The photographer MS. THINA ZIBI took some time out to share with us the inspiration behind her solo show currently on display at the Agog Gallery in Johannesburg, exploring the ancestral realm, ritual and understanding. In her own words…
Andindedwa is Xhosa term meaning I am not alone, and in this particular context it acknowledges the spiritual realm that is among us. This photo series aims to relook the idea of African spirituality and reconsiders it as a viable practice for understanding where and how we are embedded in this world. In some way, I’m confronting the existence of this other world, parallel or protruding into, ours. My confrontation is coloured with my own surprise and confusion at the discovery of this world as I examine, and perhaps try to reclaim, a spiritual identity and practice that is lost with many contemporary Africans.
The images carry visual cues from the experience of ukuhlanjwa (spiritual cleansing), a practice one is usually asked to do by their traditional healer involving the slaughtering of chickens in order to relieve themselves from malicious energy or to appease the ancestors. The portraits taken in a modern bath, display naked female figures wearing chicken body parts, composing a stylised, metaphorical rendition of ancestral appeasement.
My personal experience of this “other world” was introduced by female figures in my life, my grandmother, my female spiritual healer and friends who have shared their journey with me, who also happen to be women. The female body then, exuding strength yet still delicate, became the perfect vessel to tell the story, my story, visually.
The photo series was taken on two separate days. I wanted to create a story that was not too predictable and vulgar. We know of ancestors and their impact in our lives but we don’t share enough of that particular impact and the influence it brings to an individual’s life. It was important for me to share those feelings, sensations and discomforts. The images are more about the feeling, comfort and uneasiness as well as the stages one can be in when becoming aligned with their guides.
Each image carried a “stage” or “feeling” such as Realisations, Relief and Acceptance among many. The series takes the viewer through my journey and what I felt. There is a rawness that I wanted to maintain without using the shock factor. The skin was subtly retouched, as I wanted to play on the real and unreal aspect of the topic and the background cold and clinical, which was a way of fighting the idea that ancestral association is “dark” or being referred to as izinto ezimdaka. The subjects are searching – at times painfully, at others defiantly and admirably, even desperately – for relief and fulfilment. My aim was also to illustrate a rebirth or awakening, pertaining to a personal spiritual and cultural rediscovery and reconnection.
Just after I completed the images I was introduced to art practitioner and theatre director, Tshego. I shared the work and for some reason it resonated with her. We then decided to collaborate on the exhibition. Her involvement added an incredible dynamic to the narrative bringing to life the stages and journey the images demonstrated. Many people see ancestral acknowledgement as a taboo practice that is not parallel to Christianity. The narrative in this exhibition is fighting that belief. Acknowledging your ancestors has brought light and a better understanding of self for many individuals. The installation Tshego has incorporated brings warmth, comfort, cleanliness as well as an ancestral and sanctified space. Tshego used white-lit candles, flowing white fabric and sound installation of a woman singing popular African hymns that an average individual can relate to. The images focus a lot on the stages I went through when I understanding my relationship with my ancestor, these are further translates by a performance by Ayanda Seoka, directed by Tshego, bringing these stages through life by taking the viewer through a journey throughout the exhibition.
“Many people see ancestral acknowledgement as a taboo practice that is not parallel to Christianity. The narrative in this exhibition is fighting that belief. Acknowledging your ancestors has brought light and a better understanding of self for many individuals.”
I don’t believe that the nudity is purely about sexualising or objectifying the body, in this instance the female body. For me the body exists way beyond this. Our bodies carry our whole being, mind and spirit. It allows us to feel, navigate, exist and function. For me that is the starting point of the body. And in this particular series that is its function. In whichever time we live in, the body will exist in different contexts, but it will always remain the body, in its basic function, the carrier of energy existing among other energies.
I can appreciate the notion and idea behind #blackgirlmagic and its movement to recognize black girls and women in mainstream media and society where black females are misrepresented. However I’m constantly been inspired by excellence from all spheres, male, female and other races. I believe excellence should be recognized where it’s due. It also puts pressure to black women to be always representative of black women in what they do where as I feel one should be representative of themselves first. Duty is good but it shouldn’t be forced. The real magic is people doing themselves.
As told to Mr Siphiwe Mpye
Andindedwa is currently showing at the Agog Gallery, 12 Lower Ross Str, Maboneng, Johannesburg until the end of August.