It is silent. Images flash across a screen when you walk in. It looks weird at first, two women licking each others tongues, but after a while, you realise that it is not weird at all, because they seem to be comfortable with each other and that makes you comfortable as well. Mother and daughter, both black, both women, both black women.
Noka ya Bokamosa (River of Tomorrow), an exhibition by Lerato Shadi, is something different. There are no artworks, no sculptures or any other crafts as the subject of her exhibition. Instead, Shadi is the subject, knitting a river of red in front of her from a ball of wool the size of a large medicine ball.
Everything else remains quiet. Except for three faint circles that are painted on the wall, Shadi grabs the attention of the room. No words are uttered, but this exhibition screams of a woman with a point to prove.
“Black women have continuously and constantly been erased out of history and [this] references the violence of that erasure,” says Shadi. “Noka ya bokamoso kinda puts questions to the future as to connecting the past, the present and the future. And if you do not have control over your own historical archive, what does that mean for the future?”
The exhibition, which starts at 10am and ends at 4pm, features Shadi knitting non-stop for 6 hours. No food. No breaks. No stop. The whole time she sits and knits a crimson tide running down her lap to her legs and stretches across the floor of the Alumni Gallery.
“When you are talking about forms of resistance and forms of ourselves writing ourselves into history that has to be continuous, that has to be non-stop,” she says. “Our experiences interact, but they are not the same. It’s the idea that our differences should not be tolerated, [but] they should be celebrated.”
“I should not have to hide my own differences and the idea that those spaces can spark creativity,” says Shadi. Her whole exhibition is meant to encourage a national dialogue that motivates a collective re-imagining of a future that considers historical representation and how it influences current narratives.
Right next door to Shadi’s exhibition is Zanele Muholi’s Somnyama Ngonyamana (Hail, the Dark Lioness). Muholi shines an eye on the black LGBT+ community in South Africa using black and white photographs.
Muholi’s work extends to the politics of race and pigment as she takes on a number of personas combining black and white portraiture and fashion photography. Her exhibition also includes 12 photographs from her ongoing essay Brave Beauties, which is aimed at celebrating the body and the politics of expression through photographing bodies of members of the LGBT+ community.
Both exhibitions highlight the political role black women play. There is no denying that they are making a statement.
By Olorato Mongale