• Uxcelia's bowl
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Experiments with different materials and emotions.
Where has exploring the theme of 'ansisters' taken you?
Inquiring more information from my mother and her family and how to find some information about her and her relationships with family. It does open up wounds, and that is rather strange, as if she never really spoke about her family, the stubbornness of her mother even in dying. The very sudden death of a beloved sister last year, she is 19 years older than my mother, so one can assume that she has played the role of mothering over the years. Why is my mother keeping the ashes of her mother in the safe at home? She very clearly refuses to go back to Ryspunt to throw the ash out, I am trying to convince her, not much luck, she seems to cling to something. She does not want to return to her place of birth, because the military truly messed up the area, and she says she has no need to go back. So where too with my grandmother’s ashes. I do ask, prod, no response, she says she will do it when she is ready. Reconciliation, I do not know.
What are your thoughts on the world we've inherited from our ansisters?
It is truly a mess, imbalances from our exploitation of the earth, natural resources, our greed and inconsistencies, the raiding and plundering just keeps on going, so is this a man made default, this force to only live for today and not think about tomorrow, I think it is a selfish and very odd situation, we procreate, we have children but cannot guarantee their future on this planet as we are clearly ensuring that we deplete all natural resources, great strange inconsistency.
Do you feel you have a message from your predecessors? Or have you come to some insight in the process of investigating them? If so, what is it?
I think we do not give death its due, both in the mourning process or the way we say our farewells, and also not in acknowledging how we treat the dead. We are so quick to close up the kist that we forget al sorts of rituals that should be done in order to really go through the process of loss. Is this a protestant thing? The laying in state of the pope really made the point of being able to say farewell, to truly believe that the person is dead by all. Those who died also need to have pointers as they continue their journey into another realm, they need to be able to look back and see their relatives and friends thinking and reviewing the life that has past, to celebrate and reflect, this process is important, this remembering also helps the dead to make their transition smoothly and with an overview of a life lived and not a dream in passing.
Why do you engage in this creative collaboration?
Because Katty asked me to. I am very keen on collaborations as they are opportunities for collective thinking and collective voices to be heard. The diversity of the various artist and the different creative processes offered allows for great development and simultaneously the identity of the individual stays intact.
What are you hoping to communicate through your intended artwork?
Sense of loss, the past ritualistic remembering.
Please describe this artwork/production/play/song/series of poems that you are busy with.
My artwork per se is that I hopefully infuse enough creative process in to the students from Boitumelo in order for them to discover their own worth as people in this world. Not easily done as they find this a rather laborious process, and are very clear that they finished the bowls, destroyed them, wrote something and that is it. Anything more is asking too much. So to the keep the threads and maintained some interests, is hard. This takes a lot of energy, so I tend to not have any left for my own work. But I have plans and ideas in my head, so here goes; I have a series of sms’s from my mother and daughter and I would like to share this communication as a way of sharing from my mother with my daughter. So I am the common denometer for the two and through me and the cell phone we communicate. How has modern technology facilitated a faster and more immediate communication and how are we using it to pass on messages. Katty calls this a digilogue.
I have been working and creating copies of body parts for a while, and would like to make hands inn the shape of bowls. The hands of women in the shape of bowls fascinate me and I started to make them after the paper bowls. It is a combination of holding, keeping, sharing, but also asking begging the desperateness of survival on this continent. Images of the tree as part of a installation perhaps.
How has your creative journey before this project prepared you for taking part in this?
I have worked within the collaboration structure on and off over the last 5 years and have had great participations and some not so great. One learns from all and find ways to continue. In the spaces that I have worked in i.e. communities it seems best to try and find a way for the energy to be sustained, the people motivated and the creative productivity the primary function.
Please tell us a little more about where you've been, what you've done creatively speaking.
I am still busy to complete my final year at Unisa. Have been a film editor for 22 years. Studied at Ruth Prowse College, 1981-1983 did photography and painting. Did an installation for my 4th year at Unisa. Since then have been working in community projects teaching creative process, development of self-worth and financial independence.
Posted 02 July 2005, www.face.org.za, author: Erica Lüttich.
by Erica Lüttich
31 January 2005
I attended the first meeting at Anni’s house on the 3rd of December 2005 and felt so intimidated. I had no big ideas or immediate thoughts of anything real. Perhaps because I was working on a small exhibition for the students in Hillbrow I was too distracted and anxious if people would arrive and buy anything. My sense of responsibility overriding any other thoughts.
During my trip to Swaziland and the Hexriver valley nothing came or went for that matter just a lot of emotional clutter and issues, mostly family ones but also job related. Somehow the festive season merely heightened my anxieties and brought me no peace whatsoever. Usely I can be very productive in De Doorns, but somehow the heat and other priorities took over and I rather sat down with my dad at his little dam and talked to him while the dappling trees cast a welcome relief to the heat.
My students returned all on cue back at the project in Hillbrow and I was filled with so much joy seeing their eager wanting to learn more faces. In between doubting whether I wanted to do this project with them or not as working in groups undoubtedly have its problems and if I could persuade the older students to participate after the last project with the countless problems, I just had some clarity, - just do it.
I had a late Sunday evening discussion with my father debating the content and context of this project, finding the thread that links us as women through the birthing process, dna, archaeology, family trees, genetic imaging, finger prints, unique yet connected, individual yet collective. The idea or umbrella is ancestors but finding our way forward in a creative process makes us Ansisters.
In Hillbrow I introduced the project during general chaos, making tea, arguing with another, shouting at Mr Ryan downstairs, I dropped the word ancestor and had immediate response, some explosive aahhs from the quieter students, just silence from the noisy ones. So discussion went round and round and after explaining the process/ritual we agreed that we will all work on this together. I made it clear that there is no money, this is an art project, but will promote the individual within Boitumelo, that Unisa is not involved, but Outreach Project will be able to support the basic material that we needed. So I had the same discussion 3 days in a row so that everyone can at least hear about it twice, that all the latecomers and new comers also hear. The new students will not participate, but the co-op group will, all the teachers and the intermediate students. And me.
So onto finding ways of making bowls, vessels, wombs, caring spaces, nurturing cavities, each student has a definite identity and finding a process that will co-opt her spirit and ancestors was a real challenge. By the end of the week my jaw was slightly hurting and heart aching of finding ideas and solutions. It is difficult to visualize what this mulungu wants. But discussions started, that is important.
By Saturday there was a definite energy, a buzzing that started to form a journey, form a path that I could follow. So NonKuthulo wants to weave bowls, Mary wants to paper mache with fabric, Lindiwe is going to crochet tea cosies with plastic and waste material, Nonkuthulo wants to use waste material, Sis Lindiwe wants to embroider, but if she buys two bowls is that Ok, off course, Emmah wants to sew something, everybody is starting to think creatively, there is a sense of trying something, the mere fact that we are going to destroy one bowl is still very far fetching for the students, but I keep mentioning it so that by the time we really do it the thought will not be so alien. So am I right we making something so we can break it, yes that is part of the process, part of the journey.
In between all this general chaos, 2 students were very badly assaulted by their partners. This impact emotionally so deeply, no knife can cut as deep. So it is police, clinic, back to police, finding counselling, back to police to get restraining order and most of all finding the children, most of the times the men take the children away. I anguish. Scared when the women do not come, when they come, scared to ask, worry about the light in their eyes, it just goes out for days at a time. So how do I involve them, how do I offer any solution for this crisis? There is none. Just wait, just do it.
On Saturday after our morning session of great talking, ideas being tasted and tried, I go home, a little excited and decided that I will start some bowls. The stories of my first bowls are this. For Christmas I received 2 beautiful wrapped gifts from my husband and daughter. It was all in bright colours, like I like, with paper flowers, I so loved it. So I keep things, I cannot throw away, a genetic curse. Everyday I look art it marvel at it and feel great warmth of being content, these pieces of paper.
