Kemang Wa Lehulere: Some Deleted Scenes Too

Page 1


SCENE 47. To the late comers are left the bones EXT. SOMEWHERE. DAY. Since they will never kill us all. They will never love us all. Take care not to mention bones in the presence of the elderly this makes them nervous. Walk in an orderly fashion to where they resuscitate time. Take note of its grammar Syntax. Treat it as a verb. What lyrics would it sing? I met a woman who said “There is no song for this, Even those who have tried gave up long ago�. Ella Jare was incorrect For this there is a song Write your own lyrics Compose your own rhythm but Never to be sung out aloud.

SCENE 48. The Dark Room Manifesto INT. SOMEWHERE. DAY. *(This would be a white text on a black page)*

SCENE 1. Prologue Opening. A black screen. Letters can be seen behind a mist with a red glow, but it is unclear what they say. The mist clears, revealing the words ‘Dog Sleep’, accompanied by dog barking sounds in the background. Fade into night, outside. The moon is half sunken in to the screen. Begin voice over. V.O – The year 1989 was a common year that started on a Sunday. The one thousand nine hundred and eighty ninth year of the Common Era, or Anno Domini; the nine hundred and eighty ninth year of the second millennium, the eighty ninth year of the twentieth century; and the tenth and last year of the nineteen eighties decade. Fade to black.

SCENE 47. The Black Palm EXT. HOUSE. DAY. Many people stand in a line that goes around the neighbourhood. In their hands, under their arms, or next to them are piles of blank papers. Next to some people are boxes with the very same blank pages. Beside the people in the queue are three women administering and ordering people to maintain straight lines. Thulang and Familiar Face are also standing in line and are close to the entrance of the house. Thulang is facing Familiar Face so that his back is turned away from the direction of the queue. Thulang – I can’t believe you still won’t tell me what happened to his hand? Familiar Face – We have been camping out here for 3 full days and you decide to ask all of this 5 minutes before we go in? Thulang turns around to face Familiar Face. Thulang – Hayibo Mfowe2!

Familiar Face – Well, rumour has it that when the sky fell along with the stars, one of the stars fell on his arm burning it. That’s why he’s called Black Palm. Thulang – So why did he hide his hand for so long? And what does that have to do with the memories that he produces? Familiar Face gets irritated. Familiar Face – Come on dude, don’t you listen!? Shakes his head. Familiar Face – Because he was scared people would think that he was the one who slept with the mermaid. Scared he would be accused of the fall. I don’t know about the pictures he makes, or memories as you call them. Unlike you, I’m only here coz my mother sent me. People say when the star burnt his arm, the star basically exposed his arm to all its memories. That’s why people come from all over the world to have him remake images from the past. Thulang – But why would this star falling on his arm overexpose and bleach all other photographs? I mean it doesn’t make sense … Familiar Face shoves Thulang forward indicating it’s their turn to enter the house. Familiar Face – (Whispering) We have been camping out here for 3 days and you only decide to ask these questions 2 minutes before we go in! Cut to Interior of the house. Familiar Face leads Thulang into the house following the corridor. They both stop when they notice the white squares on the wall. At first these look similar to the white papers that they have brought to be processed by Black Palm, but upon closer observation they realize that these are because of all the absent photographs that once were hanging on the walls.


The One Tall Enough to See the Morning, 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm


Erasure, 2012, ink on paper, 51 x 36cm Facing page ‌ So Do the Writings on Them, 2012, white chalk on black paint, 380 x 307cm, installation view



Black Palm Upside Down, 2012, ink on paper, 41 x 31cm


Familiar Face, 2012, ink on paper, 31 x 41cm


Draft 1 for Dog Sleep (Text), 2012, ink on paper, 41.8 x 59.3cm



Another Familiar Face, 2012, ink on paper, 41 x 31cm


Untitled Fifteen, 2012, ink on paper, 41 x 31cm


Rehearsal for Personal Energy Number, 2012, ink on paper, 41 x 31cm


Bearings for a Second Visit (4th Draft), 2012, ink on paper, 41 x 31cm



Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb 2.1, 2012, white chalk on black paint, 273 x 1570cm, installation view Facing page A Plastic Bag and a Stick, 2012, ink on paper, 59.3 x 41.8cm


This page and overleaf Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb 2.1, 2012, white chalk on black paint, 273 x 1570cm





Some Deleted Scenes, 2012, performance, Stevenson, Johannesburg



Act 1 Scene 2 (Draft 3 from Text), 2012, ink on paper, 51 x 36cm


To Be Burnt for the Bones, 2012, ink on paper, 31 x 41cm


A Few Cross Sections for a Profile, 2012, ink on paper, 31 x 41cm


Act 1 Scene 1 (Draft 2 from the Bones), 2012, ink on paper, 31 x 41cm


Above, left to right Untitled One; Bearings for a Second Visit (A Map); Untitled Four, 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm each Left to right Untitled Seven; A Few Cross Sections for a Profile 1; Untitled Two, 2012, ink on paper, 18.2 x 25cm each



Ukuguqula iBatyi 3, 2012, projection of 18 still images documenting performance, 2008, Kwa Mlamli, Gugulethu



Bearings for a Second Visit (Degree Unknown), 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm

Tracing Amnesia’s Footsteps, 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm


Untitled (Matches Lighting), 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm

Not the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm


Sympathy for the Future, 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm

Character Study for the Teacher, 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm


Act 1 Scene 2 (Draft 1 from Text), 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm


Cat Got Your Tongue (First Draft), 2012, ink on paper, 25 x 18.2cm



I toured with Itumeleng to the National Arts Festival. I did work for him, set work. You’ve also acted? I started out modelling for magazines, and then I did television work. Did you have formal training as an actor or did you come to it from being in that environment?

Kathryn Smith: A couple of years ago I was at the Baxter

It was from the environment. Itumeleng put me with a casting

Theatre, having a drink in the bar before a show, and I

agency since I was young, so I used to go to auditions …

noticed a poster on the wall from a previous production. There was someone on the poster with your surname –

How young?

are you related? Since I was 11. Kemang Wa Lehulere: That’s Keith, he was acting in a play. So you were a child star? Is he your brother? [laughs] Ja … not really, but … I attended the Cape Town No, he’s my cousin. The play was directed by another cousin

Theatre Lab. I’m not sure if it’s still in place, it was here in

of mine, Itumeleng. Keith passed away in 2007.

Woodstock. I did some stuff with them – drama classes. Then I joined BaxTeens as well, but I dropped out quite early

How were Keith and Itumeleng related?

in the process because of transport problems. The classes were in the evenings.

We’re all cousins. Our mothers are sisters. You were living in Gugulethu at that time? Does theatre run in the family then? Ja. So I was doing that kind of work. Actually the piece I actually started out doing theatre, when I was in high

I made [in 2010], the ‘re-enactment of a rehearsal’, was one

school. I never wanted to do art. I grew up going to the

of Itumeleng’s plays. It was part of the show I travelled with

Baxter and Artscape, watching Itumeleng’s plays, and

to Grahamstown, Echoes of Our Footsteps. It was a play

Keith’s. Itumeleng was an actor in the 1980s, then he

Itumeleng wrote after a woman was killed in Khayelitsha.

became a writer in the 1990s, and a director as well.

There were all these rumours about how they caught her


Kemang Wa Lehulere

naked, and she was suspected of witchcraft. And there were all these myths around witchcraft in the township, that women are flying around naked, you know? So the dominant narrative was that she was caught in the act. But what Itumeleng did with the play was to challenge those stereotypes and traditions and say, what if she had escaped a rape? So he wrote this play with multiple narratives where you’re not sure what’s going on and you only discover in the end that she escaped from a rape. So it was about challenging and questioning those stereotypes. Which was quite powerful actually … What prompted you to make the shift from a career in film and theatre to art?

