Q & A with Minenkulu Ngoyi

Photo: Anthea Pokroy

Photo: Anthea Pokroy

 

Minenkulu Ngoyi has made a name for himself in the South African art scene over the last couple of years. The printmaker, ‘zine-ster, artist, and publisher studied at Artist Proof Studios and is one half of the ‘zine duo Alphabet Zoo. Ngoyi, has recently joined the Wits School of Art to run a silk screen and ‘zine workshop for second year drawing and design students. Wits Vuvuzela caught up with the Johannesburg-based printmaker to discuss race relations in the local art space.

 

When you started making ‘zines and subsequently Alphabet zoo, what was its purpose?

We always wanted to do publications and printmaking is a form of publication, that’s why we make ‘zines. More than anything, there is no one who really makes ‘zines in the country, the few [‘zine-sters] we have are mainly in Cape Town. We wanted to say a lot of things and zines allow us to do that.

 

What are some of the struggles of being a young, black artist in the art space?

I think the black space hasn’t transformed much, it’s just that names are not used like they were used back then, for example the term ‘black artist’ has fallen away and now people just say ‘artist’. But it’s still the same for black artists, we are still treated the same. Unfortunately we don’t have enough black buyers or collectors so we are still in a very white space. Aseyethu e-art, eyabelungu [Art isn’t ours, it’s white peoples].

 

Do you think we can still transform the art space?

If people change their minds. If we transform our people, so the people we want to buy our work—which is black people—can know more about art it might change.

 

#SOMETHINGMUSTFALL was an exhibition inspired by the transformation climate in the country, how did you all manifest this presentation?

The show was initially intended to be immediate, after the #RhodesMustFall situation but because of the [difficulties of] black spaces. If we had a black space we would have been able to do it but we then had to find a space and eventually we did it. We wanted to be radical and talk about something that was relevant. So instead of saying #RhodesMustFall I suggested we make people guess and go with #SomethingMustFall not to be typical.

Lots of drama at School of Arts imbizo

Students from the Drama department had the most complaints at the first Wits School of Arts student imbizo (meeting).

At an imbizo hosted by the Wits School of Arts (WSOA) student council on Monday afternoon, students from the drama department took the opportunity to file their frustrations. The imbizo was intended to acquaint students with the council, which was elected three months ago, and brainstorm ideas on future activities.

One of their more serious complaints was that drama students felt that they did not have enough access to the Wits theatre. Students are not allowed to use the theatre unless it is during an exam or an actual production.

“The Wits theatre is a separate entity from the school of arts. It functions as a business that need to generate profit.”

Each student is only given 30 minutes to familiarise themselves with the theatre stage before their exam starts. Students said their performance marks suffer because 30 minutes is not enough time to familiarise themselves with the space and use it efficiently.

Chairperson of the WSOA student council Nolo Mmeti,  said they have looked into the problem before. “The Wits theatre is a separate entity from the School of Arts. It functions as a business that needs to generate profit.” For this reason there is very little they can do about it. He also said when students are allowed to use the theatre often things are broken and equipment is not returned on time which leaves them with very little room to negotiate around the matter.

Students also complained that the School rules state that students are to receive their provisional marks a week before their exams but this does not happen for all departments. While others said that some lecturers do not give clear criteria of how students will be assessed. One student went on say that“sometimes I think marks are dependent on how close one is to the lecturer”.

A learder in the arts: Nolo Mmeti, Chairperson of the Wits School of Arts student council.  Photo; Sibongile Machika

A learder in the arts: Nolo Mmeti, Chairperson of the Wits School of Arts student council. Photo; Sibongile Machika

The council gave feedback on some of the requests that they received last semester and assured students that all new matters would be looked in to.

From language barriers between students and lecturers, to marks that are released with students names, students felt  that council had done a great deal in raising real student issues with management and getting timely results.

Mmeti said they hope to have more of these imbizos to “instil a collaborative culture” between students and their council. He also said there isn’t enough “artist collaborations between students of various study years” and they hope to change that.

Students are encouraged to keep an eye on the Wits School of Arts social media sites to find out about events and information regarding their various departments.

About those stacks of bricks you’ve seen on the Wits campus

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HOME DÉCOR: Masters Students Jamy-Lee Brophy and Megan Heilig exhibit recreations of the home environment at various venues in and around campus. The displays are part of their new project which focuses on creating what they call ‘institutions’, which explores and examines what we as multicultural beings experience as an institution and the effects of this experience. Photo: Provided

You’ve probably seen the stack of bricks arranged outside the Wits School of Arts, the Great Hall and other random places around campus and been curious and confused about why they’re there.

