Multidisciplinary artist Sethembile Msezane on history, commemorative practice and making space for omitted stories of black women in history

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Artist Sethembile Msezane produced and starred in the new short film, Isimo. (Sethembile Msezane)
Artist Sethembile Msezane produced and starred in the new short film, Isimo. (Sethembile Msezane)

The women in Sethembile Msezane’s work demand your attention. They stand, on top of mountains, on plinths in the middle of Rhodes Must Fall crowds. They wake up on beds in the middle of a field. They stand defiantly with their fists up on public holidays; ring large bells to signal the return of those women whose deaths are quickly forgotten. They kneel on top of World Heritage sites diagnosing the world’s illnesses and drawing attention to our disconnect from nature. In whichever medium we meet her work -- film, photography, performance, sculpture or drawings -- Sethembile Msezane is always commemorating the stories of women. Black women in particular.

On an overcast day, a woman dressed in white from head to toe, a white wide-brimmed haton her head, stands on top of Table Mountain. She is looking over Cape Town, below her feet Vredehoek, District 6, the harbour, the ocean. The woman, bowl in hand, walks up the mountain following the sound of three toddlers, as they sing while they work. The woman guides the toddlers up the mountain where, books and maps in hand, they enter session, learning in a classroom among the rocks, birds and the trees. 

These are scenes from Isimo, Msezane’s latest film, that tells the story of an ancestral matriachal figure who feels and holds the pain of the living in her womb and diagnoses the world as being ill, in need of healing.

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