Echoes of Our Footsteps (A Reenactment of a Rehearsal), 2010, performance, Center for Historical Reenactments, Johannesburg

Eish …! Well, my struggle was that I would go to auditions, and the directors would tell me, oh wow, we like you but you don’t fit this role because you’re not credible as a black person on

along the way. And then when I went to CAP [Community

screen … So I’d always be asked to act as a coloured [person]

Arts Project] – at that time it was still CAP before it changed

and speak Afrikaans, and I couldn’t speak Afrikaans. So it was

to AMAC [Arts and Media Access Centre] – initially I was

a frustration that I had at that time … I’d go to auditions, I’d

doing performance, drama and performance. And then I

get called, and people would refer me to other directors, so

kind of got bored, because I’d done the stuff with Cape Town

I always ended up playing some marginal role.

Theatre Lab. While I was with the Cape Town Theatre Lab, I was supposed to go and perform in Canada … but I was still

Did it make you angry?

in high school, and I’d failed Standard 8 at the time, because I was always at the theatre or drama practice, and coming

It did, very much. Because it’s something I really enjoyed.

home late. I actually wanted to quit school to do this thing.

I think I probably enjoy theatre still more than art. I get

So my aunt said, no ways, no more theatre for you, you

much more fulfilment from watching a play on stage than

need to focus …

from going to a gallery. When I left high school, I went to the Community Video Education Trust to do a short course,

So no Canada?

an introduction to film and television and scriptwriting, and we did some short films there. So I explored working

No, I couldn’t go [laughs]. So yeah, a lot of anger came then,

behind the scenes, with the intention of writing my own

and even later on, when I was refused roles because of the

thing, which I would then act in. But that kind of got lost

racial politic.


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

It’s quite an interesting experience you had, because in

I kind of refused that passport for a long time, and now I

terms of people’s claims to identity, there is so much

have woken up to the possibilities that it allows in terms of

discussion around the desire to problematise or critique

travel. But I am still ambivalent as to the privilege that it

those categories, particular within the arts, yet you

allows, because I feel that being forced to apply for a visa

found yourself in a situation where the potential existed

each time, you are reminded of your otherness in European

to problematise it, but instead it was reinforced.

spaces. I don’t know what would happen then with having an Irish passport …

Yeah, very much. Look, I think having grown up lightskinned in Gugulethu itself has been quite a challenge,

Did you know your father?

where my identity has always been contested within my own neighbourhood.

Ja. My parents never lived together because of apartheid, and my dad wanted my mum to leave the country with him,

In the Western Cape, it seems to be such a particular

at least according to what she has told me. But she refused

issue. And especially after [government spokesperson]

to go into exile. So that’s kind of like how the relationship

Jimmy Manyi’s wild comment about there being ‘too

ended. He eventually went to England – he lived there,

many coloureds in the Western Cape’.

studied – before he passed away. But I spent a lot of time with him, I’d visit every school holiday.

Ja, it’s crazy [laughs]. When I was in primary school, the coloured kids would call me a ‘wit kaffir’ …

How old were you when he passed?

Have you got brothers and sisters?

I was 11.

I’ve got two half-brothers, one is white and one is black. A

And your brothers?

brother from my mum, and one from my dad. He’s younger. I grew up with my older brother. My younger brother, And your parents are a mixed-race couple?

he grew up in England.

Ja, my parents passed when I was young, so I grew up with

Do you have contact with him?

my aunts in Gugulethu. My mom was black – Tswana – and my dad was Irish.

Ja, we have contact. He lives here in Cape Town now … He’s studying at the London School of Music but he’s on an

So do you have an Irish passport?

exchange here, working in Macassar. He lives there with some family, and he’s teaching kids from the area to play music.

[laughs] Not yet. I’ve been refusing it for a long time. I had issues when I was growing up, some real identity crises, and

What kind of music does he play?


Kemang Wa Lehulere

He’s a drummer … He’s interested in jazz because my mum

time at the library, taking out books, and became interested

was a jazz musician and my dad used to manage my mum’s

in a lot of the work that was being done. Initially I became

band at some point, Skyf.

drawn to works which dealt with identity politics, because I could relate somehow. I looked a lot at Berni Searle and

Skuif, as in skuif op [shift up]?

Tracey Rose, and Thando Mama as well. And then I was kind of exploring with those ideas … that was my interest, you

Or skyf … like a smoke.

know, that kind of work, instead of painting. Even though I have continued painting and drawing throughout, that

Was she a singer?

was what drew me in, quite strongly.

Ja, she was a singer. So when he lived in Melville, a lot

And how long was the CAP programme?

of jazz musicians would stay at his place, like, illegally. The same when he lived in Yeoville. He had a lot of jazz

I was there for one and a half years.

musician friends. Actually our parents met through Winston Mankunku, who recently passed away. So my

And after CAP? Had you ever thought about applying to

younger brother is quite interested in that history …

Michaelis School of Fine Art [University of Cape Town]?

What was your dad’s name? And your mom?

Ja, I did, but I felt I needed to know more about what I wanted to do, so I kind of postponed my application.

David McKibbin and Letsego Lehulere.

So I began working, visiting artists I’d met through CAP, and started building the network, and then I’d visit people’s

Back to AMAC, and you being bored with the

studios and spend time, like, days in their studio just

performance course there. What happened?

observing, learning from them.

Well, I felt like I was doing stuff I’d done before … So I was

Who were you visiting?

like, okay, let me try something else. So I did art there, and I met a lot of people.

Well, it was Dathini [Mzayiya], Nkoali [Nawa], a lot of artists who are no longer working at the moment but people who

When you began with visual art, what was your affinity?

are hardly written about as well, like in Art South Africa or the

What did you start doing – was it drawing-based?

Art Times … Lonwabo [Kilani], who was in the Gugulective, I met there … Thulani Shuku, who is no longer making art.

We did drawing and painting there and ceramic works. I did

He lives in London now. It was mainly painters I spent time

a lot of clay sculpture. But then I became more interested in

with. I did a workshop at AMAC with [Swedish curator] Stina

the new media stuff, as I started reading, by myself, outside

Edblom. She brought a lot of people to come in and speak to

of the stuff that was being taught there. I’d spend a lot of

the workshop participants. Nandipha [Mntambo] came in to


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

Lefu la Ntate, 2005, stills from digital video, duration 3 min 1 sec

present, so I met her and a few other people, slowly building

The Dead Revolutionaries Club – that was formed with

the network. And that’s where I met Thembinkosi [Goniwe]

Khwezi, Sharlene ...?

as well, he was one of the people who came in to speak. He’d seen the work that I was doing in that workshop, the Lefu la

Bandile Gumbi and Fouad Asfour ... and myself.

Ntate video, and he became interested in the work, which he curated on Amajita in Conversation [at the Association for

So the blackface performances at Sessions eKapa were

Visual Arts, Cape Town, September 2006].

before Dead Revolutionaries was formally convened?

Is that the cigarette piece? That’s the first work I saw

Yes, it was before. But it came out of those conversations

of yours and it made an immediate impact. Perhaps

that took place. And I think the direction that the

because it was such a simple video piece, and the

Gugulective took was based on the kind of discourses

last work I came to upstairs, at the end of the

that were taking place as well. Also just questioning the

mezzanine gallery.

kind of work that was being made by black artists and being exhibited in the white cubes in the cities and in the

It was during that time, which I think was quite instrumental

museums. An example would be Thembinkosi’s video

– it was 2005 – that I met uGabi [Ngcobo] as well, I met

around ritual male circumcision.

Khwezi [Gule] and Sharlene [Khan], with the eKapa Sessions that time. There were a lot of people in town then.

That piece won the MTN New Contemporaries in 2001.


