South African musician and visual artist Caitlin Mkhasibe’s creative work can be found at the intersection of sight and sound. Emergent Art Space has previously featured her work, and we were thrilled to catch up with her again in May during the ‘Synesthesia and the Student’ virtual symposium. We learned about the latest iteration of her growing body of work inspired by investigations into synesthesia, and the three new pieces made in response to varied landscapes and sonic environments. Here, she shares her artwork and symposium video presentation that include field recordings and documentation of her compelling research, influences, explorations and creative strategies.
Caitlin Mkhasibe, created three monochromatic artworks for the May 2022 ‘Synesthesia and the Student’ virtual symposium, hosted by the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists and Scientists (IASAS). As a form of simulated/ synthetic synesthesia, two of the artworks were created outdoors, in Cape Town, South Africa. Mkhasibe used mark-making to mimic the expansive and meditative sounds of nature and its textures. The works’ mediums consist of charcoal, chalk, vegan acrylic paint and ink, brush, masking tape and gel pen on 300 gsm Hahnemuhle paper.
The two outdoor works are titled, Sonic Portrait of the Sea (2022), done at Kreeftebaai / Crayfish Beach, and Sonic Portrait of a Mountain (2022), done at Silvermine Nature Reserve. These artworks used expressive, abstract marks, rather than figurative representation. The field recordings accompanying these pieces were played in Mkhasibe’s video presentation as part of the ‘Synesthesia and the Student’ symposium. Her talk also included accompanying photographs of the natural spaces, the artist working on her visual response while there and close-up images of the final artworks.
The third artwork made for the symposium is a visual representation of a collaborative sound work done with artist, helo samo, for this year's global Drone Day event, coinciding on 28 May 2022. SenSA (Sonic Exploration Southern Africa) created a compilation of participating musicians, which was live-streamed on Hamsack Radio on the day of the event.
‘Synesthesia & the Student’ Theme
Since high school, Mkhasibe has been a drummer and during her studies at the Michaelis School of Fine Art (at the University of Cape Town) from 2012 – 2015, she was curious about ways of merging sound with visual art. She is not a synaesthete but learned of simulated synesthesia while doing her own research on the intersection of sight and sound.
Neil Harbisson, the first self-acclaimed cyborg, has an implant that reads colour as sound to help navigate his colour blindness and that was of interest to Mkhasibe. With the help of guest lecturer, Niek de Greef, Mkhasibe then did a web-based project where Harbisson’s favourite ‘sounding’ artworks were displayed as he sees them, in black and white, and when the viewer hovered over them with a mouse, they could hear the tones of the various colours. Even though Harbisson is sighted, the choice of focusing on the auditory and how his lifestyle might differ from Mkhasibe’s as a visual artist, was intriguing to Mkhasibe, where, for example, Harbisson chose outfits that ‘sounded’ good.
With this inspiration in mind and after attending an artist presentation by James Webb (a South African artist who creates sound installations) at the art school. Mkhasibe then further created monochromatic sound art during her time at university, notably, Lowest Hearing Frequency Range (2013). Using water and light cymatics, Mkhasibe made a video response to the low vibrations animals hear that are inaudible to humans. The installation was displayed at group exhibitions, such as, ‘Bring Your Own Beamer’ (2014) at Brundyn+ Gallery in Cape Town, ‘Translations’ (2015) on Emergent Art Space, and in 2016 at the Nandalal Bose Gallery in the Rabindranath Tagore Centre, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in India. In 2015, as part of her Michaelis School of Fine Art’s, ‘Grad Show’, exhibition titled, And then there was a Subterraneous Hum, with special thanks to Matt Jones, Mkhasibe created an installation on noise pollution in the ocean. Videos of her illustrations were displayed in a room where you could sing to a whale and it would sing back. In 2015, Mkhasibe was one of eight drummers recorded for Untitled (with the sound of its own making) – a solar powered, multi-channel loudspeaker system and audio as part of James Webb’s two solo exhibitions titled, ‘Ecstatic Interference’ (2016), at Blank Projects in Cape Town and ‘We Listen for the Future’ (2016), at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Leeds.
While studying, Mkhasibe played in a band, Morning Pages, doing two live performances a month. The performances were soundscapes to projected video and stop-motion visuals created internally which mattered more than the musicians’ visibility to the audience. Until the Covid19 pandemic, Morning pages played at various exhibitions, theatres and live music venues in South Africa.
We are very happy to publish here the second issue of the Bookmark Collective Magazine, created by the amazing cross cultural collaboration of 14 artists from 12 different countries around the world, around the theme of the spiritual in the arts. The very existence of this magazine is a strong testimonial to the dialogue that artists are creating every day across geographical boundaries.
Please click on the full screen button on the bar below, to view the magazine at full resolution.
Indian artist Prasanta Ghosh’s project "Green is Calling Back the Ancient Lost Greenery" thoroughly documents and poetically narrates an ecological breakdown close to his home. The project, recently exhibited at the Gandhara Art Gallery in Kolkata, powerfully calls out capitalism and its relationship
to the environment. Ghosh generously shares a synopsis of the project and its four parts with a few accompanying images of the exhibition and artworks, as well as links to follow for a deeper look.
