The art of getting up and carrying on



The art of getting up and carrying on

Buhlebezwe Siwani's work highlights the day-to-day lives of black women

Shanthini Naidoo

An artist is channeling spirituality, black anger and society’s assault on women in an upcoming exhibition at the Cape Town Art Fair. 
Curated by Nontobeko Ntombela, Buhlebezwe Siwani is a part of an exhibition dedicated to women artists.A naked black woman stands in an enamel dish of Sunlight soap. Buhlebezwe Siwani’s images are representative of a woman’s vulnerability and the societal pressure for purity, she says. The soap remains in several of her multi-disciplinary works, which looks into religious practices and the complex links between African spirituality and Christianity.“Every piece of work I have made is provocative, [but] it rests solely on you to decide what is provocative or not.
“Anyone who starts talking about women’s bodies, especially if they are a woman, is thought of as a stirrer, disrupting. My only aim is to question.”
Her foray into the art world began as a child, visiting her mother’s place of work.
“My mother was a journalist at some point in her career and I would use the spare paper from her office, or unused paper to doodle. My family, especially my mother and grandmother, made sure I was creatively active, whether it was sending me to ballet class or digging out clay for me to play with. Not forgetting some of my father’s girlfriends ... one would indulge me and buy me sketch pads.”Siwani has exhibited in Cape Town, New York and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. She was one of the founding members of the influential performance collective iQhiya, which is described as “a grass-roots response to the lack of exhibition opportunity and under-representation of black female artists in the South African art world”.
Getting to grips with such inequality is the reason for pursuing her art.
“There are only so many ways that your soul may be mutilated and discarded but black people wake up every day and soldier on,” she says.
“Black people inspire me; they wake up every day even though the odds are stacked against them. They manage to get by with the bare minimum, they manage to live knowing that whether they are rich or poor they all receive the same look.”
As a student, she also qualified as a sangoma, which she says is a part of her being.“That was a very important period in my life. My best friend becoming a mother. Realising how disillusioned the celebrity of the art world can make you because it is so fickle. These are the many truths that I have had to contend with during my short lifetime,” she says.
What comes next could be a sculpture, a video, photography or sketch works.
“At this point in time I am stretching myself in a way I have never done before. It is a very ambitious project, something I deeply passionate about. I am not sure if this is where is me pushing as much as I can but I am entirely sure that it is the beginning.”
The Cape Town Art Fair is on from February 16 to18 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre

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