18.06 - 25.09.2022
Administrative violence has to do with neglect. It has to do with time, with long extensions of silence. In Joseph Mujere’s documentary waiting in a platinum city, the concept of waiting is explored in the informal settlements of Ikemeleng and Freedom Park around the platinum mines in Rustenburg. The residents of these communities wait for responses, basic services, housing and employment from local municipalities, political organizations and mining companies. The documentary recognizes how waiting re-structures life in the informal settlements, while it also points to the agency residents can exercise – an ‘active waiting.’1The documentary shows residents develop various strategies while they remain expectant: communities self-organize to install taps for water access in their areas, some protest or sign into ANC meetings, a few look for side hustles and others manage to open chisa nyamas. Far from romanticizing unemployment or poverty, Mujere presents waiting as a heterogeneous experience, where residents become active in order to contest the violence imposed by government and corporations alike.
When those in power manage time through public policies, administrative neglect and direct forms of dispossession, injustices are laid bare through forced waiting. Displaced Black farmers wait decades to recover their land; heritage sites wait to be recognized and protected accordingly; inner city Joburg residents wait for the City of Johannesburg to invest; cultural workers wait to formalize occupancy of spaces; youth groups wait for their after school programmes to resume. And yet, there might be hope contained in the wait. The work of MADEYOULOOK and Keleketla! Library exists within that possibility.
Both collectives participate in the latest edition of documenta. Led by the Indonesian collective ruangrupa, this year’s curatorial direction probes the possibilities of togetherness and of ‘making friends, not art’. Following the idea of lumbung – an Indonesian term for communal rice barn – ruangrupa initially invited fourteen collectives and a few individual artists predominantly from the Global South. These collectives then invited others and were encouraged to move their activities from their home countries to Kassel.2Art writers Siddharta Mitter and Paris Lettau’s take on the events around documenta fifteen’s opening were insightful to understand some of the ropes behind German politics, and how these play out in both the German government interventions and the press coverage of documenta. Owing to the fact that those pieces and numerous others have focused on the broader picture of documenta, I am concerned here with a specific review of the exhibition programme: the participation and work of MADEYOULOOK and Keleketla! Library. I visited their installations and interviewed them. In this context, MADEYOULOOK and Keleketla! Library were the two South African collaborative projects present3Chimurenga was also invited to participate in documenta, but they decided not to show work in Kassel. Instead, they developed a new season of their Liberation Radio, which they streamed for five days from Dar es Salaam. More here. in the German city.
Can art be made out of a bureaucratic struggle?
Keleketla! Library is an arts archive, a portal, a cultural platform and performance space that hosts cultural events and thinks about the world through music, publications, education workshops and other creative practices related to a broader idea of city-making. Keleketla! Library was founded by Malose Malahlela and Rangoato Hlasane in Johannesburg in 2008. Back then, Malahlela and Hlasane were students and resided around Joubert Park, where they were part of a student collective called innacitycommunity. They approached the Joubert Park Project, a cultural collective based at the Drill Hall, to organize public programming there and became Keleketla! Library. According to Hlasane, that point marked a “conscious decision of having something to say and something to offer to inner city Joburg and the world.”
The Drill Hall dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is more famously known as being the place where 156 anti-apartheid activists were trialed in the Treason Trial of South Africa (1956). Besides it being considered an arts and culture heritage site – where some funding was allocated for renovations after a series of deadly fires in 2001 and 2002 – the Drill Hall is testament to what administrative neglect can look like. Because it is owned by the Department of Public Works, the City of Joburg has no mandate of oversight. These overlapping administrative roles have prevented people who have occupied the space from being considered formal tenants, so organizations that have been there in the past were unable to count on security of the premises, on top of having to deal with constant threats of service delivery cuts. When Keleketla! proposed to use the Drill Hall in 2007, it so happened that the Joubert Park Project was winding down. As such, they left the space after years of meetings and conversations with the different government agencies and departments, a task that was then taken over by Keleketla! as ‘caretakers of the site’ in 2008.
During their time at the Drill Hall (between 2008-2015), Keleketla! coordinated an after-school programme for youth groups from the area. From having nothing, Keleketla! offered what they could: the space. They hosted events and other creatives from their network brought different elements to it. Drawing from examples of cooperative economics in Southern Africa such as the stokvel,4A predominantly women-led way of saving and sharing in community. Keleketla! created their programme at the Drill Hall without an initial funding.
The collective has been waiting for the last fourteen years for the Department of Public Works to finalise an ownership transfer to the City of Joburg, so they can lease the space from them. Even after leaving the Drill Hall in 2015, they continue to wait in what has become an exhausting process of back and forth. Malahlela and Hlasane share that the most difficult part of leaving the Drill Hall was telling the “kids who used to frequent the Keleketla! Library that we were moving out.”
For documenta fifteen, Keleketla! Library presents their work against administrative neglect through The Drill Hall Arts Advocacy Project installation (2022) and a continuation of their socio-cultural events the Skaftien series (2011-ongoing). Skaftien is informed by one of Keleketla!’s previous projects, Stokvel (2008-2009), which called for the community to pull together in creating and presenting cultural work.5This took the form of an art auction and a music collaboration with a Detroit based record label at the 2009 Allied Media Conference over Skype. It was through previous iterations of Skaftien, realised between 2011 and 2013, that the collective started to question the idea of ‘labour of love’ and the extent to which the creative community has to save itself.