I conceived this project, almost a year ago, to explore the changing scenario of both land and the surrounding society.
This is about the vast land which is adjacent to the Hindustan Motors factory, which exists on the fringe of our residential area. The land and the factory itself have a history of their own, which is gradually vanishing from our memories. The sudden shutdown of the factory in the last decade, and the transformation of the land around it, changed many small things that generally impact our lives in some way or the other.
Along with the factory, the company owned about 500 acres of land with water bodies and roads within it, where the Ambassador cars were tested. But this area is presently taken over by other real estate, converting the zone into a concrete sphere. Previously, the land with its water bodies and greenery maintained the ecological balance of the entire area.
Rallies, slogans, flag marching and meetings were held by the workers of the closed factory and became quite a common sight of our localities during my growing up days. We were the helpless onlookers who could only sympathize with these vulnerable jobless workers. Now, in the present time, a new view is visible of huge loaded trucks with cement and other material, which are continuously moving throughout the entire zone and occupying this huge land area that has been transformed into a concrete habitat. This sequence of events made me think about the way capitalism is consuming the society and the environment at such a slow pace. In spite of things being visible in front of our eyes, we cannot understand it.
I have divided my project into different layers. As the name suggests, I used the word ‘green’ within my project name allegorically. 'Green' as nature , 'Green' as land , 'Green' as youth, 'Green' as workers and 'Green' as a commoner . All these 'Greens' have a common craving within them--to stop the irreversible insensitive consumption which is growing at such a rapid pace that it fails to look back. I started visiting the site regularly to document the various dimensions of the land, the construction site, the old left-over workers' quarters and the outskirts of the closed factory. During my regular visits, I started writing on the spot, which began on a note of conversation that I was having with myself in the context of the changing and changed scenarios.
I have incorporated the different characters of workers within my text. The conversation gradually moved on to the impact of capitalism on the life of laborers and the life of a common person. I included various situations and effects which are generally overlooked. The text runs parallel to the documented images which move like a sequence in cinema. I collected various construction site sounds, which I used within my text. While moving deeper within the project another dimension opened up. I tried to portray how the workers of the factory were once consumed by capitalist conspiracies, akin to the present condition of the adjacent land that is being consumed by real estate in the same way.
The project includes 80 archival prints, along with 21 drawing prints and 3 videos. I worked with fellow artist Shuvo Malik, documenting the conversation between two workers. Introductory text and a few representative images are provided for each part below. For the full set of images and videos, click on the links provided.
Set of 24 images, archival prints, 12” x 18” (2021)
This set of images with documentation of the site, are displayed with text running parallel to the images in a conversational pattern. The conversation is between two selves who are witnessing the change, but only one of the selves has seen the past. Here the land is denoted as 742 acres of land, once owned by the now closed factory of Hindustan Motors. The rise of capitalism, the rise of real estate powers and the rise of political conspiracies seem to overpower the innocence of the land, the laborers, the farmers and even the animals who used to belong here.
Through the images, I explore the search that everyone who was associated with it is in search of and what will happen next: the search for what has been going on; the search for why, with sudden notice, they are being thrown out of their space; the search for the undefined, unknown future; and lastly, the search where everyone is calling for their beloved ‘green', whether it will return or not.
Set of 47 images, archival prints, 12” x 18” (2021)
In this phase of work, I collaborated with Shuvo Malik for the onsite documented images. Here both the characters are shown as two workers who are having conversation on the idea of capitalism, its consequences and different scenarios. The fate of the Hindustan Motors factory workers gradually changed in the late 90s. Many took voluntary retirement due to financial pressure, causing a tension to develop within the workers' association that resulted in protests. From 1990 till around 2009 they fought for their freedom, their rights, and their work. This resulted in nothing but failure, oppression and conspiracy by the capitalists.
These events led to continuous protest, rallies and slogans, which were quite common in our entire area during my growing up days. The factory and the land are both part of the same area. What happened to the factory workers due to sudden shutdown is not very different than what is happening to the green land, which without nature’s consent is transformed into grey. Keeping this idea of oppression, the rise of capitalism and this claustrophobic situation in mind, I used pieces of cloth metaphorically to tightly cover faces.
Set of 9 images, archival prints 12”x 18” (2021)
Here I stand amidst the land and its people, in the surroundings and within. With my text and words, my face covered: Here I am, not myself as an individual; here I am as the voice of the citizens who need to be heard; here I am as the voice of the workers who are always in an effort to be recognized; here I am as the voice of Nature whose land we took for granted to fulfill our limitless, unnecessary greed.
PART 4: The Future Ruins (2021)
Set of 21 drawings, inkjet print, pen, ink on tracing paper 8” x 11”
While visiting the entire site of the project, I kept on thinking about how the space is changing with the regular activity on the surface of the land, so I thought of rendering it in the form of scattered ruin drawings. The drawings keep in mind the depiction of a future where all surfaces of the land will be transformed into remnants, due to the growth of power in human society. Allegorically, it also represents the ruins of a certain class who seem to be as helpless as the silent land, who do not have the capacity to hold up in front of the overpowering ruling class.
Prasanta Ghosh completed his Masters from MSU Baroda in 2016 in Kolkata in interdisciplinary art practice. His recent solo exhibition “Green Is Calling Back
the Ancient Lost Greenery” at Gandhara Art Gallery in Kolkata. He received a Experimenter Cooperative Art Production grant from the Experimenter Art Gallery
for this project in 2020-21. In 2017, he received an award in the New Media category
at the 50th Annual Exhibition of the Birla Academy of Art and Culture.
Ghosh participated in “Random Variables", a group show with WNDX Festival of the Moving Image in Winnipeg, Canada, for his short documentary “Unsaid”. His recent work “A Man Has Killed 100 Earthworms” was published in the Hakara journal's “Friction” edition. He also participated in the CIMA award show (2015), the National Exhibition at the Lalit Kala Academy (2018) and a group show “Bad Smell Good Smell” curated by Manas Acharya in Studio 21 (2018). His project “ Synaesthesis” is featured in the
website of Emergent Art Space.
New Delhi-based artist Mahima Kapoor shares her views, practices and multi-faceted artwork, along with her experience as a participant in the Belgrade Art Studio Online Residency in July 2021 during the pandemic. As an online residency participant, Kapoor took advantage of the opportunity to create, explore, experiment and build community with other participating artists from around the globe.
My work is about my experiences, small and specific, mundane and abstract. The content in the work is perhaps everything that I’m consuming in my daily life. From the most mundane to the most specific feelings, I believe we live in spaces, both inside and outside of our mind and body. This union of the inner and outer self has led to a body of work that is chaotic and complex, but also delicate and meticulous.
In my work I’m constantly trying to articulate feelings that may not reach the viewers otherwise. For instance, the feeling of having a sense of belonging in a creative environment and feeling lost otherwise. The conversation is manifested in how process and materials have their say in what they become and how they communicate with their audience.
The paintings are loaded with layers, physical and metaphysical. There are soft, membrane-like fragile layers depicting emotions that are sensitive and brittle, and then there are bold, solid, contoured, sharp, dark hues that I’ve used to reflect upon experiences that may only exist as a shadow of something strong and overwhelming. These have been defining moments in the journey of my practice. The work is about juxtaposing emotions, the harsh with the soft, dark with the light, soft with the heavy and the awkward with the polite. These are put together in paintings, unique prints, sculptures, drawings, and installation.
I work with multiple centres in an open field and I hope that the viewers engage with the work in ways that does not dismiss it for being too colourful or aesthetically appealing. If you spend enough time, you may realise that the work moves as you move, breathes as you breathe and maybe even talks to you silently.
Virtual Residency Experience – Belgrade Art Studio¹
Being a part of a four-week online artist residency has been a one-of-a-kind experience. Something I truly did not expect. Residencies allow us to move out of our comfort zones to new countries and new studio spaces among artists from all over the world. Through art-making, I was hoping to better understand and connect with the other artists-in-residence.
Doing this online at first sounded redundant, however, the lack of movement that I felt during the past year and a half [of the pandemic] urged me to engage. I requested that the participating artists send me a few movements that were resonating with them at the moment. Taking inspiration from their responses, I created three-dimensional drawings in space, as exemplified through the narratives and images below.
Working remotely was frustrating, but exploring the residency theme ‘Artist on Standby’, became an interesting step in my art practice. I have been resonating with the sense of urgency this idea imposed, as if nothing is completely static, hoping that the task may begin promptly. It reminds me of the calm before the storm or the little vibrations that one may feel before a great idea is about to emerge. This is something I believe is within the subtle movement, swinging between the conscious and the subconscious mind.
¹ Excerpted from 'Art & Words: Belgrade Art Studio – Online Residency' in The Purposeful Mayonnaise Magazine, a literary and art journal and platform; Volume 1, Issue 2, pgs. 42-48; August/September 2021
About The Artist
Kapoor is an artist based in New Delhi, India. She is alumna of Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MA in the USA and has been a fellow artist at residencies like Salem Art Works in upstate New York, USA; UCROSS Foundation in Wyoming USA; L’Air Arts foundation in Paris, France; and Belgrade Art studios in Serbia. Her work is a hybrid of artistic disciplines like painting, contemporary printmaking, installation and sculpture.
“In many ways I consider my process as content and believe that the experience of making the work must no longer be separated from the experience of viewing the work in the space that it is shown in.”
Tanzanian artist Valerie Asiimwe Amani who recently graduated from The Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford, England, reflects on her time as a Master of Fine Arts student there during the pandemic. Here she shares thoughts and diary entries along with her beautiful, haunting and evocative dissertation project.
It's the beginning of the year again and yes, we are still in a global pandemic. There is something about the start of the year that urges you to reflect upon the ending of the last - and in reflection of my 2021, the past year seems abstract and intangible, almost like a dream you know you had but can’t quite remember. Being my first time living in England, as well as my first time being a full-time art student coping with lockdowns and the absence of physical classes, I found myself alone with my thoughts between the rare moments of sharing physical space and socially-distanced interactions.
When I planned and dreamed of attaining my first art qualification a few years ago, nothing could have really come close to having an experience of studying through something like Covid 19. My journey, however abstract, still felt positive and exciting at the best of times and sensitive and challenging at the opposite end. Having crowd-funded my school fees just two months before I was due to start, the experience felt that much more unreal especially since it was a time of uncertainty for so many people.
