Reconfiguring the Distorted…

Wangechi

When we last spoke I had wings where there were once shoulders; wings borne out of taking flight, soaring, and surfing the winds of itinerancy. My life has been fluid, like water, ebbing and flowing according to the calling of my heart. I obeyed and approached the fires that refined my passions. I have pricked my ears to listen, and I have prised my eyes open; I have been alert in order not to miss the divine appointments, and I have been abundantly rewarded, spirit and soul, with treasures that can never find expression here.

My ears have translated the sounds of all which call me from a place of passion, courage, hope and faith, without which all of this seems illusionary. The very palpable nature of the voices I hear root these otherwise ephemeral experiences. I have heard them. I have seen that which defies logic, that which goes beyond ones and zeros of this world; beyond rational. I have seen magic woven in my everyday existence. I have embraced what my eyes have seen without any doubt, and I have been abundantly nurtured.

My voice now strives to be heard, and I am called to the divine appointment of being an educator, a teacher, and an interlocutor. I heard and saw the calling with my third eye and ear – pricked, prised, sensitive, sensible and most sensuous. I am called to clear my throat chakra and speak in response to my passion. NOW. Poetry—the fluids that quench deserted thoughts; the echo that resounds generations past; the source of unbreakable resolve in my life—is calling me. It spoke through the heroic voice of former South African poet laureate Mazisi Kunene:

I possess a thousand thundering voices

With which I call you from the place of the sinking sun.

I call you form the shaking of branches

Where they dance with the tail of the wind.

You are the endless abundance

Singing with the lips of all generations.

You are like a trunk lush with branches in the lake

Whom the feller of woods felled in vain,

But sprouts with new buds in summer.

When it is loaded with fruit he comes again

And eats to saturation desiring to end its seasons;

But again and again the branches shoot forth with new seasons.

I am in a place of lack, of demoralisation, of defeat, and of hunger and thirst. I am in a place where those who speak to us from the place of the sinking sun are rapidly forgotten. The sun is sinking and setting upon us. We need its light. We need its warmth, its guidance, and its reassurance. I eat to saturation from the abundance left as our legacy.  With that abundance nurturing me as a teacher, educator, and interlocutor, I have accepted the calling and divine appointment to be possessed by those thousand thundering voices that I have heard, seen, and will now speak of.

My work in its entirety in is conversation with the endless abundance which sing with the lips of all generations: Keorapetse Kgositsile, Ilva McKay, Mongane Serote, Mazisi Kunene, Dennis Brutus, Barbara Masekela, Mandla Langa, James Matthew, and many others whose voices echo the politics of Solomon Mahlangu, Bantu Biko, Moses Kotane, Duma Nokwe. This is our history which has not found its rightful place in the post-94 curriculum, and which I have accepted the calling to take to the youth in ways whose nature can only be anointed. The forces of a truth whose time has come cannot be stopped.

I travelled the breadth of the United State of America unearthing and collecting—exhuming—to bring home, the work of our exiled fathers and mothers; the stench of their sweat and the haunting darkness of their blood which they spilled for us to take and respond to in our lifetimes. These voices call us and they must possess us. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to access these resources which I have now brought home, and urged to bring to you. This is a bountiful and anointed abundance, not a reckless one.

Without the clarity of our history we cannot have clarity of vision. However, we can never be defeated as a people, for like a trunk lush with branches in the lake, we will sprout with new buds in summer. No matter how big the sledgehammer it cannot orbit the sky. Our promise of abundance is surely coming. I am now putting forth this message. I want to teach poetry from exile to all youth who are willing to receive it. I call those in care of youth to share this with them; to invite me to share with them their beautiful history which will surely have them thinking differently about themselves. I call all educators and NGO directors to employ my services. For free; by divine appointment.

