The Quiet Violence of Happy’s Art

Johannesburg, South Africa: I have to be honest. When I first met  Sowetan Artist Happy Dhlame I thought how unfortunate it must be to have a name such as Happy – In English. Because you are Happy, people inherently expect you to be happy-go-lucky smiling all the time, worse still as Happy you often run into people like me, who enjoy making cheap jokes at your expense “so  Happy…. are you happy”?.  But   I’m sure the very worst might be that people are  shocked  when you are less than happy because well you are supposed to be happy. Okay I will stop.  I have never asked Happy how he was named but it seems there was some foresight in the combination of his names.  His last name is Dhlame, which when translated from isiZulu to English means, Violence; giving  balance to the play on word Happy.  See names ARE important, nobody wants to be called names. In the end the mixture produced an even-tempered artist, balanced, pleasant and  harmonious human being.  My parents should have thought of that.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Happy, in-fact, who has been nudging me

One of Happy Dhlame’s Layered Pieces

once, encouraging me more with a certain level of contained urgency to write  about  Black-Art(ist).  Something which must have been frustrating for him, since I never thought I could write, much less about Art.  He told me with concern that “not many are writing about artists like me, (independent), Art is still dominated and controlled  by people with capitalist interests. I am an “independent worker” so I understand.

In our last conversation I asked him, about his Art,  What art is to him casually at a Bohemian bar we frequent.   Then he was busy between projects, having just finished an exhibition at the  Funda Community Art College  Soweto.  Funda College is an institution for black artists, especially  those who walked through the dusty streets of Soweto.  It was formed in 1984, to provide alternative art education to ordinary  people, basically giving black Africans   access to an education in the visual arts, during the height of the Apartheid regimes’ state of Emergency.  I produced a  radio feature on it  a few years ago, while it was facing imminent closure, it barely survives today.  You will find it through google search but only as the venue for the department of transport. We are still blind to its legacy.  A number of the country’s internationally acclaimed artists (because that’s how we like to do it here in  Mzansi) received their art Education at the Funda Community College, most of them  painters, dancers, musicians.   Though Happy is always busy working on something, be it a collaboration with local and international artists here and abroad, there is little information available to the public about what he does.

He smiled, that disarming  smile which immediately makes me think of Bob Marley, there’s an uncanny resemblance between the two of  them,  Locks and all.   He clears his throat to answer my SoWhatsArt to you question,  long before I had this blog. ” Art  to me is like a calling” he says almost standing up, though there’s no soccer (football) match playing on the screen hovering over the mahogany bar.   Then he says something I didn’t expect  ” For me being an artist is like being a Sangoma (spiritual healer) it’s like I am going deep into the world of my ancestors”  he giggles a little at  the obvious surprise  on my face   ” But of course I don’t do things that spiritual healers  do, I do Art”  You know, he continues and opening up a little more ” Art saved my life,  I grew up in a poor household,  and my parents couldn’t afford to buy me these fashionable clothes, ama ALLSTARS  etc ” he points at his shirt and shoes ” And mina I like nice clothes, I got involved somehow you know,  started with  small petty crimes, stealing here and there, sometimes even cars” He says his eyes opening wide as if telling a five-year old a scary story. ‘ I was on my way to becoming a real gang-star tsotsi” He says.  I look at him again with a different eye this time, and for the first time I feel I get him, understand what he is about. Where he comes from. He has that street-smart-refinement quality  about him. So how did you get into art I probe,  ” I used to have this cousin of mine who liked to draw” he tells me ” he could draw pictures like photographs,  so I saw this and thought I  also want to do that .  So I started practicing, drawing my face over and over and over again, trying to get it right.  I wanted to learn how to draw like he did.  He told me about these art classes, and I started going, afterschool on week-ends. I started to draw and paint all over, sometimes even painting on my mother’s walls, on my clothes, until at some point I had to move out, because  she  did not understand. I moved out of the house when  I was 16 or 17, started living where I could paint, day and night, night and day.  It’s not an obvious fact about Happy, but his work-ethic is admirable.

I have been in his apartment many times , and sat transfixed  at this large dark image of a face and eyes that kept staring back at me.  On different occasions I sat trying  figure out what it was that I was looking at  and how I felt looking at it, without asking him about it.  It looked to me  like a mirage  of a face within a face within a face, it had an effect which reminded  me of the double lens symmetry of glass slabs on top of one another. It is only now  that he talks about how he started painting,  only now as I really listen to him do I see this painting I have been studying for so long.  It is Happy. His face, as clear as Day.

“My mother didn’t understand or support me” he continues ” It is only when I started winning Art awards that she started to pay attention,  and be a little supportive” he says now becoming more serious ” This art world is tough, so I don’t get involved in these things ( being seen at popular “art” events) I just do what I can,  and keep to myself. ” But Happy is not only happy painting layer upon layer on canvas,  he also enjoys performing Arts and has collaborated on more than on occasion with Sindy Samson, an actress, singer song-writer, poet, dancer whom I will introduce to you soon enough.

About his work in his own words:

“My work formulates new dreams about our surroundings. It tries to unmask existing codes within in mainstream art. I comment on issues that directly affect the local and the global society, be it sociopolitical values of the past and/or present. It revolves around abandoned buildings to archive our fading memories and the temporal existence of our built environment”.

“I have always been fascinated with intervening in space, and reforming the language and interiors of public spaces. These include degeneration and decomposing walls, floors and ceilings. I like to reveal layers of paint that once used to be solid but with time, are now dissipating. I am fascinated with the aesthetic values we attach to our surroundings when we paint walls, apply wall paper, use tiles and carpeting. The question is what lies beneath?”