As many art students prepare to either begin their course or enter a second semester, here is a record of my time as a (not so recent) Master of Fine Arts student, told entirely through notes and diary entries, during the MFA at The Ruskin School of Art.
October 2019 - Arrival
The first two weeks of quarantine in a country I am completely foreign to, I find myself drawing again – perhaps as a way to establish familiarity. What I seem to be drawing is homelike, figures of bodies. Well at least that is what I am telling myself they are for now. I have committed to drawing one every day.
I only know the view from my balcony, I must be lucky to have a balcony. I haven’t met any of my classmates in person yet, there are only just voices and faces on a screen - but I guess that’s okay.
Back to the drawings, I am trying to reimagine what a body could look like visually if it was not given something to contain it. I wonder if I am thinking this because I am contained right now.
November 2019 - Syndrome
There has been much talk of Baudrillard [Jean Baudrillard, French sociologist] and some other people whose theories I do not know of.
I started feeling as if I should have read more (in life, in general) but then I also started thinking that I have read Ngugi [Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Kenyan writer] and Appiah [Kwame Anthony Appiah, British-Ghanian philosopher] and this is “the West” with all its westernly references, so.…
Language is a strange thing in academia - instead of making things simple so they can be understood, it does the opposite. There are so many things that are made more complicated for whatsoever reason. I am also halfway through The Wretched of the Earth [by Franz Fanon] and I think this is as far as I will go.
I guess what I was beginning to feel was imposter syndrome, because there is so much art talk. But also art is about life and interest and I just have to remember that and focus on what that means to me.
I got the tutors I wanted and I am very happy about that.
There is a lockdown but the studios remain open which I am happy about. I shot a video in there which is mildly entertaining.
There are few of us that are here and even fewer that go to the studio.
I have not yet decided if this is a good or bad thing.
January 2020 - A confluence
After many weeks in panic trying to write a project proposal draft that would make me seem smarter (to whom, for what I do not know), I ended up deciding on telling a story. Well, three to be exact - stories of women that have both existed and are birthed from my imagination. Of home: Musoma, Moshi, Dar es Salaam. I only know what I know, and I think it is about time to learn that is enough.
March 2020 - A dissertation
My mother reads the first draft of my text and sends me a WhatsApp message and it makes me cry. It is officially the longest I have gone without seeing her.
Jade (my dissertation tutor) said that we should aim for a distinction. I trust her and she has given me so many references, I wonder how she keeps all that information in her head!
The last part of my dissertation is done, the part that includes the 147 names of the people who donated to me being here. The part that also has nothing to do with what I have actually been asked for, lol.
April 2020 - Adobe
Learning Adobe After Effects:
Must learn animation
Oh god, I hate this program
Deadline coming, must persevere
May 2020 - Annotations
I hate annotations.
I also hate the Red List. I won’t be able to go home in June, but maybe it will be over by the time it’s graduation.
Reading all this again I have had many personal revelations about art education, access and visibility. I have felt the incredible amount of privilege that is required to be able to study for a post-graduate art degree, something I would not have been able to do without the support of my beautiful community. Art education is unfortunately extremely expensive and it is very disappointing seeing how many people did not have access to studios and resources while participating in a mostly online course with no consideration from their institutions in regards to fees and experience.
There are many things I could say about the mishandling of educational experiences in the past two years, but I am personally grateful that despite the oddity of situations, I was able to make friends and have incredible guidance through my course. My family and friends were not able to come to my graduation, because of the travel complications that came with Covid - but I was still able to have one.
My dissertation finally, was centred around embodiment and reincarnation through art practice, referencing specifically the possession trance rituals of Southern and Central Arica. However intimidating it seemed to choose a topic so foreign to my examiners, it was rewarding knowing that I did not have to compromise my interests or my narrative and was still able to excel academically. The artworks that were made alongside it were an ode to women in my family who suffered as a result of their female bodies and through the work I bring them back to life, through characters that have interventions through poetry, performance and objects. Through working intuitively and sincerely, I was reminded that art can be both intimate and urgent; personal and communal and the process and care that goes into the making of the art is almost always more important than the output.
As a creator, having space to experiment, play and have access to resources is essential; at the core, this is what I and supposedly many others seek when embarking on post-graduate art studies. As we move forward with more positivity with in-person teaching that has started again, while many others found ways of experimenting with alternative ways of learning, I hope we find ways to champion our time to experiment. Especially as an African artist in a contemporary setting that seems to push me towards a certain narrative - pandemic or not, may we continue playing and finding ways to stay true to ourselves - confident in knowing that what we know is enough.
About the Artist
Valerie Asiimwe Amani is a Tanzanian artist, writer and curator - working across mediums of text, textile, moving image and digital collage. Her practice interrogates daily translations of body erotics, language, place and memory; creating intuitive interventions that aim to create bridges between the physical and spiritual. She is the recipient of the 2021 Vivien Leigh Prize, and has been shortlisted for the 2022 Henrike Grohs Award and the Dentons Art Prize. She is currently based in London where she is the Project Curator for art mental health charity Hospital Rooms, while maintaining her studio practice.
