And she was wearing trousers: a call to our heroines
An exhibition curated by Roberta Joy Rich and Naomi Velaphi
A call to Southern African heroines of the past come alive in this rich new exhibition.
And she was wearing trousers: a call to our heroines brings into focus some of the many women who defined, defied or described Southern African culture from the seventeenth century to today.
It features a dynamic array of contributors connecting across shores, from both the African continent and the African diaspora in Australia.
This exhibition features a series of new commissions from artists Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Jabu Nadia Newman, blk banaana, Kirsty Marillier, Rara Zulu and Tariro Mavondo which sit alongside the Australian premiere of Sethembile Msezane’s short film ISIMO.
Installations, performance and conversations will unearth often-forgotten feminists, exploring ideas of identity, connection, distance and self. The learning and unearthing these artists have encountered are both exciting and affecting.
Working from archives across independent publishers, oral histories, government held archives, the academy and the internet, the women Brenda Fassie, Dorothy Masuka, Krotoa, Thenjiwe Lesabe, Queen Lozikeyi and figures alike have served as catalysts into an imagined world by which hope, loss, love and determination are explored.
From collage to installation and video art, music to typography, the forms of inquiry taken here are as diverse as the experiences of the women behind them.
The exhibition brings together a culmination of a series of conversations with women of the African diaspora and those on the continent around how female figures in Southern African histories serve as entry points into reimagining the Bla(c)k female experience in the past and future. These women are often framed as contentious, yet their contributions to society are influential, equivocal and are important African women's voices to platform, share and learn from.
The power of interpretation and nuance creates a space for tension, discovery and continuity and allows us to creatively explore our relationships with these women, and the proximity we share with them.
About the Artists
Roberta Joy Rich and Naomi Velaphi
Roberta Joy Rich and Naomi Velaphi are southern African diaspora women who work as artists, curators and producers in settler nation Australia. They share a vision to learn and unearth the histories of their mother-lands. Most recently, they have revelled in discovering stories of dynamic heroines and their legacies.
Naomi is an arts producer born on Whadjuk Noongar country, residing in Naarm. She strives to nurture artists' work and practices exploring alternative narratives, radical thought and deep connection. Centered on producing the work of contemporary, diverse and interdisciplinary artists, her experience spans working for and amongst galleries, festivals and performance spaces. Through her independent practice she aims to unearth honest and generous collaborations between artists, producers, curators and presenters and create pathways for new work creation.
Roberta Joy Rich is a multi-disciplinary visual artist who utilises language, story, archives and sometimes satire, drawing from various socio-political, historical and popular culture epistemologies in her video, installation and mixed media projects. Engaging with notions of “authenticity”, Roberta hopes to deconstruct colonial modalities and propose sites of self-determination within her practice.
Naomi and Roberta’s practices over a sustained period of time have shared interests that have brought the two together, working collaboratively for the past 4 years. They continue to explore their relationships with southern African archives and the significant feminists within these. Naomi and Roberta explore the proximities they share with these women, and ask, ‘Who are the feminists of our southern African culture? How do we hear of them? And what do we learn from them?’
blk banaana (Duduetsang Lamola)
Duduetsang Lamola (artist name ‘blk banaana’) is a South African multidisciplinary artist working with handmade and digital collage, video art and installation. Her practice explores visualizing fragmentation and speculative reconstruction through collage, reimagining notions of time, place, space, identity, being and belonging produced by Western historical, anthropologic and algorithmic forces.
As an emerging artist, she has collaborated with many artists and organisations in South Africa and globally, over the past two years, working as both a designer and artistic collaborator.
Kirsty Marillier is a South African actor and award-winning playwright. She is currently a part of the Emerging Writers Group at Sydney Theatre Company and has two original works in development. Her first work, Orange Thrower, had its stage premiere in February 2022 with Griffin Theatre Company and National Theatre of Parramatta. Orange Thrower was the winner of the 2019 Rodney Seaborn Playwrights Award.