“My painting seeks to capture the after effects of time in specific built environments. It compels the viewer to look afresh at our surroundings and to ask what do these structures signify? What convictions, hopes and fears lie beneath our built environments? I am commenting on how much time can render beauty meaningless”. – Happy Dhlame

He’s been preparing me for a while about his imminent departure, hinting, every now and then in conversation ” I will be working  from far away for a while, you must just write about art, not many black people are writing art right now,  just do it”  He says in time for me to catch a lift home.  But he is not the only one who has to work somewhere else in order to survive. He is an acclaimed Artists after all with a vast portfolio, and a reputation at International Galleries.   Tracey Rose, Johannes Phokela, Peter Makurube, Palesa Letlaka….  my heart breaks, they are just a few names in a  growing,  undocumented number  of  gifted South African Artists,   (spiritual healers) who have found temporary  homes elsewhere.  I wish there was a way of staying.


To My Zahir, New York, New York!

Johannesburg, South Africa: I underestimated The Zahir by Paulo Coelho when I first picked it up from my brother’s apartment in downtown Jozi.  It was just lying there like one of those old books that you’ve read and probably won’t want to read again. It has a thick hard cover and since I was a little more than restless I opened to see if it’s a book I’d want to spend my precious hours reading. I was also a little weary of Paul Coelho’s “aspirational/inspirational”  tone in his novels, having read a number of them over the years. I just wanted to be real, you know no dreams of  treasures hidden somewhere  in your-back yard, no fantasies or pie-in the sky promises.  I wanted to know what was possible in my life, in real terms.   It was semi-autobiographical ( love fun biographies), mapping out Paul Coelho’s own journey to finding his love his wife – The Zahir – or love peace and happiness! Why! I had just been on a similar trip in search of something a bit more vague but I’m sure it had something to do with love, peace and happiness so I was interested to learn how he  reasoned with himself;  I wanted to know how a writer as accomplished and as wise as Paulo Coelho seems to be in his books, deals with loss, heartbreak, disappointment, failure, lack of confidence or self-worth.  Another of the books’ main themes which appealed to me was about writing and how he suffered before he could sit down and write his first novel which we now all know as the “The Alchemist”. How the process of actually sitting down and writing unfolded.  Why I had just been possessed by a writer I didn’t recognize, or know where they came from writing stuff that I would never verbalize ever, into to a couple of pages I submitted  to a competition as a way of saying yo! I have nothing to do with that. I was so relieved when I clicked send, this person would finally stop bothering me I could have some sleep and get back to being myself the radio reporter with varying interests in everything. I wanted to learn from him, discover that I was not alone or crazy. I am still struggling to write, I don’t think writers struggle because they write, I actually think the term “struggling writer” comes from the inability to actually sit down and write so it’s a struggle, write no, I’ll do something, write no, I’m not a writer etc. They (we, I) struggle  when they (we, I) Don’t write. It’s a new opinion on my part. So I still can’t say I am a “writer” even though I write for a living and for leisure, it’s still so unbelievable for me to say, I’m a writer. The fear of which is trumped only by having to come out to myself, every now and again. That still brings me to the point tears.  I am gay. It surprises me. And for a long time I never found someone who mirrored my feelings until I went to see what’s fresh on WordPress  this morning  and Honey I’m a lesbian wrote in Coming Out to Yourself:

Even as I come out to old recently rekindled friends, I dance around my truth, but need to tell it anyway. I fear a whole truth, like saying that I might truly JUST be a lesbian, might be too much for me to bear. I also fear that putting that stamp on my forehead automatically makes me a liar if I ever meet a man I might fall in love with again<

