Five artists respond to xenophobia

2015-04-19 15:00

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Gerald Machona

In his increasingly important body of work, the Zimbabwean-born artist created a series called Vabvakure – a Shona word meaning people from far away. It explores life as a foreigner using the Zimbabwean dollar as material to create masks and commercial products.

“We are all foreign to someone, somewhere at some point in our lifetime and my work tries to connect with that idea,” he said.

He also created a spacesuit out of Zimbabwean dollars which has now become his iconic work. “For me, the spacesuit is a metaphor about having to adapt to a foreign space not designed for you. South Africa is not designed for foreign nationals from Africa,” he told City Press.

Michele Mathison

Mathison, a Zimbabwean, was propelled by the attacks on foreign nationals, to create a work called Refuge that reconstructed one of the refugee camps providing sanctuary from xenophobic violence to African nationals living here.

“There was an outcry from the general public about the attacks but the reality on the ground meant that these camps had to be used for several months and, in some cases, up to a year before people felt safe enough to return to their homes and rebuild their lives.”

The shelters have no windows or doors and so are inaccessible to anyone who has come to view them. They create a scenario that makes one wonder exactly how events like these exclude some and include others.

Akin Omotoso

Man on Ground, the award-winning film by Nigerian-born Omotoso, follows the story of a Nigerian doctor who arrives in South Africa and discovers his brother is missing. His disappearance, he will find, is a result of xenophobic attacks. The film formed part of the Tell Them We Are From Here campaign that travelled around the world spreading an anti-xenophobia message. “Man on Ground is part of this continual reflection and is also a strong appeal for healing to ensure such killings do not happen again,” he said at the time. This week he told City Press: “We still have a lot of work to do. We should work together. There was one man from Mpumalanga in the documentary we made during the campaign who said that instead of burning the shops we should ask: why are we not partners, why are we not learning, why are we not working together.”

Nelisiwe Xaba

Dancer and choreographer Xaba used her performance at the Musée de l’Homme in 2008 to highlight the xenophobic attacks. She was addressing then French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who at the time was offering immigrants R80?000 to leave France. Her work Sakhozi Says “NON” to the Venus includes a reference to Sarah Baartman, whose bodily remains were once displayed within the Musée de l’Homme.

This week Xaba was angry with politicians for not acting decisively. “What’s sad is black on black crime, black on black hate, black on black murder. Their frustration is not with these people; it comes from somewhere else. The problem is much deeper than the foreigner.”

Sindiso Nyoni

Zimbabwean-born graphic designer Nyoni used his experience of otherness to create a series of self-portraits titled Ghost.

“At that time the work was a reflection of my experiences as an immigrant worker. I had come here to study and felt firsthand that you don’t feel welcome here – in the sense that if you can’t speak certain languages you are excluded.

“I was working at a bar where the boundaries between communication really highlighted what it was like to face that sort of exclusion,”

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