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.
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We caught up with Thapelo Motsumi, Head of Photography at Umuzi to find out what his thought of the journey across some of the most sparse and under resourced areas in the country.
What did you think the big difference between the provinces were?
“The language barrier was a big factor, trying to communicate to a group of people that sometimes really don’t know what you are talking about, yet they showed so much interest in taking pictures”
I have to say that I really enjoyed working for the project, personally, this was one of my best projects I have been involved in throughout 2014 (excluding the World Cup). It has shown me that South Africans have so much respect and are very welcoming. I always thought Jozi is the only place to be, but people outside of Gauteng are making the most of what their communities give to them and the using the resources to their best advantage.
Thanking the Center for Education Policy Development (CEDP), the Department of Higher Education and the Women on Farms Project, Human Rights Education Center of Southern Africa, Isibaya, BUA Mining and the Benchmark foundation, and Nikamandla Woman,you guys made me feel part of a very loving family.
Words: Thapelo Motsumi
Images: CEPD participants and Thapelo Motsumi
Edited: Tebogo Mathodlana and Andrew Levy
Oshoek is a community that depicts the harsh realities of South Africa, education based projects did not exist in the community. This was visible in the participants’ outlook on the world. The community has issues and most of the elders in the community were seriously concerned with their kids not having jobs and or not equipped with enough skills to get any form employment.
Kroondal informal settlement participants shared their community stories with us and this came out in one of our themes. We documented community strengths and one would think a community that lacks basic resource would respond negative towards their own community, but we were wrong. One of the older women participating, Mama Jane, who is a church leader in the community showed show great enthusiasm and this carried on to the rest of the group.
Article written by: Thapelo Motsumi
Images taken by: CEPD participants and Thapelo Motsumi
Edited: Tebogo Mathodlana and Andrew Levy
The lively Braamfontein audience listened to how Andrew explained the biggest stuff up he had was not taking ownership of his space as a leader. “Fence sitting leadership led to mundane goal setting.”
|Click on link to view interview|
Umuzi would like to extend a special thank you to eNCA and the Maggs on Media team Jeremy, Helen and Roxanne for this amazing coverage.
Footage by : Umuzi Photo Agency
Broadcaster: Maggs on Media
Commissioned by : eNCA
|Click on image to view|
Thank you to all our loyal supporters who braved a crazy Jo’burg storm to attend our #KNM exhibition last Thursday. Not even a raging storm in the middle of Jeppestown could stop you from supporting our young creatives take another important step towards becoming fully fledged creative professionals, and transforming the South African creative economy.
Checkout our photo album on Facebook.
Images by: Thapelo Motsumi, Lucas Lesenyeho and Loyiso Langa
The Umuzi Photo Agency has just completed an Epic journey through four countries, tracking work and people that so many of us take for granted. In partnership with the Stoned Pebble Consulting, Umuzi traveled to Lephalale in the Limpopo province, to Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland to document the incredible work of the African Development Bank and the Legacy of its projects.