy, explores these relationships between the visual and oral of language in this region of the world.

It features artworks that speak to both official and non-official everyday language, from Is’Camtho and Tsotsitaal to IsiMpondro and Tshivenḓa, incorporating various writing systems, such as isiBheqe Sohlamvu (Ditema tsa Dinoko), Adinkra symbols of West Africa, the Mandombe script of Congo, the Zẖȝ n Mdw-Nṯr of ancient Egypt, or the Jawi ajami for writing Afrikaans in Arabic characters.

Ringa! brings language to the fore in a way you’ve never seen it before. So be sure to make your way to 70 Juta Street this First Thursday as we exhibit unusual reflections on taal in sound and image.

Plan of the Exhibition

We invite you to enter umuzi wethu, the walls of which extend onto the pavement of Juta Street, eGoli. On the ground you will see isibheqe characters spelling out U-MU-ZI. Inside the main spaces there an ‘oceans’ which represent the groups of structural similarity in language of this region of the continent. On two walls you will see the works of Umuzi Recruits, sharing thoughts on what language means in this country, and on the facing walls, a ‘topographical map’ depicting a river system, flowing between planes of elevation. These rivers are Language. Zwakala ublom’ emlanjeni nathi, o jaje Ringas van die plek ya rona, ma-Afrika.

A River of Language…

Mulambo wa Luambo. Umfula Wolimi. Noka ya Leleme.  Mulabho Whelilimi. Gowab di Kai! Garib. Nambu wa Ririmi. Xoaki se G!ari. Rivier van Taal

An installation on both sides of the conjoining wall that simultaneously acts as part of the isibheqe character spelling the ZI of umuzi on the floor of the space depicts language as a flowing river, made up of ways of speaking. The water is speech, as it runs it says:

khuluma, bua, thetha, bolela, vulavula, amba. But it also says: bhobha, tekela, ndrondroza, tshefula, ngangaza, yeyeza, apa, bola, and bolabola; and it even says !hoa, khom, ǂxoa, ||ãla, and tana.

These are words we use to describe how we talk. Styles of speech connected to each other in specific ways, ordered logically here in a kind of topographical map. It is a dynamic flow of language forms around the country: three kinds of river systems that run from the three sources in three mountains of linguistic heritage called: Ntu, Khoe & !Ui-Taa. They pool into lakes that are natural collections of language in a cultural context forming a specific linguistic variety with its particular features.

But they also are forced into dams, that are man-made artificially formed varieties the standardised dictionary languages that are used as official languages…

We usually only think in terms of dams. We freeze language in the walls of dictionaries. Let us begin to flow from them and hear the different sounds of the water as it runs.

CLICK HERE TO RSVP ON FACEBOOK.

Ringa!

After a month hiatus, we're back at 70 Juta Street, Braamfontein to bring you yet another out-of-the-world, banging exhibition as part of this August's First Thursdays cultural activities. Now taking place every two months, we've been cooking up an experiential exhibition, titled Square 1, that brings together childhood nostalgia and storytelling. And because unsettling, challenging and doing things differently is the Umuzi way, this is no conventional wine swirling, wall staring affair ... you get be part of the exhibition too. Square 1 brings into practice Umuzi's Theory of Change which is concerned with improving and providing access to innovative education and creative careers, challenging and changing the current narrative and encouraging shared growth through cultural exchanges and alternative narratives.
Encouraging storytelling and sharing through play, we're breaking down, building, creating and doing any and everything imaginable in order to facilitate a space that encourages the expression and sharing of personal anecdotes through the use of building blocks. Divided into three spaces for exploration, creating and sharing, in addition to exhibiting stories and sculptures created in the studio by our recruits, we will have an allocated space where attendees can create and share their own stories and sculptures as part of the exhibition.
Beyond experimenting with a new medium to facilitate the creation and sharing of stories, Square 1 reinforces Umuzi's principles of making not just the creative industry but creative outputs and experiences such as exhibitions accessible as well as fostering emotional intelligence and empathy through creativity. So come join the fun as we build and share through play for one night only. Doors open at 6 PM till 9 PM / 70 Juta Street, Braamfontein / 3 August 2017

Countering the exclusivity and inaccessibility of art, First Thursdays is a free cultural exploration of art galleries, live music events and reclamation of the city. Last night academy recruits, alumni and community members infiltrated Braamfontein to attend Umuzi’s very first pop up exhibition at the popular First Thursdays art walks.

