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See apartheid through the eyes of artists in ‘Yakhal’ Inkomo’ exhibition

Clarke Peter's Back Street 1950 Drawing. Piture: Gillian Fleischmann

Clarke Peter's Back Street 1950 Drawing. Piture: Gillian Fleischmann

Published Apr 10, 2022

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For many of our parents, uncles and grandparents, Wednesday, April 27, 1994, marked the new era for the nation that was devastated by the monster called apartheid, or so they hoped.

Many black people woke up to a new dawn as they took to the polls for the very first time to cast their votes for “a better South Africa”.

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Three decades later, black creatives from across South Africa gather at the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria to share with the world their ideas, thoughts and experiences about apartheid, using the powerful medium of art.

The “Yakhal’ Inkomo” exhibition is the first curatorial iteration from the Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa collection, currently showcasing Mzansi’s finest artworks exclusively by black creatives.

The Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa collection features pieces by some of the most important artists working in South Africa between 1960 and 1990.

The works were collected between 2017 and 2019 by renowned artist and curator Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa. This exhibition is an educative assemblage of more than 100 classical 20th-century artworks produced by black artists in South Africa.

Curated by Tumelo Mosaka along with Sipho Mndanda and Phumzile Nombuso Twala, Yakhal’ Inkomo aims to incite, inspire and sustain new engagement with various creative forms that are at the heart of articulating a raw and truthful experience of apartheid.

“These works look at and critique the reflections of trained and untrained artists, working in varied media.

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“Democracy brought transformation into the country and we see a number of black young artists coming out and doing exciting works. This exhibition could be seen as a mirror of the past and the present, how far we've come.

“The exhibition comes at a crucial time in our democracy and we can review and reflect on several milestones or failures to have made meaningful strides in the arts.”

Yakhal’ Inkomo translates as “bellowing bull” and is borrowed from saxophonist and composer Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s 1968 jazz masterpiece of the same name.

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In the song, the “bull” is crying to be rescued from slaughter and represents black people’s victimhood under apartheid.

Baholo, Keresemose Richard's Impilo engcono kithi sonke (A better Life for All) 1995. Picture: Gillian Fleischmann

“Having adopted the 'Yakhali'nkomo' song, as a metaphor for the awakening of black people's cry against the brutality of apartheid, we felt the need to highlight ’lived experiences of all artists' reaction to the atrocities meted out to black bodies over the four decades, covered by the exhibition,” explains Mosaka.

“We did not want to chronicle the periods covered but to contrast victimhood with the triumph of the human spirit.”

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Inspired by Dhlomo-Mautloa’s passion and activism in the arts and for black artists, Mosaka sought to understand what this specific period meant for Dhlomo and black artists in general, across all genres.

Xaba, Nhlanhla’s Ancestral Objects. Picture: Gillian Fleischmann

“I started asking what was at risk and who the art was for,” says Mosaka.

“What were the conversations happening among them as creative beings? There are shifts and changes depending on the decade, and when one looks at the work, even though there are familiar tropes, such as ‘township art’, there are nuances that open doors, and questions that exist and have not been dealt with.”

Mosaka drew on the metaphor of a bull to characterise this time and thematic content.

The bull is steeped in symbolism in Africa; it embodies strength, hope, material wealth, resilience and spiritual connection.

Pemba Black. Picture: Gillian Fleischmann

Drawing from both the collection and other artistic expressions from the same period, Mosaka sought out conceptual linkages that address how physical and imagined realities offered opportunities for artists to explore their subjective positions under apartheid.

Historical moments including the 1960 Sharpeville massacre and the 1976 Soweto uprising will be highlighted to demonstrate the creative and sensory experiences that were produced in response to these traumatic events.

“Besides the Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa Collection, I have added poetry, books of important literature, theatre, music, record covers, films and political posters, that give the visitor a holistic experience of what artists across genres did, in response to apartheid.

“The range of material in this show brings nostalgia to some people who lived during these periods. I wanted to inspire a dialogue between the young and old.

“Africans are notorious for transmitting knowledge through storytelling and also to allow researchers to venture into these less travelled specs to unearth, for themselves, new conversations and knowledge.

“For a very long time, black people have been spoken for by white scholars. This show allows black artists, writers and curators the opportunity to tell their stories unhindered.

“Mme Bongi, opened our eyes to material that I would not have been able to see as it never reached gallery and academic discourses. Now, I have had the pleasure to see and engage with the works, a privilege, I will cherish for years to come.

Maqhubela, Louis Khehla’s Exiled King. Picture: Gillian Fleischmann

“As a renowned artist, curator and writer, it was prudent that she is chosen to undertake this task. Then, later the collection was named after her (Bongi Dhlomo-Mautloa Collection), in honour of the outstanding work, she did.”

​The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive educational and public engagement programme at Javett-UP, online and at various locations around Gauteng.

It will feature film screenings, conversations, workshops and performances.

The exhibition runs until 15 January 2023.

For more information on the exhibition visit www.javettup.art.

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