Recently I was asked to pick my “Best Six,” i.e. “favorite (six) things from the last six months” for a regular feature in “Art South Africa” magazine. Here they are. I added the hyperlinks after it was was published.
1. Spoek Mathambo, #APARTHEIDAFTERPARTY #JUNE16, 2012
New South African electrorapper Mathambo (above) released this mixtape to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the famed student uprising against apartheid. Sixty-three tracks — an eclectic mix of South African sounds from the last forty years or so — make up the mixtape. It includes samples and songs from a range of musicians as diverse as Chris MacGregor (of The Blue Notes; Spoek counts him as an influence) to fellow mc Ben Sharpa, nostalgic takes from the eighties (Sipho Mabuse’s “Break dance”) and nineties (TKZee) as well as fellow Jozi hipsters The Brother Moves On (listen to their new EP ‘ETA’ here) and Dirty Paraffin. There’s also ridiculous soundbytes of Julius Malema (“You must treat me exactly like Nelson Mandela”) and Jacob Zuma. Mathambo is a poster boy for a colourblind post-apartheid hipster culture in the West, but the mixtape is proof that he is a more politically astute artist.
2. Mary Beth Meehan, Undocumented, 2012
Meehan, based in Brockton, Massachusetts, photographed the homes of undocumented migrants (from places like Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde and Guatemala) living around New England — people usually blamed for job losses and crime. The photographs show a collection of neat, functional rooms filled with a few personal effects. Meehan decided to photograph the rooms sans occupants, so as not to expose her subjects to adverse attention. As Orlando Reade blogged here at Africa is a Country, “the result of this is a peculiar attention to the dimensions and decoration of rooms and the objects with which they are populated.”
From the people who brought you Chimurenga Magazine (remember the all-white cover for the Cape Town issue or the use of a Rotimi Fani-Kayode image for the “Black Gays and Mugabes” cover?), the “speculative newspaper” project, the Chimurenga Chronic (too bad it is not published every Sunday) and the annual music festival the Pan African Space Station comes this Open Society-funded online portal (or blog?) of text, audio, video and photography. It contains a mix of classic texts, cut and paste here and there and fresh writing from young people from across the African Diaspora. It is also proof that despite their success (exhibiting at Documenta 12 and a big Dutch government prize), Chimurenga keep coming up with new, big ideas.
4. Filmmakers Dylan Valley and Khalid Shamis
Separately they’ve directed critically acclaimed feature documentary films — Valley’s “Afrikaaps” (2010) and Shamis’s “Imam and I” (2011) — but also collaborate regularly. “Afrikaaps“, a film about the creole roots of Afrikaans, is as much also Shamis’s work — he edited it. Capetonian Valley shot his first documentary on hip hop pioneers Prophets of da City (2006) while still a student at the University of Cape Town. “Iman and I” is Shamis making sense of his South African family history: his grandfather is Imam Abdullah Haron, who was murdered by apartheid police in 1969. Their latest collaboration is “Jumu’a: The Gathering” (2012), a short film commissioned by South Africa’s public broadcaster, about a small community of Murabitun Muslims in Muizenberg started by a Scottish convert to Islam. Shamis, who grew up in London, is also working on a film about his father, a Libyan dissident who returned home after the fall of Gaddafi. Shamis destabilizes neat struggle narratives and confronts the duplicitous history of some in the Muslim community in Cape Town.
I first heard the band tUnE-yArDs (that’s the way they write it) in early 2011. They cite reggae crooner Barrington Levy, blues singers Odetta and Woody Guthrie, Fela Kuti, former American first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, film genius Charlie Chaplin and Bertolt Brecht as influences for their brassy mix of rhythmic and melodic chants and loops. I wouldn’t have cared about them, but for lead singer Merrill Garbus. A force of nature (a friend described her as a “musical shaman”). Her voice may comes as a surprise to some. Her style is influenced by a short stay in Kenya and she’s clearly impacted by Björk and Fela Kuti. Garbus, for me at least, also fills the stage — two other contemporary women singers who pull that off are, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes and Rita Indiana.
6. Meleko Mokgosi
Born in rural Botswana, Mokgosi is a painter who works out of Los Angeles, where his current work, “Pax Kaffraria: Sikhueselo Sembumbulo” (2012), a sixty-foot canvas, part of a series, comprises ten interlocking panels and fills three adjoining gallery walls. I first heard about his work while he was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Pax Kaffraria is currently on display at the Hammer Gallery. Mokgosi is also a finalist for the Mohn Award, LA’s top prize for young artists. Yael Lipschutz writes in “Art in America” (June 2012): “This allusive visual strategy, in which larger-than-life African priests, soldiers and grandmothers float atop blank zones of negative space, results in a ‘realism’ that is magical, imaginative and fluid. Rather than emulating journalistic set pieces with fixed story frames, Mokgosi’s paintings come to us as detective stories or dreamscapes from a faraway continent.”
* This is an edited version of the Art South Africa feature.