UJ Art Gallery presents ‘BODYLAND – A Site for Contemplation’ curated by Anelisa Mangcu from 7 May to 3 June.

UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), invites audiences to engage with some of South Africa’s new and important voices working parallel to the metro-based ways of reading and consuming art in the new exhibition ‘BODYLAND – A Site for Contemplation’ curated by Anelisa Mangcu. The exhibition ventures into the heart, soul, and culture of the Tyhume Valley and Amathole region.

‘BODYLAND – A Site for Contemplation’ is the result of a 14-day high-octane group incubator, and subsequent creative programme, set up to provide a group of creative, young socially engaged residents of the Eastern Cape the opportunity to take their work, in whatever medium, to a new level while engaging with the history, natural resources and body/land politics of the Tyhume Valley.

The Tyhume Valley was centre stage for the Frontier Wars and Ciskei control and is home to the University of Fort Hare and now the Black intellectual renaissance of Lovedale Press in relation to contemporary expression.

“This is the kind of work we believe will resonate with students and the growing and changing arts market. We are working towards repositioning the UJ Art Gallery as a leading cultural institution in South Africa and across the African continent. We are shifting our focus towards consolidating and strengthening our strategic partnerships (local and international), audience development, digital integration and most importantly supporting emerging, and mid-career artists and curators,” says Thabo Seshoka, Curator of the UJ Art Gallery.

The “Occupants” and now exhibiting artists: Baz Bailey (1994), Fundiswa Douw (1994), Sisonke Papu (1992), Wezile Harmans (1990), and Yonela Makoba (1993) began the incubator with an overnight excursion and camp exploring the layers of land and heritage embodied in the Tyhume Valley and the broader Amathole area. Upon returning to the residency base at the Hunterstoun Centre in Hogsback, a one-year creative programme was initiated under the mentorship of artist Athi-Patra Ruga, where the artists were encouraged to meditate on the theme of “Bodyland – A Site for Contemplation”.

“Bodyland is a play on humanity’s need for geographical markers (e.g.: XhosaLand, Scotland, Swit- zerland et al). These are markers that suggest imposed grouping and soulful belonging in relation to the land – its history and ecological wants. It offers the artist, upon establishing [or rejecting] this relationship with the land and to embody this knowledge through artmaking. The body becomes the site [or even sight] for much contemplation,” says Ruga, Director of ‘Bodyland’.

Isilimela: Planting of a New Man’ is Baz Bailey’s series of self-portraits exploring and documenting a transgender Xhosa man’s birth right to uLwaluko (an ancient initiation rite of passage from boyhood to manhood). The self-portraits interpret sacred milestones of uLwaluko and translate them into his personal experiences and changes (physical and emotional) as a trans man. The portraits evoke a dream-like state, producing visuals that blur the lines between reality and the realm of his ancestors who left behind the rites of passage that he seeks on the land that they walked.

Sisonke Papu’s ‘Izithunywa zendalo (messengers of nature)” is a series that seeks to open a pathway towards communication and communion by exploring the four elements of matter.

These entities form and hold the vibrational frequency of the physical and spiritual manifestation of the universe. Through the energetic properties of colour, shape, and sound, Papu investigates the four elements in relation to the various physiological and hyper-dimensional processes that occur within the body (umzimba). As well as how the messengers of nature (izithunywa zendalo) are also communicating with us in this time and shifting the consciousness of planet Earth.

Yonela Makoba’s piece, ‘itea liyeza’, began as a family meeting, talking about the need to honour their late grandmother through the ritual of ‘itea’. ‘iTea’ is a ritual in the Xhosa culture done to honour those who have passed; in Makoba’s family, it is performed specifically to remember a matriarch; it is a call to the spirit of that mother, grandmother… to return home. The work explores this, asking how do you perform ‘itea’? The durational piece, that started with a collection of tea bags and resulted in a quilt, was a series of meditations dedicated to the act of remembering, weaving together the memories, and inviting family members into this space for collective remembering.

Fundiswa Douw is an architecture graduate, who grew up in the amaTshawe clan in Kariega, her design inquiry ‘IXhanti LakwaNtu: The Negotiation of iXhanti as a Symbol of Home’ looks at how to transform rural and urban spaces by creating urban spaces that facilitate integration and spatial agency and developing rural spaces with the intent of identity, skills development, and community upliftment. The project speculates how the worn material culture of South Africa can be a source of inspiration that informs an esoteric black, African architecture. Traditional attire has been a form of cultural expression and resistance and is deeply rooted in the African identity. Her research intends to appropriate worn material culture informing the identity of built material culture using new technologies and media. The project is a totemic structural installation that expresses iXhanti and its attached symbolisms resonating with the idea of home. This project focuses on cow and goat horns, highlighting their significance and meaning in traditional practice and spiritual connection. These are the main animals which are slaughtered during rites of passage ceremonies in the Xhosa culture. Each piece intends to extrapolate the technology and meaning of iXhanti and its connection to nature and spirit.

Wezile Harmans’ ‘Umdiyadiya’ series (video and installation) is inspired by collective memories and seeks to track historical events in a black household during South Africa’s turbulent recent past. Harmans remembers time spent in both welcoming and unwelcoming spaces, reflecting on experiences with family and friends. As he encounters kindness and softness within rough and uncomfortable spaces and situations, he’s also suggesting that there can be love in a space you might consider “broken” — and that, in some instances, beautiful memories were made there and deserve to be remembered.

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About Anelisa Mangcu

Anelisa Mangcu is a Curator and Interdisciplinary Art Practitioner based in Cape Town. She co-founded Victory of The Word NPC, an organisation that works on funding and investment strategies to stimulate and preserve art entities such as Lovedale Press. She has curated exhibitions for local and international art fairs which include booths for FNB Art Joburg, Investec Cape Town Art Fair, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair (New York), Latitudes Art Fair and AKAA Art and Design Fair.

In 2020, she founded Under the Aegis, a curatorial and art advisory company, that produces exhibitions and facilitates the relationship between artists, collectors and institutional collections from the African continent and the diaspora. She obtained an Honours in Curatorship from the Centre for Curating the Archive at Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town.

Her curatorial interest is in the exploration of intersectional African identity, challenging established paradigms and drawing connection between the historical and the contemporary, conceptually linking historical, traditional, modernist, and contemporary art in Africa, while holding space for a polyphony of ideas and positions.

About UJ Arts & Culture

UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes aligned to the UJ vision of an international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni, and the general public to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists drawn from the full spectrum of the arts.

In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA (www.uj.ac.za/fada) offers programmes in eight creative disciplines, in Art, Design and Architecture, as well as playing home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art & Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre. The Faculty has a strong focus on sustainability and relevance, and engages actively with the dynamism, creativity and diversity of Johannesburg in imagining new approaches to art and design education.