As part of a new project, Wits Fine Arts students Jamy-Lee Brophy and Megan Heilig have collected unused bricks from campus and around Braamfontein and built small-scale structures they call ”institutions”.

The project focuses on exploring and examining the idea of what different institutions, especially homes, mean to us in Johannesburg and as students on campus.

“We’re questioning the ideas of institutions, and how institutions reinforce ideologies and constructions and we try and challenge them,” said Brophy. “We have collected bricks … and what we do from this is basically try to build an institution, one that can create a conversation in different spaces and one that’s kind of transitory.”

Heilig added: “I think an institution is an experience, so in everyone’s lives we experience things such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, cultural background, and all these things amalgamated within the city and especially in Johannesburg.”

Brophy and Heilig collected the bricks for free from people who wanted to get rid of them, but they also “stole” materials some of them from campus. Heilig said they stole materials because Wits wouldn’t give them funding for their project.

The duo also want to challenge and question the idea of claiming space on Wits campus. The current installation placed outside the Great Hall, which appear to be a pile of bricks, is seen as a “cornerstone”, the implication that there’s an institution outside of another institution. They move the bricks around to rebuild these institutions in various locations so that people will start talking about it and about why they’re doing it.

The focus of their project is somewhat political, and they look at political parties as institutions in themselves and what they represent or how they misrepresent. They created the Halfa Pitchca Party, which is their own organisation and which helps them examine the idea of the relationship between politics and art.

“I think that art is political, and that what’s happening here can be political and it can be social, and it can relate to other people,” said Heilig. “This thing is not just about art for art’s sake, we’re not painting to look how nice paint looks on a canvas, that’s not what all people do here.”

They want to encourage other students on campus to go to exhibitions held at places like the Substation and the Wits Art Museum and know that art is for everybody and something everybody can relate to. Their current project is a way of getting out on the streets and getting talking.

“We want people to know about it [exhibitions],” said Heilig. “We don’t want it to be this underground thing where only if you’re cool and in with the art kids you can come and check out their stuff, that’s bullshit. We need something fresh, something new, and we want to open up spaces in the city on the street and have spaces that we create, especially in the city.”

No ovation for ‘sex pest’ apology

An “overdue” apology by dismissed senior lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu has received a lukewarm response from staff and students at Wits.

The apology comes after months of denials following his dismissal for sexual harassment last year. Some staff members expressed mixed feelings in response to it.

“It’s an overdue apology for me, but again the truth of the matter is that he himself should have been allowed to take his time,” said wa Mamatu’s former friend and Wits dramatic arts graduate Zabalaza Mchunu.

Wa Mamatu released the apology following the removal of his play, By My Grave, from the Cape Town Fringe Festival. Festival participants had requested its removal which wa Mamatu said was his life story and incorporated issues of sexual harassment.

A Facebook apology 

In the apology, published on his Facebook account, wa Mamatu expressed contrition on for his “lack of judgement” and admitted he had abused his power over students.

“I apologise to my community, my society and every woman for failing them,” wa Mamatu said in the message posted on Facebook.

“I will not be mute in my shame. I AM SORRY,” said wa Mamatu.

Mchunu suggested wa Mamatu’s apology was an act of self-defence, which came minutes before a panel discussion in Cape Town about the withdrawal of his play from the festival.

Mchunu said wa Mamatu was faced with appearing on a podium at the panel discussion: “So before he did, he had to be put in a space of defending himself … that’s why he went and did it.”

In an e-mail he sent to the panel conveners, wa Mamatu said he pulled out the debate because it was being repositioned into a “war cry” which had “mangled the opportunity to engage fairly, productively and constructively.”

“People like the idea of someone being down and out.”

“I refuse to participate in an environment that is not conducive to freedom of speech, that is intolerant of voices that are oppositional to others and that refuse to listen,” said wa Mamatu.

He added that he will continue the “processes of rehabilitation” and talk about the need for men to negotiate themselves against sexual relations.

“I will continue to share with others my own lessons, so that we as men, especially black men, learn to negotiate and respect women-hood in all its various and varying forms,” wa Mamatu said.

Mchunu, however, expressed skepticism about wa Mamatu’s absence at the panel discussion and compared it to the former lecturer’s absence at the initial hearings of the sexual harassment proceedings.

