Siwa Mgoboza‘s recent work explores difference and belonging, which is strongly tied to his personal experiences growing up abroad and later moving back to South Africa for university. Within these larger themes of difference and belonging, Mgoboza tackles his own expectations of equality and fairness he attached to South Africa while living abroad, and how he was confronted with the myth of an egalitarian society upon his return. Mgoboza’s creation of Africadia was made in response to this. It allows for the simultaneous reflection and critique of reality, while offering a pathway to escape from or transcend prejudice based on preconceived notions of gender, race, religion, class and nationality. At the core of Africadia is hybridity. He imagines a world where fixed boundaries do not exist. Instead there are only porous, fluid crossovers which are always open to debate.
Africadia is a play on the word ‘arcadia’ which refers to an image or idea of life in the countryside that is believed to be perfect. This comes from poetic and mythological references of the mountainous district in the Peloponnese of southern Greece, an isolated area which in poetic fantasy is seen to represent paradise or a utopian pastoral life. Mgoboza’s Africadia is about thinking back to a utopian past, and bringing that into the present as a possible projection of the future. This involves breaking down current frameworks and learnt behaviour which governs people’s thoughts, actions and desires. Mgoboza presents this as a way of thinking with the aim of doing away with ‘the Other’ and make people see each other in a united, hybrid way.
Mgoboza’s show If Found Return to Africadia is a direct engagement with the above ideas. He constructed characters out of different print and textures, and photographed these constructions in a similar way one would with a mug shot. In an interview with Art Throb he explains that the concept for these works was inspired by xenophobic and homophobic attacks from around the world.
“I began to imagine where these people would be banished to. But little does the ‘system’ know, they are being sent to what I like to call the ‘promised land’, the land of Africadia. It reminds me of the kinds of (white) techniques used to control a minority who were deemed dangerous to society, in South Africa. More specifically in Cape Town, it reminds me of Robben Island…The crime is they have chosen to be themselves and the punishment is they are sent away to Africadia!”
As can be seen in If Found Return to Africadia, and in his more recent series, Once Upon A Time In Africadia, the theatrical, fantastical and figurative take centre stage with creative direction taken from reality. Mgoboza’s use of cloth consents to fabric as a container of history, and how it can be shaped to forge a new, imagined future.