South African artist, Mpumelelo Buthelezi's, expansive, humanistic artwork elevating the voices, lives and work of waste collectors in Soweto was published earlier this week on our site. We are following up today by featuring an interview with him—discussing local responses to his exhibition, other projects in the works, and his advice to young artists interested in activism.
You mentioned in a conversation with EAS that you presented a live exhibition of the works from your project about waste collectors. How did people receive and react to this project?
Shhuuuu!! It was amazing and impeccable at the same time because people showed positive feedback and good commentary towards my projects and my images as well. The audience enjoyed the show and so did I, although I am nervous as to how people are going to respond to the message which I'm trying to spread without fear of being vilified or anything.
With this being an ongoing project that you will continue developing, what do you feel is the next step in this process?
Publishing a documentary photobook about this project and also creating awareness for the participants involved in this project by creating avenues and possibilities for us by us - on us for prosperity. But the theme I want to dive deeper into is sustainable change and the impact it has on my country and our surroundings.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Recently I did a project, which is currently ongoing, about depicting myself as an Angel of God by focusing the camera on myself, because I enjoy myself, I live myself, I eat myself, I love myself, etc. My spiritual introspective and expressive story began during the high Covid pandemic lockdown period, confined in my own small space in my home. I began to ask questions around investigating my own personal spiritual purpose in relation to religious belief systems. Through this meditation routine during this moment of the pandemic trauma, I wondered how I could elevate myself spiritually during my isolation and how angelic symbolism, as encountered in my belief system, could help to transition beyond this reality. I decided to turn my camera on myself as the primary subject of this series. I began the journey to unravel my existence which is unlike the purity of dogmatic angels. I began to use household materials in an attempt to connect to the holier-than-thou state of purity, with the full awareness that such a state does exist.
What advice do you have for young artists that are just starting their journey into the world of documentation, storytelling, and activism?
It’s purely simple. My advice would be, to start where you are, use what you have and then build out from that. Honestly, there’s nothing you can’t achieve, as long as you fully immerse yourself in your dreams and goals, you’ll prosper. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask. There’s never a dumb question. Always have a welcome attitude towards criticism.
What is something you wish you would have known when you began your artistic career? When do you feel that you found your vocation as an artist?
That hard work really pays off. What I have learned, in my creative journey as an artist, is to free our hearts from hatred, free them from worries, live simply, give more, and expect less. I think that those who think or who pretend that a gallery, a museum, or an art fair is evil are hypocrites because we know artists need to make money for a living. Again, I think people who are confronted with art should be a bit freer to think about themselves. Someone who is free is someone who is willing to transform their society.
Project Gallery: “E’Plazini: A Place to Call Home for Waste Collectors”
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We are pleased to feature the work of Tanzanian artist Neema Ngelime. This insightful piece and interview prepared by artist and EAS correspondent Valerie Amani gets at Ngelime’s creative journey, motivations, mindset and storytelling strategies.
What could exorcism, pop songs and raunchy romance novels have in common? Captured in an eleven minute film, Neema recounts her time at a colonial legacy boarding school where these three things meet. “An ode to a time I loved bread”, was screened at the 2022 London Short Film Festival, and features Neema guiding us through a visual recount of experiences from her youth. As a film, the piece sits at an intersection of experimental image making - incorporating narration, video art and stop-motion. A trailer of the film can be seen here. For upcoming online screenings, see “End Note” below.
Neema oscillates from describing herself as a visual artist to claiming the title of documentary filmmaker. In reality she stands at the sometimes blurry border of both worlds. Starting our conversation, I was interested in what inspired Neema to choose this medium of creating, especially considering the landscape of documentary photography and film in Tanzania (like many other countries) being largely dominated by men and lacking resources.
You sit in-between art and documentary - what was your journey to the way you create?
I began with questioning the dignity in how we (black Africans) are captured - especially in moments that are mundane, that do not need to be orchestrated but rather just happen naturally. As an African, I realize we don’t really have representation of those things; or rather I wasn’t happy with how we were being portrayed, so I started documenting them myself. Then it moved more into experimental techniques when I was enrolled in the Doc Nomads program.