Sintim Isaac, serving as a teaching assistant for a year, talks about his work at a high school in the Ashanti region of Ghana and presents the work of his students. Although he is not a permanent staff member, he wants to leave a mark during his time there. His goal is to help students develop basic skills and help them to understand the value of their artwork.
I am a teaching assistant at Asanteman Senior High School, founded in 1954 by an Asante Youth Association, located at Suame Kumasi, Ashanti Region. It was established to meet the growing demand for secondary education for both male and female youth. Founding headmaster, the late Mr. J. Owusu Ofori, was dedicated to building the minds and character of the students.
The School offers a three-year program with a general core curriculum and a range of courses that includes visual arts. Graphic design and general knowledge in art are the core elective subjects all visual art students study. Each level has classes in fine and industrial arts. Fine Arts includes sculpture and picture making. Industrial Arts includes ceramics and textiles.
I teach one-hundred students General Knowledge Art (GKA). This includes lettering, the history of both African art and the world, along with other art essentials like colour, a variety of art media and art forms to help students develop their creativity and technical skills. For example, to complement their study of "Fashion and Textiles", GKA teaches how to achieve harmony of colours and fashion-design illustration.
The fine arts curriculum offers a wide range of approaches and techniques. Students learn how to use dry (pastel, colored pencils, charcoals) and wet media (oils, acrylics and watercolors). 'Marquetry', the art form I use in my art practice, is included along with mixed media and techniques like collage, mosaics, illustration, pyrography, montage, print making and painting.
‘Achieving Color Harmony and Transparencies’ is a painting project I worked on with first year students recently, as a final lesson on ‘Color as an Element of Design’. It included Adinkra Symbols¹ as the main compositional element, intertwined with lines and enclosed in a shape. My objective was to help students learn about these symbols. I wanted them to learn symbol names and meanings, as well as to achieve color harmony by matching colors meaningfully to complement their subjects. We used acrylic paint and toned cartridge papers from Cadence Art And Hobby Paints, as well as brushes and pencils.
I worked on this painting project with two classes, ninety-nine percent of them being females and the average age being seventeen years. I made an effort to design a creative environment for students to work in and aimed to boost their morale. I stressed how important it is to learn brush handling and being able to mix paint uniformly. This skill once acquired is not for academic purposes only but is a life skill they can build upon and even use to earn an income. It is not limited to their sketchpads. Designs can be transferred onto canvas, on the interior and exterior of houses of relatives and in the neighborhood where they live.
For some students this was their first attempt at drawing and painting. My interest was in their choice of colors and willingness to explore. A happy teacher I was when the final paintings were displayed for appreciation and criticism.
¹ Adinkra Symbols - are symbols from Ghana that represent concepts or aphorisms. They are used extensively in fabrics, logos and pottery and are incorporated into walls and other architectural features. Adinkra symbols were originally created by the Bono people of Gyaman, and Akan people of Ghana. Gyaman King Nana Kwadwo Agyemang Adinkra originally created or designed these symbols and named it after himself 'Adinkra'.
About The Artist
Sintim Isaac was born in the Ashanti region of Ghana. He earned his first degree (Second Class Upper Division) in Art Education from the University of Education, Winneba. He is currently a freelance artist working on his art practice and trying to grow his wood impression home studio. With his interest in teaching and impacting knowledge, he is available for any art-related teaching job and art classes. Sintim’s interest in Cubism influences his wood veneer paintings that stand out as unique.
His work is also influenced by deprived people and street children, roaming on streets, with no education and no future. The artist sympathizes with their struggle and isolation. Sintim has exhibited his artwork at the university’s art department, as well as through online platforms based in the US, India, and the UK. He received prestigious honors and awards throughout his student years and in 2021, he received the Artwaves Festival / Open Exhibition Judges Runner-Up Award.
Ugandan artist Odur Ronald created a large-scale installation exploring issues of violence, power, money, and their impact on human life and value. He describes here the artwork commissioned by the fourth KLA ART, Kampala Contemporary Art Festival, a city-wide festival, which was also recently exhibited at the Afropocene Studio Labin Kabalagala, Kampala.
'Muwawa' is an installation piece I created to investigate the value of a bullet when placed together with human life. In this artwork, I translate 'muwawa' to mean without care, drawing concern from the shootings in Kampala during the general election campaigns of 2020. Lives lost were attributed to stray bullets and families of the victims were promised money as compensation. I was directly affected as tear gas invaded my sitting room and gun-shot sounds filled the air causing panic and fear as violence gripped my city. From this, I was impelled to question the worth of life and the value of a bullet.
My way of retaliating was this artwork, which is a recreation of my living space.
I made 1200 aluminum sand cast bullet-like pieces, suspended with thin copper wires mounted on a wire mesh structure in the middle of the ceiling. Bullet shadows projected themselves all over the walls and the objects in the room. In the middle of the room I placed the dining area, normally a space of peace and privacy. I built furniture and objects in aluminum: a table and two chairs, a radio, a television, a Bible, some Uganda currency notes, a passport and a stone.
I explore power-play dynamics with the objects on the table, poking at the recklessness with which the authorities showed disregard for human life and worth, manifest through violence. Borrowing from a statement made by a renown American comedian, Chris Tucker, who aided me in producing this work“, You don’t need no gun control, you know what you need? We need some bullet control. Men, we need to control the bullets, that’s right. I think all bullets should cost five thousand dollars, five thousand dollars per bullet. You know why? Cause if a bullet cost five thousand dollars, there would be no more innocent bystanders."
