Unearthing 200 Years of Bantu Heritage Through Literature, Textiles, and Music

The historic Constitutional Hill Women’s Jail has opened its doors to The Provenance Part II, an exhibition by acclaimed fashion designer Lukhanyo Mdingi

By Your Luxury

The Provenance Part II is a labour of research dating back 200 years on the Bantu take of imposed Western religion and culture on black South Africans. The rich and complex colonial history of our forefathers can be discovered and understood through the display of three themes; Literature, archives of Lovedale letters and books sourced from the Amathole Museum in King Williams Town Eastern Cape, Textiles in the form of tapestry, a practice introduced by the Anglican church, and Music by Amadodana Ase Wesile playing through antiquated speakers in a room parallel to the rest of the collection as well as travelling through the walls of the reformed jail. These three themes are crucial in narrating the fundamentals of Bantu heritage. Each represents national treasures that past leaders like Steve Biko leaned onto as a cultural and political compass.

These artistic forms capture the essence of our ancestors’ experiences, struggles, and triumphs, allowing us to connect with their stories on a deeper level. The exhibition delves into the black consciousness perspective, shedding light on the resistance and creative resilience of our ancestors. The repertoire, native language use, lyrics, and iconographies presented in the works will surely make the viewer appreciate South African voices shining within a system brought in by missionaries and colonialism. “Our stories matter. There are a lot of strong African designers that are making a positive contribution to a larger conversation about art and design. It is important to highlight our history and where we come from. I use the ‘Lukhanyo Mdingi’ institution and working with like-minded creatives as a vessel to retell these stories in a contemporary way as a means to preserve our history” Mdingi says. 

A particular piece that viewers relate to and that received warm reviews on the opening evening is MAMA’S LOUNGE, an installation depicting Mdingi’s grandmother’s living room. His grandmother was an academic who lectured at Walter Sisulu University. She was passionate about Lovedale’s Press readings including ‘Incwadi Yam’. The installation has a recording of uMama reciting the reading in her mother tongue emphasising the ‘essentiality’ of remembering our social, cultural and political narratives. In an observation of the post-Apartheid era, the contributions of past written work seem to have been forgotten, leading to a cultural amnesia of the works. 

Mdingi worked with co-curators Banele Khoza of BKHZ Gallery and Trevor Stuurman of The Manor Africa to bring Part II from conception into reality. At the opening of the exhibition, influential guests, including Sheli Masondo, Bilala Mabuza, Khethiwe McClain, Zoe Modiga, Thebe Magugu, Jefferson Osei, and Wanda Lephoto, graced the event in support and celebration of their artistic peers. Furthermore, their allegiance mirrored the overarching message of black consciousness as most wore local and continental designers; the likes of Daily Paper, Thebe Magugu, Lukhanyo Mdingi, and Nao Serati, among many others.

The exhibition opened to the public on 4 April and will be on until 17 June. 

Images courtesy of The Manor

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