Kemang Wa Lehulere

He won the award together with Usha Seejarim.

now that I’m here again, about reviving the back space. But we’re considering having a residency kind of project where

Yes, so those kinds of works we were discussing with Unathi

we invite people to do stuff, even if we don’t have money at

[Sigenu], like, what’s the relevance of those discourses within

the moment. Just to activate it again.

white-dominated spaces? It was also out of curiosity of how people in Gugulethu would respond to that type of work that

What did you get up to in the years between 2005 and

we really began thinking about doing something in Gugulethu,

starting at Wits in 2008? You mentioned that Sessions

which was one of the initial sparks for the Gugulective.

eKapa had an impact on you, the discussions and so on. Did those discussions frustrate you or did you find the

Did you ever show a work like Thembinkosi’s back in

experience productive or positive in any sense?

Gugulethu then? Initially it was frustrating as I felt that I didn’t have an entry Not really. At the time, we weren’t really known, we were

point into the discourses … Of course, I acknowledge the

still exploring, so we thought to do stuff ourselves, get

particular importance or value it might have for certain

the space moving, and then later on invite people to do

people and the kind of work they’re doing, but for me it

stuff. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened yet, but it is still

didn’t really have any significance. It was expensive as well,

something that lingers in my mind to do. Hopefully one

so it was quite exclusionary. When I met uGabi at AMAC, she

day it might still happen.

invited me to facilitate a mini-lab with her and Khwezi and Sharlene, so I did work for the conference so I didn’t have to

And Kwa Mlamli’s is still going?

pay to be there, but a lot of people I knew were interested in going but they couldn’t afford to. But ja, it didn’t really make

Kwa Mlamli’s has taken on a life of its own. There’s jam

sense, most of it.

sessions every Sunday, open mic, they play music, people perform poetry, there’s film screenings happening regularly.

Were you involved in Cape 07?

Who is organising all of that?

Yes, the Gugulective had already been formed then. We’d had the Gugulective idea before I did Amajita in

Mlamli found a team of people who he’s working with now,

Conversation. But it was a long time of planning and

so it’s not really a Gugulective project anymore. That’s why

plotting and strategising of who should we invite, because

I say it’s taken on a life of its own.

initially we’d called up a whole bunch of creatives that we knew, from musicians to … it was a very, very broad

So that space in the backyard is not being run as a

spectrum, there were about 30 of us in the initial meetings

gallery or exhibition space anymore?

when we proposed this with Unathi, but people kind of withered away within like … the fourth meeting, and the

Not yet … not anymore. But we’ve been speaking with Unathi

fifth one, it was back to me and him, so I was like, okay,


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

fuck it, I know some other people. So I introduced him to

conflict as a dividing strategy for the Western Cape, to stratify

Themba [Tsotsi]. Themba was writing plays at the time.

the… well, according to my research, it was due to the fact

And then I’d known uZipho [Dayile] because I’d been on

that there wasn’t any IFP [Inkatha Freedom Party] presence

a tour to Grahamstown with a band who were friends of

in the Western Cape, whereas the IFP posed an opposition

mine, musicians, and she was also with them, and we lived

to the ANC elsewhere, so here they decided to stratify the

together in this house. I knew she was doing photographic

communities through the taxi violence. So, according to the

work so I invited her. And uKhanyi [Mbongwa] I’d known

research, the SAPS was aiding one taxi organisation against

since high school. And there was uDathini [Mzayiya] and

the other one. But then I gave up because I wasn’t being

Loyiso [Qanya]. Which then became the initial core of the

paid and I’d spent six months just doing this thing ... I started

collective. And then … when the opportunity presented

working for another company where I just worked as a

itself for applications to Cape 07, we applied and that’s how

researcher, scriptwriting, doing sound and lighting for some

we managed to launch the collective.

time, and then … that was while I was doing the Gugulective stuff as well. And then I kind of became bored … That’s when

And the following year, you started at Wits. What made

I decided I wanted to go and study. So I applied to Wits.

you decide to do that? What are your feelings about Jo’burg versus Cape Town? Well … in 2006, I worked for a television company – a

Do you find Jo’burg a more productive environment for

production house – and I was doing research for a

where you are now?

documentary I wanted to do on taxi violence. So I spent six months just researching, trying to do this documentary.

It’s a harsh city, but I enjoy it. I’m often in conflict as to

But no one would speak to us, the South African Police

whether I should move back here, but I’m not sure which

Service refused … well, they weren’t responsive. There was

would still be the best for me, and for my work. Most of my

some footage I wanted to get hold of, which someone

family is here, so in that sense, it would be good to move back.

had written about …

But for my work, I’m not sure if I’d be too comfortable here.

Police footage or news footage?

Some incredible things have happened in the last while. You got the Zentrum Paul Klee fellowship … did you go?

News footage, which they had, and it was policemen involved in violence, with taxi drivers … not like, stopping

Ja, I was there in August 2010. It was a 10-day kind of

them, with them.

workshop/residency/summer school, and each year they have a particular theme which they work with, with an

And violence against who? Commuters?

invited curator.

No, it was other taxi associations. Through research I

The show that grew from that was When Your Lips Are

discovered that the National Party government used the taxi

My Ears, Our Bodies Become Radios?


Kemang Wa Lehulere

Ja, that was the theme, and Jan Verwoert was the invited

any intention from anyone’s side, but just from a cultural

curator. Last year specifically, the theme was looking at

point of view and language, sometimes.

collaborative work and collective work, which was quite frustrating, given the time limit.

Did you bring anything to the table in that regard? Obviously, you made a presentation about your work,

Were you expected to work together as a group of

but do you think the other people in the group were

people who didn’t know each other?

sensitive to where you were coming from, and your own cultural references?

Ja, we were just thrown in, we didn’t know each other. We didn’t present our work to each other on the first day,

Well, Jan was quite open. He took note of what I said in my

for example.

presentation and the ideas I was working with, to the point where he would keep referencing them at times, and a

How many of you were there?

few other people were quite open.

There were 12. I was the only African. A lot of them were

Had any of the other artists visited anywhere in Africa

European. There was this Iranian who grew up in Berlin

– or South Africa?

but who was studying in New York … Italian, JapaneseCanadian, German, Russian, Romanian. So it was quite

No. Not even Jan himself … It was quite difficult, but …

interesting but frustrating at the same time because the

I made connections with a few guys to the point where

big question was: how do we meet and work?

we started speaking about possible collaborations in the future. Which was nice because we saw links in our

Do you think they had a different idea of collaboration

works. Actually what we did there was we produced

to yours?

material for a newspaper, each and every day. The day we arrived, we had a deadline for the next day. And then

I think they did, but for me what was frustrating is that

we had to produce radio material as well. So we had to

we had so many deadlines, things we had to produce, and

record stuff which would then be aired on radio,

we didn’t know each other and how we work individually.

on that day.

I wasn’t aware of what other people were doing … I mean, in time we got to see what other people were doing, and

Was any of this up in Gabi’s space [the Center for

then towards the end it became easier. It was a case of,

Historical Reenactments in Johannesburg] last year?

oh your work is about this, fits in here, could we use that strategy for the work …? Which became nice, but only

For my presentation, yes, for my exam. And we produced

towards the end, and for me it was frustrating because

posters as well, every day. So it was quite intense … But

lots of the cultural references which they made, I was not

I just feel that there was never enough time to reflect

aware of. So I constantly felt othered, not necessarily by

properly, while in the process.


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

Yes, it was a pretty short timeframe. And the work that

… or it’s being workshopped?

was produced for the exhibition, was that collaborative as well, or did you have your own independent work?

Ja, which is something that I’d done, for example, with the Canadian play we were working on; it was something that

We did a performance at the Bern Kunsthalle, which was

we’d all workshopped from the beginning. So in that sense,

kind of a mixture of what people had done there and what

it did help quite a lot.

we had done before. What was the Mellon Mays fellowship you received? What did you do?

Did you visit the institution?