Her photos are carefully considered representations of mostly femme characters. She jokes that she first became a feminist through reading a now outdated section in Readers Digest magazines that specifically covered the complaints of women (mostly angered wives). Although she focuses on telling other people's stories, Neema was confronted with the challenge of creating a film during lock-down where she could no longer have a cast. She had to tell her own story, confronting traumatic memories from her school experience using only her voice and body.
Although the short film deals with imposed institutional fear and mass hysteria (public exorcisms in school halls) - there is surprisingly still a playful approach to how the story is told, a childlike lightness.
How do you navigate retelling a personal experience while also trying to make it accessible to others?
I still carry these images in my mind. I still dream about them. I did not have the youth I thought I would have, and so I thought why not make a nice souvenir for myself that is playful. Considering that we tend to be unreliable narrators - I needed to fact check. But of course everyone has their own memory of a place; however, it was rewarding when I met other people from Kenya and Tanzania who went through this in similar types of schools - it is affirming.
Assuming that an element of fact, truth and reality is vital in documentary, everything else quite literally has to pass through a lens that considers form, tone, and the transformation of subject matter from a moment in history to a sequence of images. When considering how Neema chose to capture her memories of attending a colonially-charged Catholic boarding school, she mentioned that when she spoke to people with similar experiences - some considered it the worst experience of their lives while others considered it a right of passage. The ways we all experience a story for the first time consequently changes the way that story is perceived, understood and remembered.
What I get from her work is a portrayal of emotions that are stitched together with care - how moments of closeness or familiarity are achieved through pause, through the proximity of the camera to the subject. This is something that Neema does seamlessly, especially in one of her recent documentaries, “Hooyo, Why Here?” which won Best Short Documentary Film at BelDocs (Belgrade International Film Festival).
The film made me consider how we approach citizenship as saviour at the same time portraying the intimacy and love shared between a mother and a daughter. It was not an expected story of a refugee that transforms a person's experience into an anonymous portrayal of pain - it was a chance to experience true companionship despite a tumultuous past.
What was your motivation for creating this work?
When it was first brought to my attention [second year of the Doc Nomad program], it wasn’t long before I knew I wanted to stray away from the usual refugee story. At first glance it was like, “Here is Anab, she has been waiting for her Hungarian citizenship for 12 years and now she finally got it!” But that being the focus didn’t sit right with me. On meeting Anab, we immediately connected. Spending time with her and Naima (her daughter), I realised that it was about more than that - this love they shared was more powerful. The fact that they had to learn over three new languages together - their closeness was so special.
A poster child for immigration hardly ever has a hijab - especially in a country like Hungary. She wanted to be an example to her daughter that she doesn't have to change herself for people to like her.
This documentary, like all of Neema's films, is a sensitive and sincere work of art that also challenges our perception. Neema further emphasises her intentions by saying “If you are not vulnerable, how are you resonating with people?”, making a clear point that what separates making (art)work about people as opposed to other elements of nature, is our nuanced experience as humans. “We are layered,” she continues, “if we don't strip the layers, people are going to catch on eventually,” explaining that what makes it real is the vulnerability shared between her and the people who’s stories she is trying to tell.
Lastly, an inevitable question it seems, I asked Neema about what advice she would have given her younger self, post high school and pre-documentary film school.
What advice would you have given yourself?
You need to figure out your ethos, what drew you to doing what you want to do? I was driven by wanting to see more black women on screen. Find your why and stick to it! Be honest with yourself. If I can maintain honesty I will try to make more films.
As a closure we speak about collaboration, about the support we need from each other as a community of creatives; sentiments that resonate deeply with me, “I also hope there are more of us. I don't want to be the only Tanzanian in the room,” she ends.
Art in all its forms is a tool for sharing space. It can make us feel seen or heard - it can inspire, bring joy, catalyse curiosity or inform. Neema is an artist that documents stories that would have otherwise been skewed through a lens that we have seen too much of. Her voice and vision are a soft reminder to look again, listen closely and that a reliable narrator should also be a sincere one.
An ode to a time I loved bread also screened at the 2022 Oberhausen International Short Film Festival and got a special mention of the Online Jury of the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia and will be screened online at Monangambee - Spectral Grounds: Black Experimental Films (Sept. 19-25) and at Take Action One - To Remember, To Reclaim: Archives for Future Love (Oct 21-30, 2022).