As part of their work for documenta, Keleketla! is relocating the conversations with stakeholders relevant to the case of the Drill Hall to an in-person conversation in Kassel. They aim to position themselves as partners of the City of Joburg and fly South African government representatives to Germany.6The collective also displayed a sonic performance of the Drill Hall’s history at the Grimmwelt Terrace, Kassel on 11 September. Malahlela explains that “part of them coming to Kassel is to solidify partnerships we have in Kassel, to form guarantees and solid relationships, but also to dislocate the conversation to a different context.” The collective announced on their socials that they “will exchange strategies, challenges, questions and possibilities of culture-led urbanisms and politics” between Johannesburg and Kassel-based stakeholders. While one of the objectives is to attract German donors, Keleketla! also wants to show the South African government how the Drill Hall could be transformed into something that sparks a broader rehabilitation of the Inner City – an area government officials have been very weary of regardless of the political party.7In our conversation, Malahlela and Hlasane added that the inner city hasn’t been the focus of public infrastructure investment, “not even for the 2010 World Cup.” Back then, the government only invested in the Rea Vaya buses. Once the ownership is transferred to the City of Joburg, Keleketla! hopes to achieve a 100 year lease.
The Drill Hall Arts Advocacy Project installation (2022) at the Fridericianum venue has served as a pause in their process. One of the works titled K!Map was created by artist and educator Francis Burger in conversation with Malose Malahlela. This ‘conversation’ map draws from written excerpts by Victoria Wigzell with Joseph Gaylard, Bettina Malcomess and Dorothee Kreutzfeldt about the history of the Drill Hall in relation to the Joubert Park Project tenure. K!Map gives a comprehensive inside to the programmatic and administrative highs and lows, as well as the handover from the Joubert Park Project to Keleketla! Library. This floor to ceiling text installation is accompanied by pillars that echo those at the Drill Hall, a ‘construction’ notice board (where they disclose that their client is “the people of Johannesburg”) and a screen with Nduduzo Makhathini’s Drill Hall performance playing in loop.
On Sunday 8 May, Keleketla! organized the Skaftien #4 A reprise of fires Nduduzo Makhathini and the 13 Pillars at the Drill Hall before documenta opened. There was a lot of movement around Noord Taxi Rank. It was cold; plastic chairs accommodated a few of us and fires lit up when Makhathini hit the keys of a grand piano. The communion between his music and the space was evident. Rangoato and Malose explained the intention behind Makhathini’s performance was to cleanse the heaviness the Drill Hall witnessed through its troublesome years of existence. Fire, once a destructive element for this building, was now part of how music spoke back to the ‘treason’ trials during the apartheid-era, to the administrative neglect and to death.
The idea of repair
In July 2019, MADEYOULOOK organised a public conversation with political scientist Dineo Skosana around the spiritual implications of land dispossession as part of their Izwe: Plant Praxis multipart exhibition series (2019-2020). In relation to coal mining and grave relocations, Skosana’s research sustains that the communities’ material dispossession comes accompanied by an intangible loss, a different aspect of detachment which is connected to the ancestral and spiritual belonging. Coined by Skosana, the term ‘spiritual security’8Throughout her research, Skosana speaks about spiritual insecurity and security. The former refers to the anxiety experienced by the living in relation to their position with their ancestors, the latter refers to ease. resonated with MADEYOULOOK, who had been thinking through issues of land in South Africa.
Molemo Moiloa and Nare Mokgotho have been working together since 2009 in the form of their Joburg based interdisciplinary artistic collaboration: MADEYOULOOK. Their collective work encourages engagement with everyday practices of Black lives in a way that, when observed closely, can speak to a much broader set of urgent social and political issues in South Africa and beyond.
The collective has produced non-commercial work that has taken a variety of forms, mostly held outside gallery spaces. For instance, in Ejaradini (2019-ongoing) they explore how Black gardeners have redefined the practice of gardening as a self-investment care ritual located outside the frameworks of labour and productive time, and the ways these strategies could be translated to re-defining museum practices. In Corner Loving (2015-2016), they research Black love and forms of intimacy in public space in inner city Joburg and some neighbouring townships, considering romantic love as intellectually worthy through ‘architectural-style’ drawings, texts and performances.
For documenta fifteen, MADEYOULOOK is exhibiting Mafolofolo: place of recovery (2022) an installation that presents the little-known history of the Bakoni as a case from which to reflect on the idea of repair through land in South Africa. As the only artwork in a former ballroom inside the Hotel Hessenland venue, Mafolofolo welcomes visitors with solitude and dim lights. The space is anchored by circular plywood structures in which the collective has plotted a historical tracking of the Bakoni. There are maps from the Northeast region of South Africa plotted onto the floor too. This is a site of grief, but also of respect and imagination. There is an important story to be told here. Visitors appear to recognize this as they enter the space and sit down quietly. Most close their eyes, waiting for the 20 minute sound piece to begin.
