04.08 - 29.09.2022
– Malika Dlovu
I had just been reading M.V Burhmann’s paper titled The Xhosa Healers of Southern Africa: Intlombe and Xhentsa: A Xhosa Healing Ritual – which aims to understand intwaso, the calling to serve the ancestors, through the lens of analytical psychology – just a week before I got to see Patrick Bongoy’s Unseen Dimensions of the Known at Southern Guild Gallery, in which the Congolese artist collaborates with the South African poet Malika Ndlovu.
Intwaso is often thought of as a burden because it disturbs the material life of the would be initiated. One goes from focusing on the needs and wants of modern life to a different reality as ancestral forces disturb consciousness. But it’s just as often soon realised as a gift, because a life that is purely materialistic, without spirit or meaning, is, just like the rubber Bongoy uses in his artwork, lifeless, a dead material.
Burhmann interprets Intlombe, the ceremony for Amagqira (Xhosa Healers) that takes place in a rondavel as a Mandala in action. This is the comparison I make when I experience the circular artwork Braided Bone Chamber at the entrance of Southern Guild. I consider that the title of the artwork is lifted from Malika Ndlovu’s poem in which she writes, “the braided bone chamber of my spine an archive.” It’s this archive that Burhmann states is activated in process of uXhentsa a (special ritual dance) which allows umbelini (or spirit) to arise from the depth of the body to the head, but “it must come up the right way because if this unconscious material comes up the wrong way you may become mad.”
As I walk around the artwork, I feel an energy radiating from it. Braided Bone Chamber, through the labour and the artist’s craftsmanship, is an artwork that’s imbued with spirit.
Shadow Self 2 makes use of three recycled rubber inner tubes, acrylic, and hessian on board to illustrate three boys. The first two, who are made from the board itself, I believe represent the material aspect. These figures have superhero logos on their chests. The superhero is thought of as an alter ego, or a persona the ego adapts to the world through trauma – as in the case of the Batman. However, in this adaptation of an ideal self, there collects in the psychic background repressed elements that don’t fit into this idealised self. These collect into a shadow self, which the artist illustrates through the figure made from shredded rubber. There appears to be a communication that’s continuous between these figures, suggesting that, as Jung once argued, the shadow aspect of a person’s character is easier to integrate.
I also like the artwork called Portal. It is a circle made from rubber with a red rim. Tendrils hang from it like dreadlocks onto the floor. Closer observation illustrates some markings in the red rim that contain both pictures and writing. Then, there is an inner, darker rim made from hard rubber, and within that another circle, and this is where everything builds up and these tendrils spill out.
I am once again thinking about umbelini or spirit that inhabits Amargira and artists alike at its source. This spirit reproduces itself through various cultures, traditions and modes. It helps one understand that things are transitory, that we are not static and we are, in fact, in a constantly shifting state. We are, in fact, despite our individual lives, all part of a greater story. It’s hopeful, this idea of the Self that can access the portal Heaven, or is it God Consciousness?
Perhaps I don’t understand Carl Jung’s idea of the Self enough and for this reason I appreciate even more the idea of Ancestors as messengers between that realm and us for conscious understanding. When I look at the artwork Martyrdom, I feel the pleasantness of the child figure looking back at me. His spirit shines through so clearly as an individual; there is a newness and hope in those eyes. But just next to him is this black godlike figure which is a wider spirit of his time and context and history. It’s invasive and it has its demands.