Buhlebezwe Siwani’s artistic practice focuses on black women, their place and role in the cultural tradition of African spirituality and religious rituals through which beliefs are performed. The presence of the black female body in her performances brings into play a subjectivity committed to repossessing and refocusing attention on historically violated and silenced, if not repressed and marginalized, black women – seers, prophets and healers belonging to a long tradition.
At once, Siwani’s work is a subtle critique and an investigation into the lingering impact of western Christianity and colonization of South Africa, and yet a staging of black women’s agency in independent African churches and religious gatherings that operate outside conventional western churches in South Africa.
In the photographic work Sinje ngamaJuba (2018), Siwani herself plays out the visual imagery of the Apostolic faith kwa Mai Mai. This imagery is characteristic of indigenous spirituals whose sacred rituals are indicative of African cultural forms that are pivotal to the thematic discourse underpinning Siwani’s work. Made possible with the generous support of Smokestack.
In Untitled (2017), Buhlebezwe Siwani re-interprets the demonization of African religious and spiritual beliefs, which have always been considered dark, linked to macabre animism and voodoo practices by the western world. In this installation, Siwani pokes fun at the biases that originate from ignorance, and a limited and vilified experience of black spirituality, as she attempts to deconstruct these flawed views.
Through the use of objects and tools charged with symbolic power, in conjunction with the execution of particular actions or gestures, traces of the ritual are preserved and still convey spiritual energies. The wool dolls, handmade by Siwani, are an ironic evocation of voodoo rituals, emptied of external referents and targets, conveying only the repetitive (and demystifying) gesture of the person who crafted them.
Ngozi: We Might Listen for the Shimmerings is organized by Chiedza Pasipanodya, as a part of the 2022 Curatorial Fellowship program, made possible by the generous support of TD Bank Group through the TD Ready Commitment, and with support from the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council. Ngozi features the work of Anne Zanele Mutema, Buhlebezwe Siwani, and Timothy Yanick Hunter.
Detailed Audio Description of Buhlebezwe’s work “Sinje ngamaJuba”:
Buhlebezwe Siwani (born in 1987, Johannesburg, South Africa; lives and works in Cape Town and Amsterdam) works with performance, photography, sculpture, and installation. Buhlebezwe’s work interrogates the patriarchal framing of the Black female body and the Black female experience within the South African context. As an initiated Sangoma, a spiritual healer that works within the space of the dead and the living, Buhlebezwe focuses her artistic practice on rituality and the relationship between Christianity and African spirituality. Her own body is central to her work, which operates in multiple registers as subject, object, form, medium, material, language, and site.
Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto
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Arsenal Contemporary Art Toronto
Parking: Limited street
TTC: Near Lansdowne station; Dundas West station; 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton streetcars
Other Transit: Steps from GO Transit/UP Express Bloor station