For the past seven years, Moiloa and Mokgotho have been travelling to Mpumalanga to research the history of the ancient stonewalls, agriculture terraces, circular homesteads and rock engravings of Bokoni. An agricultural society, the Bokoni can be dated back to the 16th Century; they had one of the largest systems of intensive agriculture in Southern and Eastern Africa. The structures in the collective’s installation in Kassel reference the shape of some of these ancient ruins. The sound recording of the installation features Moiloa and Mokgotho interviewing a local land worker and tour guide with whom they developed a personal relationship, Joseph Mothupi, and a selection of popular South African resistance songs related to the land.
Because the Bokoni sites have been the centre of several competing narratives,9From academic historical and archaeological research by Dr. Peter Delius and associates and exotic theories, to documents from the colonial era (such as the German missionaries archives that remain mostly inaccessible) and what people who are based in the area say. the research field is misty and sometimes contradictory. According to Moiloa and Mokgotho, Dr. George Mahashe’s research of the history of the Balobedu in Limpopo for his MaBareBare Project – where he understands colonial texts and local narratives as ‘entangled and inseparable’ – was a useful framework for MADEYOULOOK to “work with the gaps and fragments” of Bokoni history.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Bakoni were subject to constant displacement from their land. MADEYOULOOK’s maps and texts trace some of these cycles of movements: forced removals and re-groupings. Mafolofolo, in particular, was a place the Koni community founded in 1873 under the leadership of Johannes Dinkwanyane, years after their initial displacement from their land in 1820 and their subsequent incorporation into the Botšhabelo mission station in 1868. At Mafolofolo, the community had the opportunity to recover as a society by working the soil before they were displaced from there too in 1876.
In 1905, Johannes Dinkwanyane’s son Micha Dinkwanyane bought a farm called Boomplaats near Lydenburg. There, a Pedi community with Koni roots that had held ties after the displacement of Mafolofolo worked the land using old techniques of soil rehabilitation and agricultural terracing. Boomplaats became both a refuge for Black farm workers and a leading peach farm of the area, which didn’t sit well with the neighbouring white farmers. As soon as the apartheid-era forced removals started to take place under the Group Areas Act (1950), the community’s permanence at Boomplaats was at risk. In 1961, bulldozers destroyed the houses and the police forced the Bakoni out of their land again.
The Dinkwanyane community was able to return to the farm in 2001 when it was sold by the then-white owners in the context of the Restitution of Land Rights Act (1996). Before they were able to enter the land, white farmers destroyed and sabotaged the land. This was the first farm to be restituted as part of South Africa’s land reform programme.
The return of the Boomplaats farm is far from being an ideal case, but as both artists agreed in our conversation, “looking at historical precedents helped thinking beyond the moment when we get the land back.” Mafolofolo centres on the possibility of land offering a spiritual repair; the strategy the collective observes from the Bakoni is the potential of building intimate relationships with the soil,10Before documenta opened, MADEYOULOOK hosted a series of events with Kassel-based gardeners. Through this and other activities held during documenta, MADEYOULOOK connected with some of the artistic collectives to form the land discursive group. They are currently working on a week-long programme to bring these collectives’ work to South Africa before the end of the year. where the human and the more-than-human can establish an intergenerational bond.
The right questions
Tuấn Andrew Nguyễn has a video installation titled The Specter of Ancestors Becoming (2019) which was created in collaboration with Vietnamese-Senegalese descendants in Dakar and Malika, and it speaks to the trauma of French colonialism. In the context of the Vietnamese uprising in (then) Indochina, Senegalese soldiers were deployed to combat with the French army. After the French defeat, many of the Senegalese soldiers who had married Vietnamese women took their children and travelled back to Senegal without their wives. Most of these children were raised without context or emotional connection to their origins. Nguyễn works with the Vietnamese-Senegalese community to imagine and put into words what they would say to their parents and grandparents. What are the questions they wish they could have asked? The affected people become narrators while they evaluate and ‘activate’ their relationship to the past through imagined scenes. While I was writing about MADEYOULOOK and Keleketla! I thought about this piece. It suggests a remembering strategy and a ‘historical conscience’ that serves the people it speaks about.
MADEYOULOOK and Keleketla! Library address problems of dispossession and neglect in South Africa while being mindful about how other ways of world-understanding can come into play. In the case of Keleketla! Library, this takes form in lobbying the government, proposing urban rehabilitation strategies and cleansing a neglected heritage site through a musical performance; and for MADEYOULOOK, in honouring Black growing traditions and creating inclusive historical frameworks while being mindful of ancestral relationships to land. Because the two interdisciplinary projects understand administrative-concrete-geographic issues as compatible with matters of the spiritual realm, their thoughts on contemporary urgencies are not only practical, but also poetically grounded. In their work, one can recognize a way of being in the world where long-term relationships are privileged over extractive, once-off encounters. It is precisely how they relate with the communities with whom they work what makes their art so impactful. Through Keleketla! and MADEYOULOOK’s collective work, repair is possible.