Well, we did a performance together, but we had split it up

The Mellon Mays is an undergraduate fellowship. I was

– there were too many of us. So we kind of contributed and

in Brunswick [Maine, USA] for a month, during the

shaped the work together but we split into groups as to who

World Cup [in 2010] … It’s a fellowship which is awarded

would do what in the performance. And we did that as well

to students from three universities – the University of

at the Zentrum Paul Klee the next day. So two performances,

the Western Cape, Wits and UCT. It’s kind of to help

and then we displayed the actual newspapers and the

disadvantaged or previously disadvantaged students

posters, and we had the radio material on the website,

who are interested in academia to become scholars …

where people could listen to it.

It was a research fellowship, so I did research on collectives and alternative spaces. I am working on a

Did you find that your theatre experience was an asset

paper, which I am presenting in September [2011], for

or a liability in that situation? Theatre, by its nature

the fellowship conference. So all the universities are

– and film – is collaborative, and I’m interested in this

coming together in Jo’burg, and people are presenting

relationship, especially artists who use performance.

their research. But also it is to allow access to study

And how so often, especially if it is a single artist, the

further – postgraduate studies – in the US.

idea of performance is quite different in the art world to how it is in theatre.

What spaces and collectives were you looking at – any specific ones? Is your focus international, or are you

Yeah. I think it’s always been both a liability and a gift. Because

looking specifically at South Africa?

oftentimes, like you’re saying, theatre operates on a different kind of axis from the general performances you’ll see in

A lot of South African collectives, but also collectives on

galleries or site-specific works. But in that sense of working

the continent. I have looked at a lot of Eastern European

together with people [in theatre], again it’s different because

spaces and collectives, because I tend to relate to the

you’ll always have a script that you’re given, and you work with

concepts, politics and ideas there. So I would say mainly

a director, so you’re not necessarily open to change the script

Eastern European and on the continent. And I have made

as you wish, unless it’s a specific process you’re engaged in …

a list of about 47 from the continent, including collectives


Kemang Wa Lehulere

and alternative spaces … But what I’m writing on now, it’s

Let’s talk about some work now. How do you think about

more kind of focused. It’s not necessarily about all of them.

this business of what amounts to having a professional career and still being a student? Is it tricky for you?

And are you incorporating this work into your fourth-year research paper?

Quite, quite … umm, very tricky. Because … I feel like what I do at Wits is always weighed against what I do outside.

Ja, it’s going to be part of that. But for me … it was part of research I had already been doing on the subject.

Do you think there is a difference?

When I was growing up in Gugulethu, we used to have a bioscope which was in a tent, in the same way that the

I think to a degree, yes. For a long time, stuff I was doing

Gugulective had done in someone’s backyard – just a cloth

at Wits was very playful, just going off … off stuff I’d done

would be thrown over between the house and the wall,

before, as a way of experimenting.

with a projection, and we’d pay like 50 cents to go watch movies. So I became interested in that as well, based on my

Do you feel you have to perform differently within

reflections of what Gugulective was doing, and what had

the institution and outside? What space gives you

been done in a similar fashion. So I started really reflecting

more freedom?

and thinking about experiences that we’d had in the township. Even general alternative use of spaces, and how

I think outside, but maybe it just has to do with the physical

spaces double up sometimes.

environment as well, as much as the institutional politics

When I was young, I went to church in a school. There

and internal stuff. With the fact that I’m aware that I am

was a classroom which was used as a church every Sunday

entering an island which is gated off from the rest of the city

… those kind of things. And then there was this bioscope

… and I must swipe to get in, and there are all these swiping

which also served, I’m told, as a space for political meetings,

mechanisms and it feels like this military … like I’m entering

before or even during the screenings. Some people would

some kind of prison. And I’m quite sensitive to spaces …

chat. Because it started, like, in the 1980s already, and at

yeah, I think I have this anxiety about Wits, whereas, actually,

that time, even around 1991, there was a lot of, how can I call

I’m going to stop working there now and go and work at

it, burning … boycotting of dairy product deliveries … The

the Center for Historical Reenactments, because it’s not

dairy, the bakeries, people would loot the stuff. I remember,

working for me working there.

even myself, grabbing a few things before the truck would be burned. And these kinds of things were planned in those

So you’re relocating your studio space, effectively?

spaces. But also, at the same time, we played a lot of Chinese kung fu, karate movies. And then after the kung fu Chinese

Yeah. I’m just gonna go work there, and bring my work

stuff the younger guys would go home, like my age group,

during crits, or whatever.

then the older guys would stay on and watch porn. So very interesting kind of things which I started researching.

I suppose that makes sense, in your case …


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

[Paging through PDF catalogue] What is the translation of this title, Lefu la Ntate? Lefu la Ntate is ‘my father’s inheritance’. It was produced in a workshop entitled Women Spaces. What motivated this work, using the image of the cigarette? With this, what I did is, I’m contrasting what is perceived as a Western thing, or object, a cigarette, which is also mass-produced, with a song in the video, singing about ‘my father’s inheritance’. Which has very specific lyrics. What do the lyrics talk about?

Inyawo Aluna Mpumlo (The Foot has No Nose), 2007, performance (with Mwenya Kabwe and Chuma Sopotela), Spier Contemporary 07, Stellenbosch

Okay, let me just think … ‘I see all things’… [recites under his breath in Sesotho] … That’s the direct translation, but it would mean … [repeats Sesotho lyrics] … ‘I see all things but

Was there a processional element to this performance,

out of all of them, my father’s inheritance doesn’t allow me

or was that another piece presented there?

to sleep’. And then, it goes on about not crying. It’s quite a masculine song, about enforcing masculinity. It’s a song I

The processional element was Jay Pather. It was his thing

learned at initiation school … At that time, I was exploring

that he wanted to do, to lead audiences into the space.

those ideas, like constructions of black masculinity through

It wasn’t really part of our work.

ritual initiation. But I was more interested in poetic forms of exploring … instead of what had been done before.

Okay, so your performance was designed to take place in

And the cigarette just burned down, as filmed,

was in Leipzig in 2008?

one environment. And then this one, Ukuguqula iBatyi 1, in real time? Actually, this one I made here in Cape Town, but it was Ja.

shown in Leipzig.

Then, this piece, Inyawo Aluna Mpumlo (The Foot has

So it’s a video piece. And the translation of the title?

No Nose), was for Spier in 2007, with Mwenya [Kabwe] and Chuma [Sopotela]. This was a prize-winning piece.

Ukuguqula iBatyi means to turn a coat inside out.


Kemang Wa Lehulere

Are you playing with the idea of a ‘turncoat’? Ja, it would mean ‘turncoat’. It was a term which was applied to people who had undergone race reclassification during apartheid. But very specifically a Xhosa term, used for people who had migrated from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape, and who changed from ‘black’ to ‘coloured’. Did you have experience of this at any point? Were you ever reclassified? No. I don’t ever remember being classified … It just prompted me to wonder whether what you

Ukuguqula iBatyi 1, 2008, still from digital video, duration 1 min

experienced was ever on an administrative level, as well as a social and cultural level? No, not that I know of. My birth certificate doesn’t

they gave me a script, towards the end of our working

have anything.

relationship, maybe two months before I stopped working for them, and the script was titled after her father’s real

When were you born?

name. And I read the script. It was about this guy who moved from Eastern Cape, came here, changed his name,

1984. But in 2007, the last production company I worked

reclassified, cut all ties with his family back home, and

for, it was run by a couple – he was a Zimbabwean, and

found a woman, got married, and ja …was coloured, you

she was a woman from Bonteheuwel. Her father had

know? And in the story, I’m like, sensing things … is this real

undergone race reclassification, but she only found out

or fictional? And I assumed it was real, and then they told

two days before he died. I remember going to their house.

me, ja, it was her father. And it kind of shook whatever they

I’d gone for an audition there before I started working

believed themselves to have been all their lives, you know?

with them. Her mother was quite dark-skinned, and

So it was a very weird kind of moment for me to have

she opened the door. And I spoke to her in Sesotho, or

experienced, and for them to have given me the script,

Setswana, I can’t remember. And she was like, ‘ek praatie

because I worked on it actually, but they never produced the

daai taalie’ [ek praat nie daai taal nie – I don’t speak that

film yet. Ja, but it was this tension that was just there, which

language]. And I was like ‘oh … sorry!’ And there was

I had sensed all along but then it was kind of confirmed.

always … I sensed this weird tension all the time. And

So I just started imagining, and thinking about so many


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

[Laughs] So you moved through the space? I put up a screen – quite a thick one, huge – and people had to move around it. So there were two entrances, almost. How long was the performance? It went on, I think, for 15, 20 minutes. And choice of materials? You’ve grated books, and chunks of charcoal. I was thinking about these unwritten narratives and I was interested in the marks that the charcoal would make from Ukuguqula iBatyi 2, 2008, performance, Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, Johannesburg

the footsteps of the people within the gallery. And they spread out, throughout, black footprints all over. Were you barefoot?

unwritten narratives that exist outside of the dominant narratives of apartheid, and things which still remain unsaid.