ABOUT THE ARTIST
I was born in 1992 and raised in Kampala, Uganda with an education from Kyambogo University. My work has been shown in various art exhibitions such as The Kampala Art Biennale curated by Simon Njami, and The Last Image Show, international art exhibition in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Lusaka, Zambia, curated by Gadi Ramadhani and Emergent Art Space. My artwork is primarily made with aluminum printing plates and copper wires. I seek to tackle ideas from different vantage points that may reveal themselves as sculpture, installation, drawing, and/or performance to vividly express narrative themes within social-political complexities, interactions and influences in the contemporary world. The use of aluminum as a material to create with was more of a last option. Scrap metal was one of the materials I interacted with as a child and was able to fetch money with it to purchase toys. Now as an artist, I bring this material to life as a platform for self-expression.
Emergent Art Space is honored to present the Hadzabe and Datoga art exhibition conceptualized and curated by Bonita Ngonyani and Elizabeth Mwambulukutu. The project curators from Tanzania discuss this online exhibition, its context, and development process as within the 'Documenting the Undocumented' series that promotes and records Tanzanian culture while supporting artists to take part in international collaborations.
Documenting the Undocumented is a project aimed at showcasing the indigenous tribes of Tanzania and promoting their longevity in the modern era. In this exhibition, Ammal, Beatrice, Jennifer, and Shija are four emerging creatives who traveled to Qangded village, the Hadzabe, and Datoga communities to engage and learn from them. This journey transformed their narratives into a creative medium. Their stories are exhibited here through our partnership with Emergent Art Space, supporting our mutual goals of promoting young international artists and cultural exchange.
Who are the Hadzabe and Datogas?
The area surrounding Lake Eyasi, located in Northern Tanzania is home to indigenous ethnic tribes known as the Hadzabe and Datoga. There are, as of 2015, between 1,200 and 1,300 Hadza people living in Tanzania, however only around 400 Hadza still survive exclusively based on the traditional means of foraging.
While there are some documentaries that have spotlighted these indigenous tribes (i.e. 2015 National Geographic video) and turned them into untouched jewels in Tanzania's tourist attraction. We felt that more stories were yet to be told, particularly those created by Tanzanians.
Meet Our Creatives and their Artworks
Ammal Aboud | Photographer
Ammal Aboud is a photographer born and raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Ammal uses candid imagery and portraiture to tell the stories unique to the groups and individuals that feature in her images.
From an early age, Ammal was always encouraged to paint and draw. Eventually, she discovered that photography was her preferred craft because it provided an instant and immersive self-expression tool.
As a result, Ammal is inspired to document life in objective and authentic representations of those featured in her images, as more than nameless objects to be observed from afar, but rather as sentient individuals and groups who are indeed unique and as equally complex as the viewer and worth a closer look.
Like many young individuals just getting their bearings in the world, Ammal has many aspirations. In brief, she aspires to hone and expand her skillset and build a larger body of work that will benefit this generation and the next.
All photograph dimension: 39.62 x 59.44 cm
"I went into the project expecting to be inspired by the people themselves and their relationship with their environment; I was not disappointed. As soon as we set our sights on the group of Hadzabe men and their hunting dogs under the baobab tree home they made and the huts and beaded adornments of the Datoga tribe, I was inspired by the harmonious way in which the Hadza tribe lived with the sprawling bushlands bordering lake Eyasi and the resourceful talents the Datoga employed to recycle scrap metal to create their adornments and tradable metalworks. I took time to frame images that featured the people and the practices that are uniquely Hadza and Datoga, having been honed over 5000 years to have a feather-light impact on the environment and in turn enabling them to persist in this challenging environment.
At the beginning of the team’s expedition into the villages, I found myself taking photos of things I found new and foreign to my modern lifestyle. Quickly after settling into the trip and interacting with the tribesmen and women, I began capturing images of items and interactions that the community members wanted to be documented as per their showing interest in showcasing certain tools and living quarters, hunting techniques, crafts and adornment, as well as lighthearted domestic life such as music and dance.
I believe that it is those types of images combined with a simple fly-on-the-wall approach that satisfied my need to represent the Hadza tribe in a way that was authentic and true to who they believe themselves to be."
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Shija Masele | Visual artist
Shiija B. Masele is a painter and a makeup artist based in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. She has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration from the University of Dar Es Salaam.
She began creating artworks at a young age, having been inspired by her father and in 2020 she was part of the first-ever Nafasi Academy – a series of artistic workshops hosted by Nafasi Art Space in Tanzania.
Her artwork is informed partly by her educational background in politics and what happens in her country's political arena. She explores the political environment and the notion of power in different contexts.
She is also inspired by daily life experiences and uses art not only to express her feelings and emotions but also as a space where she can be herself, release all the tensions and relax. To her, colours speak more than words can explain.