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Curated by american based photographer Moyo Oyelola and Umuzi creative directors Nthabiseng Lethoko and Odendaal Esterhuyse, the thought provoking exhibition presented an opportunity for new and old Umuzi community  members to come together over a glass of wine and thought provoking art.

Forming part of a host of exhibitions and activities for the first First Thursday of the year, Umuzi recruits exhibited a series of multimedia installations and artworks around the themes of spiritual deprivation, gentrification and addiction.

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Following a successful showcase in December, the second showing of Lost in the World boasted a surprise performance by writer, multimedia recruit and all round creative Ramoloti Kganakga. Dressed as a vagabond, Kganaka tackled issues of gentrification and other forms of systematic oppression in a commanding spoken word piece. Caught off guard, audience members were challenged to interrogate their own prejudice towards marginalised people.

Despite a downpour of rain,the night was a great success that saw new and old community members network, share ideas and socialise in the name of art.

We would like to thank  Southpoint Central for helping us host a spectacular first First Thursday exhibition and look forward to working together and making creativity more accessible.

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On the 9th of December 2016, Umuzi Academy hosted a year end exhibition titled Lost In the World.

Curated by american based photographer Moyo Oyelola and Umuzi creative directors Nthabiseng Lethoko and Odendaal Esterhuyse, Umuzi recruits created work that reflected the themes of spiritual deprivation, gentrification and addiction.

From conceptualising, producing and having their work printed and displayed, the exhibition was the first time many of the recruits had organised an exhibition, something they will surely be accustomed to in the future.

Boasting an edible social experiment and selfie station the multimedia exhibition was interactive and encouraged audience members to make their own impressions on some of the artwork.

 

 

We spoke to one of the participating multimedia recruits, Jabulile Hlanze’s whose artwork revolved around the theme of nature as a conduit of spirituality, she spoke to us about her creative process and her experience partaking in the exhibition.

What theme were you doing and why did it resonate with you? 

The overall exhibition was titled “Lost In The World”, which explored the idea of a lack of direction we all may experience. Under the theme ‘Spirituality’ – I explored the way I take in and experience the concept of spirituality. It resonated with me because spiritual presence is something that is important to me.

Rooted In SpiritRooted In SpiritRooted In SpiritCan you explain your piece to us, the name, your intentions with it and what you had hoped people would get from it.

My piece was titled Rooted in Spirit. Not only do trees provide oxygen and shade but they bring comfort as well. Whenever I need to connect and balance my energy, witnessing a person (or beings) and being under a tree to connect with self helps to rejuvenate my soul, it allows me a moment to engage with the present moment – even in the simplest of surroundings.

In the madness of the everyday, spirituality tends to be the last thought that is fully acknowledged so I hoped people would be able to take a moment and absorb the different textures, conclude what would resonate with them within the piece and grant a moment to appreciate the spiritual calmness that trees bring.

What was your creative process in putting together the piece. 

Looking at the space that was offered, I wanted to create a mixed media art piece (which is something I’ve never done except in print exhibitions) that would offer the printed image room to expand into a tangible experience. Entering the space the viewer would walk on the African mat ‘incansi’ which lead to the printed art piece framed by actual grass cuttings which were placed inside a circle of different color candles that were lit. Hanging above the grass was, ‘isimbhatho, a traditional church regalia used and worn when prayer.

How was your experience of the whole exhibition?

It was interesting to note and experience the way other people express their spirituality and addictions. It was also interesting to consciously note the different expressions of gentrification and areas going through such transactions.

The thought-provoking exhibition was rounded off with tunes, dance moves and laughter as current recruits, alumni and industry friends bid the year farewell.

Lerato Laughing

Lwando dancing

When Umuzi decided to host its first InstaMeet and the Cohort 4 Digital Marketing Team became the group that was officially entrusted with the brief, I don’t remember once feeling burdened with the responsibility but mostly excited to be taking determined baby steps towards making company history.

Almost immediately the team interpreted the global theme into a spirited commemoration of Food, specifically focusing on how food continues to bring us together, helping us celebrate special moments and show our loved ones that we are always thinking of them.

