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.”
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
The second installation of ForBlackGirlsOnly offered black women from across the province a space to engage and reflect on their everyday struggles.
50 SHADES OF BLACK: Women of all shapes and ages congregated at Constitution Hill to celebrate black female pride. Photo: Michelle Gumede
In the courtyard of a converted women’s jail on a hill in central Johannesburg, hundreds of black women came together to celebrate their blackness, feminism and womanhood as part of the second ForBlackGirlsOnly (FBGO) event.
Hosted at Constitution Hill on Sunday, January 31 the event attracted young and old from across the province, all dressed in black for a day of book swapping, musical performance and an open panel discussion.
Many of the women agreed that spaces like FBGO are vital to the survival, resistance, and healing of black women in a society that ordinarily marginalises them.
“It’s empowering to be among people that look like you and you don’t have to explain or negotiate yourself. That shit feels really, really good,” said one woman, known by her street name, Vuyo.
She added that given the current events in the country and the conversations currently being had, it is important to have a gathering of this kind. “A mutual consensus is building that, you have to buy into black,” said Vuyo.
Billed as a “pro-Black [and] pro-Women feminist space”, the event is “deliberately and unapologetically committed to the upliftment of Black women”, according to one of the organisers.
The organisers, who did not want to be named, said they received threats from mainly white males via social media, who ridiculed the idea of the event. As a result, an additional R12 000 was raised to reinforce security and erect barricades for the event but no incidents were reported.
Pakamani Ngceni, media coordinator of the South African Young Feminist Activists,(SAY-F), said one of the challenges of being a black feminist in South Africa is the backlash one gets because people are generally uncomfortable with anything that is black or feminist.
“The backlash around the FBGO event is an example of these kinds of systematic attacks against people who dare to create a black girls only space,” she added.
Ngceni emphasises the need for intersectional work for which the FBGO is criticised. “Without this intersectional work, that black feminists are doing daily regardless of it being acknowledged and recognised as such, no movement, no group can be truly anti-oppressive,” she said.
The Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) were also present at the event. Gladys Msane of the WRHI says it’s important for their mobile clinic to be at events like this because women are the primary victims of domestic violence and rape. She also says that the mobile services help those who are too busy during the week to go to their local clinics where they are often faced with judgement and stigma.
Women at the event exchanged books and experiences over food within a space far removed from their daily environments that seek to undermine their agency and treat them as second-class citizens.
ALL BLACK EVERYTHING: Hundreds of black women met to discuss issues of colourism, classism and racism. Photo: Michelle Gumede
CONSTITUTIONAL ART: Nolubabalo Memese explains the symbolism of the architecture to 2nd year constitutional law students on Tuesday. Photo: Raquel De Canha
Over 300 Wits Constitutional Law students got their first chance to visit the Constitutional Court last week, as part of a programme that gives the students exposure to South Africa’s highest court.
Students for Law and Social Justice in collaboration with the Wits Law School and the Conhill Education Project, put together the event for 320 second-year Wits Law students.
“Less than 5% of Constitutional Law students have ever actually been to Constitutional Hill,” said Tristan Jones, a member of Students for Law and Social Justice.
Claudia Oliveira, 3rd year LLB, is one of the many Law students who have not had the chance to go visit the iconic space, despite Constitution Hill being within walking distance of Wits’ main campus.
“I didn’t have anybody interested enough to go with,” Oliveira said.
“Less than 5% of Constitutional Law students have ever actually been to Constitutional Hill,”
“It is definitely something that I want to do. But it would have been so much easier and more educational to have gone with Wits when it was relevant and I was learning about it,” Oliveira said.
Jones said the aim of the event is to “ensure that all Constitutional Law students are able to experience the highest court in the land”.
Constitution Hill in Braamfontein has a history dating back to the 1892 when the Old Fort was built under the Zuid Afrikaans Republiek functioning as a prison. Today the site is home to the Woman’s Gaol museum, Number Four museum and the Old Fort museum.
These areas host exhibitions that advocate human rights.
During the tour, students got an in-depth look at the jails on Constitution Hill, a tour of the art collection in the main Court and were also taken into the courtroom itself.
Students for Law and Social Justice is a South African students’ organisation which aims to protect human rights, encourage social justice and help make justice more accessible. The group was formed among students from various universities around the country.
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