Ja. It was an exploration of the concept, but in a different

Which led me to do this series of performances, Ukuguqula

way – same theme – that led me to the digging, in the

iBatyi 1, 2, 3 and 4.

third version.

The second was for the Rites of Fealty/Rites of Passage

Are those human bones?

exhibition at the Bag Factory. What happened during the performances – what was the basic series of actions?

No, cow.

The first features a reference to the pencil test? Did you bury the skeleton, or did you discover it? Yes, this was the first exploration of it. So the performance progresses from the actual pencil test, to this here [in

I discovered it. Apparently Mlami’s father had cows in the

version two], where I am grating charcoal. If you can see, my

1960s, and then they had some disease, so they couldn’t

feet are black, moving up the leg. A lot of charcoal, and a lot

eat them or use the meat, so they just buried them, as

of people were not impressed because of the dust and the

they were, like, full body. Apparently there are, like, four

Bag Factory still reminds me that it took them more than

skeletons in the backyard, and I discovered this one.

two weeks to clear the stuff out!

Which was quite scary.


Kemang Wa Lehulere

And you started to dig without knowing that the skeletons were there? I didn’t know. He also didn’t know. ‘Cos when I discovered a bone, I called him and said, I think there are bones in your backyard. Should I stop digging? I don’t know if you killed someone …! [laughs] He was shocked, and sent his older brother. [Laughing] Shit, yes, because in Cape Town, they dig up people all the time! Ja, everyone was saying, eish, Mlamli, what have you been doing in your house?! So he sent his brother, and I stopped

Ukuguqula iBatyi 3, 2008, residue from performance, Kwa Mlamli, Cape Town

at that time, and his brother came and he laughed when he saw me. And he said, ja, our dad had cows, you know, cattle, but Mlamli didn’t know, because he was younger. He was about six months old when they buried the cows.

Ja. I was going to dig until I was fully immersed in the hole,

The neighbours also confirmed that Mlamli was still a kid.

but then at about this level [gestures with hands], almost

People came and they told stories, which was nice. Again

up to my waist, I discovered the bones.

it gelled quite nicely and coincidentally with the unwritten narratives I was working with.

And had you only been digging with your hands, and the comb?

And the comb you were working with there? Ja, for three days. This was the third day, I think. Again, it was an extension of the Ukuguqula iBatyi idea, as a way of searching … For me, it was a poetic gesture of

How long did you carry on for?

searching and unearthing. More symbolic and poetic of these narratives, but sticking with the pencil idea and the

The third day was the day of the opening of the show.

hair, I used the object as a digging tool.

I started brushing around it, clearing up a bit, and then I dug more openly around it, made the hole bigger.

That’s amazing … So when you started the work, you thought you were just going to dig a hole. But

What a great piece … you were very fortunate.

obviously, it gained a level of complexity when you found the bones.

Actually, it has led me to research … for the next body of


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

work, I am looking at forensic aesthetics, which is kind of

Is this the aunt you grew up with?

inspired by this. So I’ll be spending some time in the North West, in a forensic office.

Ja, I grew up with two aunts; this is my one aunt’s younger sister, my youngest aunt. When she disappeared, my family

For some time now, I have been observing bone autopsies

went looking for her, for weeks, from police stations, to the

at the UCT School of Medicine. They do identifications for

morgues, the hospitals, they couldn’t find her. And then

SAPS. If the police find skeletal remains, they are sent

she was discovered by a family friend, who recognised

there. I have a lot of material to share with you, so you

her through her thumb. Because they used to tease each

must let me know how it goes … Moving to the present.

other about each other’s thumbs, and that’s how he

Here you’ve got some drawings. What is the relationship

identified her. But her face and head were swollen

for you between your drawings and your performance

beyond recognition.

work? Do you find the drawings are part of a process to develop a performance? They obviously stand on their

Was she in hospital at that stage?

own as independent works, but are they connected for you, in some way?

Ja, and he was delivering blood for blood transfusions, that’s how he found her.

These [Baleka, Ukuguqula iBatyi 1] were made, actually, before the digging performance. So like, with the afro-

Did she recover from this trauma?

comb there, which is like a pencil as well, which led to the digging work.

She did. Well, she had to learn how to read and write from scratch. It’s obviously affected her psychologically and

In your work, I’ve noticed that you are developing an

emotionally. She’s recovered, to some degree. She hates

iconography. What would that consist of – the comb

anything to do with June 16 or 1976. She doesn’t want to

I’ve seen appear in your work …?

speak about it. So it was my other aunt who told me this story, and she refused any mention at home about the

… the pencil, and the idea of digging, and grating, and kind

political history of the country. So for me again, the idea of

of tearing, disintegrating …

these unwritten or unspoken narratives, trying to imagine her as a kid, as this deformed figure, decapitated figure …

… and figures that are not always completely human,

physically and emotionally and psychologically … I began

or completely whole bodies?

developing these characters, or figures, from that.

That was kind of inspired by … when I moved to

So you would say that the figures or characters in your

Johannesburg, I started to reflect a lot on personal family

work have a personal connection to you? They might be

history. And my aunt, in 1976, was shot in the head. She

poetic, or imaginary, but they’re based very much on

was the first student shot here in Cape Town.

your personal experience.


Kemang Wa Lehulere

Yeah, absolutely.

[Kreutzfeldt] and Bettina [Malcomess] commented that it may be a reference to this project. Because

This is such a great drawing, Pula. And Ubontsi?

in these images, the ceramic dogs are bandaged,

What does the word mean?

but also your legs?

Ubontsi is ‘thumb’. That’s from my aunt. These drawings

Yes, they were Dorothee’s dogs that she’d brought

were some of the first of proper bodies.

from Jo’burg …

But this is a toe?

And there’s more digging …

Ja, it means, in Xhosa, both ‘thumb’ and ‘big toe’.

Yeah, but here the soil is a bit hard. It was next to a river, so it was quite rocky. It was not possible to do it with an afro-

Going back to the performance The Foot Has No Nose,

comb, so I ended up doing it with a fork, a garden fork.

what was the thinking behind that title?

So we did this set-up with Bettina …

That was a very weird performance, because it was three

Was she performing as Anne Historical?

people who came together with their own individual work and we made it into one, and we choreographed it as one.

Yeah. So this was the first thing we did when we got there.

But there were three individual works in there. I did the

And then we did some reading together …

workshop with Jay Pather at UCT – the Spier performance workshop. I did that, and already I was thinking about a

And what’s going on here [points out a photograph with

never-ending dead-end from a poem that I wrote, and

a car, bonnet up]? Is that an old Mercedes?

the idea that the foot has no nose … Ja, I forgot about that …! That’s … he was also on Spier, Where does that phrase come from?

the first one …

It’s a translation of a Xhosa idiom, meaning you don’t know

Pieter van Heerden?

where your journey is going, or where you’re headed in life. No one knows tomorrow, type of thing.