Head of division in dramatic arts, Dr Haseenah Ebrahim, said she welcomed the public apology by wa Mamatu, confirming that he had previously e-mailed an apology addressed specifically to the department.

Unforgiving students 

“It’s not for me to forgive him, it’s only for his victims to forgive him. I’m not sure how plausible or believable he is,” said performance and visual arts student, Kelly Eksteen.

Eksteen, who is a former student of wa Mamatu’s, went on to describe the former lecturer as “a very sick man”.

Jacqueline Titus, a performing arts student, said that “speaking about Tsepo wa Mamatu is a very sensitive topic around here”, referring to the Wits School of Arts.

In response to the scepticism around his public apology, wa Mamatu told Wits Vuvuzela “an apology is not an end, it is the beginning”. He said there would be “other projects”, drawing on workshops he said he is actively involved in to draw attention to issues of sexual harassment and violence against women.

When asked about the rejection of his apology by his former colleagues, wa Mamatu said:“People like the idea of someone being down and out.” He said he hopes that the controversy would soon be over.

“I am worn out.”

Arts student council elected amid discontent

 

Newly elected chairperson of the school of arts student council, Obett Motaung, explains what they should achieve in 2014

Newly elected chairperson of the school of arts student council, Obett Motaung, explains what the council hopes to achieve in  2014. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen

WITS School of Art students have expressed their discontent over the choices of degrees offered by the school.

At a meeting held at the Wits Art Museum on Tuesday, a number of the students said there was gap between the practical and theoretical components of their coursework. This was especially true for second-year students who must choose between theoretical or practical courses.

One student at the meeting said this was a problem because many students entering their second year did not know whether they wanted to pursue theoretical or practical coursework. The problem continued into third year, which the student complained had little connection to the previous year’s coursework.

Students must get more involved

The meeting for arts students was held to elect a new student council and discuss issues and concerns with their programme.

“As the student council going forward, we must really work on influencing policy-making in terms of everything – in terms of spacing, in terms of practicalities, before the university makes decisions to shut down theatres … they must find out first what is happening with the students,” said newly elected council chairperson Obett Motaung.

The students criticised what they said was a lack of visibility for events related to the arts and engagement with the Faculty of Humanities.

The arts students also loudly criticised a lack of social interaction within their school. “FUCT Fridays”, an arts initiative to raise funds for projects, used to be held on the rooftop of the school’s building. “But that’s just disappeared,” one student complained. “There are no fundraisers, nothing that’s happening and I think there we see that there is a gap that we might as well try and fill.”

2014/15 Wits School of Arts Student Council

Obett Motaung, chairperson

Lucky Mqobeli, vice- chairperson

Masechaba Phakela, secretary general

Bonnie Maphutse, deputy secretary general

Jessica Janse van Rensburg, treasurer general

Jòvan Muthray, projects and campaigns officer

Sarah Nansubuga, academic and transformation officer

Not much interest in sex harassment workshops

Wits School of Arts (WSOA) began this year by clearing its closet of nasty skeletons.

The school organized new workshops on codes of conduct after the sexual harassment drama of 2013. But the schools efforts are baring little fruit.

After last year’s revelations of improper sexual conduct by senior lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu, which lead to a commission of inquiry and ultimately the dismissal of wa Mamatu and other offenders, WSOA embarked on the process of drafting an “ethical practices in teaching and learning” handbook.

Catherine Duncan of WSOA told Wits Vuvuzela  that the school needed to revisit a number of principles, values and responsibilities “from scratch” if the school was to be a “constructive and open environment for teaching, learning, and making art”. However, notices inviting arts students to participate in the workshops on one of three days, by signing their names up on a register provided under a description of the handbook, stood mostly empty.

They could be seen in and around the vicinity of the pale brown WSOA building- on the doors of classrooms and performance venues, as well as on notice boards and inside elevators. [pullquote align=”right”] “Doors? No one looks at doors. Why did they put them there?”[/pullquote]

Two weeks on, after the proposed dates of the workshop, those participation registers remain in position with a hardly a name on them.

Chairperson of WSOA’s school council Obett Motaung, 3rd year BADA, confirmed the poor attendance of the workshops.

“There were about 30-odd students who attended (workshops). You see we are facing an issue of student apathy,” Motaung said. Duncan admitted many had not engaged in the project.  “That is also fine and their prerogative,” Duncan said.

