Young local artists find catharsis & healing in creative expression

In what remains the most unequal society in the world, a new generation of South Africans are making art as a means trauma release and self-care

01 September 2019 - 00:09 By Londi Modiko and Lara Kosef
Lunga Ntila's 'Distorted Contorted', 2019
Lunga Ntila's 'Distorted Contorted', 2019
Image: Supplied

In the commercial art studio in Melrose Arch where she works, DuduBloom More collects the discarded, paint-stained cloths that children use to clean their brushes, and takes them back to her home studio in Soweto.

There she delicately sorts through them, cuts them out, reclassifies them into her own magical taxonomy. These fragments form the foundation of a new, subtle and sophisticated body of artwork, in which More creates little abstract worlds of vivid colour and form.

This trajectory, following the reclamation of what others have justifiably disposed of, is not only remarkable because of the beautiful result - but also the cathartic effect it has on the artist, and, by extension, those who view her work.

DuduBloom More's 'Untitled II', 2019.
DuduBloom More's 'Untitled II', 2019.
Image: Supplied

"The process of putting the small abstract shapes and objects together helps me to gather my layered, anxious thoughts," says More.

"In cutting out the colourful and unintentional markings and blotches of paint, I am faced with the question. why didn't anyone encourage my needs and ways of expression? I treat each individual shape and object with intimacy to resemble the encouragement and nourishment I wish I had received as a child."

Born in 1990, More is part of a generation once labelled "born-free", a term now considered by some as a sham and a suppression of the trauma that persists in post-apartheid SA, which, according to a study done by the World Bank in 2018, remains the most unequal society in the world.

Within this context many young artists are using their art-making as a form of catharsis and a process of release.

The notion of catharsis has a long history in its connection to art, particularly stemming from Aristotle's dramatic theory, Poetics, which considers the humanising effect of tragedy on the spectator or reader.

The making of art as a therapeutic activity also has its own extensive history. And, when there is catharsis in both the viewing and construction of art, in the context of a traumatised society, there sometimes emerges a quiet power and reclamation that tips the scales in an extraordinary way.

This alternative form of expression gives a new language to the speechless.

Award-winning Durban-based painter Selloane Moeti has, like More, established a process of art-making that she views as a form of catharsis, resulting in artworks that are a collection of dreams, through the use of a symbolic medium: umbomvu (red clay).

Red clay paste is known as letsoku in Sotho culture and ibomvu among Nguni (Zulu) people, and is used by both women and men in traditional ceremonies aimed at connecting or conversing with ancestors.

Moeti's artworks draw on links between cleansing, healing, dislocation and relocation. Her paintings are an attempt to trace and understand her lineage as a moSotho woman born, raised and still living in KwaZulu-Natal.

Selloane Moeti's 'Imbeleko ka Lerato', 2017
Selloane Moeti's 'Imbeleko ka Lerato', 2017
Image: Supplied

In her work, Moeti brings together imagery imbedded in styles that reference her seSotho lineage, which she cannot relate to as she was brought up Zulu. The stylised figures of women from her dreamscapes are infused with elements of popular culture, which gives them a contemporary sensibility.

In a very different medium, Lunga Ntila uses photographic manipulation and digital collage as a process of transformation, in which, she explains, she "reimagines a limitless future ... It is about inspecting identity. This formula allows [me] to explore and challenge the ideologies that govern the different facets that exist within us."

One of the key prisms in Ntila's work is the notion of "unlearning", collapsing, manipulating and constantly recreating fragments of her own image, and sometimes others. The resulting work can be both elegant and disturbing, surprising and uncanny. Her willingness to take distortion to new levels is ultimately captivating, and a defiance of what society deems beautiful.

Other young SA artists are perhaps using the most engaging art form as a process of reclamation and healing, one that requires a live audience - performance.

Helena Uambembe, one of the Bag Factory's 2019 David Koloane Award winners, processes the painful history of her remote community, which has a singular story that has in the past been told primarily by others.

Uambembe was born in Pomfret in 1994 to Angolan parents who fled the civil war. Her father was a soldier in 32 Battalion, a military unit within the SA Defence Force mainly made up of black Angolan men. In her work, she reclaims narratives surrounding the Battalion, reprocessing this history from a new and untold perspective.

"My performances are often my reactions to stories that I hear in the community," explains Uambembe. "Most stories are imbedded in trauma - art-making has become a form of coping mechanism."

Uambembe's performances are a language of empowerment, revealing how families and sisterhoods were formed as a result of displacement from war, how family dynamics changed, and how people who fled together became brothers and sisters.

I'm using art to heal: heartbreak, deceit, longing for honesty, love and care. This is a love letter to myself and future selves that I was here for them, to talk about the things they needed to hear
Performance artist Janine Bezuidenhout

Shortlisted for the David Koloane Award, Janine Bezuidenhout uses performance and installation to create a series of paradisal situations that offer solace for her mental health.

She has developed an alter ego - "Janine Whitney Lucy Pubs" - through whom she candidly seeks to establish a stable state of mind. In a new project developed for the award, she enacts the idea of a note written to her younger self.

"It serves as a note to redefine and instigate what I believe the future to be. It serves as a note to live life in this country ...

"I'm using art to heal: heartbreak, deceit, longing for honesty, love and care. This is a love letter to myself and future selves that I was here for them, to talk about the things they needed to hear."

Bezuidenhout's performances reveal a young woman breaking free from her mental constraints.

Artists such as these reflect a powerful reliance on themselves - rather than external sociopolitical forces - for healing. Many will be exhibiting their work in Johannesburg this month, and audiences can anticipate being stirred and humanised by their important output.

WHERE TO SEE THESE ARTISTS' WORK

DUDUBLOOM MORE will have work at the Artist Proof Studio booth at LATITUDES art fair, September 13-15 at Nelson Mandela Square.

SELLOANE MOETI will present her first solo show, It Ends With Me, curated by Londi Modiko, at the UNDERLINE show, September 12-15 at the Museum of African Design (MOAD).

LUNGA NTILA will present a solo show at BKhz, 68 Juta Street from September 7. She will also have work on Prepossessing the Future, curated by Christa Dee at the UNDERLINE show, September 12-15 at the Museum of African Design (MOAD); and the Gallery Lab section of FNB Art Joburg, September 13-15 at the Sandton Convention Centre.

HELENA UAMBEMBE The winner of the Bag Factory's 2019 David Koloane Award will present her new work Therapy for the Black man (in honour of ...) at FNB Art Joburg, September 13-15 at the Sandton Convention Centre and at the UNDERLINE show, September 12-15 at the Museum of African Design (MOAD).

JANINE BEZUIDENHOUT As a shortlisted artist for the Bag Factory's 2019 David Koloane Award, she will present her new work Compensation for your Mourning (A love letter to myself), at the UNDERLINE show, September 12-15 at the Museum of African Design (MOAD).


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