Ok’salayo siyajola: Papi Konopi considers the things we say

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'Ok'salayo Siyajola' from Oratile Papi Konopi's on going series 'Bua Le Ênê' (Supplied by artist)
'Ok'salayo Siyajola' from Oratile Papi Konopi's on going series 'Bua Le Ênê' (Supplied by artist)

"Words are powerful," sighs Oratile Papi Konopi, the multidisciplinary artist behind Bua Le Ênê

Centred around a study of black masculinities in urban South Africa, Konopi’s current multidisciplinary practice uses language and popular forms to contemplate the complexities of gender with a keen look at how they transpire in relationships.

Taken from Setswana, Bua Le Ênê translated into English is an instruction to: speak to them. "And that’s the thing, I just want us to talk," he says when asked about the creation of the ongoing body of work that is Bua Le Ênê

Before Bua Le Ênê was Ênê, an intervention that the artist established to "explore the matrix of masculinities" after, what Konopi refers to as, being assumed into manhood before understanding what being a man is. To examine the matrix and engage with its tensions, Konopi used conceptual and documentary photography to study and articulate the ways he saw masculinity being performed before him. 

"As mfana wa ko kasi, fourth generation Soweto, I was raised in an urban landscape. I only know so much about cultural practices. So I began interrogating what it has meant to become a man in the context I had access to," says Konopi with regard to rites of passage void of cultural practices like going to initiation school. 

Konopi's work then evolved to include object interaction in a performance piece titled Ene: The Matrix of Masculinities. During this once off performance in 2018, Konopi inspected and pulled at a man-made web, representing the patriarchal masculinities that he was entangled in. 

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