Art and Censorship

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Monday, 17 October 2011

Art and Censorship

Published by the government of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Sithabile Uses Artistic Licence to Lie
Jonathan Mbiriyamveka

20 July 2009

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Algiers — An installation titled “Footsteps of Change” is threatening to stifle Zimbabwe’s rebranding efforts by Government as it seeks to down play the several reforms achieved so far by the inclusive Government.
The controversial installation by Sithabile Mlotshwa which is on display at the Pavillion A SAFEX gallery as part of the ongoing second edition of the Pan African Festival of Algiers does not only sow seeds of hate, but also shows how much Sithabile is out of sync with reality.
She used her artistic licence to lie to the whole world about the situation at home at a time when Zimbabweans are re-engaging the international community to try and rebuild the economy.
For those who have been in touch with the real Zimbabwean situation they would be the first to question the relevancy of such an installation when it is clear that the piece has long passed its sell-by date.
The inclusive Government, the turnaround of the economy and the constitutional reforms are not reflected in the installation.

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Unlike other outstanding pieces exhibited by Zimbabwean artists who include Sasa Masimba, that have attracted scores of art suitors for taking pride in the motherland, “Footsteps of Change” raises a lot of questions whether or not the artists come from the same country.
Sithabile deliberately chose to take us back to the colonial era according to her it was the period between 1950 and 1975 and in quotes she wrote Her Majesty.
Then for the period 1980 to 1995 she puts in quotes His Excellency. But the contrast on the installation is that for the period under her majesty the white footsteps were moving forward perhaps up on the ladder of progress and then for the period under his Excellency it was the black footsteps which were going up while the white footsteps were going down.Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 16.05.36
But below the footsteps is where you find the most controversial part. Zimbabwe is portrayed as an ailing pregnant woman.
Her eyes sunken, frail and is expecting to give birth. She is lying on the floor with her bulging belly all covered up by the colourful Zimbabwean flag while latex gloves are spread all over her face.
Her depleted face could be the result of her ill-health as she ponders about her future as well as that of her baby. It is almost obvious that she is not sure what the future holds but again she has to give birth when the time comes.
The impression that one gets is perhaps that Zimbabwe’s inclusive government is on the brink of collapse as somewhere below the pregnant woman is an egg like mortar inscribed with the words ‘Birth of baby fragile’.
But the worst about the installation is a mixed media painting showing a wounded white man’s hand and a black man’s wounded foot.
The white man’s hand is bleeding and the drops of blood are going straight into the wound of the black foot.

Sithabile Mlotshwa title - Footsteps of change (2)

On the canvas there is an inscription that says: ‘Simunye kuzekubenini?’
Sithabile has been living in the Netherlands for the past five or so years. Her installation has been showing throughout Europe although back home little is known about her works.
Even the exhibition catalogue says little about her background and she claims to be a ‘daughter of the soil’.
Yes, at the end of the day we all have to survive. But earning a living through lies is off the line.
Zimbabwean art and in particular, Shona sculpture is revered throughout the world for its depth, form and content but it is all the more startling to see artists like Sithabile feeding off lies.
The exhibition has since raised the ire of Lazarus Dokora, the Deputy Minister of Education, Sport, Art and Culture who is also the head of the Zimbabwean delegation.
Dokora said he sought a meeting with the Algerian Minister of Culture to find out just how the installation made it the festival with their consent.

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“‘As far as we know the installation did not come through us. We are deeply concerned about the content of the installation in fact, we are worried how the installation found its way here,”‘ he said.
Efforts to get comments from Sithabile were fruitless as she had already left Algeria just before the official opening of the exhibition while the curator was said to be out of town.
The second Panaf is being under the theme ‘African Cultural Renaissance’ aimed at reinforcing the spirit of friendship and unity among African people as endorsed by the African Union.
Zimbabwe is among the 53 African countries taking part with a good representation in the various art disciplines such as visuals, theatre, dance, music and film.

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About Footsteps of Change:

“Footsteps of change” is an installation that looks at the history of Zimbabwe from 1910 the year my grandmother was born to date. Occupied by the realization that there is a lack of historical context, regarding where we come from and what makes us who we are, I decided to go back in time to the stories my grandmother passed on to me.

This installation therefore begins with the memory of my grandmother, Ms. Sifikalomuthi Betsy Nkomo who passed away in 2007.

Footsteps of Change is a project with a series of works that consists of 60 pieces developing in different stages. The installation is a result of the research I am doing on my identity, history and cultural heritage. It began with my name; “Sithabile Mlotshwa Mgidi Makhawulane Ngwalazindeni Mazibuko Ngwalongwalo Phakathi”.

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Remembering the stories my grandmother used to tell me, I began to question the history of names, the stories hidden in them and the impact changing ones name had on their history. Coming from an Oral culture which passed on its history through names, my search led me to a realization that a big part of my culture, of where I come from, who I am and the changes that have got me to this point are hidden and getting forgotten. I therefore began this journey in search of the history hidden in names, names that were changed and or not changed from 1910 to date. This piece therefore is a reflection of my identity as a Zimbabwean and questions who I am, what Zimbabwe is as a country, where we come from and where we are going.

In this work I try to reflect our past so that as we go forward we do not forget where we come from. Through this, I try to question how we can learn from our past, so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

Besides our history we are at a process of change, in this change, I have chosen to reflect on the future and how our past and the decisions made in the present can affect in a positive or negative way our future. The 6 eggs and the pregnant woman lying on the ground reflect the birth of hope and a future filled with promise but at the same time highlights how fragile the situation is. The heads watching over the body and the eggs symbolise the time that has passed, the history and the struggles. While they watch from a distance they are still present but in memory to remind those taking the footsteps of change they need not to forget but to instead take great care in making these steps.

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The piece with his Excellency and her Majesty is divided into two parts; her Majesty’s footsteps of change which are in colour are before 1920 – 1950 and from 1950 to 1975. They are then continued to the future where they become invisible. The Footsteps of change from his Excellency are also in colour from 1980-1995 and from 1995 to 2005. They too continue to the future and become invisible. The invisible footsteps neither belong to her Majesty nor to his Excellency’s footsteps of change, they are the footsteps from now to the future and are therefore not visible because these are footsteps that still need to be made.

The mixed media painting showing a wounded white man’s hand and a black man’s foot is a reflection of the pain both sides feel. This piece is meant to reflect that what makes Zimbabwe is not black or white but that all Zimbabweans are equally responsible for making / breaking what Zimbabwe is or can be. The wounded hand is not bleeding neither is the foot. They however are both wounded and their wounds are not healing but connected in pain and in that pain connected to their country.

Footsteps of change installation detail 2 by Sithabile Mlotshwa 2

This is why there is an inscription “Simunye kozekubenini”? Which in Ndebele means “we are one for how long will this go on”? This is among other inscriptions that say Inxeba lendoda kalihlekwa. This mixed media painting is the starting part of the installation and is meant to remind the viewers of the need not to forget how hard and painful the footsteps of the past have been and how hopeful but fragile the situation in present Zimbabwe is.

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I used the gloves around the face to emphasise the need to take great care in making these steps so that the ones about to be born can have a secure future. The artwork reflects frailty because the situation at the moment is fragile. This piece however is about hope and how fragile but promising the future is. The gloves symbolise fragility and a need to take cautious steps in preserving now for the future generations

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Sithabile Mlotshwa

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