Kirsty is currently in development with Belvoir St Theatre for her second play – The Zap, winner of the 2020 Max Afford Playwrights Award, which was developed with Playwriting Australia and Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Next In Line program. She has been a part of multiple creative programs including Griffin Theatre Company’s Studio Artist Program (2020), Sydney Theatre Company’s Rough Draft Program (2019) and Malthouse Theatre’s Besen Writers Group (2018).
Based in Melbourne, Tariro is a multi-disciplinary storyteller, theatre maker, curator, cultural diversity and performance consultant, performance facilitator across performing arts, education, government, mental health, law enforcement and social justice. She graduated in 2011 from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, and received the Irene Mitchell Award for excellence in her final year.
Tariro has co-directed theatre productions that have been seen at the Malthouse Theatre and Arts Centre Melbourne. She was an Australian Poetry Slam National Finalist (2010) and State Finalist (2009), the founder and producer of Africa’s Got Talent (2013–2014) and a founding member of Still Waters African Women’s Storytelling Collective and Centre of Poetic Justice.
Sethembile Msezane was born in 1991 in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. She lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa. She was awarded a Masters in Fine Arts in 2017 from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. Msezane’s work has been widely exhibited across South Africa and internationally. Using interdisciplinary practice encompassing performance, photography, film, sculpture and drawing, Msezane creates commanding works heavy with spiritual and political symbolism. The artist explores issues around spirituality, commemoration and African knowledge systems. She processes her dreams as a medium through a lens of the plurality of existence across space and time, asking questions about the remembrance of ancestry. Part of her work has examined the processes of mythmaking which are used to construct history, calling attention to the absence of the black female body in both the narratives and physical spaces of historical commemoration.
Nontsikelelo Mutiti is a Zimbabwean-born visual artist and educator. She is invested in elevating the work and practices of Black peoples past, present, and future through a conceptual approach to design, publishing, archiving practices, and institution building. Mutiti holds a diploma in multimedia from the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA) and an MFA from the Yale School of Art, with a concentration in graphic design.
Jabu Nadia Newman
Jabu Nadia Newman is an award-winning artist and filmmaker who works through the mediums of photography and videography. Using an agenda of pushing intersectional feminism her work is largely based on the different and complex identities of South African women. Newman independently wrote and directed South Africa’s newest and critically acclaimed feminist web series The Foxy Five. In 2020 Newman was commissioned by NOWNESS, British Film Institute and the British Council to write and direct a short film exploring diaspora aesthetics and issues of afro-futurism, The Dream That Refused Me (2021) which won two awards at the Ciclope Africa Awards Festival 2021 as well as a Silver Cannes Young Director Award. Her newest short film Inside Out premiered at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival 2021. Most recently Newman won Bronze for the Shots EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) 2021 New Director of the Year Award.
Rara Zulu is a South African born, Melbourne based vocalist and musician with a wholesome rawness and a unique tendency to pull you into a state of vulnerability through her music. Her sound is heavily influenced by Soul, R’n’B and Hip Hop; made apparent in the rhythm and depth in her voice. Rara has performed in numerous venues across Sydney and Melbourne, including Footscray Community Art Centre’s HEAR Footscray, and has musically collaborated and supported national and international artists such as Ijale, Horatio Luna, Elle Shimada and Sibusile Xaba.
blk banana (Duduetsang Lamola)
Jabu Nadia Newman
And she was wearing trousers: a call to our heroines has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body and the City of Melbourne through Arts House.
Image Credit: Still from As high as the stars so far unseen by blk banaana.
Image Description: A video still of a digital collage presents a Black woman front and centre from the waist up wearing a business suit, appearing as an inverted photo negative. Behind is a rectangle screen of archival imagery of a protest, with Black men in suits and people holding signs that read Pass Laws, surrounded by a thick black border. The base of the image has blue and teal green drawings of geometric and line shapes, and across the whole image, textures of hand drawn marks and many colour circles of red and orange surround the central Black woman figure and archival photograph.