Sikhumbuzo Makandula: What influenced the title ‘Qab’imbola’ for your exhibition?
Buhlebezwe Siwani: It happened three weeks prior to the exhibition opening. Almost every piece had been titled, with most titles taken from songs that have to do with the Bible or something that has to do with Christianity, prophecy or a chapter in the Bible. I ended up having tea with Athi-Patra Ruga and he mentioned a town in the Eastern Cape, and I was like ‘Oh my god’ that is the name of the show… the town is called Qab’imbola. Why I settled on the title has to do with it being a zone that deciphers between believers and non-believers. Imbola, especially to put it on, denotes a believer versus a non-believer, but a believer in the sense that you’re a believer in the rituals and rites of amaXhosa and Indigenous African spiritualisms.
SM: What led you to choose the various landscapes which are featured in your three videos AmaHubo, Eziko and Amakhosi?
BS: I chose to go to four provinces: the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Each of these provinces are known for particular things and ways in which people sustained themselves. I thought about how the land was taken and how Christianity demonized African spiritualisms. And then how people subsists in those spaces, how they eat and how the land has been co-opted. In particular spaces one could grow a, b and c or there’s precious minerals. So I decided to focus on four places for now, in fact I wanted to do all nine provinces but ja, no, that was not going to work time-wise.
SM: Within these spaces, was there a specific thing you were looking for?
BS: I went to the winelands because of what the winelands does to people, it’s really complex what happens there: issues are layered. In KZN the sugar cane fields are complex, mining in Gauteng, it’s complex. The Eastern Cape is also a complex space, where we shot, the first Frontier it was the longest wars for the English against anyone in the world that they’ve encountered.
SM: What is the role of other women featured in your video AmaHubo?
BS: They are there representing faces of people who are always erased, particularly in the Western Cape black women are erased from the narratives as if they never existed before, as if amaXhosa, baSotho, baTswana, Khoi-San they are not interlinked. But in actual fact they are very interlinked, and you can’t erase black women, they are also here.
SM: How was the live performance for the opening of ‘Qab’imbola’ devised in thinking about what Dr. Nomusa Makhubu coined as ‘African Theoconomy’?
BS: I have always thought that black female bodies have been the most vulnerable when it comes to Christian churches, women are expected to maintain some form of purity and offer themselves up in a physical way to the church. The church being the pastor which is naturally always a man as far as I can see it. I thought about these evangelical churches which always proclaim to prophecy, to save and all of these things, which is always kind of like cult like for me. Then again some people can also call ubungoma a cult. But I think using Western modes of things, they are trying to turn them into something rather African, it is not a new thing it’s been done before. But how it manifests itself is not ok as it ends up hurting the people who believe in it most. Instead, where you should be finding peace and solace, you are finding people are alienated and hurt for life.
The performative installation I titled it Insimu yase-Edene, contemplating what the Garden of Eden meant. Since it was a woman who ruined the Garden of Eden but the man basically takes the role of ‘I AM SAVIOR’. I thought now that you have done this let me see how I can save you. The whole performance was around listening, watching and eating apples until I could not eat them anymore and offering them to the people to see.
SM: Historically and in your own experience, how has the prominent role of women in religion, both within Christianity and African traditional religions, become misconstrued?
BS: That is just a complex question. I think that women should just be allowed be who and what they want to be in the church. There are things which are done in certain ways and women should have a choice in whether they want to partake or not. They should have an opinion. I think far too often women are not given a chance to have an opinion or women become very patriarchal about the opinion that they have about purity, etc. So in that way, the mindset of women themselves has to change. There are women that propagate the agenda of patriarchy within any religious institution.
SM: I’m thinking how South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address injustices, violence and traumas on black bodies by apartheid. How as a country we should have consulted izangoma, abaprofeti and abathandazeli to address violence and ills in relation to land?
BS: That’s just it! They should have just been consulted not how they should have been consulted there is no how. There is one way to consult them, it is the one that we all know. Because you are talking about black peoples bodies you can’t just only go straight into ‘Ok Rev. Desmond Tutu nton… nton… nton.’ That is the thing that kills us black people all the time, we just walk to the churches and we forget who we are and then masesixakekile you can’t go back in the church and say I’ve been told a, b and c.
SM: Can you talk about the role of amahubo within African Initiated Churches.
BS: Amahubo are beautiful passages about loving yourselves and loving the god and more than that is loving god within you. I think amahubo are not necessarily the idea about uJesu. For me the idea of Unkulunkulu, Qamata, Mvelinqange, Allah, Buddha it is the same thing for me. So the idea for me is that they transcend religions because in every single passage it talks about loving one self and loving the godliness in oneself so that’s what amahubo are for me.