Paanakwebee is a name given to a group leader (a young man), leading 30-40 people who are closely related. The leader makes his own headpiece made of animal skin and beads which identifies him as a group leader. Other men in the group can wear a headpiece from animal skin and fur only as a trophy/token from their successful hunt. The Paanakwebee role is given to a young man because the hunting process requires a person to be in good shape. He has to be a very skillful hunter, excellent with bows and arrows, and also has to be well experienced with traditional medicine to heal others in the community. The leader is always around his people, be it in the hunting game or with the group resting.
Salameda is a C-shaped tattoo around the eyes done to girls from 13 years of age. It symbolizes beauty and was an important identifier for a woman to get a husband. Salameda is done with a hook-like needle and a razor blade from smoke on the roof generated when cooking. Some who could not finish the design because of the pain were laughed at and had less chance of getting a husband. Currently, tattoos are only seen on older women, the culture is disappearing as days go on because of mingling with outsiders, and it is seen as old-fashioned.
Being born and raised in Dar es Salaam, I used to hear stories about the Hadzabe and Datoga communities and some seemed so out of touch with my reality to even imagine how it will be like to actually be there physically. Initially, I didn't know what to expect from the visit.
Seeing and experiencing a glimpse of their ways of life was a fascinating feeling for me, as I am comfortable with urban living.
For instance Hadzabe system of marriage i.e. only marrying inside their tribe to keep their culture intact or their art of bead making which are mostly worn by men. I also observed their way of rulling, where the leader is not a boss and is ALWAYS with his people leading by example, eating natural food (eating anything that is moving and studying what is safe for them by watching what birds eat). Their hunting process... let's just say that if you are not fit, you may struggle to keep up. They had to stop and wait for us several times because they sensed they were walking too fast for us to keep up with them.
For the Datoga, their skills as blacksmiths where they create jewellery by recycling metal objects such as nails, their designing skills where they handmake clothes from animal skin and their way of tattooing which left me wondering just how women managed to finish the design with such amount pain.
These are just a few examples, I hope through my art work, you will get to experience a part of my encounter with the Hadzabe and Datoga indigenous people.
Beatrice Mashala | Visual Artist
Beatrice Mashala is a full-time visual artist born in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. She graduated from Makumira University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Law.
Her interest in art began in 2018 after finishing law school; she wanted to be able to add value to her community and the world through her creations. Her inspiration stems from life experiences, surroundings, and the ever-changing issues in the contemporary world.
Her ultimate mission is to make great art that becomes a bridge that revives lives and uplifts souls.
“My work examines, scrutinizes, and interrogates fundamental personal, social, cultural, and political issues with the intention to shape society.
I am very interested in engaging my viewers in deep conversations, because that’s what art is all about, to get someone to stop for a really long time.
My work depicts my own life experiences, those of my family and community in a subtle way. Art is my therapy, it's the only way I can genuinely express myself, for me the essence of life is found in my artistry.
When a concept comes into my mind I would write it down and create an imaginative painting in my mind, let it marinate for some time, when it is fully formed I start painting. My paintings take time to finish.”
This body of work intends to shed light on the lives of the Hadzabe. This is their culture, their style. They gather and hunt as their daily routine. This is how they chose to live their lives. They are here, they exist, they are human beings, and this is their home.
This body of work is about finding true joy. Happiness is not really a thing to be found, but more something to be unveiled within ourselves. Happiness is independent of wealth, success, or any other material things we believe will eventually make us happy.
Look at this Hadza man in the painting; he has dust all over his body; he doesn’t have much that we may perceive as substance, but he is grateful and overjoyed with the little he has.
Happiness is internal and not external because if we dwell on our external ever-changing circumstances, we will be waiting forever for true joy.
I enjoyed being a part of Documenting the Undocumented project because it was an opportunity that enlightened the lives of other people who are often forgotten in modern society. To be given the opportunity to speak their truth through my art, to talk about their daily lives, their ups and downs, triumphs and trials, talents, customs, lifestyles, and achievements has been transformational. l want to use my art as a voice for these amazing tribes.
Jennifer Msekwa | Visual Artist
Jennifer is a visual artist based in Arusha and Dar es Salaam. She has loved art from an early age. Images fascinated her to the point where she decided to practice drawing them, referencing the drawings she got from books found at home. Drawing became her hobby for many years and she was later inspired to be a visual artist.
Jennifer enjoys creating collages done only with natural materials. This style is derived from her childhood; growing up in a home where people loved and cared for nature and the environment, which changed her perspective and appreciation for plants, living things, and the environment in general.
Her love and attention towards nature and the environment grew and she decided to be an environmental activist through her art. Just as the environment enables humans to survive/live while engaging in various social activities, so her work addresses various social issues while emphasizing environmental stewardship and preservation at the same time.
Jennifer considers art as an important means of learning, changing negative attitudes into positive, motivating, informing, criticizing, and even a way of performing revolutions without verbal communication or physical resistance.
My artwork aims to show how natural resources available in the Hadzabe community enable them in their daily social activities. It helps to dispel negative perceptions of the African continent that seem not to have enough resources to facilitate daily life needs, especially the basic ones.
The Hadzabe community is a good example that shows how natural resources can sustain human life since the tribe depends on nature for almost 100%. In my research, I found out that the Hadzabe are self-sufficient in the field of herbal medicines and use natural remedies found in their areas.
