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nomusa makhubu

Makhubu is an art historian and artist. She lectures Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Cape Town. In 2006 she won the ABSA L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award as well as the Rhodes Amnesty International Woman of the Year Award for Art. She was nominated as the presenting artist for the Business Day: Business and Art South Africa (BASA) Awards in 2008 and was awarded the Purvis Prize for Academic Achievement in Fine Art, Rhodes University. Makhubu became an Abe Bailey fellow in 2008. Her M.A. research, funded by the Würth Scholarship, focussed on politics of identity and sexuality where she interrogated representations of violence and conceptualisations of tradition and gender in Nicholas Hlobo and Zanele Muholi’s artwork. She has presented research papers nationally and internationally (SAVAH – South African Visual Art Historians, ACASA – Arts Council of the African Studies Association at UCLA, ACS – Association for Cultural Studies) examining visual politics in contemporary South African art. In 2010, she completed her fellowship with the Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) in Nigeria. Her current research focuses on West African video-film. She has worked as a Cue Journalist for the National Arts Festival (2007, 2010) in Grahamstown and was appointed to the NAF council in 2011.

Makhubu has contributed her writing to Critical Arts (Violence and the Cultural Logics of Pain: Representations of Sexuality in the Work of Nicholas Hlobo and Zanele Muholi), African Arts (Politics of Strangeness: Re-visiting Pieter Hugo’s Nollywood), Third Text as well as book projects and catalogues (Spaces of Contention and Confrontation: The Geography of Truth in Zak Benjamin’s Paintings for the Zak Benjamin Retrospective). In November 2013, she was selected as one of fourteen female photographers from around the world invited to participate in the Semiha Es - Women Photographers International Symposium, in Istanbul, Turkey. Her paper, The Power and Terror of the Enactment of Collective Memory in Performative Photography commented directly on her own work, particularly the Self-Portrait Project series. She has exhibited in South Africa, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Swaziland, Norway, Finland, Senegal, United States of America and Reunion Island. BFA, MA, PhD (Rhodes University / Grahamstown) 2014

Cover Image Imvunulo (Traditional Dress) Digital print on archival Litho paper 106 x 72 cm Second Edition /7 + 2 A/P’s 2007/2013

Trading Lies was photographed on location at the Observatory Museum in Grahamstown. “The inclusion of myself is an interruption to the seemingly quiet settler life shown in the diorama. The museum is an island of history and a vacuum that keeps settler histories un-“contaminated”. It is also a project based on the exploration of identity and the intentions to contain and preserve it.” Nomusa Makhubu

Trading Lies Colour Hand Print 106 x 72 cm 30 x 40 cm Edition / 10 2006

Imicabango (Thoughts)

Ingqwalasela (The Realization Insight)

Ukuphimisa (The proposal)

Izimfihlo (Secrets)

Amaso ne Nxowa (Beads and Sack Embroidery Cloth)

Makhosikazi (Of Women)

Self-Portrait Project

The series was originally part of a body of work entitled Pre-Served. This exhibition focused on representations of African women in colonial photography/photographic studies of South and East Africans (1870-1920). This project represented a few challenges: the photographs themselves were problematic because they set up a clear distinction between the photographer and the photographed as male and female, European/ African, white/black in which the former is privileged. How was it possible, to subvert that hierarchy and re-write the political implications in the photograph? Of what use are these photographs to contemporary politics? Of what use are tools of memory if they serve a denigrating history? Since they represent colonialism, should they simply not be erased from memory, forgotten, delegitimized? The women in the photographs that I selected had come to represent collectivities of women and men who have been subjected to the dehumanizing scientific gaze. The patronizing visual language in colonial photography had to be rudely interrupted. During this project, I had initially used objects in order to interject the visual language of past prejudice with the stark visual language of contemporary presence. I was using site-specific projections onto which objects could be placed. Generally, the photographic image is fixed. Projections, however, are like simulations. They have a volatility of sorts. They invite change (for example, the image takes on the texture of the surface on which it is projected). This quality in projections opened up the possibility to alter the meaning of the photograph. Earlier experimentations include photographs of the Old Gaol executions.

The Old Gaol in Grahamstown was built in 1823 by the British Settlers. I used old photographs of executions that took place at the Gaol to perform in the place of the victim. My interest in these and other colonial photographs was their persistence into the present as indices of African history and major elements of its memory. The collectivities of women in these images were not merely passive victims. So, in entering the image, I found that there were many complex issues that surfaced. Colonial photography has a particular function – it heightens difference. The ‘scientific’ ethnographic visual language that it deploys reduces human beings to specimen. The two images that I have titled Umasifanisane that depict women with their young children are not merely portraits but documents of albinism among people of a particular race. The contrast between the mother and child is created by the choice of different types of dress. The beaded skirt is contrasted to the Christian/ Western dress. Majority of the photographs that I selected are studio portraits, evidenced by the painted backdrop that resembles colonial landscape paintings. The studio portrait is on one hand intimate and eulogistic and repressive, on the other. Allan Sekula (1986) observes that in photography there operates a “double system: a system of representation capable of functioning both honorifically and repressively”. For Sekula (1986), the photographic portrait “degrades” and also came to establish and delimit the terrain of the other”. What was visible within the frame of the image is fundamental to what is not visible. It is the portrayal of the one through the depiction of the other.