In January I came home after a meeting and found that the wrapping was thrown away. Bruce likes order and tidiness, I represent chaos. He throws my beautiful papers away, I completely loose the plot, totally, weep in hurt and shock, it feels as if something was forcefully removed from me, it is a total overreaction, it is just paper, but the feelings it evokes is far more and completely intense. Great family drama. After 2 days of recovering from the loss, I get into the rubbish and dig it out, hide the torn and mushy paper in my multitude of cupboards. What was I thinking, so decided to make paper bowls from damage paper, if by piecing together maybe I will make peace and deal with this emotion that seems to be based on nothing. The colour paper intensifies as I brush the glue over and layer the colours in 2 plastic bowls. It is gaudy and rich, somehow burny bright and really kitsch. But they are complete again.
The decision is made I will make a set of bowls for grandmothers, mother, daughter. And me. And then I just worked, Nichola said, Jis mom, you are really going for it. By Sunday afternoon I made 14 bowls, 7 sets, not completed some very experimental, in fact 1 set collapses completed, I crumpled it up and will start again because it is interesting, road mapping my infertility.
But more than that, I made a set of bowls for a very special little person, completely subconscious, only halfway through did I realise who it was for. This is her story:
On a hot Monday afternoon in November a little 5-year old arrived at the HIV project that I am involved with. No mouth, no eyes, snotty nose, so dirty, so malnutrition, removed from foster care to be looked after by us. By Tuesday morning we had a face, lopsided so swollen from all the infections, eyes still puffy, thin, thin, thin, stomach extended, but she sits on my lap, had a bath most likely the first in months, I talk and just keep stroking the little back and arms. Celia is taken to the doctor by Gill for a check up, I walk away from her downstairs in the parking lot, and then hear a noise, I turn back and she waves at me, the first reaction or noise we hear from her. Celia never talks but she learns to smile and she learns that if she sits on my lap I will talk and touch and always have a Marie Biscuit. She puts her heads between my breasts and tries to mould her way into my body. I feel how I try to absorb her in order to make up for years of neglect, give her years of nurturing, feel like covering her with my arms, like wings protecting her from whatever has been her past. We discover that her real name is Uxcelia, Uxcelia Khumalo we wait for her forms and court hearing to allocate her to us permanently. She arrived with no birth date, no mother, and no memories that are tangible, just a bundle. The other kids in the project (there are 18 little souls) brings home chicken pox, needless to say Uxcelia gets it, I visit, she is very ill, no smile, no digging for Marie biscuits. Her emergency foster mother starts to lock her away, keep her from the children due to the infection, I come to visit again, no one at home, I just hear the scuffling and strained breathing, she cannot reach the lock, to high. I think I will come tomorrow, phone project manager, will speak to Foster mother. I will, I will. Two days later, still no one at the flat, no scuffling noises. It is weekend; I am tired, hard week in Hillbrow.
On the Monday I arrive with Nichola in Hillbrow and run upstairs to see if I can see her and the other kids. Uxcelia is not with us anymore says a distraught Gill. I reel in shock hit the wall and wail like a wolf mother loosing her cubs, the shock, fear and guilt screams out of my mouth in a single long keening that hurts into my chest and feels like separating and opening the chest cavity, at that moment that loss of Uxcelia just completely consumed me. I keep rocking on my haunches; Nichola keeps stroking my hair and makes soft noises.
So the next bowls are Uxcelia’s, embedded with memories from my grandmother, mother and me, so that, as she is walking her last journey, she can look back and see that we remember her, that her life was more than just weeks of trying to breathe, like pointers in the night we are there to encourage her, give her purpose in the finalality of her spiritual passing and that we do remember her as fleeting as it was, as momentarily her being was, we give her purpose, we remember.
We do not have a photograph of Uxcelia.
The other bowls are in no order other than they are reminders and capturing moments of my grandmothers. Reminders that will add to the process and ritual. Ma Martinah meanwhile came and talked about her bowls, she is using two crochet hats and will transform them into bowls. Nonkuthulo made 3 outrageous bowls with shocking pink netting, it says a lot about Hillbrow. And the people living there.
Posted 02 May 2005, www.face.org.za, author: Erica Lüttich.