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Neema Ngelime is a photographer and filmmaker. With a Master's degree from DocNomads, a mobile documentary filmmaking school, she focuses primarily on domestic work, colonial legacies, spirituality, and class struggles within the African diaspora in Lisbon, Budapest, and Brussels. She is keen on making films and photos that capture the magic of the mechanical nature of the everyday with an experimental and feminist lens.
Valerie Asiimwe Amani is a Tanzanian artist and writer whose practice interrogates the representation of language, place and memory. Working between performative video, textile, collage and text, her works are interventions that aim to create communal links between the physical, metaphysical and mythical. She has exhibited internationally including Rele Gallery, Lagos; 31 Project, Paris and a solo performance at South London Gallery, London in collaboration with the Roberts Institute of Art. Amani holds a MFA from The Ruskin School of Art and was the recipient of the 2021 Ashmolean Museum Vivien Leigh Prize for a work on paper.
Engaging art as a means of self-reflection and a tool for change and inspiration, Zambian artist Daudi Yves, uses charcoal, paint, paper and canvas to address local and global issues from financial corruption to mental health and toxic masculinity. Here Yves generously talks about his creative practice, sharing his development and aspirations as an artist.
How did your work as an artist grow from your first days of making art to your current work? Tell us about your influences and motivations.
Well, I can say that it's been quite a shift, from drawing what I thought people wanted to see to mixing media (drawing and painting) together to create and express what I wanted people to see. Being self-motivated and self-influenced is the foundation of the work and discipline I am touching now. I have always wanted my works to bring a social change, and I am now starting by changing and talking about things I have personally been facing–things like failing to express my emotions about someone. It used to happen where a loved one would hurt me emotionally, and I was scared to talk to them about it, or even cry about it if it hurt so much. I used to think that it would mean that I am weak, not knowing that I was nurturing toxic masculinity slowly. TOXIC MASCULINITY IS BAD. BOYS DO CRY.
For men, being told to “man up” or “act like a man” is something we learn in childhood, and it stays with us into adulthood. Over time, men get really good at turning off their emotions or coping with feelings in a way that is more acceptable for males and creates a cycle of toxic masculinity, which can be hard to break once it’s a habit. For more of my thoughts on this, see my blog post: 'Do Men Feel the Same Way Women Do?'
Describe your current practice and creative process. What are you currently working on?
I have been doing a self reflection and took a journey into finding myself to understand why I do what I do. Does it really bring me the joy and fulfillment I need it to bring? Through this question, I find a lot of flaws in myself that need attention and through this process new concepts and bodies of work emerge.
Tell us about the materials and the topics or issues you are working with or exploring?
I am now combining pencil and paint on canvas to create realistic, strong characters and places in front with a golden background or pattern of darker and lighter tones of one color following another.
The strongest themes I am working on now are the link between mental health and creativity, toxic masculinity and men’s emotions. I am exploring these three because I find it hard, but easy at the same time, to share how I feel along with my opinions on some issues according to my personal experience.
At times I get lost in my thoughts and, all of a sudden, I feel depressed or sad. When I get a lot of mixed emotions in a single period of time, that is where the painting process begins. I have come to see that most of my raw and absolutely amazing pieces come out of these particular moments. It scares me, but also helps me get creative. I guess, to gain something you have to lose something.
How has your work been received by the local community?
My work has been received as new or strange. It might be because many people don’t want to look at some hidden truths or evoke them; but I am so happy that people are able to relate, and we get to have these one-to-one conversations about the relatability of the artwork. I have also sold some of the artworks; so, I am sure that, with time, the response will get better.
What challenges and opportunities are you experiencing as an artist in Zambia?
It’s been a challenge to make a proper, decent living with my art; but things are changing, because there are a lot of different galleries and institutions coming up to help support local artists, so we are moving. Opportunities like group shows and a lot of residency programs are popping up. Residencies are my main interest now, because I want to experience and explore different cultures and lifestyles to inspire me to create.
What are your dreams and hopes for the future?
My dream is not just to make a living for myself as an individual. I see a lot of young talented artists give up, because there are fewer examples of artists who are financially stable locally, making it hard for some to pursue. I want to build a legacy based on what kind of a being I was, I am and will be, to hopefully inspire someone out there.