The backdrops frame these women as part of nature, ‘primitive’ and peculiar. The constructed image betrays the ideological pursuit of the photographer for whom this is “a visual document of ownership” (Sekula 1989). The anonymity of the colonial photographer for some of the photographs is significant for this project. The notion of authorship and authority is doubly denied. This denial, however, does not obscure complicity. The photograph still points to colonial ‘explorers’, anthropologists, etc. The author/photography becomes merely a figure or a symbol of oppression. I am also removed from that position and at the same time, I am ‘stealing’ someone else’s image. Appropriation, here is not a form of copying but it is interrogative. In this way, re-enactment is a way of engaging with memory and multiple histories through an interrogative approach. Memory, or at least collective memory, is intricate: it necessitates both truth and marvelous fictions. Post-memory, or the transference of cultural trauma from older generations to younger generations, is the kind of memory that is “not mediated by recall but by imaginative investment, projection and creation (own emphasis) (Hirsch 1983). Marianne Hirsch (1983) points out that there is a “risk of having one’s own stories displaced”. Although Hirsch refers to post-memory with regards to the holocaust, colonial history carries the same weight and represents double wounding for postcolonial generations: that experienced through fragmented stories of pain and trauma as well as the wounding experienced from the loss of that generations contemporary present-ness.

The women are photographed as mere bodies or case studies. I found this implied authority and ownership of the visual field and the body symbolizes the terrorization of the female body. Colonial photography is therefore systematic violence through which images dehumanize. Furthermore, it functions within hegemonic systems of legitimation. The photograph as evidence or as truth gives it historicity. However, these photographs reveal the function of marvelous fictions that legitimated colonialism, racism and sexism. Occupying the territory of the black female body, not as case study, not as author/ photographer, but as conceptual agent subverts or at least questions structures of legitimation, validity of one pervasive historical narrative as well as the authority of scientific (anthropological) study. Re-enacting colonial memory, colonial photographs is to bring into frighteningly close proximity the horrors of the past. I had come to associate these photographs as wounds. Indeed, they were corporeal, physical bodily. The image of two young girls, entitled Intombi, had begun to seem as though it was the body of one young girl whose body had been split in half for scrutiny. I had been most conscious of the implicit scars in the image. The question that has been difficult to confront was whether the re-enactment of the photographic subject merely perpetuates the prejudicial relationship between the photographer and the photographed or whether it presents new political questions. Alice Walker’s notion of Womanism encompasses the concerns of black women, in particular. Womanism takes into consideration race and class. It is not exclusive to black women but seeks social change for all.

Womanism differentiates between the relationships of white women to white men and those of black women to black men. Colonialism and slavery resulted in exceptional gender roles for black women and black men. So, although my project focuses on the representation of black women through colonial photography, it also includes the feminizing and infantilizing gaze that black men were equally subjected to as explicated by Ann Kaplan in her postcolonial concept of the imperial gaze. Performing the memory of the colonial image through the concept of womanism, is different political approach. I found that transgression and subversion were not simply exchanging one value for another or reversing the implied hierarchical dichotomies but it meant doing away with repressive structures. How could the memory of colonialism, and what it meant for African women, simply be erased? The repressive structures that are operative within the image persist. Post-memory is therefore not just suffering the trauma of the past, etched in one’s memory as if it were one’s own personal experience but it is an active engagement with the repressive structures that existed then and still seem to be existing now. What connects me to the women in the photograph is the confrontation of those systems (systems of meaning, systems of knowledge) rather than simply replacing the colonial photographer. This journey led me to another kind of repressive colonialism: apartheid. I have also used images of apartheid to evoke how the memory of apartheid is dealt with.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, did not erase the memory of apartheid but placed in boxes, that will sooner or later explode. Those memories live into the present because the physical structures of apartheid still exist. In this way, postmemory is a way of making political assertions about the present. Post-memory implies a ‘return’ to the past. I have characterized this return in my above argument as a way of understanding current repressive structures. However, postmemory also implies being ‘locked’ within the same systems of representations. For example, one of the questions that arise, is whether performing in the place of the woman within the image simply perpetuates the representation of women as bodies. By simply appearing in the image, do I form part of the old systems of meaningmaking? There is, arguably, the implication that the persisting memory of colonialism and apartheid keeps young Africans in a ‘culture prison’ in which they are constantly faced with images of colonialism and apartheid have an obligation to remember or acknowledge. Post-memory is sometimes posed as a responsibility. While this may be necessary for the sake of heritage, understanding past wrongs, or resisting inequalities in the present; it can also be seen as obstacle to progress. For example, the younger generations understand images of their own victimization more than images of their triumph, etc. So an argument that the ‘return’ is retrogressive rather than progressive seems plausible. Chimamanda Adichie’s statement that “show a people as one thing and only one thing, that is what they become”, illustrates the concept of a culture prison in which images construct how people imagine themselves to be.