I am a PhD candidate in Literary Studies at the University of Cape Town, and have, in my ownership and potentially larger ownership of my people, endless books out-of-print and rare, footage of interviews I have conducted with prominent South African and American writers, multi-media resources, and 5 solid years of teaching experience from the University of Witswatersrand and UCT. I am the change I want to see in our teaching curriculums, and the time for it is NOW. Invite me for a chat on uhurumahlodi@gmail.com I await all of your response.

To heal, reconstruct, redefine, and reassert our greatness…

When I was in Oakland, California last year in October, I accepted the invitation to teach young students of the Oakland Art School. I was initially concerned by the age group as my teaching experience is with youth adults of 19 years old or older. However they were very receptive and responsive, fascinated by the histories of black South Africa and black America. This inspired me to engage with the youth from my own country, and open up channels for them to learn the extent of the struggle which our mothers and fathers found themselves broiled in.

When I was in Oakland, California last year in October, I accepted the invitation to teach young students of the Oakland Art School. I was initially concerned by the age group as my teaching experience is with young adults of 19 years old or older. However they were very receptive and responsive, fascinated by the histories and relationships of and between black South Africa and black America. This inspired me to engage with the youth from my own country, and open up channels for them to learn the extent of the struggle which our mothers and fathers found themselves embroiled in.

The Pillars That Rise

wangechi-mutu 2

A friend is in despair and has identified the problems in her life to be rooted in one thing and one thing only: that she hasn’t been able to define to herself who she is and her personal philosophies and beliefs in this life. She is desperate to find out how she can find herself and how she can be filled with visceral knowledge of self that can inform her opinions which will in turn help her take firm positions on various topics. In short, she would like to find out how she can attain a deep understanding of herself in relation to herself—a deep connection between her physical body and all compositions of who she is.

Firstly I just wish to state this from the onset: one’s personal journey is personal and can only be guided by personal chi (a chi for me is a higher self and life force that is unique to every being; coded in your personal DNA); therefore what works for me will not necessarily work for you. However there are basic principles that guide the flow of our collective recovery of self, on an individual level. There are particular foods that nourish our endurance on the journey to attain a core and unchallenged knowledge of self. These foods must be cooked to be enjoyed on our personal plates/palates before we can share them with conviction as our personal appetites. They should and must always be shared with encouragement for their receiver to tailor them in ways that suit their personal appetites.

The following are foods that have been prepared and cooked according to my personal chi appetite. They are the guiding nourishing forces that feed the person I am, and I am happy to dine with you at the table of growth. I look to the East for vocabularies on the journeys of self. The Tao philosophy is the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behaviour, that is in harmony with the natural order. That is how I wish to conduct my life; in harmony with the natural order. I wish to attune my third eye to everyday events, so I may not only see, but practice vision. I wish to be in harmony with the trees, animals, moon, stars, and all living organisms. I wish to feel, before I think.

Tao teaches about the Twelve Jewels, which are the teachings I uphold the most, and seek in every breath I take. The jewels are as follow: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, food, clothing, shelter, love, peace, and happiness. These foods that feed my personal chi nourish every decision I make and every word I articulate. They are the light that shine my path and weave magic in my life. They are all pillars of my castle, and house my precious soul. Each jewel has deep underlying meanings, and the path to knowledge of self requires that you meditate—think deeply and intensely—on every jewel. In the larger castle of your life they all bolster each other up, and break down like a chain reaction.

wangeshiThe following is from Tao philosophy. First a wo/man gets Knowledge, which is knowledge of self. S/he gets Wisdom, which is the reflection of that Knowledge. Then s/he gets Understanding, which is the power to act on Wisdom. With Understanding s/he sees that s/he has Freedom—that s/he has freed her/his dome from ignorance—which means s/he has free will. Freedom happens to be my name, the wholly signifier of who I am. But Freedom operates under a law: the law of Justice, which states that there will be a reward or penalty for your actions. Therefore you must deal with Equality because all wo/men are created equal.

