Abstract work in progress. Courtesy of Bongo Mei

‘Africa Mask 54: iiNtloko zooBawo (Heads of the Ancestors)’ by Bongo Mei

‘Africa Mask 54: iiNtloko zooBawo (Heads of the Ancestors)’ is a product of CHIP_Curatorial Heritage Interpretation Program, it is a program I developed over an 8-year research process, focused on the digitisation of indigenous information and digital transformation of African traditional art processes. ‘Africa Mask 54: iiNtloko zooBawo (Heads of the Ancestors)’ is a participatory project where the viewer will be guided through the program to curate/arrange the artworks according to their interpretation of the concept and object, encouraging a cultural perceptual shift in the information age.

CHIP_Curatorial Heritage Interpretation Program

Concept and Object is an indigenous creation method, materialized using perception which alternatively combines the two entities. The concept or theory is organized information for a particular purpose and that is for the creation of an object or product or artwork. Information is collated and compiled within a certain environment such as that of a theme, which is meant to direct the process of collecting the information.

The program will serve as a guideline for both emerging and established creatives, with an aspiration of contextualizing indigenous information into the 21st century, these guidelines will vary from creatives who want to either work with multi-disciplinary exhibitions or experiment with one discipline working with multiple sections of a particular theme. For instance, interpreting the image of a heritage figure while at the same time looking at the meaning of his/her clan name and praises and/or the ethnic mythology attached to that, the program will thus be the guideline on how to sensitively represent these sections, with clarity and progressive manipulation.

‘Africa Mask 54: iiNtloko zooBawo (Heads of the Ancestors)’

iiNtloko zooBawo is taken from an African dialect, Xhosa, which is an indigenous expression uttered when reflecting on previous experiences and verdicts. The exhibition is focused on the interpretation of African indigenous knowledge through contemporary Art, following guidelines researched by the curator Bongo Mei for 8 years. Where he developed a program both public and educational, titled CHIP_Curatorial Heritage Interpretation Program, with a focus on properly contextualizing indigenous intelligence into the information age. The primary objective of the program is to create contemporary African Archives, through the experimentation and exploration of New Media.

Digital Transformation and the Digitization of Indigenous Intelligence

‘Africa Mask 54: iiNtloko zooBawo (Heads of the Ancestors)’ will showcase 54 different artworks in the same space, physically(traditional display), immersive virtual reality, and online. The 54 heads are representative of consanguinity and the states that make up the African continent, to illustrate the concept of consanguinity only one head will be representative of all the diverse ethnicities born from one ancestor, and the head will be that of the artist, Bongo Mei. The heads will be placed in different abstract environments, abstraction of environments signifies ethnic diversity, the intention of their exhibition would be to persuade a very deep objective observation from the viewer, with regards to the division of Africa as a collective communal state.

All 54 heads will have a different abstract environment created through Sound and Colour, where they will introduce themselves in 54 different ethnic languages, significant of each African state/region. The colour of the heads will be porcelain white, traditionally made with porcelain and virtually/digitally developed in the same manner, protruding a sense of instant fragility.

Duality of Perception expressed through Abstract Visual Environments

Perception is influenced by background, the background subjectifies the concept of perception. Abstract Art allows for a more clear multiplicity of perceptions, taking for instance the Xhosa idiom, “Ziphuma Hlathi Linye kodwa azikhali ngokufana-yo”, the direct translation is ” They come from the same jungle but differ in wails or they wail differently”, a universal metaphor about how animals survive in the jungle. One perception is of the observer who is not part of the jungle and another is of those subjectified by the jungle. Using the jungle as an allegory for a perception influenced by background, we shall therefore regard the animals of the jungle as the real practitioners and therefore the subject being studied by the outside observer…

Bringing us to the method of understanding influenced by background, the subject or practitioner has the most accurate interpretation and anything else is a pure fairytale. What is called in Xhosa “uNomaThotholo” according to the continental different dialects of the language may mean different things or be referenced diversely, but one common reference is that they are information broadcasters, in a contemporary sense, such as journalists and artists, those most concerned with the purpose of image-making. Abstract Art, therefore, allows a more universal approach not separated by external observation but rather subjective interpretation.

Indigenous Intelligence Interpreted through Abstract Art

The project has chosen three major facets of indigenous knowledge as a reference for creating contemporary archives, which are; clan names(ethnic lineage), clan praises (characterization of the hereditary persona), and mythology (universal metaphors). Clan names from the Xhosa people like Langa Libalele (Bright Sun), Mfene (Ape), are almost universal metaphors of a type of character, from the Greek to the Egyptian, remaining in context we should focus on Egypt. Amen is the Egyptian God of the Sun, and Thoth, an ape, is the God of intelligence and writing, who also is a representative of the Sun God, who are both referred to as ancestors and clan names in other African dialects. As mentioned above Langa Libalele and Mfene are also Xhosa clan names as they are with other ethnic groups, but pronounced differently, clan names and praises can sometimes have the same title, but the praises are more descriptive of the character of the heritage figure, god or ancestor. Heritage figures are names of foreparents, whether recognized or not, clan praises are descriptive of their characters, and the mythology attached to them euphemistically expresses advisory metaphors.

Looking above at the definition of perception influenced by background, and the allegory of the jungle, it, therefore, becomes an abstract idea to fathom consanguinity from a singular view, but rather, it is more engaging to explore perception from a more broad influence such as that of abstraction, where there is no one particular wail that is more appropriate than the other, but it is accepted that every wail is worth exploring, accepting and understanding as well as the other.

Conclusion

The exhibition strives for a global reach, artistically, communally, and commercially, with the hope of acquiring a high standard transitional etiquette from traditional to contemporary/digital. While continuing to create contemporary African archives and artworks.

The exhibition will be both virtual and physical at Jellicoe Avenue, Melrose, JHB, November 2021, CHIP will host ‘The Global Virtual Art’ exhibition, February 2022, consisting of international participation. A public experiment exploring diverse perceptual dynamics of a complex global view.

Bongo Mei is an independent researcher, curator and artist. He graduated from Nelson Mandela University, Gqeberha, South Africa, in 2011. While still at University he founded MAD (Music Art Design) SCHOOL SOCIETY, endorsed by Laduma Ngxokolo of MAXHOSA.AFRICA. In 2010 he founded an artists’ collective known as “The Basement Project”, where he started curating and facilitating workshops independently in alternative spaces, and public institutions; Alliance Francaise, Nelson Mandela Metro Museum, Nelson Mandela University, The Irie, New York Cup, etc. It is after his 3 years (2013) of intense curation and workshop facilitation that he was called to the ICI (Independent Curators International), based in New York, looking at curating in an African Context.

FEATURED IMAGE: Abstract work in progress. Courtesy of Bongo Mei