Ja, Pieter, that’s his car …. There was some breakfast thing happening for important people en route here, so we

And this piece, Nothing Ever Changes [Ukuguqula

staged something, quite ad hoc. We pretended we had a

iBatyi 5] – it was in Oudtshoorn? A town where I have

breakdown, and Dorothee was lying there, with her ceramic

done a few shows. A very peculiar place! I noticed,

dogs, I was digging with my comb on the other side of the

on your most recent Wits presentation, an image of a

road, and Pieter and Bettina had this bottle of whiskey in

bandaged dog in one of your drawings, and Dorothee

their hand and were arguing at some point.


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

Ukuguqula iBatyi 5 – Nothing Ever Changes, 2009, performances, Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, Oudtshoorn

So the idea was that this scenario was something these

wearing underwear. It’s in this one, which you know [the

VIPs would just happen across, on their way to breakfast?

Dada South? performance, Fragmented Text].

Ja! [laughs] So we did quite a few ad hoc and

What book were you grating again?

sporadic situations … This one was a geography book. I had some biology books … … using the same elements, the digging and the dogs.

some English poetry, Afrikaans books, some Xhosa set work

And your wearing of the coat?

books as well.

In the digging performance that I did, how I intended it is

And your action of grating in relation to the destruction

that the audience would come on the third day, and I would

of information – do you read it like that?

put on my coat, for the performance. But I had documented the thing throughout and I wasn’t wearing the coat. But it

Ja, I think here specifically it was in response to Dada.

was supposed to be part of the work.

Lerato [Bereng] emailed me a poem by Tristan Tzara called Little Sotho Negroes. How I read that, as a Dada nonsensical

What does the coat signify?

poem, was influenced by oral tradition, which was considered by a group of people as their culture or tradition,

It’s the turncoat again, playing on that, where I am just

and to use it for nonsensical poetry, as an avant-garde


Kemang Wa Lehulere

Is this earth on the floor? Ja, that’s soil, and some cushions I had made … And what’s on the cushions? Afro-combs, which I had been using to dig. In terms of your use of chalk and charcoal, if I think, on a very superficial level, of another artist who uses chalk and charcoal, I think immediately of Robin Rhode. Are there young artists that you feel an affinity to? Do you respond to Robin Rhode’s work? Fragmented Text, 2009, performance, Dada South?, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever consciously responded to his work. But I look at his work just as I do any other artist who is young, just to know what other young artists are doing,

strategy, and the destabilisation of Western traditions,

and my contemporaries are doing. It’s only after someone

I found that quite destructive.

mentioned him that I thought, oh, but it’s never been something that I thought ahead of what I was doing, that

And this is your MTN New Contemporaries work …

I was referencing him, or responding to him.

There is a hole again, you have written a letter to the hole?

The medium itself is transportable, it’s cheap. Are those qualities that you respond to?

Yeah, can you read that? I think that why I did this … When I spoke with Nonto Yes. So tell me about the hole as a verb. A verb is a

[Ntombela] about the [MTN] show, we spoke about possibly

‘doing’ word, it’s an action.

having drawings. But then I didn’t want to have drawings on the wall, framed, on paper. These exist on their own space,

It’s the hole I dug in Gugulethu, and here I’m wearing

they serve a particular function … Oftentimes, if I meet

the jacket, on the fourth day, quite late, unfortunately.

curators, and they happen to be in my space, they see stuff,

I was interested in bringing together this series of

and they say, oh, that’s interesting, I’d like to show it. But I

methods I have been working with. Namely text, and the

often don’t draw with the intention of showing them. Just

performance, and drawings. I’ve been writing poems,

as the first time I showed drawings, someone saw them

and short stories. I’ve published a few.

lying on my floor at home, and they said, I’d like to show


Interviewed by Kathryn Smith

Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb, 2010, details of multi-media installation (white chalk on black paint, nails, string, video, soil, cushions, afro-combs and performance residue), KZNSA Gallery, Durban

these, and I said, oh … really? But I didn’t want to show

Performance photographs?

drawings on paper, especially for this kind of show. So I said, okay, maybe I could draw, but I would have to think about it

Ja, and I’m thinking that there is a point when people are

differently. The only other way I could think of was to draw

going to see them, and they have the potential to be sold.

on the actual wall.

So do I want that, or do I not, or how do I move beyond that? At the moment I am exploring performance not

Is there something in that which has to do with the

for an audience …

difficulty of owning the work; that it becomes difficult to mobilise a work like that for commerce? Does that

… but for the camera?

appeal to you, to make that difficult, to make that tension happen?

Ja. And I’m interested in graffiti as well. Because the ‘hole’ text here was both a reference to the spirit of the dead

Ja, it does, but ... I mean, I have to make ends meet, I have

in the bones’ return, but also the windows and the walls,

to pay rent, I’m a student, I don’t have family that supports

about barriers, be it a wall between the present and the

me or pays my fees … As much as I acknowledge that,

past. But I’m curious about graffiti. I’ve been reading about

there is a resistance to just going commercial. So, now the

graffiti, particularly in war-torn areas, the kind of graffiti

photographs … I started working on photographs in studio,

that is prevalent on the walls, and then what comes after

but it’s still the early phases of it …

that. Like if you look at graffiti during apartheid – ‘we won’t


Kemang Wa Lehulere

move’, or ‘Free Mandela’ type of stuff – and what happens

and how he shifted space in very simple ways. Where there

after that, you know?

were movable objects which served many roles within the narrative, where they changed from being a wall to … yeah …

So there is a metaphor of space. You were talking about

just small things which have multiple functions on the stage

walls between the present and the past, and your work

and you believe it, in theatre.

at the moment, for the most part but not exclusively … you’re working in a very spatial way. They’re installations,

There is a history of that in theatre, it is part of the

they’re environments. Even with the performance, if

history and practice of it. And I think that performance

your audience is sharing the space with you, they’re

art, as it is understood in the art context, is quite

not necessarily in the traditional theatre sense seated,

ignorant of theatre’s history. People think that

with a performance on stage – you’re sharing the space

performance art is so inventive, but it owes a lot to ways

together. Do you find that working spatially makes

of working that are embedded in the history of theatre

more sense to you, and would you relate this to your

– the performing arts. Do you begin with an idea in your

background in theatre, or is it related to wanting to resist

head, or do you work quite freely, quite intuitively,

making objects? Do objects not do the work that space

letting the process, and what emerges, guide you?

can do? One of my questions I had prepared for you was, is there something that art can do that theatre can’t

Oftentimes, if I’m doing research or reading, something

do, and vice versa?

comes up. I think quite visually, but it’s over a long period of time of reading or sketching, and then something just

Hmm! Well, I think there are different types. Yes and no.

comes together. I’ve shot a lot of videos, and photography,

There’s public theatre, where performers move away

which I’ve never shown … those ideas tend to manifest

from the traditional stage and they engage with people.

in one work, later.

There’s experimental theatre … When I still at Cape Theatre Lab, here at the Woodstock community hall, we did performances there where we constructed the pieces as we went along, in front of the audience, and we invited them, as well, to kind of direct the performance. So they’d come up on stage … So it was improvisation? Ja, it was improvisational, where we asked people to suggest how the narrative could move forward. So I think in a way it is yes and no. But I am quite influenced by the stage, by having seen how Itumeleng used props on stage,

This interview was conducted on 7 July 2011 towards a profile of the artist published in Wanted magazine (September 2011). Kathryn Smith is an artist and researcher. She holds a senior lectureship in Fine Arts at Stellenbosch University and is a 2012/2013 Chevening scholar at the University of Dundee, Scotland.