Once you have attained these six pillars that house your divine soul, you’re able to strive for Food, Clothing, and Shelter, which all have physical and metaphysical properties. On a physical or conscious level, food is nourishment, shelter is home, and clothing is protection. However, on a metaphysical level food is from the tree of life—food for your mind in the form of wisdom, history, sciences, and botany. Mental clothing is how you carry yourself. Most people comment on the way I walk proudly with conviction. If you have clothed yourself in righteousness you may walk with lions. Mental shelter is protection from evil atmosphere. Choose very carefully how you share yourself with others. Once you have erected these nine pillars of your castle, you are able to find peace, love, and happiness.

These are the twelve pillars to my castle. How did I receive knowledge, the first pillar that leads to all nourishment? Through applying critical reading of the world, of my history, of my personal positioning to it. I freed myself from ignorance, because ignorance is the termite that gnaws at the fibre of who you can be. Knowledge has prised my eyes open to my divinity, to the god in me, my higher self, the light and the dark, the personal mission to seek and embrace the light; it has propelled me to cloak my voice in that light, to use that voice to speak my truth, to embrace others’ truths, to honour the divine in me, to honour the divine in others. To wisdom. To understanding. To personal wealth.

A house without books is like a tree without roots, a body without a soul, a mind without thoughts, eyes without vision, and feeling without heart. I continue to nourish my knowledge by eating from the tree of life, which feeds my enduring hunger to know, to understand, to be wise. I read, I write, I think, I share, I read again, and I seek to learn me, learn the world, learn the plants, the stars, the moon, the wo/man, and the life. That is how I call to self the cloak of righteousness. So to you, and you, my interlocutor and roomie in this world, I say to you, if we all nourish ourselves with these jewels of our soul we shall be redeemed from our personal and collective crises.

Opening and central images are paintings by talented artist Wangechi Mutu.

Knowlege

Bury Me at The Marketplace

Sharing narratives

I am inspired by travelling narratives, by moving stories, and by forms that take root from a place of communal sharing than individual enjoyment. I am a student in the literatures, and have found that novels and other books constantly require retraction from community—in that you would have to go sit lonesome on a bench or in your room quietly to read—perhaps making this a core reason why most people, in my country (?), don’t read. In most of our cultures, the art of storytelling is communal, inclusive, and accessible.

I am inspired by narratives that boast their own dialects, that burst with local intonations, and by stories that move with the rhythms of their music. The English literature departments in postcolonial Africa are a point of contention—the term ‘English’ points not only to a language, but to a culture and geographical space. Most of my people would not take easily to a novel that opens with a scene on the banks of the Thames River… This is why my academic research thus far has solely focused on literatures that speak of our own landscapes, cultures, languages, and traditions.

I am moved by the idea of travelling narratives, of newly packaged forms and styles that are accessible to all that traverse its landscapes. Literature has mostly been an elitist art form, perhaps the most inclusive and aristocratic, mostly enjoyed in closed halls of high brow entertainment. I am excited by the notion of breaking down those barriers and setting stories free; liberating narratives to reach spaces previously unthought-of. I find worth in depleting the traditional literary form; tradition is a dying hallmark of culture. Culture is fluid and malleable in the 21st century.

I am happy to reveal that I am officially shooting a documentary on South African poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile’s lifework. I am not satisfied with investing energy and time with researching his work and sealing it in libraries of the ivory tower. His story is one that must be released from the exact traditions which he sought to be liberated from. His story must be packaged to move in unsuspected places. It must be, like his very life, a travelling narrative. It must move to the rhythms of his Setswana, his jazz, his mbaqanga, and dance freely to the baseline of Johnny Dyani the maestro (they collaborated in 1977 at FESTAC, Nigeria).

Narratives of our own people should be liberated from the high pillars of air-conditioned libraries; stories must be accessible and inclusive, as opposed to Exclusive (Books) to all whose character and cultures it speaks of; literary forms must find their ways into taxis, street corners, chisa nyamas, parties, and general meeting points. Storytelling is dependent on an audience, and on a communal appreciation from various positioned listeners. Let us fervently take up the challenge to evolve our various art forms for the benefit of those whom they are intended to speak, mostly of, but also to.

Sharing stories

(Re)defining Home

Canal Homes

Good morning Amsterdam. Good morning South Africa. It never escapes me the privilege of having homes in, and living in two cities. Our time has run its course in Cape Town, and yesterday I touched down in Amsterdam to arrive to my love, my pillows, my teas, and my home. Home is where hope is, home is where support is, home is where the music is. Home is perhaps also where you are recognised as a citizen: I sauntered through customs for the first time as a Dutch resident. Customs Officer: what’s the purpose of your visit here? Me: I live here. Customs Officer: welcome home…

One of the best things about moving cities mid-year is the seemingly eternal summer. Not only the summer, but the summer food. The Netherlands boasts beautiful foods during this time of year: the Dutch strawberries that pulsate with their sweet nectar; the cherries, ever so robust; asparaguses and witloof (a vegetable that can best be translated to chicory); cheese in its hundreds of flavours and textures … and of course the fish. Being pescatarian mostly, having a fisherman and a market with a range of fish in the neighbourhood is truly a great privilege. I have missed the smoked mackerel that is so characteristic of the Netherlands; and of course Norwegian salmon and eel are so much cheaper here. Here here!! As the sun finally set at 22:30 last night, I marvelled at the beauty of our lives, and took stock of the choices we both made to live this way.

Fish Ams

Yummy smoked eel, mackerel, and crabs…

Another thing that I enjoy about getting to another home is reuniting with my books, my teas, and my clothes. I have more books in Cape Town than here, but it was great to just feel and smell the covers and pages of The Satanic Verses, and other favourites. If you know me at all you will know I’m obsessed with tea. There’s nothing like a good cuppa in the morning, and after dinner. I have been so in love with Pukka teas from England during my stay here the last time. Yesterday I had their Green Chai—green tea with gorgeous pieces of whole spices in the teabag—and that was enough to ascertain me that it is all going to be great.

Reuniting with my clothes and shoes is always a pleasure. Of course you forget about other clothes, and others are always on your mind. If you can’t relate, don’t worry, I am currently in my savouring stage: don’t buy any more clothes, be happy with what you have. All my boots and jackets are here in Amsterdam, because here is where we are likely to experience cold weather. So yesterday I laid out all my (2nd hand) leather jackets and lied on top of them 🙂 I was just smelling them, like the books, to get reacquainted. I am a sensual being. When all my senses are engaged, I know art is likely to be spawned.

Fast internet, Spotify, cycling everywhere, walking at night (freedom is safety), affordable groceries (Woolies is our biggest expenditure in South Africa, according to our bank statements), summer festivals, beautiful canals, North Sea Jazz Festival, reuniting with friends and family, sharing beautiful food, and drinking Spanish wine, are all things to look forward to. We always look forward, never backwards. We trust the motion of the ocean, we invest in the quality of the time we spend here, and we surrender to the currents of the journey.

Books: Food for my Mind

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Every time I tell people I study literature they always want to know my favourite book, or want me to recommend a novel that can move them. Well, here’s a list of my ten favourite novels, in no particular order. They have all moved something inside me in a unique and memorable way, and that makes these novels closest to my heart. These would be a great Christmas gift to self or that literature-loving-bookshop-living-page-surfing special friend.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangerembga

This masterpiece spoke to my six year old rural self. I could identify with so many aspects of the lives portrayed in this book, that this gave birth to a love I now have for telling our own stories and representing our historically marginalised narratives. Every feminist or pseudo-feminist should read this book.

The Quiet Violence of Dreams by Sello Duiker

This book is very intense and addresses the issues of masculine sexualities in the city of Cape Town. More than that it tells the story of Tshepo who is truly a symbol of post-94 schizophrenia and disillusion. Many consider this book Duiker’s suicide note. After reading this book I bought it for my friends, as it kept haunting me in dreamland.

