Artists bring colour, light, joy of life to old jail

Young women artists and entrepreneurs, some still at university, gathered to display their work and celebrate their creativity. 

Constitution Hill’s old Women’s Jail held Ode to the Woman, an exhibition and pop-up market on Sunday, May 7 to showcase women artists and business owners. 

The event was organised by the community called Among the Lillies, who are frequent hosts to creative happenings in Johannesburg. On the choice of location for the exhibition, Sandile Pooe the technical manager, said that the old women’s jail was “culturally, historically and artistically” appropriate for an event which brings together a creative community of African women. 

One such exhibiting artist was Wits’ own Zukhanye Ndlaleni, a fourth-year fine arts student, chosen by curator Penina Chalumbira for her collection of paintings of a character she calls “Blue”.

Ndlaleni told Wits Vuvuzela that her art is inspired by her own personal experiences of mental illness. This collection in particular deals with “derealisation and depersonalisation.She uses the colour blue “to situate different spaces” and for the Constitution Hill display, she chose “dreamscape”.

She evokes the idea of healing through symbols of tea and pillows featured alongside the character. Writing on the event’s social media page, Ndlaleni said, “When individuals encounter my work, I want them to get a sense that they are not alone, that we are all navigating this space together … We all have a little Blue in us, but to different degrees.”

Being a part of this event was an honour for Ndlaleni who said she was thrilled to be exhibiting alongside artists she had followed on social media for a long time, “It’s flattering to be considered on par with them.”

One of Kaebetswe Seema’s collages hangs on the walls of the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill on Sunday, May 7, 2023 while visitors to the exhibition admire the art. Photo: Kimberley Kersten

Also featured at the exhibition were Tshegofatso Tlatsi, a recent graduate of the University of Johannesburg, for large-scaldrawings and paintings exploring her “personal experiences as a black female existing”, and Kaebetswe Seema, a University of Pretoria fourth-year fine arts student for her work using collage and mixed media to explore identity.

Pooe emphasised the value of collaboration in organising the affair. Collaboration was definitely the word of the day in an exhibition combining market stalls, visual artwork as well as musical performances by women DJs. The market stalls surrounding the art featured young women entrepreneurs and their products, such as Refilwe Modise, co-owner of the Enjoyment Co. Her small business is based in Linden, Johannesburg and produces environmentally friendly scented candles. Modise said she was happy to be involved in Ode to the Woman. “I’m hoping people will see us and know what we do [by the end of the day].”

FEATURED IMAGE: Zukhanye Ndlaleni’s oil painting, The Green Teacup is displayed at the Women’s Jail on Constitution Hill on Sunday, May 7, 2023. Photo: Kimberley Kersten