Little excites me more than a well-curated group show because they harness the ability to communicate a specific theme through the eyes of multiple artists. Bathini Abafazi? is one such example of a group show that manages to successfully bring together the work of multiple artists showcasing their pure talent, and the ability of well-curated artworks to bring about meaningful reflection.
The show, curated by Mpumi Mayisa, showcases works from varying media including paintings, sculptures, video and mixed media artworks.
These works come together well to explore the themes of materiality, memory, spirituality, agency and self-reclamation within the changing contexts of womanhood.
Phila Hillie, Grounded III, 2021
The exhibition features work by Ayanda Phasha, Cow Mash, Akudzwe Elsie Chiwa, Lesego Bantsheng, Phila Hillie Tisetso Molobi, and Zenande Mketeni. Their works offer strikingly personal answers to the question “Bathini Abafazi?”, meaning ‘What do the women say?’ in Zulu.
This question and title of the exhibition was posed by Mpumi to the artists as a way to explore aspects of womanhood, not only speaking to the physical manifestation of the femmes exhibiting but asking what are their ancestors saying to them and through them.
I was lucky enough to have engaged in a rich and insightful telephonic conversation with the exhibition’s curator, Mpumi, recently. In doing so, I was allowed to deeply dive into the thinking behind the exhibition’s curation and intention. If I wasn’t already inspired by the exhibition and its subsequent artworks this conversation had moved me beyond wondering ‘Bathini abafazi?’
Phila Hillie, Layered I, 2021
From my conversation with Mpumi, I was able to understand aspects of African spirituality that are present throughout the exhibition’s artworks. Soon, it became apparent to me the clear and inspirational way of thinking about spirituality and ancestry that weaves this exhibition together.
The show, its artists and curator manage to communicate ideas surrounding artists as vessels very well, sharing the ideas and expressions of their ancestors. Encapsulating the belief that artists are sent to this realm to express the things their ancestors intended for them to breathe life into.
As an Indian/Malay femme engaging with the exhibition, a new level of depth is discovered as I think through the cultural, spiritual and personal nuances presented by the artworks that transcend African spirituality and find versions of themselves in my own cultural histories. Thus, causing the show to present a radical imagination of what we want not only for us but for the ones who came before us across culture and history.
Zenande Mketeni, amaLawukwazi, 2021
The exhibition in engaging with discourses surrounding womanhood and presents a good understanding of materiality concerning aspects of womanhood. The incorporation of common yet innovative materials to communicate strong ideas make each work unique and striking, even when presented in a group show. Thus, transforming the space into an exploration not only of strong concepts but also of intricate and well thought out methods of working and thinking.
In dialogue about the strong understanding of materiality present in the exhibition, Mpumi raised the fact that we often do not think about the relationship between femmes and the materials that surround them. Traditionally, femmes have been depicted in domestic spaces without us becoming introspective of our relationship with the materials which form part of these domestic scenes.
The use of pot-scrubbers hung from the neck of Ayanda Phasha in her self portraits which form part of the exhibition allow us to begin questioning this relationship by taking materials connected to femmes in the context of labour, becoming a metaphor for women’s never-ending need to give of themselves. While in a different well-executed understanding of materiality, Cow Mash’s sculptural pieces use synthetic leather and wool instead of actual animal skins to reflect on the transformation of traditional African culture in the 21st century.
Akudzwe Elsie Chiwa, Muchato weMheni (A wedding/union of lighting), 2020
While speaking to Mpumi the important question of why this exploration became one she wanted to embark on was raised. Mpumi mentioned that the exhibition and exploration was a long time coming, describing the question “Bathini abafazi?” as haunting them for quite some time. Brought about by a natural curiosity, but also a need to shift the narrative surrounding womanhood, Bathini abafazi? as explained by Mpumi is a way to allow introspection for femmes.
Mpumi mentions how often we as femmes, when speaking through how we want change, often situate our conversations in what we don’t want, rather than what we do. The question “Bahitini abafazi?” allows us the time to muse at what we do want, and gives room for restoring how we think through our linage and moving forward as femmes.
The ideas and themes explored in the exhibition stretch our discourse in the way in which they give room for explorations of womanhood that go beyond one’s purely celebratory. While it is important to celebrate womanhood, we also begin to engage with understandings of womanhood removed from celebration that allow us to speak through the complexities surrounding what it’s like to exist as a femme moving through this world.
Exhibitions such as these provide us with an opportunity to be critical of our existences and histories while still presenting an aesthetically pleasing experience.
Ayanda Phasha, To Gather, 2021
Akudzwe Elsie Chiwa, Ayive madhende ave magamba,2020
Importantly, the exhibition’s overarching question allows the show to go beyond an exploration done by the featured artists alone. When Mpumi asks “What is your lineage saying through you?”
I didn’t expect to feel weighted down and encouraged to reflect on the lineages that make me. The show does as it is intended to do — create a domino effect of introspection — and through doing this, allows for more art to be created, more writing to be forged and our discourses rewritten.
The exhibition is available to view at Gallery Fanon until 8 October. Thereafter, a Bathini Abafazi? Luncheon will be held on 9 October, tickets available via Gallery Fanon. Artworks are now available for purchase on Artsy.
Ayanda Phasha, Trinity I, 2021
Cow Mash, 9430, 2021