ImageThe History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

This book is set in 1910 Amsterdam and Cape Town (I live in both cities), and tells a tale of a young, hot, hot man who is restless and is indeed a pleasure seeker. Coming from an impoverished background, his looks work for him, and he explores the nature of money by playing in its hands. The sex scenes between older men and this young man are steamy and rampant, unsettling some of your prejudices. My good friend read this book and bought it for me. That’s always special to know.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My best friend bought me this book. I read it like I was diabetic and there was insulin in it. It reminded me of Nervous Conditions in Adichie’s treatment of patriarchy and childhood. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would read it again and again. I love the role of laughter, and how something as insignificant as laughing can dismantle whole oppressive structures.

To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

I will buy this book for my children. I used to read it every year between ages 15 and 20. It speaks so succinctly about the dangers of discriminations. Children mimic what their parents do, and not what they say they should do. The character of Boo Radley is alive in all of us. If we decide to chance being different we may very well end up pariahs.

House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera

The scatological nature of this novella is what does it for me. I love the seamless comparison of a post-independent Zimbabwe and its people as semen running down a prostitute’s leg. And many more other nauseating comparisons that are truly reminiscent of Jean-Paul Satre’s novel Nausea.

The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda

ImageMda weaves a magical tale of a beautiful village in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where historically the white Afrikaaner men raped the black women, leaving, till today, a village of very light skinned, or coloured, women who speak enchanting Sesotho. Mda is so naughty in this novel as he goes through additional efforts to describe the bodies and penises of the white farmers, which never fails to reduce me to chuckles. Again, like laughter in Adichie’s novel, the bees in this novel are so mysteriously powerful.

Disgrace by J.M Coetzee

This South African novel is powerful for many reasons. It unsettles the race issue that remained concrete and unchanged even years after 1994, and asks pertinent questions around white privilege, the place of whiteness in a seemingly black South Africa, the place of lesbians, and essentially, the future of a South Africa damaged by race and difference. And it’s written exceptionally well.

The Restless Supermarket by Ivan Vladislavic

The way I see it, Vladislavic’s work represent a depletion of standing orders and convention, and a rebuilding of art and literature from a depleted and arising new place of innocence. His words are made to carry multiple meanings that respond to the world and the ever-changing political landscape of South Africa. Vladislavic is a voice of our generation. He is a true artist.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

My husband bought me this book when we were still dating. Actually, on the night we met I asked him what his favourite book was and he told me about Ian McEwan and Milan Kundera. When I heard this poetic title I immediately wanted to read it. I read this novel and was introduced to the politics of Europe and their impact on everyday life. My eyes were prised open to the connection that binds humanity; we all strive for freedom, equality, peace, and a lightness that must be attainable in our own lifetimes.

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ImageThose are my top ten books that I would take to a deserted island. It was a difficult choice because I really love a lot of books. Others worth mentioning are Toni Morrison’s Songs of Solomon, Chris Abani’s Graceland, Biyi Bandele’s The Streets, Ben Okri’s Famished Road, Phaswane Mpe’s Welcome to our Hillbrow, and Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning. My greatest love is still poetry…

#These are a Few of my Favourite Things!

My A—Z of firm favourites in health, lifestyle, and leisure…

ImageA—is for almonds anything. I love almond shower gel and body butter from the Body Shop. I love almond ice cream, and prefer almond milk since I won’t tolerate lactose. I also adore almond paste (I detest peanut butter), and roasted almonds with salt.

B—is for books. I cannot live without books. Physical ones! Reading offers me multiple existences and transforms my world into an exciting and adventurous space. Some of my favourites are Nervous Conditions, Graceland, Butterfly Burning, House of Hunger, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Streets, The Quiet Violence of Dreams… way too many to mention.

C—is for cooking. My favourite past time. The way I love cooking points to another career choice. That’s why I would love to work in hospitality (which I did between ages 14 and 23) in my decade of 40

D—is for dogs. We don’t have enough space right now, but I grew up with dogs and my heart melts every time I see puppies. Especially golden retrievers. I’ve befriended a few of them in our Amsterdam neighbourhood.