I want to have a neat enough studio space. I hope to do a solo show and meet all of you who do a lot to support our dreams and thank you personally.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
I was born in 2000 in the D.R Congo and am now living in Zambia. I create innovative conceptual drawings and paintings on paper and canvas and engage in multidisciplinary modes of art for a change. Bad economy, peace, black power, culture, toxic masculinity, men’s emotions and corrupt activities are a few of the themes in my current research and artistic practice.
EAS interviews Lithuanian-born, Belgium-based artist Paulius Šliaupa about his recent creative endeavors, residencies and exhibition experiences. Paulius generously shares his aims, research explorations, influences and thought-provoking work, along with his concerns about environmental shifts and their accumulating impact on culture and the human psyche.
Every winter there is less and less snow in the Baltics. Denial of the changing environment indirectly affects individual lives by gradual distancing from nature, alienation, but craving for intimacy and understanding at the same time. The changes are happening on scales that are beyond human reach and maybe they cannot be explained by science theories and words. Coming from a family of geologists, I am interested in these frictional relationships between culture and nature, the interaction of natural and artificial ambiances and lights that affect our daily lives. Having spent my childhood between the laptop screen and fishing on the riverside, I constantly sense that experiences are fading away. I wish my art to impact the viewer’s psychology, to influence one‘s way of being present.
From video installations and experimental movies for the cinema to object-like paintings, I work with associations to create a journey through different spaces and sensations. My works explore ambiance, light and how they affect our daily lives. Although there may not always be material similarities between the different projects, they are linked by a sensual approach that induces a specific mood, a recurring flow of poetic painterly images, atmospheric sounds and a strong sense of tactility. Often, my videos arouse the sensation of being caught between desire and regret. Most projects consist of multiple works, grouped around specific themes such as life near the sea or the interaction between the human world and nature. Often during my projects, new ideas arise and lead to the next bodies of work, which I construct from my extensive database of sounds and images that I record every day.
EAS: Emergent Art Space (EAS) first came to know you and your work through the Bookmark Project, a four-week online workshop led by Einat Mogland from Tel Aviv that culminated in the Rhythm of the Blue Marble exhibition posted on the EAS website. The project engaged 20 artists from around the world online during the pandemic, where you all shared art, ideas, and experiences. Tell us about your involvement and its impact.
PŠ: I joined this workshop because the feeling of being in a community inspires me to discover new approaches and to learn from other artists. They [the participating artists] expanded my world and allowed me to understand how differently people feel the world. Also, I was interested in going back to the basics of creating art to rediscover the connection with one’s way of being.
I enjoyed the ZOOM meetings the most, and specifically an exercise where we had to watch each other's eyes, to feel the other person situated thousands of kilometers away. That was a new experience for me because usually we take up the online meeting space with conversations and these subtle things disappear in the information flow. My biggest supporter was Einat, she guided me through the whole process and was very inspiring.
Also, I began a deep dialogue with Monica Vilá [one of the participating artists]. I became engaged with the idea of ‘punctum’¹; I rediscovered this theory again and I made a few new artworks. As the punctum approach opens up things from another angle, it encouraged me to reflect on what I am interested in and to try to push the artworks further. More specifically it encouraged me to try to finish the night videos that I am currently working on.
EAS: Recently you have been very active with residencies and exhibitions. Please tell us more about the residencies at HISK (Higher Institute for Fine Arts) Post Graduate Program and Cour des Arts in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. What are you learning? How are these experiences influencing and advancing your work?
PŠ: The past two years were indeed the most colorful in my artistic life so far. I participated in multiple exhibitions and film festivals, which I feel is an outcome of the HISK residency. This is a two-year postgraduate programme where art professionals from Belgium and abroad are invited to make individual studio visits and have in-depth discussions with each of the resident artists. Visiting lecturer sessions are organised throughout the entire year. Each session will host about five lecturers who are invited for three consecutive days. After the lectures, the candidate laureates are provided with individual confidential written reports. The meetings with various professionals enabled me to develop a clear artistic language and to verbalize ideas that interest me.
