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.
If there ever was a way to bow out of Youth Month with a bang, landing a feature on Mail & Guardian’s Young 200 Leaders list would be a great attempt and that is exactly what photographer and Umuzi multimedia recruit, Tshepiso Mabula has done.
A Design Indaba Emerging Young Creative 2017 member, Tshepiso Mabula is a Soweto based photographer born in the Lephalale district of Limpopo.
An encounter with renowned photographer Santu Mofokeng’s book Bloemhof, during a family visit in 2012, ignited her passion and intrigue for photography and there has been no stopping her ever since.
After completing her course at the Market Photo Workshop in documentary and photojournalism, Tshepiso joined the Umuzi Academy in 2016. She later went on to participate in Intercambiador ACART artist residency programme in Madrid Spain, where she produced and exhibited a body of work as part of a group exhibition at the Quinta del Sordo.
Reflecting the times and spaces she occupies in various bodies of work such as Makoti Kapa Lefetwa and her ongoing series Four Room, Seven Colours, Tshepiso captures ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances while concurrently commenting on societal ills and challenging various forms of systematic oppression such as patriarchy.
From all of us at Umuzi, wishing you more prosperity and light as you continue to use your voice and photography as a tool for advocacy and resistance.
To follow Tshepiso and keep up with her latest work follow her on:
Instagram: tshepisomabula and kasinomics_ 101
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.
Can 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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
Images by: Ngaka Marman
Written by: Tshepiso Mabula
Makoti kapa lefetwa? (For the unapologetic mkhwekazi)
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.
Words and photographs by: Boitumelo Mazibuko
Women’s positions in relation to power are slowly changing as more women become courageous and speak out about issues they face and overcome, this is evident in the various narratives being expressed in the arts.
Kwazinkosi Ndebele or “Kwazi” as she is affectionately known, is a young black female architect/aspiring fine art student who considers herself a free thinker. Kwazi is also a firm believer in the South African communal philosophy of Ubuntu, which states that Umuntu nguMuntu ngaBantu (I am a because of others). Because of this philosophy Kwazi believes in the necessity of helping each other in order to advance collectively, however this is proving to be difficult considering dysfunctionalities in black families as a result of history and acts of oppression imposed on black South Africans previously. It’s been more than 20 years since South Africa’s democracy and a growing number of people are starting to realise the fallacy of this free and fair society. Our women are seen leading the forefront of narratives that have been muted over the years, and question their positions not only in South Africa’s history but one of a whole patriarchal world, where their identity is not just a South African one but an African sum.
Kwazi represents the new age revolution of woman who face such stereotypes and prejudices head on from influences of how she was brought up and where she wants to go.
As an aspiring fine art student; movements like the fine objects movement which is art created form undisguised but often modified objects that aren’t considered art because their functionality is already predefined, her and I drew curation from and created pieces that resemble objects that are objectified just like how women have been by men’s’ predefinition, to reanimated herself in reflection of her own identity and the outlook in which she projects herself as a woman of society.
Through still frames and the use of animated GIFs, Kwazi’s journey since birth to the growing woman she is today, is captured through a timeline from her childhood pictures; inanimate as an old photo book can be, to her finding animation in her becoming of womanhood.
As a young man who is borne into a black family from a womb of history that is made up of discrimination I am also a victim to perceptions of seeing women in vulnerable positions but in collaborating with Kwazi I broke away from what society has misconceived as the true roles women play.
We both hope to achieve absolute emancipation from how women are treated by men in black families by instilling a relationship that sees both sexes in equal harmony
Written by: Afari Kofi
Model: Kwasinkosi Ndebele
Images by: Afari Kofi