I have regarded the Commiphora Africana plant as one of the most important herbs used by the Hadzabe in various ways, such as medicine, skincare (natural sunscreen), and many other uses. This plant in Hadzabe's native language is called "Sisiedako ".
The hornbill bird is one of the important birds in the Hadzabe community; after hunting the bird for food, they preserve the mouth and quills. The mouth is used as the tool used for crafting accessories, and they sell these accessories to visitors who come to their area, helping them to buy water from a remote area during the dry season. The Hadzabe use the quills for making arrows. I have attached materials from the Commiphora Africana plant I found in the Hadzabe land during the research tour to emphasize the concept.
The impala has a significant role in the Hadzabe and Datooga communities and it also helps the environment. Although a popular animal worldwide, the Hadzabe community’s view of the impala is more precious as it has a significant purpose that many are unaware of. I discovered, for example, that the Hadzabe women use the skin of the impala as sanitary pads during menstruation. They use the impala's skin because it is soft compared to skins from other animals. The dry season has water shortages, and so they also use the impala's skin to help them save water as the pads are not washed by water but exposed to the sun after use in order to dry them.
As a visual artist who is also an environmental activist, I made sure that my research was based on the natural resources available in the Hadzabe areas and to find out how nature and the environments, in general, enrich their lives in all aspects. I found this technique unique but also I realized that the use of this kind of pad does not harm the environment as much as the modern ones do since it is eco-friendly.
The impala is also one of the larger animals selected to be given as a dowry paid to women, as well as a good source of food in the tribe of Hadzabe. The impala also helps the Hadzabe to use the skin from the animal as a financial alternative of exchanging items with the Datooga tribe as barter trade.
The impala’s skin is one among various skins the Hadzabe use for doing barter trade with the Datooga tribe where the Datoogas use the skin to make clothes for women (only the women from the Datooga tribe wear these clothes). The toothbrush plant or scientifically "Salvadora Percica " is among the plants that the women collect berries from. This plant is highlighted among many other plants from the tribe because they don't eat its fruits until they get permission from the Chief.
This project was a good opportunity to learn something new and, as an environmentalist, I was happy to learn of the eco-friendly alternatives they have. For instance, how the Hadza women use antelope skin as menstrual pads and the Datogas use calabash materials as household utensils; these were such creative alternatives instead of plastics.
I really loved the use of natural remedies and their environment-based lifestyle that make the indigenous communities very healthy. The experience helped me see how life was before the technological changes. It was a great opportunity to learn and add knowledge as an artist and environmentalist.
Behind the scenes videos & photography byTake2Studios:Photography by Bill Marwa; Videography by Anna Kishimbo
Elizabeth Mwambulukutu is a communications practitioner and an award-winning visual artist. Elizabeth serves as the East Africa Regional Communications Manager at WaterAid that aims to accelerate and sustain access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. As a narrative activist, Elizabeth founded Elle Emmanuel (www.elle-emmanuel.com), a platform where she applies art as an instrument for shaping her community and breaking societal barriers. She also co-founded Hapo Zamani za Kale, aimed at cultural restoration, preservation, and promotion.
A fellow of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project (YELP) and a Mandela Washington Fellow, Elizabeth previously served as the vice curator for Global Shapers Arusha Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. In 2016, Swahili Fashion Week recognized her as the first female recipient of the Photographer of the Year Award.
Bonita Ngonyani is a Tanzanian, UK-based entrepreneur and owner of Rebel Roots (African hair and beauty products) and HerCBD (women’s health and well-being). An experienced Digital Marketing Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization industry.
Strong marketing professional with a master’s degree focused in International Finance and Economic Development from Heriot-Watt University and Awarded the departmental prize for International Finance and Economic Development.
Arts and Culture for Development (AC4D)
Arts and Culture for Development is a Tanzania initiative committed to making a contribution towards repositioning the role of arts and culture in the East African region through artist development, cultural research, and creative collaboration.
Our aim is to disseminate, exchange knowledge and contribute towards transforming the creative economy in Tanzania and Africa at large. We lead in articulating the life-changing impact of communities across East Africa, through storytelling, arts, and culture.
The Documenting the Undocumented creative art exhibition project has been conceptualised and curated by Bonita Ngonyani and Elizabeth Mwambulukutu. Our vision is to explore under-represented indigenous communities in Tanzania and use art as a medium to spark dialogue, facilitate cultural exchange and educate one another. This also serves as an opportunity to challenge Tanzanian creatives to create new narratives and provide an opportunity to showcase their explorations.
We felt that it was important for the creatives to travel to the community, so they could interact with indigenous communities, gain an appreciation and understanding of their way of life, and find inspiration for their work.
Four talented creatives were selected through a call for artists, promoted across our network of artists and social media. Artists were competitively selected based on their portfolios, as well as completing essay questions.
It was a long journey from Dar es Salaam to Qangded, where the Hadzabe and Datoga community are located (8-hour bus ride), with an overnight stay in Karatu and then an early hour ride to the village. The creatives spent one day with the tribes, spoke with them, danced, and explored their village together. The creatives were given the freedom to design what they like, provided it represented the learnings from the Hadzabe and Datoga tribes. We had a videographer record this experience and document the process.
FOR MORE INFO CLICK BELOW | AC4D WEBSITE BLOGS & LINKS