blank projects, Cape Town
22.07.2014 – 09.08.2014
Khaya Sineyile was born in the early 1980’s which means, as anyone who grew up in the township like he did can attest to, that he was raised by either a grandmother or at the very least by a woman. Sineyile’s exhibition ‘Abahananasi Abangcwele’ captures the drama of this in the mind of a post-apartheid South Africa that refuses to detach itself from the township’s parochialism that characterized the poverty of the heart, mind and souls of its residents. It is an exhibition that portrays the spiritual cleavage of a pre-colonial experience and the conceptions of an African spirituality by the generations that have succeeded those who where colonized. The honesty of the work communicates the discourse of identity that is never divorced from its formation.
With its depiction of women ‘Abahananasi Abangcwele’ reveals African conceptions of spirituality involving collective or communal ethics. These have not diminished even though they have been exposed and historically subjected to an overtly diverse political and social paradigm. In the painting Ntaka Mpuku, the collectivism of the communal ethics of African spirituality are represented by the numerous women. However, their decadence and corruption is depicted with the image of the bat, while the drips on the painting convey an intense emotional disdain for the figures. Their garb references spirituality, through which the artist questions their claims of psychological balance.
The exhibition itself articulates the extent to which these ethics have proliferated the psyche of the people residing in the townships and the extent to which it has influenced the successive generations. The title of the exhibition itself is abrasive and riddled with frustrated emotions. ‘Abahananasi Abangcwele’, or ‘those who are misleading with their trivial pursuits’, conveys the artist’s intuitions and contemplations of the state of affairs in the township. The frustration expressed by the artist’s paintwork is evidence of the fact Sineyile understands that these ‘values’ – as depicted in the religiosity of the figures – are the result of the spontaneous and casual interactions of the community.
What cannot be argued is that some of the ‘values’ emerged out of the need by the community to acquire economic and personal security in the harsh environment of the apartheid dispensation. Some of these issues also have to do with personal status, communal pride, in this case gender issues that are mostly and entirely informed by the parochialism of the community. For example the piece Time will come (Ixesha Liyeza) (2014), with its depiction of the wind-up spring on the head of the figure connotes and questions the measure of control that these ‘ethics’ have over these characters.
The absent eyes of many of the figures again express questions about psychological balance and personal ethics that surround the community. Part of the reason for the intense relationship with spirituality is the veneration of magic and power from witchdoctors. An important reason why this ‘ethic’ has proliferated the history of the township and the township experience is the fact it is the urban and contrived way that people can establish a relationship with their own cultural African experience. The artist wants to portray that these ‘ethics’ do not have any formative value in the psyche of the township experience.
Sineyile clearly and artistically demonstrates the extent to which this ethic is misguided. A greater part of the artist’s frustration is the fact that these ‘values’ and ‘ethics’ in the township have no formal formative foundation. Rather they are the result of the multiculturalism that the haphazard urbanization of the mid-twentieth century rendered on the black people by the political administration of the time. This frustration is rendered through the application of the paint and the opaque wash that covers almost all of Sineyile’s figures. This application of paint acts as a barrier between the subject and the viewer and expresses something of the confusion of ‘values’, especially in the contemporary experience.
The intellectual and artistic premise of the exhibition could very well be met with animosity by any member of the community that Sineyile portrays in this exhibition. The piece uMama-Bebhatyi Bayaziwa portrays images of women clad in their church regalia whose faces are not painted while their garb is dripping with paint. Here not only does the image capture a mysterious femininity, it also communicates the anonymity and insidious personal security that women, who adhere to these values, assume. Their facelessness speaks of the lack of communal traditional values of these ethics.
Futhermore what makes this image poetic is the fact that not only do these faceless women hide behind their ‘values’, but there is a measure of a lack of communication between themselves. Here Sineyile suggests that when there is no communication, that ‘values’ and ‘ethics’ are barren of discourse and instead contain only the emotional drama of the parochialism. These are ‘values’ barren of political and spiritual discourse just as the ‘ethics’ behind the personal use of magic is used as ‘weaponry in these fights’. What makes Sineyile’s exhibition powerful is that it expresses not only the drama of an adopted spirituality but also portrays the extent to which these women lack a communal and political consciousness.
In the piece The Anointed One (ukuthwala) the woman is only conscious of the paraphernalia she uses for magic, a crow sits on her head, the word ‘ukuthwala’ in Xhosa means and connotes being conscious of one’s intuition. The image not only communicates a distance from oneself, it also states that she is distant from her community and the values of social creativity in the contemporary. Sineyile grapples with this issue and – as social commentator – he helps his generation understand the cleavage that has occurred in his society and problematizes the spiritual discourse of his community and the neglect of their African values.