Buhlebezwe Siwani

Dedisa Ubumnyama (Turn the darkness away)

15 Jan –
10 Mar 2021


Buhlebezwe Siwani was born in 1987 and lives and works between Amsterdam and Cape Town. Her art practice explores issues around intergenerational trauma experienced in contemporary South Africa.

Siwani is also a sangoma (a traditional spiritual healer), which informs much of her art practice. She works predominantly in performance, sculpture and video installation to interrogate historical entanglements between African spirituality and Christian belief systems, and the patriarchal framing of the black female body and black female experience within a South African context. In her photographs iSana libuyele kunina, the artist stands in the middle of a street in Makhaza with a chicken in her hand, and is also seen walking away from a Pentecostal church with the chicken on her head. In this work the road becomes a metaphor for continuity, while the church represents discontinuity. Animals in sangoma practice represent ancestors or spiritual forces, and the chicken in her photographic series is significant. It is a substitute, and as such it would usually face death. However, in this instance, it is a device for thinking about death as a form of continuity. The photographs summarise a complex belief system of South African Indigenous people, which is the result of introduced Christianity and colonialism.

In Umntuntu, Siwani presents a mythology of some clans of the Xhosa (members of a Southern African people traditionally living in the province of Eastern Cape) who believe themselves to be born from natural bodies of water. Some of the film’s protagonists are dressed in traditional Xhosa attire whilst others are wearing christian church gowns. The contrast in the clothing implies a shared intergenerational trauma and experience. Siwani’s three-channel video AmaHubo, is the isiZulu name for the Psalms in the Christian Bible. The video features a group of women dressed in white in an arid landscape performing rituals while the artist’s steady voice recites poetry in English and isiZulu that implores the listener to resist against violence and spiritual colonisation. The women are prophetesses who possess knowledge, make sacrifices, and traverse in-between spaces. They also represent a multiplicity of ‘selves’. Various scenes in the video reference rituals of Christianity and traditional faith in order to address the centrality of religion in the configuration of power and to draw attention to what processes of healing are needed in the postcolonial era.

The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji and Yirrganydji as the Traditional Owners of the area today known as Cairns. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.