Culture is not fixed. It ebbs and flows from one generation to the next. Our ancestors and elders bequeath to us gifts of knowledge and embodied knowing. Yet sometimes we forget. When the rituals that contain and connect us are lost we become untethered from our communities and unable to contain the depth of wisdom acquired before us.
Over the last year, the pandemic has cast a long shadow over our lives, but while the national lockdown saw an overall decline in crime, acts of Gender Based Violence spiked dramatically. According to Amnesty International, in just the first week of lockdown, 2 300 calls for help were made to the South African Police Service. Only three months later, a tragic tally of twenty-one women (and children) had been killed by their intimate partners. Although necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the lockdown has created a context in which many women are trapped with no way to escape the violent hands of their abusers.
Sifiso Samuel Gumede, Education not police, 2017. Linocut
A day when bullets rained down, clouds of noxious gas infiltrated airways and peaceful protests were met with violence, the course of our nation’s history was irrevocably changed. On June 16th we honour the sacrifice young people made in the fight for freedom. The Soweto Uprising that started in 1976 spread like wildfire across apartheid South Africa. The spark that lit the proverbial match was the enforcement of Afrikaans alongside English as the medium of instruction across schools. Students objected and with few other means to voice their dissatisfaction, they planned a protest action.
Over the last year, every aspect of our lives has changed. On the 27th of March 2020, a nationwide lockdown began as an attempt to curb the rising cases of COVID-19 infections in South Africa. What started as a three-week hard lockdown, has unfolded into months and months of uncertainty and isolation.
In my initial encounter with the 2019 acquisitions of the Artbank South Africa, I found myself scanning the works, searching for a singular voice – a central concern within the collection. Instead, what answered my call for clarity was a cacophony. Some subtle whispers, others murmurings, desperate pleas and even in some instances – joyful exclamation.