I digress. But It’s always so good to know that we’re not alone in our fears  of who we are.  Paulo Coelho’s Zahir, got me thinking about mine. At once part human, part a geographical location, an idea, ideal, spiritual pursuit or Obsession. I have long been obsessed with the notion of spiritual enlightenment,  from as early as five when I volunteered one morning to go to  church on my own. I woke up and told my grandmother ” Mama today I’m going to church” and she said who is going to take you? I said I will go by myself. She asked, do you know anyone there? I said no, but I want to find out. She said well,  we’ll see you when we get back” (I love you mama!) . Kinda reminds me of a conversation I had with her before I became a Pilgrim,  on a journey to The Magal of Touba. Anyway I went on my own to the  Church which still sits right there next to my primary school today. I remember the smell of the wooden pews which seemed to shine and glisten from the polish of human contact. And the song which we sung that day in church I still remember parts of it ” droppings, droppings, droppings, here the barn is full” as coins were being dropped into a bowl: Sunday’s (offerings) collection. I remember not having any coins to drop, and was given a cent or some such from an elder scolding me for having gone to church on my own and without money, I mean how dare you! I never went back but I wished I remembered that vivid childhood moment when it was demonstrated so clearly to me that it was all about the money when later in my early teens I poured through the Bible diligently praying, for God to speak to me, work through me, touch me like he did so many of his disciples such as Miles Munroe, his  blackness making him an automatic role model for me ( He’s also a very  gifted story-teller). But I got tired of not being  used as a useful instrument in God’s temple, being over looked always,   when after volunteering as a Sunday School teacher for some time, teaching (playing really) with children –  I love children – someone younger and more anointed than me seemed to get God’s blessing to be appointed  a Sunday school teacher, not only that my poverty and that of all the other church goers who looked like me was once demonstrated so opulently when on one “giving” Sunday all the rich white folk, brought items they no longer needed upfront, on the for charity, and all the black people became the scavengers after the service picking it all up! I’m sure there was something there I could have used, but something in me refused to be humiliated, to stand up in front of the entire congregation and fish through people’s discarded personal items. None of them went up there. I was proud. Still am. Sometimes to my detriment.  I think it was after they had a muffin auction, in which  one muffin was  sold for 4,000 rands (+- 400 USD) towards missionary travel – abroad – and all the white rich children were chosen by god to go on those missions, despite other Pius blacks having come diligently to prayer meetings, I decided I couldn’t continue to go to church. So I told my parents I was overwhelmed with school work, but that’s the first time I suffered a real heartbreak, my heart was broken and I didn’t know who would fix it.  Then I fell in love with New York, as a place for Idealist  Ideas… the land of the  free, free to be black, free to be me. And it has been  my dream to forever be in New York. I went in 2008 and couldn’t believe how strange this lover of mine had become, so cold, but I walked with her, and she took me high and low, I hated her, despised her, loathed her, enjoyed her little red-brick buildings, her coffee shops, book shops, libraries, public spaces, her freedom, she was fast, wasted no time, but you could find your own time in her if you looked hard enough, she gave you the freedom to be whoever you want to be –  but you have to do the defining yourself or else… I learnt how she moves, how she smells, how she’s like when she wakes up, when she hasn’t slept  all night, when she’s happy, chatty, sad or withdrawing… I saw her mystery unfold in front of me and I began to fall, deeper and deeper in love…. I still have an appointment  to go frolicking with new friends at Prospect Park… I still wanted to explore little china town to find my kinda Sunday Dim Sum restaurant. I love Chinese Food, I ate it in mainland China very salubrious too I might add, but it sure tastes better in New York.  So here’s  Hurricane Sandy,  threatening to wash over my Zahir, I can’t even look at images of what’s going on. I want to call her and say baby are you okay? Are you safe, warm, having some soup somewhere,  are you cold? can I hold you? I’m here, come home to me for a little while! Then I remember that I don’t have one ( a home that is )  and until I do I cannot afford to have a Zahir, which has taken me from New York, to Kenya ,  to Senegal.  When I left New York my heart was torn to pieces, I didn’t want to let go, I even left Audre Lorde behind,  when I left Kenya I cried all the way from my friend’s apartment to  OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, when I left Senegal it felt like I was travelling through a spiritual tunnel that transcended time space, ages, generations and centuries, I was bent over in convulsions, as if being baptized over and over in the pool of my own salty tears, for the 14 thousand kilometer  trip on air. I emerged on the other side of the OR Tambo Arrivals Terminal in disbelief – I was still alive. And now New York, My Zahir, has been sneaking up on me in my  sleeping and waking dreams, keeping me awake, day and night, despite everything.  One of my Good friends said to me while I was lamenting  her haunting winks   ” Well they say  sometimes there’s always that one who “got away” they say no matter who else is in your life, you will always think and wonder about what if you were with the “one that got away”.  It is  frustrating because I know what it’s like to be – with the one that got away – I’ve been to New York, and not mesmerized in as much as I am comforted by the city, every one is a foreigner, even locals, so why do I keep dreaming of going back, to her. I hate the suggestion that my heart and mind will always be caught up in some dream, pie in the sky idea,  when I could be living my life here right now.  Fully, Warts and all.

In the end  Paulo Coelho finds his wife, The Zahir, she was apparently  waiting for him to find her,  for two years. But she also kept herself busy. She is Pregnant.  I remember a dream I had two years ago, I was holding my Zahir’s hand, encouraging her as sweat trickled down her crunched up face behind the curtain of brown wet locks, she was in labour –  giving birth to a second child.  A few months ago more recently I had another one of those vivid dreams in which I was released from the  clutches of a  disapproving mother- in- law- to- be, a place where I experienced tremendous loss, of a child, I convulsed in pain again  in that dream again but woke up to a newer place where I was happy again, it seems this time I was surrounded by many children, and we were  all singing and dancing  together  to none other than Frank Sinatra’s Iconic New York, New York song…..” start spreading the word, I’m leaving today I’m gonna be a part of this……. New York, New York!

I have to remind myself that dreams are not always literal. Jozi is here and I love her.

“Love is a disease no one wants to get rid of. Those who catch it never try to get better, and those who suffer do not wish to be cured.”

― Paulo CoelhoThe Zahir

The Artist’s Way to A Room with A View

This way. To A 12 Week Artist Challenge.

This week-end I picked up, The Artist’s Way By Julia Cameron in my box of treasured-to-read- books.  It’s a  book I bought and half read in 2009.  It was recommended to me by a really good friend of mine. She loved architecture and loved Art and couldn’t quite find a balance that allowed her to do both. So for a while she painted paintings that looked like basic plans or models for re-designing spaces, and phases. Minimalist outlines, for where real life would happen.  Then she enrolled  back to University to complete a degree in Architecture. “At least finish something you know” She said in that sexy polish accent only she could   Back at University among young pubescent students, we met for coffee – she was back pushing deadlines. I asked her  how she was doing. “It’s always a process you know” She said with a  smile  and I nodded my head, because I was  still tied to a job I wasn’t sure fulfilled me.  She went underground again and then  re-surfaced, now living at a gallery we often used to frequent for nice veggie dishes  not far from where we all used to live.  I was with her brother, one of my  good friends too. She was down with the flu, but much happier than she’d been in a long time she told me. I sat next to her by her bed side and watched as her sweat made cute tiny balls near her hairline, she really was beautiful, like a porcelain doll. Then she reached the for the Artist’s Way which lay  next to her small side table as if it was her lifeline – like a bible.  Here you should read this she said. It’s helping me, I see things very differently now, it has tasks, like going out on dates  by yourself and it’s empowering, she said in  that way I knew she was convinced, her lips curled sending light to the blue murky waters in her eyes. I looked at it skeptically. I may have squinted upside-down for good measure while trying to figure out  why she thought I needed the Artists way.  She was the Artist. I just hung out with them. This is my copy but I can lend it to you if want. No, thanks it’s fine I said after glancing at its contents. The first page speaks about God/The creator, Julia Cameron began her journey to calling herself an Artist after she stopped drinking alcohol. I didn’t want to continue. Do you want some tea? Asked my the fairest beauty. Yes, sure I replied. Wishing I could have a nice glass of red, red wine, right at that moment.

She got up to make a pot in her colourfully- eclectic kitchen.  I thought then that If I were an artists and had a place of my own I would quite like a  kitchen that  looked and felt  a little more like that , eclectic and warm and homely – an organized and colourful poetic mess ( not too much mess).  All the pictures I used to paint as a child while listening to my mother’s stories recounting how lovely it was to grow up in that house in Orlando West – Phefeni. We used to have jars of candy, biscuits, fruits, vegetables, and my mother would bake and the kitchen will be warm and fragrant with sweet vanilla fumes seeping out from the oven, while red coals glittered in the silver and porcelain coal stove… someone would be telling a lyrical story, and we would sit transfixed, while waiting impatiently for the cakes to come out of the oven. As I grew up I added my own little things to my the picture as I went along.  Flowers lots of them, plants…. some dried out some fresh… books for recipes  books to read while waiting on something, note books, yes , pens,  yes biscuits, coffee yes from different corners of the world, ground and brewed in my very own kitchen… with dollops of cinnamon.  Lemons, yes,  I would have a huge bowl of lemons, candy,  a radio in a corner with some sultry voice reading the news, or singing a nice tune like Michelle Ndengecello’s Beautiful – a vegetable stew on the stove… bread in the oven, a  nice corner couch in the large window alcove in the kitchen strewn with colourful  rusty, olive, orange and green and yellow cushions, where I would snuggle up to read, write or smooch with a lover over a chocolate flavoured glass of red wine, with sweet and tangy berries  or hot chocolate on cold wintry days….

So, What have you been up to ? Her question brings  me back to her eclectic kitchen and as I star between the wooden cracks on the floor for an answer I see my own brown kitchen cupboards which were –  Oh so uninspiring. Ah nothing, I replied feeling lost, same old same old , still at the S**C, but I’m busy applying for fellowships. I was always applying for fellowships, to somewhere, anywhere but here.

Now this week-end as I re-opened the book I closed almost three years ago. I found inside a contract I signed with myself on the 26 of August, 2009. Committing my self to a twelve week intensive course, which included twelve weeks of intensive reading, daily morning pages, a weekly artists date, and the fulfillment of each weeks tasks,  with an understanding that the course will raise issues and emotions for me to deal with. I committed myself to excellent self-care, with adequate sleep, diet, exercise and pampering for the duration of the course.  Now almost three years later,  I had forgotten about this contract I signed while struggling to pull myself through quick sand and yet the one I had made the contract with had not forgotten. The giver of creativity, the source , my creator had not forgotten.

Today I am producing a play  based on my recent travels to Senegal, have sent off a first draft of a manuscript I wrote intensely for six months,without fail, while keeping a daily (nonpunishable journal, i.e Morning pages),  and writing free-lance for news publications, I am keeping a blog, while keeping a 9-5 daily job.  I stopped drinking in 2010 and this year I reduced my smoking to next to nothing, I have a fragrant vanilla chai (tea) next to me as I write this, a stainless steel coffee plunger I got as a gift from a good friend just a glance away.  Even though it’s all happening in the office, instead of my dream room with a view – It’s still a room with a view for me.   It occurs to me that I did the course without even knowing it. I’ve almost come to the point where  if someone where to ask me, do you believe? I would reply to paraphrase Jung, I don’t believe, I know. I think I’m ready for the for the 12 week challenge.

PS: The last time I saw my friend she had decided to leave  the country -South Africa – without really telling anyone including her parents. She Left a note and jetted off to where her soul would find that room with a view.  This is my of way saying Thank You – Kasia.


