Sethembile Msezane tells the untold stories of women through becoming a living sculpture. Photos: Supplied
Sethembile Msezane tells the untold stories of women through becoming a living sculpture. Photos: Supplied
SETHEMBILE Msezane tells the untold stories of women through becoming a living sculpture.
SETHEMBILE Msezane tells the untold stories of women through becoming a living sculpture.
SETHEMBILE Msezane tells the untold stories of women through becoming a living sculpture.
SETHEMBILE Msezane tells the untold stories of women through becoming a living sculpture.
After realising that monuments in South Africa largely exclude the narratives of black women, Sethembile Msezane became a living sculpture to bring their stories to the forefront of society.

The Kwazulu-Natal-born artist will be taking part in the Investec Cape Town Art Fair at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from today until Sunday.

It is the largest such fair on the African continent and a record number of galleries are participating this year, increasing its importance as an annual milestone and attraction for South Africa. 

Fair director Laura Vincenti said: “This showing of some of the foremost art galleries in the world, illustrates South Africa’s ability to serve as a destination for international galleries seeking access to a new market of enthusiastic collectors, and insight into the region’s art scene, currently one of the fastest-growing in the world.”

Msezane, 27, completed a Master’s degree in fine art at UCT in 2017.

She began exhibiting artwork in 2011 during her undergraduate studies. “Back then, I hadn’t necessarily found my voice yet,” she said. 

Looking at statues in Cape Town, some of which towered over residents and cast long, sombre shadows, Msezane could not identify anything that reflected her own reality. After graduating, her perception of public spaces shifted. 

“I was no longer sheltered by campus life; I saw how Cape Town’s public spaces in the CBD were full of colonial and apartheid histories in the form of statues and monuments.”


Feeling that these spaces not only lacked black history, but more so the history of black women, Msezane decided to use performance art to tell the story of those who lacked representation. 

“I started speaking about this ‘erasure’ and how it can be damaging for a nation in healing. I also began to make visible the histories, and contribution, of black women’s work in our country through performance art, performing as a living sculpture.”

Equating erasure to an oppressive tool, Msezane said, “It has the capacity to damage a people of a nation. We cannot have young women believing that they do not matter because they cannot see representations of themselves within the societies they contribute to.”

Looking at commemorative practice through statues, monuments and even public holidays, Msezane felt it necessary to use her body as a vehicle to articulate their stories in public spaces. 

She did this, often alongside other statues or monuments, on public holidays between 2013 to 2014. In her performances, Msezane aimed to represent black women in a positive way. 



“Too many women anchor our societies (and) go unacknowledged. The struggle against apartheid would have never been won if it wasn’t for the work of women. 

"I’m not necessarily only talking about your prominent Struggle heroines such as the late Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, I’m also speaking about ordinary women who wake every day and make plans happen with limited resources,” she said.

She gave such performances outside Parliament, at taxi ranks, at historically significant sites such as Kliptown in Soweto, and even in Zimbabwe and Senegal.

Over time Msezane began to exhibit her photography, sculptures and installations in galleries and museums. 

“It has been challenging. I didn’t make money from my arts practice for about three years at first, and the arts industry had very limited space for black women in important institutions or platforms, which further spoke to the issues I had identified about representation in South Africa.”

Gradually, people started taking notice of Msezane’s work online, particularly when she “embodied the spirit of the soapstone ‘Bird from Great Zimbabwe’” at the removal of the statue of Rhodes from UCT. 

“From then on there was interest from both local and international audiences. Social media can be a tool for awareness if you use it sensitively.”

This will be the second time Msezane exhibits her work at the Cape Town Art Fair. Last year she was part of the fair’s Unframed section, where she presented a sculpture made out of hair and antique irons titled Avuleka Amazulu (2017-2018), which was positioned at the entrance to the fair. 

“The Cape Town Art Fair is another avenue where I can exhibit my work locally, as I am not currently represented by a gallery in South Africa... Tyburn Gallery, my UK-based gallery, will be showing some of the works I had in my recent exhibition Speaking Through Walls.”

The future looks exciting for Msezane, who is keeping details of her future projects under wraps. “I have something planned locally, but you’ll have to wait and see...”

Cape Times