Both Duncan and Motaung were eager to stress that the workshops were only one part of larger information gathering process that started in July last and would continue beyond this month’s workshops.

“We gathered all the relevant policy, codes of conduct, standing orders, findings of the investigation into sexual harassment at Wits last year, course guides and so on,” Duncan said.

She said key data from the research went into the student workshops for “development, consultation and feedback”.

CONFUSED: Hankysel Lee is one of the many students who did not know about the workshop.                 Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

CONFUSED: Hankysel Lee is one of the many students who did not know about the workshop.                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

It would also seem that there was poor publicity around the workshops. The majority of the WSOA students interviewed by Wits Vuvuzela were either unaware of the workshops or just did not care to be involved in the process.

Moshini Pillay, 2nd year Fine Arts, said putting the notices on doors was not a good idea and this was the main reason she had not attended.  “Doors? No one looks at doors. Why did they put them there?” Hankysel Lee, 3rd year agreed that the visibility of the posters was ineffective.

She said she “just didn’t see the notices,”  and that she might have attended if she had.

Shubham Mehta, 4th year film and TV, said he preferred not to participate in “extracurricular activity” outside of his studies and that he saw no benefit in participating in the workshops.

A draft of the handbook will be completed by end of term according to Duncan.

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Arts united

The Wits School of Arts (WSOA) and the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design in Ethiopia are currently in talks about finalising a partnership between the two schools.

Professor George Pfruender, the WSOA head of department said the partnership will exchange members of staff, students as well as research projects. Pfruender said the partnership was almost natural because both institutions have similar programmes.

“The Alle School of Fine Arts and Design has a similar structure to Wits, they have both music and drama qualifications and therefore an exchange programme of both staff member and students would be viable.”The exchange programme aims to have students and staff from both universities to share ideas and research projects.

[pullquote]The exchange programme aims to have students and staff from both universities to share ideas and research projects.[/pullquote]

The partnership was made possible by the Goethe Institut of sub-Sahara Africa, which is the seed funder of various arts and culture departments in South Africa and Ethiopia.  Pfruender said financial support from these institutions make it easy to exchange art across the African continent.

Berhanu Deribew, head of department of the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design said partnering with other African institutions allowed for changes in the programmes and both students and staff members are exposed to the international community.

Pfruender told Wits Vuvuzela the partnership will allow both institutions to increase their footprint in Africa as joint art institutions.

Caught between gender roles

 

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: ‘Sthe’ regresses to his unhappy childhood state.          Photo: Mia Swart

CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: ‘Sthe’ regresses to his unhappy childhood state. Photo: Mia Swart

By Thuletho Zwane and Mia Swart

Torn pieces of paper filled the stage. Crumpled clothing and ties surrounded wine and beer bottles.

Sithembiso Khalishwayo, simply known as ‘Sthe’, appears and screams in anger: “As a child, I thought like a child, I spoke as a child. As a child I spoke of ignorance, ignorance is bliss”.

Sthe crawls under a chair, places his hands over his ears and face, shakes and cries uncontrollably – yelling nursery rhymes in an attempt to shut out the voices in his head: “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb…Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall…”

Water Glasses covered in Packets of Salt is a physical theatre production, with elements of dance, about gender roles and sexuality. It asks if sex remains a sacred bond between two people, or if it has transformed into something that happens when it’s desired or taken by force, leaving a path of emptiness, guilt and fear.

“The play deals with sex. The idea of being a man, of being a female. What defines the roles of the mother figure and the father figure and how it affects the child?” said Sthe.

He wanted people to experience the same emotions he felt when he performed, he said. The play has a mixed bag of emotions – “emotions we as human beings don’t want to feel but we have to feel them at a certain point in time.”

Sthe said [pullquote align=”right”]The play came from a very personal space. It encapsulated his stories and stories of other people. “I wanted to show a side of me that I haven’t shown in a while, who I am, how I view the world.[/pullquote]

“If you want to see theatre at its core, people should come watch it. It is an emotional rollercoaster.”

Sthe is an actor, teacher, writer, dancer and choreographer who studied at the Wits School of Arts, majoring in physical theatre and performance.

The play is one of a series of plays in the Drama for Life Sex Actually festival, which will run from August 20 to 31 at the Wits Theatre. Water Glasses covered in Packets of Salt will be performed August 23 at 6pm and on August 29 at 1.15pm at the Wits Downstairs Theatre.