A 21 Shutter Salute for An Eye Like No Other

A man like no other : Alf Khumalo

How do you honour; where do you begin to pay tribute to a man whose eye albeit behind the camera has seen you in your most vulnerable, intimate, private and perhaps, powerless moments.  A man who risked his life to bring your mother, aunts and cousins to see you while you were in exile? Or who brought you shoes “izimbatata” from home to soften your feet when your soul was starving  between the meshed  cold Skycrapers  of  New York City.  Or better still how do you pay tribute to a man who captured your defiance at the Evaton Bus Boycott, the hopeless despair of the Treason Trial, the bloody pain of the Sharpeville Massacre, when you were silenced during the banning of liberation movements, during the rise of the angry voice of the Black Consciousness Movement, the nervous states of emergencies in the 80’s, the glorious dawns of the release of Nelson Mandela, The Codesa Talks of the early 90’s and the triumphant rainbow moments of Nelson Mandela’s Presidency? How do you pay tribute to a man whose plea’s you turned a deaf ear to, refused to hear until it was too late? That was the hard and painful question that confronted some of the dignitaries, media executives, artists, musicians and politicians who attended veteran photographer and journalist Alf Khumalo’s memorial service at The Forum auditorium in Gauteng Legislature offices in Johannesburg.  Among them sat, singer Sibongile Khumalo, Judith Sephuma, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbuli  Sipho Hostix Mabuse and Keorapetse Kgositsile, including Pulitzer winnining photographers, Joao da Silva and Greg Marinovich.  The auditorium  proudly displayed eight larger than life panels depicting the history of the liberation party the African National Congress ‘s centenary celebrations through photographs many of  them taken by Alf Khumalo, 82, himself in over  50 years of his illustrious career as a photojournalist.  There was not mention of him on the panels, no mention of the man who former President Nelson Mandela, described as a historian, taking ordinary moments he shared with his dog at his home in Soweto or the man who former President Thabo Mbeki honoured with the order of Ukhamanga ( ), No even a single panel gave tribute to the man Winnie MadikiZela Mandela described as “one of the few photographers who fought oppression through the lens”.  Khumalo adopted the Mandela family back in 1951 when he was a young photographer experimenting with his camera” Winnie invited the audience into her world.  Khumalo was then a  part-time journalist with the Bantu World Newspaper, documenting life under apartheid by taking pictures of everything that was newsworthy including arriving uninvited and taking photographs of the goings on Mandela home in Orlando West, Soweto, which was also turned into a Museum [Nelson Mandela Family Museum] three years ago, around the same time that Alf Khumalo turned his Dobsonville home into a museum and school of photography in Diepkloof, which as his obituary read, “young men and women growing up in the dusty streets of Soweto, Alexandra, and Evaton, could literally walk into and learn photography directly from bra Alf Khumalo.”  If the audience was blind to the irony displayed so elegantly on the towering plinths, the Chief photographer of the Saturday Star newspaper and a representative of Alf Khumalo’s Photographic Museum in Diepkloof Soweto, Paballo Thekiso, gave voice, almost involuntarily to Alf Khumalo’s pain of not having realized his dream of building a photographic museum and photography school before his soul left his body, on the 21 of October from renal failure.  Through tears, Thekiso described Bra Alf’s dream which he shared with him while they were sitting under a tree one day “he said you see this place I want us to make it into a double storey, oh no-no let’s make it a triple story. On top it will be the  hall of fame , in the middle you can put whatever you want, and  leave this bottom part the way it is” Thekiso  who described himself as a living example of  Alf Khumalo’s legacy described the conversation he had with his mentor  of  ten years almost  verbatim. “I am sad that he didn’t live to see his dream, he asked, asked everyone, everyone. I saw him do it. He’s been knocking on doors, and no one listened and today he’s gone” Thekiso’s voice broke into a searingly sharp wail that made former ANC Women League President, Winnie Mandela including the audience whose heads were already bowed to wince in pain.  He interrupted attempts to console him through song insisting “I want to speak about this thing. Let us celebrate people when they are still alive. Today I have a family, I have a wife, I have a stable life, because ubaba gave me his time to teach me, he gave me a future, this unfortunately stopped because in 2007, 2008, 2009 we didn’t have funding”.  And as if to continue where Bra Alf Khumalo had left off he continued to knock on doors. “If you are sitting in here today, and you have money please give some of it to the museum”.  Thekiso deftly answered jovial requests by some  including musician Caiphus Semenya to have some of their more private  images taken by Mr Alf Khumalo  returned back to them  by saying “ until those boxes of negatives are scanned properly, you will never see those pictures”.   Perhaps it was veteran Poet and writer Don Mattera who opened the door wide for Paballo Thekiso to bravely deliver his pain-filled tribute. The poet and scribe was  one of the first people to speak, asking the newspapers for which Bra Alf Khumalo worked for almost half a century to put their money where their talk of legacy is and preserve and nurture Alf Khumalo’s dream.  Mattera whose prominence in South Africa’s literary landscape  rose with his seminal book, Memory is Weapon also spared a moment to address the political situation in the country “This is a beautiful country, we must not allow issues like Marikana  and others  to destroy who we are and what we are. We must not bring our country down because we don’t like a government. What we must do is help to heal the wounds of our past ….so that our children can have something to hang on to.  Winnie Madikizela Mandela joined him later saying “one bullet fired under a democratic government to workers asking for bread to eat is difficult to justify”. “Our country “she emphasized “Will be lucky to survive the negative image it projected to world of itself. On that day (August 16th) I was proud of the journalist in this country.” Madikezala Mandela concluded her tribute with a pledge to “realize bra Alf dream of his museum in Diepkloof, by knocking on my own doors and opening them”.  Mattera who looked frail at 77   described Alf as a soft and gentle man whose rivers flowed deep.  “ By the way” He reminded the audience “ it’s on your marks, get set, ready, before you go, turn around to see who you can take with you, that’s what bra Alf did, hola hola,” he greeted in the language  of the old township, Sophiatown.  Perhaps there were those in the audience who wished the memorial service was one of those irritating moments described to laughter by his colleague at the Sunday World newspaper Juby Mayet, when he would stall at the moment when everyone was ready to go on assignment saying “sorry please, just two minutes I’ve forgotten something”.

By: Jedi Ramalapa

Moving On with The Brother

The Brother

It all started as a joke, all those years ago. I laughed really hard. What? I asked,  Siya is in a band? I gotta to see this I said.  Then a fortunate event happened back when I was a science journalist.  I was assigned to the Science Festival in GrahamsTown the famously infamous town where the educational  institution called  Rhodes University – The Ivy league of journalism in my-popular opinion –   stands tall.  Siya Mthembu, the face of The brother Moves On, was there  reading for his  Journalism /Political Science  degree and as I heard also  starting a band.  We had become good  friends (like family really)  through his cousin who pulled me  out of my shell into the  wise-crack-jozi chick I had become. In short, he is a brother.  So I ended up watching movies, hanging out on cliffs and getting up to no-good-student activities  in between  barely doing interviews with scientists and school children. It was a great assignment, but I never saw him perform with the band. Or did he?

Anyway years later,  one day I saw him in a shiny-gold-spandex-out-fit, running around the streets of Johannesburg  as Mr Gold, crazed and shouting something about someone going somewhere. I didn’t know he could be that crazy too! Later I went to their first live-recording of their album, which also served as Mr Gold’s funeral, and that’s when I realized it was not a Joke.  He had followed his dream despite everybody’s mis-givings, criticism, encouragements or misgivings, raised eye-brows, despite having and not having money or support, together they made it possible – Siya is in a band and it’s no Joke.

At first I didn’t understand their music, at first it didn’t make sense, at times I wondered if the math adds up.  But at the studio-recording I heard a call, from deep calling unto deep, for us to all wake up to the truth of who we are. That rhythmic beat sychronized in perfect harmony with the  the  duff-duff – duff -duff  of my heart. In it I found the courage to dance to my own rhythm in perfect harmony…..

Moving on with the Brother in Johannesburg

The Brother Moves On will be At it again,  GO find your own rhythm if You can on Saturday the 27 of October,  DRILL HALL, Johannesburg. 


WHO IS THE BROTHER- In their own words:

The Brother moves on is an art and music collective that celebrates the transient nature of music and art in Johannesburg. Based in the East Rand the collective uses a variety of contemporary genres to celebrate their specific traditional sound as homage to music as a social tool of evolution. . This six piece “bands” current subject is urban youth with tribal roots who are relating to the idea of having a calling, whether this be a traditional calling or a contemporary calling as a nation. Musically this translates to a noise band that echo’s ideas of ethnic South African jazz infused with urban rhythms and melodic rock. Fused with performance art and visual material as storytelling this makes for an enthralling take on a contemporary griot tradition. Positive Energy Activates Constant Elevation…P E A C E


We’re at it again, last year saw us host one of the wickedest parties on the Drill Hall rooftop with the Fridge. Mme Tseleng and Ms Buttons. This time we are on the square and we’ve invited some friends whom we haven’t shared a stage with(LoveGlori and Travellin’ Blak from Pretoria). Beyond serving as the digital launch of our EP ETA this double header of a gig is a home and away gig meaning you pay once and can attend both shows in Jhb(Drill Hall) and PTA(+27 Cafe Hatfield). Yes you heard right pay R60 aNd you can come to Hatfield on Friday the 26th and then Drill Hall on Saturday the 27th.

Line up:(JHB)



Melodies melodies melodies….soul.



yES i am a travellist.



A love for music and labantwana bayathanducash!!



Launching their radio singles under the title E.T.A the Brother will have merchandise for you to sample, and ladies yes that means tights will be on sale.

So R60 bucks get you in unless you are a friend of the bands and send an email to one of these four bands. First 20 to email per band get in for R40.

Remember you pay once and you get into both gigs.

Spread the word about the Brother Moves On ETA tour



FACES and PHASES with Zanele Muholi

Pictures by Photographer Zanele Muholi have been following me… literally.  They were the last pictures I saw at the  The Biennale de L’Art Africain Contemporain: DAK’ART 2012  in  Senegal in May this year. It was surreal.  I had met and made friends with a Mauritanian Photographer Elise, during pre-election protests on the streets of Darkar and she  was exhibiting photographs she had taken of the floods in Senegal the previous year – 2011. It turns out  that her exhibition was combined with the launch of Zanele Muholi’s book of Photography and mini exhibition, including a  video with sound narration by Zanele Muholi about Lesbians in South Africa.  This was the same week in which Muholi’s home had been burgled and hard-drives of her work were stolen from her house.

Being. Zanele Muholi

The cinema at the  French Institute in Dakar was almost empty. I had  invited one of my friends from the popular Sandanga Markert to come – but he declined, because he did not agree with subject matter, being a devout Muslim who prays five times a day.  It was not so long ago that I myself had been a nation builiding lesbian.  I had seen all these pictures before. So many times.  I knew these faces. I heard the narrative being given by the french hosts ” … in South Africa Lesbian women are being killed targetted..  just this week Zanele Muholi’s home was burgled”

I felt like a fruad, sitting there with a straight face.  I was also at a cross roads – debating whether to continue living in  Senegal or return  home to no job, no place to live, no money, nada.  I had worked so  damn hard to get those two things in Senegal sorted. I found myself in the early hours of  one  real wicked morning, at a 24 hour Shisanyama (braai meat)  joint I had used for shelter,  with sex-workers from Guinea and their Senegalese   handlers.  They tried to recruit me and one of them tossed me a one mil note (CFA), equivalent to 10 South African Rands (ZAR) or less than one USD to buy food.  It had taken all my God given strength to get myself up from that place, to a great space where I had money, work and a comfortable place to stay, one I could call my own. I wasn’t sure I wanted to give it all up again and for what….

Those  faces kept slidding past the  screen, over and over again, as if to say you  are one of us , as  if to say come home.  It gradually  dawned on me that I had a to make a choice. To risk living in a place that refuses to acknowledge my existence  or  to die in a place that does.

FACES & PHASES: Tuesday 27 November 2012.  Catch it if you can @ the German Cultural Center in Johannesburg.

The series “Faces and Phases” of acclaimed photographer Zanele Muholi was included in dOCUMENTA(13) in Kassel, Germany from June to September 2012 and co-produced by Stevenson Gallery and the Goethe-Institut. It will now return to South Africa for an exhibition at the Goethe-Institut.Zanele Muholi explains: “In “Faces and Phases” I present our existence and resistance through positive imagery of black queers (especially lesbians) in South African society and beyond. I show our aesthetics through portrait

ure. Historically, portraits serve as memorable records for lovers, family and friends.
“Faces” expresses the person, and “Phases” signifies the transition from one stage of sexuality or gender expression and experience to another. “Faces” is also about the face-to-face confrontation between myself as the photographer/activist and the many lesbians, women and transmen I have interacted with from different places. Phases articulates the collective pain we as a community experience due to the loss of friends and acquaintances through disease and hate crimes.
The viewer is invited to contemplate questions such as: what does an African lesbian look like? Is there a lesbian aesthetic or do we express our gendered, racialised and classed selves in rich and diverse ways? Is this lesbian more ‘authentic’ than that lesbian because she wears a tie and the other does not? Is this a man or a woman? Is this a transman?
“Faces and Phases” is an insider’s perspective that both commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers I have met in my journeys.”


Sex is not a goddamn performance.
Sex should feel as natural as drinking water.

It should not require confidence.

Sex should happen, because the moment is ripe.

Ripening lips, ripening labia, ripening cock, ripening pupils, ripening state of being. Ripe and augmented and brimming. Your energy goes to your pumping heart, then to every external nerve, then to theirs, on fire.You bask, roll, play
in it. You sigh, moan, laugh.
It’s not about being “good in bed.”
It’s about being happy.

