The show is named after the video Imfazwe yenkaba (2015), literally meaning “war of the womb”, that discloses a vocabulary of recurring elements in Siwani’s work and introduces to her multi- layered practice, deeply rooted in performance and strongely intertwined with her own biography and work as a Sangoma. A Sangoma is a traditional South African healer or diviner, who is seen as a bridge linking the living and their ancestors. The video, based on a performative action, was shot in the Eastern Cape, where Siwani has partly lived and Cape Town, where she is presently based, and shows the artist herself who is slowly walking through a rural landscape of small fields and kraals, until she sits on the ground taking a lamb in her arms in a silent dialogue. The action is simple, while the atmosphere is dense and solemn, due also to the fact that the artist is wearing a skirt that is typically worn by men for Sangoma initiation. The rigid skirt, designed to fit male bodies, does not accompany the female movement, opposing to the fluid rhythm of her walk a hiccups pace that acts as a counterpoint, suggesting a reflection on the tradition and how it is constantly changing and adapting to modern life, on the discrepancy one observes when returing home between what has changed and what remained the same.
As an extension of another performance are the two photographs entitled iSana libuyele kunina (“The child returns to the mother”, 2015) in which Siwani is posing in a dress that combines a traditional printed pattern with a contemporary shape, while she is holding a hen in her hand, or with the hen perched on her head, using her hair as a nest. A Pentecostal church is the backdrop of this last image evoking the opposite conceptions of the human body in Christian thought, that preaches the victory of the spirit over the flesh, and indigenous cultures that conceive the body itself as a spiritual carrier in which ancestors manifest, a passage between life and death. In the photographs, the hen embodies the presence of an ancestor, its substitute.
If art performances cannot completely re-enact the ritual, through the use of objects and tools charged with symbolic power and animals, in conjunction with the execution of particular actions or gestures, they preserve traces of the ritual and still convey spiritual energies.
The video and the photographs are the traces of traces, the substitute for the artist’s body which is physically absent from the space.
Buhlebezwe Siwani (Joannesburg, South Africa, 1987) completed her BAFA (Hons) at the Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg in 2011 and her MFA at the Michealis School of Fine Arts in 2015. She has exhibited at the Michaelis Galleries in Cape Town, a site-specific exhibition in collaboration with APEX Art, New York City, in 13th Avenue, Alexandra township, Commune 1, and Stevenson in Cape Town. More recent exhibitions include the Kalmar Art Museum in Sweden, The Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, and the Bienal de Coimbra, 2017. The collective iQhiya, of which Buhlebezwe Siwani is part, participated in Documenta 14, 2017.