Detail of Sam Nhlengethwa, Then take the first solo, 2012. Seven colour lithograph, 50 x 30cm. Edition size: 35.

THE SONIC IS MY OXYGEN: Editorial

Jazz, Opera, Mbaqanga, Afro-pop, spinning vinyls and sonic installations feature heavily in this issue. Exploring how the ‘sonic’ breathes life into the creative process, and supplements the output of our diverse range of artists, musicians and curators featured in these pages, has been quite enlightening. The artworld may often be imagined primarily as a geographical mapping of [accredited] spaces where the [work] is presented on walls and in enclosed and silent spaces – but, what consideration is given to their oral, auditory and sonic accompaniments? For practitioners considering the sonic, is as much part of the making of their [work] as the works themselves.

Detail of Sam Nhlengethwa, Then take the first solo, 2012. Seven colour lithograph, 50 x 30cm. Edition size: 35.Sam Nhlengethwa, Then take the first solo, 2012. Seven colour lithograph, 50 x 30cm. Edition size: 35. Courtesy of Wits Art Museum.

For the piece Jazz Is My Oxygen, we sat down with artist Sam Nhlengethwa at his home in Benoni, where the background sounds of jazz vinyls played host to our visit. The collaged works of Nhlengethwa are infused with a cacophony of colour and movement where the images often fight to stay within the bounds of the work itself. Here the influence of Nhlengethwa’s greatest love, jazz, is abundantly evident both in the subject matter, and his direct references to his life-long passion, about which he claims, “Jazz is my Oxygen.”

The much-anticipated duo of exhibitions by William Kentridge, ‘Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings to Work’ at Zeitz MOCAA and ‘Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture’, at the Norval Foundation, are reviewed in these pages by Jane Taylor. On entering Zeitz MOCAA one encounters Almost Don’t Tremble, a site-specific installation where 4 oversized megaphones – an image which has become synonymous with Kentridge’s oeuvre – surround the atrium. The instrument, often associated as a device of political propaganda now exaggerates and amplifies the musical compositions of Neo Muyanga, Kyle Shepherd, Waldo Alexander, Nhlanhla Mahlangu and Philip Miller, the latter of course well known for his long-standing collaboration with Kentridge.

Detail of installation of O Sentimental Machine, 2015, at Zeitz MOCAA. © Brendon Bell-Roberts & ART AFRICADetail of the installation of O Sentimental Machine, 2015, at Zeitz MOCAA. © Brendon Bell-Roberts & ART AFRICA.

Whereas jazz is synonymous with its use of polyrhythms, Kentridge’s ‘Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings to Work’ at Zeitz MOCAA has a rhythm all of its own where the viewer is almost lead through the maze of exhibition spaces – of simultaneously screening film projections – by the ‘operatic and auditory resonance’ created by the multiple sonic episodes that help to form this four-decade-long retrospective.

In contrast, ‘Why Should I Hesitate: Sculpture’ at the Norval Foundation, is a much quieter and more contemplative journey into the history of Kentridge’s engagement with three-dimensional form – looking at his sculptural works produced over the last two decades. This is not to say that the auditory and sonic are confined to the Zeitz MOCAA exhibition alone, on the contrary experiencing Mechanical drum set from Refuse The Hour – for the first time – can be a shock to the system as the frenetic drum and percussion instruments unexpectedly explode into life.

Johnny in true Zulu troubadour tradition. © Patrick de MervelecJohnny in true Zulu troubadour tradition. © Patrick de Mervelec

Traditional African music too, is celebrated for its complex polyrhythms, and in the music of Johnny Clegg the polyrhythm can be seen as a metaphor for his life and a way in which his music brought people of diverse backgrounds together in his desire to see South Africa – and the world – become a more equitable space for all. The lyrics to one of Clegg’s most iconic songs is the title of our piece Osiyeza/The Crossing by John Foster-Pedley.  Foster-Pedley pays homage to the late artist and anthropologist who embedded himself into Zulu warrior culture where he learned the sounds, music and dances of its people – he would go on to use these skills to inspire an entire nation when it needed it most. Johnny Clegg’s empathy and sonic impact will surely be felt for generations to come.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Artistic Director of the 12th Rencontres de Bamako, jokingly [or not] commented in a recent social media post:

“…In this new series’ DIARY OF AN ORDINARY ADDICT’, i will take upon the advice that the beginning of the healing journey is with recognition that one needs help. And i will recognise by sharing this addiction on social media. It will be irregular and depending on time and how i feel. But as for now, i will like to introduce myself to you… Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and I am a record (and books and art and some other pleasures) addict.”

Luckily, it is this addiction which has given rise to the curatorial direction for this year’s edition where his positioning text cites Sun Ra’s, Linear notes to Sun Song, 1957:

“…You must learn to listen, because by listening you will learn to see with your mind’s eye.

You see, music paints pictures that only the mind’s eye can see.

Open your ears so that you can see with the eye of the mind.”

With Ndikung at the helm of the upcoming event in Mali, which marks 25 years since its inauguration in 1994, is bound to be an exciting prospect.

Nelly Guambe, Winner of the inaugural edition of the Emerging Painting Invitational Prize 2019. Courtesy of EAAGA.Nelly Guambe, Winner of the inaugural edition of the Emerging Painting Invitational Prize 2019. Courtesy of EAAGA.

In this issue, we also review the inaugural Emerging Painting Invitational (EPI) award, hosted by First Floor Gallery Harare, Zimababwe. As a founding partner, ART AFRICA was there to support this much-needed platform – which enjoyed a robust attendance of international guests – that seeks to develop opportunities for emerging painters from the continent. A showcase of EPI will be on view at the inaugural LATITUDES Art Fair in Johannesburg this September alongside the newly renamed FNB Art Joburg and UNDERLINE, an exhibition platform for independent curators.

We hope that this hybrid of features allows you to take a fresh view on the sounds encountered, music listened to and reverberations felt as you navigate your visual journeys further over the next quarter.

May the sonic be with you now and always!

    Suzette and Brendon Bell-Roberts