In many cultures in Africa, as well as other parts of the world, the connection between life and the land has an important place. One ritual concerns the burial of the placenta at the foot of a fruit tree in the garden of the newborn’s home by a parent or a grandparent. The hole is dug in a humid place and kept secret to avoid evil eyes. ‘Where your placenta is buried, you will come back’—the African proverb recalls humanity's roots in the earth, ancestors and home. The burial of the placenta and the umbilical cord is a way also to validate property rights, such that land cannot be sold or given to a third party, and people's rights over the land are often only usufruct.
The two works at sonsbeek, Mnguni and Ibutho, evoke the question of forced or voluntary displacement of human beings and the expropriation of lands endured in former colonies respectively. These works look at methods of healing injuries from rootedness and their psychological and spiritual effects on those who migrate or are forced to do so. How do you redefine the concept of home when you find yourself in a new land? How do you connect and exist in unknown spaces? How do you ensure rootedness in a new land?
Mnguni is the first photograph in a series of three images taken by Buhlebezwe Siwani after settling in the Netherlands, having come from South Africa. As always in her work, the images are based on a performative act. The foreign country reveals a familiar landscape and becomes the ideal setting for the ritual performed, in which, using a candle or an imphepho, Siwani calls on the ancestors to help her in this transition to reunite in the new land. The artist, dressed in various significant costumes from her spiritual and cultural sphere, invites the ancients to take their place on a bench in an uninhabited field. Siwani performs between the realms of the living and the dead—embodying the role of a Sangoma, a traditional spiritual healer from South Africa—in front of the camera and creates an image that encloses the practice and displaces it into an aura of no- time and no-space. Mnguni lies between the spatial and existential, reflecting on memory, gesture and ritual in connecting present and past.
Ibutho—named after the isiZulu term for an army regiment, the strongest segment—is composed of red, white, blue, green and yellow yarn. The colours are used differently and in various combinations within Southern African Zion and Apostle churches, where belts are made out of the wool and generally worn by women and priests who draw on ancestral spirits. The warriors are women who birth nations. By bringing these colours and strands together, the belt is a metaphor about gathering that lends itself to the burial of the placenta in the place of your ancestors or home so that your spirit can always find its way home.
Buhlebezwe Siwani (1987, Johannesburg) lives and works in Amsterdam and Cape Town. Due to her nomadic nature upbringing, she has also lived in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal. Siwani works predominantly in performance and installation, sometimes including photographic stills and videos that she uses as stand-ins for her body when she is physically absent from the space. Siwani completed her BFA (Hons) at the Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg in 2011 and her MFA at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town in 2015. She has exhibited at the Michaelis Galleries, Cape Town; APEX Art, New York; Commune 1, Cape Town; Stevenson, Cape Town; and Museum Africa, Johannesburg. She is represented in multiple private and institutional collections around the world.
Both works are loaned by the artist and Galeria Madragoa, Lisbon.
This work is presented in collaboration with Museum Arnhem.