A key element of post-memory is that it is a spatio-temporal condition. So, how does time and space affect the reading of these images? Post-memory assumes living the past in the present and re-enactments means enlivening the past through present constructions of space. One way to regard the ‘return’ not as retrogressive is through a disregard of Eurocentric/ Western logic or at least not applying it in all situations of meaning-making. The argument that Western thinking which regard time as linear is antithetical to Africanist thinking which regards time as cyclical, has been proclaimed by many Africanists (Masolo 1994, Mudimbe,…). Incarnation, cosmology, etc. are often seen as examples of continuity and cyclical time in African thought. But even this is treated with some skepticism. Masolo (1994) also concurs with Kwasi Wiredu that “anachronism, authoritarianism and supernaturalism” are the “weapons of resistance to change and modernisation” and “can frustrate cultural regeneration”. I propose that time (if understood as past, present, future) is labyrinthine. It is a maze which one finds oneself walking in and out of. The present is constituted of past and future. Rather than it being perceived as a retrogressive ‘return’, post-memory or, in this case, the reenactment of women’s experiences in colonial photography can be used to turn the direction of the weapon. If these photographs were initially used as weapons to dehumanise Africans/African women, that language can be altered. If time is understood to be labyrinthine, then the appropriation of tropes of the past can be a powerful weapon that interrogates past and present repressive structures.

On the question of space: women have for a long time resisted the spaces of confinement in which they found themselves. In these images the studio space is a strong metaphor but in general, domestic spaces have been spaces of confinement for women. The ‘culture prison’ in this sense can be understood as ways in which prolonged struggle against one thing, obscures newer manifestations of the same thing. By this, I mean that women’s memory of oppression and prolonged struggle against that oppression means that women are constantly alert and distrustful of the socio-political public sphere (one cannot generalise, but I mention this for the sake of discussion). In this way, it is as though absolute liberation is deferred. In this project the issue of space has come up already in my discussion. For example, I have discussed the implications of occupying the space of the photographer and the pictorial space of the photographed. In occupying the pictorial space I had either entered the cultural prison or I had enabled for the surface of the image to be malleable so that meaning is not fixed. The contradictions within this project are important in order to understand the assumed dichotomies as dialectical. The Self-Portrait Project is an unfortunate title for the work. Rather than being explorations of the self, the project explores the representation of African women. Colonial photography is the documentation of violation and the terror of dispossession.

Re-enacting colonial photography is to come close to this terror and to realize its present manifestations. For me, post-memory is lived memory – it is a way of coming to terms with the persistence of the same repressive structures. © Nomusa Makhubu References: Phelan, P (1993) Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. Routledge: London Sekula, A. (1986) “The Body and the Archive”, October, 39: 3-64 Stevenson, M. Surviving the Lens: Photographic Studies of South and East African People, 1870-1920

The Self-Portrait Project Digital print on archival Litho paper 106 x 72 cm Second Edition /7 + 2 A/P’s 2007/2013

Inkosikazi (Queen)

Omama Bencelisa (Mothers breastfeeding)

Umqela Nombhaco (Beautification scar)


Ubuhle (Beauty)

Ntombi (Young girl)

Umasizanisane I (Comparison I)

Umasizanisane II (Comparison II)

Previous Pages Goduka (Going / Migrant Labourers) Asasibambe Ngani? (Still Binding?) Inhlamvu Yamehlo (The gaze) Imfundo, Impahla neBhayibheli (Education, Apparel, and the Bible)

Imvunulo (Traditional Dress)

“Inquietude began as a documentation of the Vaal Triangle, an industrial area that lies south of Johannesburg. This is where I was born, and where I spent my childhood and early adulthood years. It was not until I moved to Grahamstown, as a student, that I became acutely aware of the ‘brown’ horizon/ the polluted air. The window became an important metaphor in that it symbolized the sense of distance that had formed in the way that I had experienced this landscape. What I had seen as diversity seemed to be fragmented narratives of dispossession. The broken windscreen therefore functions as a way of seeing. This project was based on interrogating notions of being ‘in out of place’ (Cresswell 1996), as well as histories of belonging and dispossession.” Nomusa Makhubu