One should never worry if they’re doing it “correctly.” Sex is not factual. I don’t want your cookie-cutter sex, I don’t want your meticulously crafted, calculated, fool-proof fuck. I don’t want a show. I want you. Let your instincts, urges and whims define that. It’s enough.

What do most girls like? Forget about it. Statistics are meaningless when there’s only one. Hello, here’s me. Here’s you.

Don’t worry about taking it too slow. We got time. We got infinite rhythms, combinations, possibilities. Explore each fuck. Take our time. We can do a different one later.

Don’t worry about making me come. I’m here. Right where I want to be.

I am overwhelmed by wanting; you don’t have to convince me. I want you because I like you. So don’t put on a front. Don’t taint this.

I’m frustrated—it’s just authenticity I want.
It’s originality.
It’s passion.
It’s joy.

Don’t say that something I like is ugly. Don’t compare yourself to the rest. You will live and die with and within your experiences like everyone else. If someone thinks you are amazing, they are not wrong. Their universe is as real as any other; it is forged through perception.

I don’t care if you accidentally slammed my head into the wall, if you slipped out, if my arm cracked, if the delightful pressure of your wet lips on my anything made a silly sound. There is no right way and no wrong way.

“Good in bed,” what.
You’re good in my bed. I’m pleased you’re there. I feel it suits you.

Shove your technique. Let your memory swallow it. Fuck me like you’d fuck me, fuck me like you feel.

This isn’t a test.

(via mermaidporn on tumblr) (Source: nikolaiolivier)

Nelisiwe Xaba: A Dancer With Balls

X-homes 2010.

I first met critically acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Nelisiwe Xaba, in 2008. We made T-shirts together for the anti-Xenophobia protest march Johannesburg in June. She never said a word the entire evening, (if she did I didn’t hear it ) while I and our other mutual friends chattered or argued and debated about which  slogans worked, how many we should make, the fonts, the style etc. She just got on with the work at hand.

The next time we met, it was in 2009 for an interview on the  short run of her solo-performance pieces,  “They look at me and that’s all they think” and Sakhozi says ‘non’ to the Venus,  which she self-funded at the Market Theater in Jozi .  Both works were based and  inspired by the story of Sara Baartman (1789-1815) a Khoi-khoi woman famously exhibited as a sideshow attraction in 19th Century Europe, under the name “Hottentot Venus”.   I watched both her pieces with awe, I had never seen her perform  before – she is often travelling and working abroad and on the continent.  I wondered why I didn’t know about her before (being a lover of dance and all) or why there were not many people, black women like me,  going out to see what other sisters are doing. Her performances are powerful and challenging, and thought-provoking.  I have never been left unchallenged by her work.   Her  meticulousness is evident in how her work is structured:  from the  costumes she chooses, the props she uses, body movement, facial expressions, no action or movement is wasted. All tie in methodically together into  smooth and powerfully vibrant performances only Nelisiwe Xaba  can deliver.  I have loved all of the shows she’s produced  including  that of X-Homes in Kliptown ( one of the oldest townships in Soweto and the venue where the 1955 freedom charter was signed)   in which I barely escaped her urine which she splashed angrily at her  audience as part of the piece.    If there’s a critique from a novice, it would be, she is very much more than just  “intense” .  The day of the interview was over-cast,  just  like this one today.  We sat in a cove at Gramadoelas restraurant at the Market Theater, and indulged  in what was to be the most enjoyable interview I have ever had. We both laughed, and giggled like two school girls while sipping tea.  I was surprised when I stumbled on a short transcript of the interview  the other day and re-reading now  I see it was probably the most seriously, real, interview I have ever done.  Xaba is also, as it turns out one of the funniest people I’ve met yet, with a balanced mix of irony and witt I smile just thinking of that day.  I didn’t want the Interview to end I remember… I was already in Love.

The Interview:

SWA: How did you navigate your way through the dance industry  almost two decades  down the line?

XABA: ”  I had to fight. Nothing was given to me, all I had (have)  I had to do it myself. I know that for  my male counterparts  things were just given to them and they didn’t know how to handle it, because it was given to them.  No one gave me anything. I had to build my name, build everything myself.  So, no one can say I gave her something, including all these Dance Institutions for all I care. The dancing industry is full of men, and no they’re not better.

SWA: Is there  a need then to build support structures for young (female) dancers? Would you consider perhaps setting up a something to train aspirant dancers?

XABA:  Sometimes I dream of having my own studio, my own Non-Governmental – Organization (NGO). But at the same time I don’t believe in NGO’s…. to keep giving something to people, maybe they don’t need it. They don’t need it so they don’t know what to do with it. So I would like to create something where young girls or boys, if they want to be dancers, would have to make an effort.  I don’t want to open another school where I have to rely on funders to give me money for the underprivileged, I don’t believe in that. It’s a great gift from NGO’s or from Europeans, but it doesn’t help.  How many NGO’s do we have in Africa? What do they do? If NGO’s were helping Africa, Africa would be at the same level with  first world countries today.

SWA: In Sakhozi says “non” to the Venus, you tackle Immigration Issues amongst other pressing issues, tell us more.

XABA: It boils down to the relationship that Europe has with Africa. It’s  the superiority complex that they have with us. Also it’s not only Europe that should be blamed. We’ve been blaming Europe forever. I think our Governments will blame Europe until I’m dead.  Africa needs to start having balls. Africa needs to stop having her legs wide open and cross them probably, and start having some dignity. Europeans are closing their gates to Africans, and we’re opening them wide, I don’t understand that.   I don’t know what we gain from them. Europeans gain money from doing business in Africa. I don’t know what we gain.

SWA: Who are you  Challenging?

