Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
When I speak of work being a labour of love, I am speaking of a love in the shape conjured up in Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Work as a labour of love; a state of being, a commitment to the quest, to being daring, to growth and to taking off the masks we fear we cannot live without. For the past five years, Bubblegum Club has been our labour of (re)imaginative, ever-evolving and critical love rooted in South Africa’s cultural and artistic communities and imaginaries, and in mediating the stories coming out of them. When it all started—at the beginning of our beginning—I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the journey we were about to embark on or how abundantly we would be embraced by our country’s creative community and audience. Over time—like the site of cultural production itself—Bubblegum Club came to symbolise a site of possibility, (re)creation and improvised mythologies, and our networks began crossing oceanic spaces thus allowing connection and collaboration to flow between us and global creative communities and Afro-diasporic networks.
Initially founded as a cultural intelligence agency by Jamal Nxedlana our Creative Director and Lex Trickett our Design Director in 2014—with an objective of working with brands and organisations to help them better understand and engage with contemporary South African youth culture by conceptualising the broader social contexts of trends—the organisation evolved beyond this, much in the same way culture does. With this growth and evolution came an online magazine founded a year later in 2015 with a vision to present an alternative narrative on South African art and society by showcasing cutting edge creators and their work—and a Project Space situated in the Workshop Newtown that existed as a microcosm of youth cultural production, in which we partnered with a diverse range of the country’s most influential young creatives to make works spanning across a number of disciplines while also hosting a number of activations. However, much has changed for us even since then—because speaking in the grammar of Jazz; which is to say the grammar of improvisation; which is to say that our destination has no definitive end or shape, which is to say imagination is forever moving. Which is to say, that we are constantly arriving at new possibilities of our own capacities as an organisation and cultural institution with a responsibility to its audiences, networks and community without which we would not exist.
The intention which drives us, much like the work which inspires us, seeks to innovate and experiment without being restricted to exclusive spaces or pandering to overhyped vacuity of the dominant celebrity culture. And while we take what we do seriously—the aim is never to take ourselves too seriously, and to continue forward with a sense of critical play as the winking companion to our work. Much in the spirit of our name; a homage to the rich legacy of 80s Bubblegum Music which combined cutting edge technology with local and international influences to make electronic music that was both wildly successful and playfully avant-garde. I think of a passage in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things:
Perhaps it’s true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house—the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture—must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.
These past five years are the sum total of millions of dozens of hours; of countless days of change and changing. Of daring creativity, audacious experimentation, critical (re)imagination and building this labour of love in collaboration with all of you—both far and near. As we stand at the beginning of another beginning—and with our country’s post-colonial/post-TRC contradictions still existing as History’s choking hold effecting/affecting our creative and artistic industries to this day—we are excited to deepen our role of collaboration and our intention to create opportunities of support and access for our creative and artistic networks. As we continue in our multi-faceted approach of working across platforms and mediums and as we move into our new studio space—with 2021 we also welcome the addition of our gallery space, Graduate Trainee Programme, our Bubblegum Residency Programme and an era of brand new uncharted possibilities. So, this letter in a sense—like Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and the unbound spirit of transition it was created within—exists as a monument in words to what is to come, and to the possibility radiating so abundantly in that space.
We can’t wait to meet you there with radical love;
Lindiwe Mngxitama, Editor.
With special thanks to: