As the high priestess of soul, Nina Simone said, “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty as far I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” This is exactly what artist, Sikelela Damane achieved in his current exhibition titled, State Of the Nation Address (SONA).
From the historical removal of the Cecil John Rhodes statute at the University of Cape Town to the dodging of rubber bullets while peacefully marching in the streets of Johannesburg, Sikelela was initially inspired by the South African student Fallist movements and how they have “commercialised being ‘woke’ and addressed complex patriarchal and racial constructs.”.
Sikelela deliberately represented the students asking for free decolonized education as “heroes of our generation” instead of being in a state of melancholy since they are a group that is both marginalised and frightened.
Moreover, it is the chunk of land that Sikelela layered on the floor of the Kalashnikovv gallery that speaks to the state of a nation that is frightened about its mission to address the struggles of the marginalised.
Land is a deeply contested issue in South Africa and Sikelela’s idea to address this issue in his work began when President Jacob Zuma stated that the main objective of his government would be to re-address the land. Even though, Sikelela suspects the President’s main objective is to end his term with the affection of Black South African’s, Sikelela seized the opportunity to metaphorically engage with relationship between land and Black labour.
It was in the process of excavating land from outside the gallery and moving it inside that was emotional for Sikelela. “I felt laboured, hard laboured in particular and reminded of Black Labour and how Black males and females in this country became cheap exploits to nourish and pamper this land.” In addition, the accidental displacement and replacement of Sikelela’s land installation helped him further speak to the illusionary ownership of South African soil.
“I like to think of myself as not of a radical but an artist who simply paints the truth. What is a radical, and to whom? Speaking the truth should not be substituted for being radical. And it’s assumed that radical equals being a fighter, an anarchist. I say I paint out of love and hope”, said Sikelela.
In his exhibition currently on at the Kalashnikovv gallery, Sikelela does more than paint. He sues acrylic, aerosol, markers and earth on canvases. He also uses objects such as land and a tyre to address the state of the nation.