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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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.