 XABA: Unfortunately cabinet ministers or parliamentarians  won’t attend the show. They are too important (laughs).  I grew up in Apartheid – South Africa, then there was a movement of consciousness,  ( Black Consciousness Movement/ BCM) especially with the youth.  We made  each other conscious, but that’s all gone and I don’t understand why it’s gone when it should be starting,  beginning actually. So I look at my work as a form of creating a consciousness.

SWA:  You’ll also be performing your 2006 piece, they look at me and that’s all they think, what does this piece relate to.

XABA: This goes back to exoticism. When you’re performing in Europe, people are mainly interested in seeing your body. Sometimes they don’t actually care about what you’re saying. The black body is still so exotic. When your  body is your tool to make or create art, then it becomes a challenge.  How do you get your message across when someone is actually not listening and they’re just looking at your body? How do you get them to listen? That’s the challenge. They look at me , was also a challenge to Europeans that the black body is just a body “actually”. So you can listen to what I’m saying, or see what I’m talking about, to open a dialogue”

SWA: How do you deal with your own personal narrative? The irony your work evokes?

XABA: This time it is a choice. It’s not like Sara Baartman who had no choice, a contract or costume. Of course it is an art-form that gets abused. My challenge is how do I use my body in a way that exhibiting it does not degrade it, and how do I do that with pride.

SWA: Why do you think, many women, like Sara Baartman are still “caged” today?

XABA: The problem for me starts with the basics.  If we women don’t teach girls to be powerful  girls,  they will never be powerful women. You can’t expect a 21-year-old to be a powerful woman, when you’ve  never taught her when she was  five how to be a powerful girl. The state of women in Africa is still ridiculous. Men are still men. Men haven’t changed despite the fact that we marched in the 60’s . It’s like the struggle of being black, you have to fight everyday of your life. Same with being a woman, you fight everyday of your life. We live in a man’s world.  We live in a White world. Until we change that world, nothing can change for us.



Sakhozi says non to the Venus

Nelisiwe Xaba was born and raised in Soweto (South Africa), and received a scholarship to study at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation. After studying dance in London (with a 1996 Ballet Rambert Scholarship) she returned home to join Pact Dance Company, where she was company member for several years, and with whom she toured to Europe and the Mideast. She worked with a variety of choreographers, visual and theater artists, particularly Robyn Orlin, with whom she created works such as Keep the Home Fires BurningDown Scaling downLife after the credits roll, and Daddy I’ve seen this piece six times before and I still don’t know why they’re hurting each other, which toured for several years in Europe and Asia, winning the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. In 2001, Ms. Xaba began to focus on her own choreographic voice, creating solo and group dance works that have been performed in Africa and Europe, includingb Dazed and confusedNo Strings Attached 1No Strings Attached 2Be My Wife(BMW)(commissioned by the Soweto Dance Project), and Black!.. White and Plasticization. Ms. Xaba has also collaborated as choreographer and dancer with fashion designers, opera productions, music videos, television productions, and multimedia performance projects.

To Bra Alf With Love…

Through the Eyes of Bra Alf Khumalo

Award winning South African Photo-journalist bra Alf Khumalo and I have never had coffee together.  If there’s one regret in my career as a journalist  it would be  not having had the courage to step out of my shell and introduce myself to him. No matter, Like Former President Nelson Mandela, he had a presence about him, that was calming for me in my early days a s rookie radio journalist.

an eye like no other

As radio journalists we  often got into fights with news photographers  because often our Mics would in their “picture”. But Bra Alf was never  the aggressive kind.  A calmness would always envelop me whenever I would see him at stories ( esp those with Madiba as the subject) because he always works calmly and discreetly, and has shielded me more than once from the firing line of  testosterone  charged photographers willing to kill for a great picture with Madiba. This while keeping his eye on his picture.

I will always remember his kind, sly smile,  because that’s what I used to see  when I saw  him on my “Madiba” assignments. I have always admired you from afar.

Tributes have been pouring in for this gentle Giant, who contributed to South Africa’s socio-political visual landscape for over 60 years. He never went anywhere without his Nikon* camera and was known for his determination to get specific photos. He was described as people’s person, a mentor, a giver, a father, a historian, and a huge reference for South Africa’s  history.

It is indeed  a little ironic for me to be re-naming and re-focusing my blog to be about Art, a great love of my heart I had ignored for so long  today with the  news of his passing at the weekend from Kidney failure, he was 82.

My friend and the first Black Woman recipient of the CNN African Journalism Award for Photography, Neo Ntsoma, is a living testimony of Bra Alfs’ love for people.

” He taught me all I know about the industry, about being a mother, single parent and pursuing a career as as a photojournalist.  He taught me how not to be a statistic, to stand out and be the best in my field. We’re speaking about my dad. He was like my Dad”

Bra Alf, thank you for being yourself,and for sharing your talent so generously with the world, with us, with me.

Lala Ngothando!

The Foreignness of HOME

Today the 19th of October. 1977.

How strange.

I have never really lived in any other country other than South Africa.  Yet I feel distinctly alien to it.

It’s been four months now since I have been back from  a six-month-working holiday in the West African city of Dakar,  in Senegal the land of the Lion and the Baobab.

And still I cannot make sense of this, my home, South Africa.

What happened to me? To them. To us. Am I once again lost in my country’s constant transitions.

A constant foreigner?

In the desert-sands of my Senegal, there lay somewhere beneath my despair a hope…

That there is a place called home. For me.

I thought I found it.  One day. On the 25 of December  between the Atlantic Ocean, and the River Senegal.

On a strip of Sand.

For a moment, I was at peace and swam  among  sea creatures and crabs.

This morning as I joined thousands upon thousands of the country’s working massive, labourers, maids, garden boys, mamas, gogos, aunties, uncles, tellers, cleaners, students, struggling artists, myself.   I wondered how one could find peace in a place where each morning one is greeted with headlines  such as this one:

Child Hacked with Axe.

and still remain.