Umuzi was determined on putting its own personal imprint to the whole event, so we derived a hashtag that was inspired by the different kinds of foods that would aid all foodies in reminiscing the countless memories of very significant times in their lives.

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The event planning consisted of innumerable meetings, purposefully driving us to our predetermined goals, there were as many frustrations in the two weeks of preparations as there were major victories. The biggest success of them all being the day of the amazing event.

The event began with our invited guests arriving, registering and being given tokens that allowed them to freely fill up their empty goodie bags with ten things from our Spaza Shop; a deliberate replica that mimicked the same invention as those we still find everyday on pavements and street corners. The only difference with our Spaza Shop is that it was stocked with items that would reawaken childhood memories, everything from Apple Munches, Drink O Pops, Fizzers, Bibos, Nik Naks and more. The reactions to our creation were all so worth it, each item inspiring our foodies to share a sentimental story relating to what they chose.

The Umuzi InstaMeet consisted of different visits to three locations; a starter at Thabo’s Chesa Nyama that was made up of Kebab Sticks and Mealies; a meal that was intended to embrace diverse memories as well as comprise of a unique and modern touch. This is where we spent most of our time, jovially enthralled in casual bursts of conversation and laughter.

The main course was enjoyed at the Downstairs Diner, where our meal options ranged between Dombolo & Beef Stew and Pap & Tripe. For some, the decision was quite difficult to make, I was pleased to observe that most of our guests refused to choose and asked to have their plates filled with both of the meat options.

As the sun began to set, we made our last walk of the day, all the way into Maboneng to Coco Bella for our dessert. The idea behind this one was motivated by the coloured ice cream cones we all ate as children. We had to unfortunately alternate that option for the sweet cones they offered, but nothing was lost as we giddily licked on the dripping caramel and enjoyed our vanilla flavoured ice cream.

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The whole weekend consisted of creating new memories, unlocking and reliving memories that we hadn’t even realized had long been tucked away. Even the Umuzi Recruits that weren’t with us on the day were encouraged to share their most nostalgic food memories on our InstaMeet hashtag #DownFoodieLane, so they could join the global event by letting everyone know what they were eating. Our Instagram Influencers also did a great job of posting very beautiful pictures of the event under the same hashtag.

If you missed the event and the chance to participate, please search the hashtag #DownFoodieLane on Instagram to better understand what our day was made of. It is said after all that seeing for yourself always leads to unquestionable belief.

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Written by: Sinawo Bukani

Images by: Sipho Biyam

If township streets could talk they would speak of my father, die real jita van di plek, the main matwetwe, umaqhuzu, hardcore malambane, a humble ghetto king with a flow like Serote and wit like Sobukwe. My father lives in echoes of ‘Dudu my darling’ and ‘Dudlu m’twana’ on kasi street corners my father is umathandakishin’ ne Chuck Taylor, on Friday nights he is West Nkosi and the Marabi bell 800 at Seipati’s jazz oasis, he is slow sips of Mellowood and Klipdrift . My father is Sunday afternoons with udarlie at Nomsa’s hair palace; he is the serene beauty in the curl of her perm, the sweet smell of her hair, he is dark and lovely, soft and free and ‘bhut’ungam’shisi ubaby’. My father is the comfort of Ntate Thuso on Lesedi FM, he is the naughty in Joe Mafela’s ‘Thoko ujola nobani’.

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My father is the pride in Mahlathini’s raw, he is the wise whisper in Sbongile Khumalo and he lives in me, to many my father might have seemed like a small town hustler, a ghetto tsotsi, because he never wore a suite with smart Flourshem shoes. He never tucked in his shirt like a good little boy. My father never said ‘yes, sir’ or ‘no, mam’, he never polished his shoes or strapped on a waist coat but he had impeccable work ethic. My father is a graduate of the University of Hard Knocks, where every man is on his own. My father didn’t have a long will and testament but he left me a rich legacy. My inheritance is my heritage, it is the courage in Mafokate’s ‘Don’t call me Kaffir’. It is the wisdom in Mhlongo’s ‘khula, khula tshitshi lami’. Mine is the lineage of Nkalakatha. It is the knowledge that sometimes ‘is vokol is niks’ and sometimes we go higher and higher.

