ARTIST GUIDE TO CAPE TOWN – THANDIWE MSEBENZI

 Interview written by Valeria Geselev

What role do you play in the Cape Town arts world?

I work as an independent artist from a studio at Greatmore Art Studios. I’m doing mostly photography. Currently my work tackles rape culture and how its silenced in our communities, it was sparked by my daily experience as a woman living in Cape Town and the amount of harassment I go through every day. My work confronts that silence and creates a haunting conversation.

My work seeks to be educational, and to exist beyond the gallery. When I have exhibitions, I like inviting high-school learners and students. I also used to teach in a high-school – that’s where I became aware of young people’s visual culture, which is not as elitist as the way I was taught to make art. Teaching humbled me.

Which artwork tells the story of contemporary Cape Town?

The work shhhh, 2016, best tells my experience of the being in the city. Where we are policed about how to dress. When we get raped and harassment we are blamed for provoking people.

It is a photograph of me covered by a jacket that is hanging on a line. Only my legs are showing. The photograph was taken by my mother. It was based on an incident that happened to me. Trying to make something beautiful of your pain makes it less painful.

The first time I showed it was on facebook – and a lot of people got it. People responded saying ‘I know how you feel’ or telling me of a similar incident that happened to them. Comments from social media encourage me to keep on doing the work. I exhibited the work twice – in my solo show at ORMS and in a group show at 99 Loop.

The year 2016 was a year of ‘outing’ – with more public conversations on this theme. It was influenced by the FeesMustFall movement, which brought the culture of calling things out.

Where would you take a visitor, if you had one place to choose?

Sea Point promenade.  I’m from Cape Town, grew up in Nyanga, and I never heard of it before. Only in 2016 I realized that we have that in Cape Town. I felt wow when I saw it.  Because of the segregation, we don’t know our Cape Town. I was deprived from accessing this part of my land. It took me time to understand that this city belongs to me. I go there to be entitled. I enjoy being in that space, even though it takes two taxis to get there. I’m there for the breeze, to relax on a blanket and play with my young cousin.

How do you see the role of arts in the social life of Cape Town?

Cape Town artists are incredible in that their works question and challenge existing systems, and they are unapologetic about it. Sethembile Msezane, for example, does public art in response to the absence of black female monuments. She occupies spaces by standing on a plinth. She is not afraid to challenge the system.

What is the most interesting thing that happened in the local art world recently?

There is a collective of black woman called iQhiya, from Cape Town. I’m part of it. We did the work The Commute I at Company Gardens in Cape Town. We dressed up slick, as if we are going to a gala, but instead of entering the Iziko National Gallery we got into a taxi. There we started drinking champagne, playing music and having a meeting. We danced to Rehana and talked about language.  We were there after the time black people occupy the city. We were behaving in a way that brought the ghetto to the gardens. It was one of my favourite performances (we never really perform, it’s rather an experience, a conversation amongst us).

Last  year we were part of Documenta 14 in Greece and Germany representing Cape Town and South Africa. We were amongst the youngest artists showing in Documenta, which is a global platform.

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