The residency Cour des Arts in Provence was a very new, intense, and unexpected experience that I had this past summer. Eight artists from different countries gathered in Lycee Agricultural Education (Lycee Enseignement Agricole) which became our temporary home for a month to paint the light of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Each day the volunteers from the city would bring us food and drinks and sometimes invite us to their dinner table. This welcoming gesture made us feel included in the local city life and allowed us to forget how coronavirus changed the habits of the world. The residency was meant for painters, and so each day we would paint various motifs surrounding us or coming from our experiences being there. I was exploring the environment very much, hiking, hitch-hiking, going on colorful trips alone and with others, resulting in a video called The Island where the abbey of Saint-Roman, built in the 5th century and located inside the caves, reminded me of the process of creation.
EAS: I appreciate how your works really envelop the viewer in the spaces that you record, almost like a meditation, with intense yet subtle imprints.
PŠ: I have been developing The Monk for the past year as my HISK graduation project. It evokes, in a poetic way, man’s changing relationship with nature, the consequences this has on people’s daily life and the feeling of loss and alienation this causes on a personal level. Referring to the painting of Caspar David Friedrich “The Monk by the Sea”, this work deals with contemporary sublime experiences. I am also fascinated by film makers such asBela Tarr, Viktor Kossakovsky, Sarunas Bartas.
EAS: The way you describe your work calls to mind some works by Ana Mendieta. She, in a sense, became part of nature in the artworks she created. What influences do you draw on and whodo you look to for inspiration?
PŠ: I like the works of Ana Mendieta indeed, but I discovered them not so long ago. I am really interested in the works of Nicolas Provost, the teachings of Eckart Tolle which remind the importance of the Now, the suspenseful books of Stephen King, and the freedom of imagination of Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley, in particular, “The Island”.
EAS: Tell us more about your inquiries into human relationships with nature, changing climates and environments, and how you are exploring these questions through your artwork. What are you discovering? Do you believe there is an important role or call to action for young emerging artists in addressing the environmental crises the world is facing?
PŠ: My research begins from atmospheres, images, and sounds which I document and later try to understand what they mean. I wander the outskirts of the cities, abandoned factories, and explore the cities in the night. I find millions of interesting fragments of human and nature formations mixing, that are all part of a bigger post-ecological attitude towards the world. I don’t judge my findings. I am fascinated by them and, in my works, I want to transmit this feeling because it leaves the freedom to form your own opinions and sense how everything is interconnected. I believe that every artist is free to work with his or her own interests and address the issues that are important in their personal and social worlds.
FOOTNOTE: ¹ Punctum: the literary theorist Roland Barthes, in his book Camera Lucida (1980), investigates the effects of photography on the spectator and introduces the twin concepts of "studium" and "punctum". While studium denotes the linguistic and cultural interpretation of a photograph, punctum denotes the wounding, personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within the photograph. (Wikipedia)
Paulius Šliaupa‘s (1990, Vilnius, Lithuania) works explore the relationship(s) between culture and nature; the interaction of ambience and light that affect our daily lives. From video installations and experimental movies for the cinema to objectlike paintings, his oeuvre encompasses a wide range of artistic media. By accumulating the flow of painterly images, atmospheric sounds, and poetic energy, he forms sensual narratives. His artistic research led him to explore the structures of poetic cinema, artist moving image, suspense, magic realism, and sci-fi literature. Most projects consist of multiple works, grouped around specific themes such as organic structures, rituals in nature; the flow of natural and artificial light; expeditions into the mystery of the night, absurdly seducing happenings.
Paulius holds a BA in painting and an MFA in contemporary sculpture in Vilnius Academy of Arts, Vilnius, Lithuania, an MFA in media arts in KASK, Ghent, Belgium and he completed exchange programes of MFA painting in RUFA, Rome and MFA in Malmo Arts Academy, Sweden. In 2021 he participated in the residency La Cour des Arts in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. Selected exhibitions would include personal exhibition “Dès Vu“ (2019), Meno Niša, Vilnius, Lithuania; the group exhibitions Sonsbeek´s Conjunctions programme, Arnhem, Netherlands (2021), LAHTI FRINGE FESTIVAL, Lahti, Finland (2021), “The Sun Song Imagined“ Museum DE MINDERE, Sint-Truiden, Belgium, “New Songs for Old Cities“, Netwerk, Aalst, Belgium (2021), “BEESTIG?“ Stadsfestival Damme, Damme, Belgium (2020-2021) and “The upper hand“, IKOB, Eupen, Belgium (2020). Šliaupa is part of the HISK post-graduate programme 2020 & 2021 Ghent, Belgium.