River of the future flows in unexpected ways

Pencil markings, pencil shavings, pencils, and erasers are used in Lerato Shadi’s visual art, Noka ya Bokamoso in the Alumni Gallery at the Albany History Museum on Sommerset Street at the National Arts Festival 2016 in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa on 30 June 2016. Noka ya Bokamoso can be viewed between 10:00 and 16:00 daily. (Photo: Cue/Lauren Buckle)

She sits there, quiet and calm, crocheting. She does not make eye contact. Hardly breathes. She just continues to sit, to crochet from reams of red yarn that will become a curious carpet/scroll – shoulder-wide and stretching over half of the gallery space. The resulting tableau is intriguing, and a little confusing. Although I am asking myself too many questions that she cannot answer, the last thing I am going to do is look away. 

Lerato Shadi, originally from the village of Lotlhakane in Mahikeng, presents Noka Ya Bokamoso (River of the Future) in a collaborative showcase that will be seen first at Festival.

In four connected works that merge unconventional performance, video and installation, she explores “problematic assumptions projected on the black female body” to “create a space for artists to engage with preconceived notions which make the body both visible and invisible”.

Sugar & Salt is a six-minute video based on the responses of mother and daughter to the act of licking sugar and salt from each other’s tongues. It touches on inter-generational relationships, with two substances, a carbohydrate and a mineral, being used to interrogate the base for the gap between generations.

Although initially a little uncomfortable to watch, it is bizarrely endearing as the familiarity and the feeling of love between the two bodies spills across. Mosako Wa Nako is the main performance installation in which Shadi crochets to illustrate the entanglements harboured within the many different narratives of silence.

Besides deep interest and curiosity, this piece also evokes a sadness that is hard to explain and was by far my favourite in the collection. Makhubu is a performative drawing displaying shades of red writing in semi-erased circles; it speaks to artists’ processes of reconciling the control over archived histories. It is lovely to look at, but not as memorable as the rest of her work.

Moremogolo (Go Betlwa Wa Taola) is a 13-minute video and the world premiere of her latest work. It deals with “the extreme nature of individual resistance”, Shadi’s “experiences of the impact of colonial language” and the ambiguous figure of dancer/choreographer Sello Pesa. Shadi pits strange perceptions against hard realities.

She asks the future how it intends to consolidate its unpredictability with the pains, confusions and tensions of our many right heres and right nows.

By Anima McBrown

Noka Ya Bokamoso, Alumni Gallery, Albany History Museum, Daily, 10am–4pm.

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