I also see them in relation to the performance work which they either fuel or are fuelled by. You seem to be constantly excavating. Is the script you found something you’re going to explore or develop somehow? I don’t know actually because I didn’t even read it … I have this pile of hardcover books at home that I used to write in. I found songs in there as well and I never had a memory of writing songs ... they were just a reflection of what I

Lerato Bereng: There’s a fluidity in your work, a blurring

was going through at the time, so it really reflects my

of the boundaries between different disciplines.

personal struggles, even though they’re an attempt to fictionalise something.

Kemang Wa Lehulere: The choice to work with different mediums comes from the fact that I have different

I wanted to ask you about the New Museum show, The

experiences in the various art forms. So I think differently in

Ungovernables [2012]. The title happens to be a term you

different forms, I don’t always think in the fine arts – I think

use frequently. Did you find a common thread through

in film scripts, I think in shots, I think in certain angles …

the works that were shown in relation to the title?

There’s something really physical about your texts. The

I think the show did have a thread of disobedience, but

way you write is often in an instructive tone, like you’re

not disobedience that’s like ‘I’m ungovernable, I’m going

directing something.

to break the law’, but in the sense that most artists in the show, if not all, grew up in or just after conditions of social

It moves from being prose/poetry to the performance script

unrest, so there is an element of engaging the political,

but also to screenplay-type scripts, which are directional.

the aesthetics of the political and the politics of aesthetics,

For me it’s like I’m trying to rupture the traditional forms of

but also moving beyond that … for example the artist Danh

writing, and it comes from the difficulty that I’ve had over

Vo who stole the blueprint of the design of the Statue of

the years of trying to maintain writing. Like last month when

Liberty and had it made in China in pieces of copper, or

I was at home I found a script I had written 12 years ago. I’ve

Pratchaya Phinthong’s installation with Zimbabwean dollar

been writing all this time but I haven’t been satisfied with

stacks … It’s those kind of things which are beautiful.

the writing because it was linear and very much screenplay

With my work it wasn’t overtly political but I was

format. So at this point I’ve found a way to rupture the

engaging with the struggle of trying to deal with the historical

different forms of writing I’ve been doing, and they seem to

in that socio-political context and how does one navigate it.

work for now although I don’t know where they are going …

And for me the choice of chalk is an impermanent material,


Kemang Wa Lehulere

Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb 2, 2012, white chalk on black paint, installation view, The Ungovernables, New Museum, New York. Photo: Benoit Pailley

because it’s about time and transition as well … things are

even here, there are very specific texts and images that

always changing and moving and our perspective of the past

went on walls and they are not there forever … There are a

is always shifting depending on where we are, how much

few texts which still remain from apartheid back home in

we’ve moved or how much we haven’t moved at all.

Gugulethu, for example, but very, very few. I was interested in what kind of texts come after that. I mean, those political

Is there some sort of reference to learning in your use

statements were replaced by gang slogans or ‘Kemang

of chalk? You’ve developed a specific language with the

loves so and so’ or ‘So and so was here’. There’s still a sense

medium, from the element of erasure and writing over

of people wanting to make these public expressions but

to the really crisp white lines on black as well.

it’s also influenced by the socio-political and where the temperament is and all those kinds of things.

I think for me it is a sense of trying to make the work perform on its own, without me performing in the work or

And a sense of claiming public space, literally making

with the work, because I think those are two different things

your mark on the world.

altogether … There is an element of pedagogy but it’s not really that direct. For me the impermanence of wall drawing

Yeah, definitely. The first text I did was the ‘Akuchanywa’ one,

and text – even more than the educational or pedagogical

which was an appropriation of a text that already existed. It

aspect – comes from the research and reading I’ve done

was originally written using a brick on a concrete slab, and I

on text that appears on walls. For example in Lebanon,

then went over it with paint and a brush. Then I did another

Interviewed by Lerato Bereng


one in the toilet at Kwa Mlamli. For me that’s where it comes from … like what does it mean in that context because going to the toilet is something that is a private act that should happen in a private space … so the fact that this text is there then speaks to the bigger socio-political issues and urban planning of the townships … So I think that work in itself opens up many things … I’m at a point where I’m interested in fiction, but fiction as a way of dealing with the impossible, which is the sociopolitical. I think the biggest thing that ran through The Ungovernables was that most of the artists felt the burden of history, with some people wanting to move away from it, or trying to engage with it … Mine is a struggle of wanting to engage with this history but also wanting to move away

Akuchanywa, 2007, acrylic on concrete slab, Kwa Mlamli, Cape Town

from it, so I have this fictionalising of these certain issues and the discoveries of the remains as a way of not being stuck there but also escalating it while dealing with it. So it’s like being stuck in the middle or a catch-22 kind of situation

Gugulective work was coming out strongly in my own

… I think that’s where I’m at now, personally, but I’ll see

work … With regards to Lyon and CHR, what we presented

where I go from here.

was Xenoglossia which was a research project. It was very different from the work I presented individually there.

It’s interesting what you said about history in relation

When I met with [curator] Victoria [Noorthoorn] she saw

to the Center for Historical Reenactments. Can we

some drawings which are actually sketches and she asked

speak about your relationship to CHR and how you’ve

if I would like to show them and I said ‘no, no, I can’t show

come to work with them as a collective? I know you

that stuff’ … I had just done them on super-thin paper,

worked together for the Lyon Biennale. You’ve come

really bad paper. It was just me sketching and drawing out

from a background of working in collectives. How do

of habit. So I began working on a body of drawings for the

you differentiate between collective work and individual

Lyon Biennale personally but then she also invited CHR,

work, if there is even a difference?

our very first project. I did an installation in collaboration with Donna [Kukama] and CHR – we did a wall installation

There’s never been a conscious differentiation but there’s

and a video work and installation. So those were two

also never been a conscious non-differentiation. I’ve

very different types of work.

never worked consciously in relation to each other, I was just working. But on reflection I saw that there were links

You said you weren’t ready to show your drawings

that were happening unconsciously, so for example the

because they are more a documentation of work and


Kemang Wa Lehulere

Hang Ka Tswa Madi (Even If I Bleed 2), 2011, installation details, A Terrible Beauty is Born, 11th Lyon Biennale, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon

more out of habit, but do you find that there are more

You get a sense with some of the smaller drawings that

considered drawings that you make and then others

they are preparatory sketches for some of the larger,

that serve more as mental notes, as you can see on your

more seemingly considered ones.

current show, Some Deleted Scenes Too? There’s an element of repetition that I’m interested in that For me most of the work on this show was never planned to

ties to the idea of a rehearsal … repeating one drawing many

be artwork, it was just me processing my thoughts. I found

times and seeing what happens to the image, also with

these to be more successful at times than the works that

the different texture, the different mark-making and the

I did plan, because I tended to be precious about those …

aesthetics that come with each size. The Moleskine drawings

But of course I think about the quality of the work and the

are done with Indian ink, pen ink, but the larger drawings on

type of aesthetic it must have, which is a kind of pressure

Fabriano paper are done with a brush, so there’s a different

that I tend to succumb to … I’ve gained more confidence.

approach altogether in terms of how I engage it with my

I remember the first drawings I ever showed were lying on

body and the distance required with each. The Moleskine

the floor and some of them had been walked over. I never

ones are more intimate because they are closer … whereas

really cared until Gabi [Ngcobo] came for a studio visit. She

with a brush I have to take a distance, I have to be standing

saw these drawings and said ‘I’d like to show these’. I was

to make them. So there’s a different bodily performance

like ‘eh, um, really?’ and she said ‘yes, I like them’, and

and relation to each that I think becomes interesting and

that’s really how it all happened.

if one is looking closely one can see it in the works


Interviewed by Lerato Bereng

themselves, for example through the looseness that

main characters that appear are Thulang and Familiar

appears in the works with the brush.

Face. Can you tell me about them?

