Amaqaba vol. 1 – a collaboration at Eclectica Galleries by Xhanti Zwelendaba and Inga Somdyala
Xhanti Zwelendaba and Inga Somdyala work conceptually, in sculpture, print and installation. Both are graduates of the Michaelis School of Fine Art and have each featured in prominent exhibitions and art fairs. Inga Somdayala is currently working towards his MFA at Michaelis, while Xhanti Zwelendaba is a practicing artist, who is currently living between the Eastern Cape, Johannesburg and Cape Town. Together, they have teamed up to present a body of work together at the Eclectica Galleries in Cape Town that explores notions of belonging, identity, religion, land and language – drawing on their shared isiXhosa identity.
The term ‘i-qaba‘ [singular] is commonly understood as an insult or derogatory term for someone seen as ‘uncivilized’ or ‘ignorant’. The title of the project is Amaqaba vol.1, which in their words, “originates from the 18th Century when British missionaries were affecting the way of living for Xhosa people. Specifically, in how there was rebellion from some Xhosa people who decided against this assimilation of westernization and chose to uphold Xhosa traditions. These people were known as ‘ama-qaba’ [plural] because of the red ochre they used to cover their skin; which is applied by rubbing or ‘uku-qaba’ in isiXhosa.” The use of ochre as a material is kneaded through the various aspects of this project, as a lift off point and a tactile exploration of history. The opportunity to present work and collaborate was suggested by the Eclectica curator, Clare Patrick, who has worked with both artists for the past two years and admired their contextual and theoretical handling of art making, with the support of the gallery’s director, Shamiela Tyer. The suggestion of collaboration provided a moment for both Zwlendaba and Somdyala to tackle a topic with the freedom to explore and feel things out. The aim of the project is to offer a space for interaction, interrogation and learning. Amaqaba vol. 1 is a starting point that reflects on years of thinking and learning undertaken by both artists and a moment to speak back to various understandings of representation and labeling.
The exhibition is set up in order to confront these terms and imagine their different possibilities, less bound by the assumption of being lesser than but rather reaching towards an understanding of being multiple and expansive. Entering into the exhibition occurs through a maze, a kraal which is set up to break up the ‘four wall’ cube idea and invite the viewer on a walk through the space. Creating the sense of a blind adventure, the kraal-like maze points to the often dizzying journey of establishing cultural identities. The works each play with objects, imagery and words, turning their preliminary functions upside down while playfully nudging the viewer into deeper thinking and pause to engage and discuss further. “The space becomes a space of learning and manipulation of knowledge, history, identity and customs”, says Somdyala. “The way we intend to manipulate these themes is to reimagine and re-examine certain knowledge we have and don’t have about ourselves and our culture. It’s a free space where we can be amaqaba without it having any negative connotations associated with it”. While the project space exists within a gallery space, it aims to disrupt and make flexible the constraints and assumed structures of exhibition making. Working with humour and cultural commentary, Amaqaba vol. 1 invites engagement and questioning, it asks for acknowledgment of the need for processing more complex subjectivities and is a space for play and learning. Reflecting on the history of a people and the various lasting consequences of their narratives, the work of Inga Somdyala and Xhanti Zwelendaba situates itself as a mirror that is cracked and altered so as to offer new possibilities of reflection and recognition. “It’s a claiming of the term where it’s okay to move away from fixed conceptions of identity and embrace fluid black identities. It’s a chance for us to mock ourselves in a critical sense, but more importantly, a chance to learn about ourselves.” Xhanti Zwelendaba and Inga Somdyala will be exhibiting Amaqaba Vol. 1 at Eclectica Galleries, 69 Burg Street from 5 July 2018.