My father was a Pantsula who gave birth to ‘uSkapadiya’. A premium kasi gentleman. My privilege might be none excitant but I know I am resilient. I know because I was raised in the days of blow by blow and Dingaan Thobela, when men had no choice but to go pound for pound using nothing but their God given strength. I was born back when Jerry Skhosana tore goalpost nest in the name of ‘iBhakaniya’. I am hardcore, I am ‘yizo-yizo’ the return, ‘simunye’ nanini ‘Gaz’lam’. I am the sassy in ‘Nomakanjani’, I am love and care, and I am ‘Sponky-ponky love. I am unapologetic, like Senyaka, ke chesa mpama. I am authentically African, ang’siyi fong Kong. I am loud, like ‘iyho bangani iyho’, I never adapt but I know how to adjust I am irrepressible, like kwaito, from Mapaputsi to Mampintsha I keep on conquering.

I am a fire brand, I am a living revolution. In song and dance, in everyday living. They say heritage is a birthright passed down from generation to generation, that it is the catalyst of one’s identity, the treasure of knowing yourself. They say where you live and who you’re with is what makes you. Whop you become is the product of the village that raised you. My heritage is black, it is unorthodox and it can never comfort.

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Images by: Ngaka Marman

Written by: Tshepiso Mabula

Makoti kapa lefetwa? (For the unapologetic mkhwekazi)

Otlo nyalwa ke mang?’ is the question every young back girl is bound to answer at some point in her life. It is the reassurance to ones parents that their child is not a lefetwa (one who missed out on marriage). In many African homes the institution of marriage is one that is considered to be sacred and the most joyous time in a girl child’s life is the day of her traditional wedding.  On that day the humble makoti dances timidly next to her new husband while being careful not to show too much personality lest her in-laws judge her good standing as a wife. The perfect makoti is said to be one who is passive, one who waits silently for her next instruction from ‘ubaba’sekhaya’ (the man of the household). If a young girl is perceived to be too forward, or educated and opinionated or if she is seen to be doing things that are not ladylike (smoking, drinking) or if she ‘knows too much’ she is considered unsuitable for marriage, this series seeks to question the idea of a perfect makoti in black communities, and whether patriarchy is perpetuated by traditional laws in a marriage. Using a series of studio portraits this series questions whether women still have power over how they are perceived and whether they have power in their own households.
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Words and Photography by: Tshepiso Mabula
Celebrating a body that is often othered, Nomathemba Mkhize illustrates the plus size body in her series Boomba Queen. Seeking also to embrace herself as a “boomba”, Noma is challenging the everyday stereotypes that big women aren’t good looking, sexy, smart, or even important. More than anything its about self love and celebrating the marvel and maginificence that is  the “boombas” of the world.
sexxy babe
“We are the outcasts
The misfits. The miser’s of the all famous status quo
The hidden and under praised.
The overly meatiness, I’m not sure what this means. Please help?
Izidudla zendawo, who try to shine under their own stage
because the public is “too small” for us!
We are the ones they never try to compete with, because
they see no competition.
Of course, with all this thickness, one shouldn’t try and compete
What people do not understand, is that our thunder thighs,
make pants look good.
With our curves, derriere and butts… we make naked feel good!”
Plus size me
slay

More than just apparel, dresses for women have become somewhat symbolic and representative of the different life stages women go through. Most women wear school dresses as young girls, a wedding dress, a maternity dress, in other cultures or religion, a women even wears a dress that covers her entire body to symbolise the sacredness of her body and sometimes a mourning dress to symbolise the death of her husband. These dresses then become a language in which society can identify or classify a certain woman who wears either one of these dresses.

Susan Bordo describes the female body as the “docile” body that has become the language of the ideals and norms of a particular society. In other words what women wear or how they behave is a direct result from the ideals of her surroundings, the body tells one of the culture or society from which they belong to; the body has become the platform to express those ideals. The dresses in this series of photos speak about the ancient menstrual dresses that women used to wear to let everyone know what was happening to them. Women would be excused from their daily chores for seven days, however, years down the line this tradition has allowed men to stigmatise women during their menstruation. Shame and disgust are now tied together with menstruation.

 

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Words and photographs by: Boitumelo Mazibuko