E—is for Evening Primrose Oil. If you suffer from premenstrual stress/tension, or have debilitating period pains, break-outs, and mood swings, do yourself and those around you a favour and get this supplement.

F—is for fresh flowers. I must have flowers in my home; they bring a vibrant energy and always lighten my spirit. Especially sunflowers. F is also for fish. I’m a seafood lover through and through…

G—is for gardening. I grew up on the country side with hectors of farming which we had to tend to. I think that’s where I pick up my love for planting, nurturing, weeding, and harvesting. I love cooking food from the garden. G is also for ginger!!

H—is home. I can travel and traverse the world but there’s no better feeling than your pillow and your pots. H is also for herbs. I don’t use processed spices so herbs are in my daily life.

I—is for incense, mphepho. Incense cleanses the air in my home and invites positivity.

J—is for jazz. Jazz is the only music that urges me to travel between various disparate milieus and times, without moving. It manages to swing me from era to era, and infects me with possibility through improvisation.

ImageK—is for kale: a nutritious powerhouse. It is the most nutritious vegetable after seaweed. If you have iron deficiency like me, go for kale instead of steak/liver.

L—is for love. I treat everyone with love. It is a liberating feeling. I challenge myself to give an act of love throughout the day.

M—is for mom, my mother. She’s an enigma, but in my eyes she represents how I see myself: as a site of exploration, positive discoveries, strength, resourcefulness, and eternal light. Therefore M is also for myself.

N—is Nokhanyo! Light. Reflection eternal.

O—is for orange, a powerful colour that has the words “no age” and “no rage” in its name. Also for the fruit whose freshly pressed juice is the best way to kickstart your day.

P—is for passion. The only reason I’m here is because all I do is fuelled by a living passion that propels me to write, write, and write, ceaselessly. My passion has turned my life into an adventure, and through passion I explore endlessly. P is also for picnics & poetry!

Q—is for quality, and not quantity. I live a life of minimalism. I don’t own much, I don’t have tons of friends, but I make moments more valuable than any other material possession.

R—is romance. I love romance. I love spoiling my man. He loves spoiling me. And we relish in moments shared with our bare skins. R is real and raw. R is my man.

S—is for seaweed. I love seaweed in my mouth and on my skin. Seaweed salad has such wonderful health benefits. Since I started using seaweed for my very oily face (seaweed facial products from Body Shop) I’ve seen a huge difference. The health benefits of seaweed – including weight loss and fertility – are also staggering.

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Pukka teas are the best teas in the world! So indulgent!

T—is for tea. I can’t possibly function without a good cuppa. Tea refreshes and hydrates me, and I’m in a never-ending quest to find better and better tea. T is also for thesis.

U—is ululating in celebration of your own achievements. No matter how small. A journey of a thousand kilometres consists of many steps and continuing determination. Pat yourself on the back

V—is visual arts. The impact that photography and film has in my life is invaluable. All forms of art merge to give birth to creativity, and I’m lucky to be married to a filmmaker who always sources excellent foreign language films and documentaries. Gallery spaces are some of my favourite spaces. Installations have taken on new form, and I’m continuously challenged to push my own boundaries.

W—is for wine. The perfect condiment to every meal. I love pairing my food with good wine; I love a chilled chenin blanc with a good salad on a hot day. I love sparkling wine with oysters—it makes me all giggly and bubbly. Love a good chardonnay with raw fish… you get my drift. W is also for Woolworths, my one-stop shop for added value, quality, and outsourcing of rare ingredients.

X—is for voting. I will vote for the first time next year and am happy to finally have a party that speaks my language.

Y—is Yes more than No! It takes less energy to say yes. But when you’re taken advantage of you rise above giving ‘no’ the power—you redirect the disempowerment to s/he who’s taking advantage of you

Z—is for zeitgeist. The ability to always read situations, to be aware, to always read the spirit of the times and what the times you’re living in require for survival. You don’t live in a vacuum. Always read situations. That’s what being streetwise means.