Inquietude - Triptych Digital prints on archival paper 60 x 100 cm Edition / 5 2009

“Unlike the other work, the images in the series entitled The Flood are not ‘constructed’ or performed. They are not collages or planned photographs. I had been on research field trip in Lagos during late July, the rainy season. Lagos floods because of the heavy rains but also because of the infrastructure/drainage systems. Lagos is an incredible city. While it reflects the effects of neoliberalism, it is also hopeful. It is full of contradictions – it’s almost magical. I took these photographs while sitting in a taxi which was moving slowly because of the overflow of water.” Nomusa Makhubu

The Flood Nyembezi I, II, III & IV Colour photograph on Hahnem端hle paper 60 x 79cm Edition /10 2013

Exhibitions Museum Biennale Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth, 2014 Co-Existence Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town, 2014 Silk and Steel Galerie NOKO, Port Elizabeth, 2014 29th ABSA L’Atelier ABSA Art Gallery, Johannesburg, 2014 Twenty: Contemporary South African Art The Appalachian State University, North Carolina, USA 2014 Dak’Art Biennale Senegal, 2014 Actuality & Illusions Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town 2014 Crossing the Divide Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town 2013 Cape Town Art Fair Cape Town 2013 Am I Not a Man and a Brother? Am I Not a Woman and a Sister? Group exhibition, James Harris Gallery, Seattle, USA 2013 Lagosian solo exhibition (in progress), Lagos 2013/14 Dali International Photography Exhibition China 2012 Re-Sampled Absa Art Gallery, Johannesburg 2012 Water Performance in collaboration with Injairu Kulundu, Grahamstown 2011 Dream Sweepers Artspace, Johannesburg 2010 No More Bad Girls Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna 2010 Photoquai Musee du Quai Branly, Paris 2009 Umahluko Cape ‘09, Cape Town 2009 The World Needs Us Centro Luigi di Sarro, Rome 2009 Iso Eliphandliwe Alliance Francaise, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Mbabane (Swaziland), Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town & Lesotho 2008 Hollywood, Nollywood & Bollywood Artspace, Johannesburg 2008 I Love Jozi *Gallery Béatrice Binoche: Reunion Island 2008 Construct Unisa Gallery: Pretoria, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum: Port Elizabeth and Settlers Monument: Grahamstown 2008 Four Tales Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg 2008 Glimpse Bean Bag Bohemia, Durban, 2008 3 Years ABSA Gallery, Johannesburg 2008 Art From The Ground Up Hanover and Kuoppio 2007 - 2011 Spier Contemporary Spier: Cape Town, Johannesburg Art Gallery: Johannesburg 2007 GlamourAid Johannesburg 2007 Jeune Creation Galerie Jeune Creation, Paris 2007 Contemporary Visions Of Southern Africa Exhibition Pretoria Museum, Pretoria 2007 Sasol New Signatures Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria 2007 Faces to Face Joint exhibition with Javier Maltos Galves, Internationale Cite

Des Arts: Paris 2007 Positive Sun International/ Tapologo Aids Hospice Exhibition, Johannesburg 2006

Look At Me Artists for Humanity: Women Against Child Abuse Print Project, Billboard: Raglan Road, Grahamstown, 2006-2008 Brett Kebble Art Awards Exhibition, Johannesburg 2005 Eastern Cape Artists - Paper Works, National Arts Festival Grahamstown 2005 Collections Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein, South Africa The Hood Museum of African Art, Dartmouth College, USA Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth, South Africa University of South Africa Publications Featured: Nomusa Makhubu - The contemporary politics of identity, tradition and culture Between10and5 2014 Read Guest editor with Ruth Simbao Third Text - The Art of Change in South Africa, number 122 May 2013 Charting Moral Geographies: Nollywood and the Nationhood Rhetoric forthcoming Thoughts on the First-Wave of Contemporary Performance art in South Africa 2012 Re-Sampled Catalogue, Absa Gallery, Johannesburg 2012 Spaces of Contention and Confrontation: The Geography of Truth in Zak Benjamin’s Paintings 2011 No More Bad Girls Catalogue, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna 2010 Photoquai Catalogue, Musee du Qaui Branly, Paris 2009 Spier Contemporary Catalogue, Cape Town, Johannesburg 2007 Awards Winner of Dak’Art Biennale Le Fresnoy Award 2014 Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans 2013 Nomination: Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award 2012 Business and Art South Africa (BASA) Presenting Artis, Business Day BASA Award 2008 Winner of ABSA L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award 2006 Rhodes Amnesty International Woman of the Year Award 2006 Vaal Show Abstract Work Exhibition, Third Prize 1998 Residencies Prix du Studio National des Arts Contemporain, Le Fresnoy, France, 2015

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Nomusa Makhubu  

Nomusa Makhubu