I think of the smaller ones as frames for a film, so they work directly as scripts. They’re like scenes or shots from a

Actually Thulang is my nephew, but I’m interested in the

screenplay or stage play … because that’s how I think with

name ‘Thulang’ itself because it means ‘silence’, and it works

my work, I try to imagine it as a set. With the bigger ones

very well conceptually with this kind of story I’m trying to

I feel like I’m extracting something like the materiality of

write, for example The Man Tall Enough to See the Morning.

the ink which flows differently to the ink in the pen. So they

In the original short story version of the scene, Thulang is

become different, but I’m interested in the idea of repetition

Dog-sleeping, and ‘Dog-sleeping’ is a term used to describe

and what happens in that repetition.

his adventures in this story … Thulang has this puppy which

It’s like a re-staging or rehearsal of sorts in the

is blind and he takes the sleep from its eyes and puts it on

same sense that sometimes before you shoot a film or

his eyes and once he does that he travels into this other

documentary, at least from my experience, there’s rehearsal

world which is kind of a spiritual world … And one of the

at first with the performer or actor/actress and you direct

first characters he meets is The Man Tall Enough to See the

them and say how they should move through the frame and

Morning and this guy is just staring at a rock and Thulang

in and around the camera and how the camera will be moving

asks him for directions but the guy doesn’t speak back, he’s

… So you rehearse that before you actually do the take in

just silent and ignores him completely. For me it’s a metaphor

the interest of time and expenses. But also the person who is

for my own journey in trying to figure out and navigate my

performing has to rehearse their lines … so there are various

way through the world, for the longest time … and looking for

forms of rehearsals that you don’t see in the finished product.

answers from other people and having to realise that I have to

It’s the same in stage plays ... I spent a lot of time with

create that path for myself. In a poem that I wrote for my solo

my cousin, watching him rehearse in the studio, rehearsing

show Ubontsi: Sharp Sharp! in 2009, one of the lines read: ‘you

on the stage up until the moment of the dress rehearsal,

walk a path with no foot notes’. It’s kind of a reference to the

and how much things change… but they change because

work The Foot Has No Nose where you don’t know tomorrow

now you’re aware of an audience that is going to see the

… tomorrow is ungovernable, the future is ungovernable. You

work, and then there’s the lighting … In the rehearsal room

can’t control what’s going to happen tomorrow.

there is no lighting, there’s a looseness that happens in that

So the thing is with this story, I first tried writing it as a

space because of the mirrors and other actors and actresses

short story, for more than four years I’ve been struggling …

sitting next to the people while they’re performing, watching.

It was quite ambitious for a short story, so I thought to

Whereas in the final production, the actors who don’t have a

attempt it as a novel, so I have a draft which is also more

role in the scene, they exit the stage and you don’t see

than three years old, but I got stuck as well. So strategically

them … so it’s a clean cut.

then the idea of deleting those scenes was a way of erasing – in the same way that I erase in the drawings – to remake, but

On the topic of plays, I’d like to speak a bit about your

also that erasure becomes a mark in itself and deleting the

characters. In your text, Some Deleted Scenes, the two

scenes becomes a statement, a strategy to move forward,

Kemang Wa Lehulere


They’re really, really theoretical to a point where, in order for me to engage with them, I really have to fictionalise them, otherwise I think it would demand the end of the world to come up with any absolute truths or any truth which is not problematic in itself. Those ideas have been critiqued, like this Eastern European idea of collectivism in relation to the Western idea of the individual – and let’s not go into the politics of the individual artist and the art collective … but also the idea of a collective or community is supposed to create a bond amongst a certain group of people, but at the same time any collective excludes that which is not part of that community. I’m trying to engage with all of that, but it’s very difficult to insert myself there as an artist. This interest comes from my experiences in initiation school where Dog Sleep 1, drawing from Hang Ka Tswa Madi (Even If I Bleed 2), 2011, installation, 11th Lyon Biennale, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon

there’s a very strong element of collectivism … so even before I really considered art as a profession, I was already thinking of this idea of the collective. I’m curious about your use of language. Do you speak

and it has worked so far, at least to a certain extent.

Setswana or Sesotho?

Familiar Face is a character who Thulang befriends in the story, but then in this other world everyone looks the

I speak Sesotho more than Setswana.

same so he can’t differentiate who is who, no one has any gender or sexual orientation … they don’t have any age or

In the text Thirty Minutes of Amnesia: Act 1, you write:

race and there’s no class. Of course I’m trying to play with

‘Kiri …’

power dimensions within that, but I’m also trying to evoke a sense of collectivity … I’m not sure yet whether I’m trying to

‘Kiri baka hotlwa ba kampulaya’ – it means, ‘If they heard

problematise the collectivity or to portray it as something

me they might kill me’.

that is positive. In my research on collectivism and art collectives there have been a lot of critiques of the Soviet

That sounds like mispronounced Sesotho.

concept of collectivity in the communist sense, in that it is a negation of the self and one has to subvert the self for

Yes, it is in an accent, it is intentional. It is Sesotho spoken

the greater cause of the collective. So I’m trying to engage,

amongst Sesotho initiates. At least in South Africa, there’s

but it’s really theoretical discourses that I’m engaging with.

a very specific accent which is adopted.


What is the function of the accent? In the initiation school there’s another language that is spoken altogether which is taboo to be spoken outside of that space, because it’s about keeping a certain oral history and privacy within a selected group of people. When you speak this Sesotho, you can speak to each other while excluding the other Sesotho-speaking people, so you speak with this heavy accent so the person doesn’t readily recognise what you’re saying. That’s interesting. I’m Sesotho-speaking and ended up mistranslating the phrase altogether. It’s a very combative type of strategy which relates to ritual initiation, and it’s supposed to be this regiment of collective identity and construction of black masculinity as well. But I don’t want to go too much into it. Ok, I know you aren’t allowed to speak of it, especially with a Mosotho woman [laughing]. Kg-kg-kg … [laughing].

Lerato Bereng is a curator at Stevenson, Johannesburg.

Interviewed by Lerato Bereng


Kemang Wa Lehulere was born in 1984 in Cape Town and currently lives in Johannesburg. He holds a BA Fine Arts degree from the University of the Witwatersrand (2011). Previous solo exhibitions have taken place at the GoetheInstitut in Johannesburg (Thirty Minutes of Amnesia: Act 1, 2011) and the Association for Visual Arts in Cape Town (Ubontsi: Sharp Sharp!, 2009). Recent group shows include If A Tree…, part two of the Trade Routes Project at Stevenson, Johannesburg (2012); The Ungovernables, the second New Museum triennial, New York (2012); A Terrible Beauty is Born, the 11th Biennale of Lyon at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon, France (2011); When Your Lips Are My Ears, Our Bodies Become Radios at the Kunsthalle Bern and Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland (2010); PASS-AGES: References and Footnotes at the Old Pass Law Office, Johannesburg (2010);

JOHANNESBURG 62 Juta Street Braamfontein 2001 Postnet Suite 281 Private Bag x9 Melville 2109 T +27 (0)11 326 0034/41 F +27 (0)86 275 1918 CAPE TOWN Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 T +27 (0)21 462 1500 F +27 (0)21 462 1501

and Dada South? at the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2009). Wa Lehulere was a co-founder of the Gugulective (2006), an artist-led collective based in Cape Town, and is a founding member of the Center for Historical Reenactments in Johannesburg. He won the inaugural Spier Contemporary Award in 2007, the MTN New Contemporaries Award in 2010, and the Tollman Award for Visual Arts in 2012. He was the recipient of an Ampersand Foundation residency in New York and a Swiss Arts Council Residency at PROGR, Bern, in 2012; in 2010 he took part

Catalogue 65 September 2012 © 2012 for texts: the authors © 2012 for works by Kemang Wa Lehulere: the artist Front cover Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb 2.1 (detail), 2012 Editor Sophie Perryer Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Anthea Pokroy Image repro Mario Todeschini Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town

in the Sommerakademie at Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, and received a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, USA.

– Published on the occasion of the exhibition Some Deleted Scenes Too at Stevenson, Johannesburg 8 August – 21 September 2012 –