Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I'm no David Goldblatt but I have gained a bit of confidence when it comes to using the weapon that is the camera as a tool to learn a little more about my new environment in central Johannesburg. Those of you who are regular readers will remember a post I wrote two weeks ago about claiming my space in Yeoville, my new neighborhood. I'm still quite enjoying the process and would love to share a little adventure I had two weekends ago when I decided to spend a Saturday morning in Joubert Park and the surrounds.
I started at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, one of Joburg's most iconic buildings and an important institution in South African art. That was such a good visit that it actually deserves its own separate post. I took too many pictures and between the Louise Bourgeois and Yoko Ono works that are currently on exhibition at JAG and the 19th Century Xhosa smoking pipes, Tswana snuff spoons, Shona head rests and Tshonga beer mugs that I found, it's a story worth telling properly.
I spent about 90 minutes at the gallery and as I walked out onto Joubert Park, the park on which the gallery is built, I had high expectations for what I have always heard people say about it: that it's shit. Clearly I have been hanging out with questionable sources or maybe things have changed. I walked out of the park and saw a generous green carpet of grass on either side of the brick path. The grass was dotted by two patterns: lovers holding each other and people taking what looked like pap induced naps, as if they were walking and then they got got by the itis and fell asleep mid stride. All of the people in the park are black people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods or maybe somewhere else. The lovers were all holding one another quite closely as if they would not get the opportunity to do this again for a long time. Most of them were not sitting on blankets ''picnicking''. Some were just sitting on the grass either lying on their backs resting on their elbows or lying flat on stomachs side by side also resting on their elbows engrossed in intimate whispery conversation. Others were resting on the inclines of the hill lying flat on their backs not holding, but clasping one other's hands.
It was a strange and pleasant thing to see because public displays of affection feel like they belong to privileged people, people who have time to be preoccupied with being in love, people who can afford to place the public expression of love higher on their priority lists. The other day I was shocked when the cleaning lady at an office that I work from in Braamfontein said ''fuck'' when she realised that she would have to walk in the rain. Growing up in a society where cleaning ladies and caretakers who are all black, are frozen in these positions by uniforms and a limited interaction with the employers (more like their employers limited interaction with their lives) makes it peculiar to see working class people relaxing in the park.
The people that were sleeping were mostly middle aged men. The perplexing rhetoric we grew up hearing over and over in South Africa was ''black people are lazy''. That fucks with you as a child and it's something you have to unlearn by forcibly exposing yourself to the truth, which of course is the complete opposite because black people are the earliest risers on farms that feed the nation, the first to walk the streets of this and every other city in this country, not for exercise but on their way to work for a pittance. The only thing valuable about diamonds and gold (I've never been a fan of either because I simply never understood what actually makes them special besides a value that is taught) is the mining and over the last 130 years since gold was discovered in South Africa, that job has fallen on the poor who were of all colours in the beginning but these days of course it's poor black men that go kilometers under ground and physically use their bodies all day long digging and digging for pellets that they find but will never be theirs to keep, wealth they find but that will never be theirs to own. When I saw the sleeping men, I thought about the irony of the ''black people are lazy'' conditioning. I would also want to nap in the park if I was a construction worker or a gardener or a practically trained Bantu Education victim. Maybe I was projecting too much of my current state of mind into a mundane scene of typical South Africa.
I moved on from the sleepers and the lovers and made my way towards the exit of the park. I saw kids running around with frozen ice drinks towing toy trucks behind their mothers, a teenage girl who was wearing extremely high heels walking like she was regretting it and people of all ages dressed in Church uniforms coming or going to church. As I approached the exit onto Wolmarans street, I saw a sight that piqued a deep interest in me and began walking towards it. I used to be a keen chess player when I was in primary school. I would attend chess league matches with other kids and thoroughly enjoyed playing matches at school. I always enjoyed the solitude that that territory comes with.
When I saw a giant chessboard and chess pieces in this park and looked to the other side to see another giant board and pieces and mounds of men sitting engrossed in approximately ten games, I could hardly believe my eyes.
I made my way to what seemed like the big leaguers and in a 60 minute shifting procession, made my way from the periphery of the group of 40 plus men, into the the centre where the cooler cats were sitting together purring. I first sat and watched from a bench that I shared with a man who was at least 4 spaces away from me on the other end. I asked how one gets to play and he said he didn't know. Between watching the game and dying to get involved, I didn't notice that I kept shifting closer and closer to the cooler cats, of which the main one looked like a dressed down Georgie Zamdela. When I was too close not to greet, I got up to introduce myself to them. I asked them how one gets to play and one of them picked up a giant black bishop and said ''you tap the bishop twice onto the floor like this'' and he proceeded to knock on the floor. This man, dressed in a navy golf shirt and grey tracksuit pants, looked like he was the organiser. There was an air of authority about him but not of the douche variety. He had a friendly Phys. Ed teacher vibe about him. He said ''let me tap it on your behalf'' and he did. He then told me that he runs a chess league and that I should come and play anytime and after a few minutes of conversation in which I could tell the others were listening, I sat down and felt like I was a part of the group.
A man selling cigarettes came around to sell to the group and they were so engrossed in the game that he might as well have been a fly. I bought two Courtleigh (gross) loosies for R5 and lit up. I noticed that I was the only one doing anything either than concentrating on the game. None of them were drinking anything. None of them were smoking anything. None of them were concentrating on anything else. The game that was going on wasn't that interesting in that you could see who was going to win. 20 minutes later, the same ''fly'' guy came around again, this time with frozen guava juice ice drinks. I bought one for R2 and again, was the sole supporter of his business in the group. 10 minutes later, a new game had started and I was feeling anxious about my imminent game. It wasn't going to play until the 11 players ahead of me had played. A person, I can't remember whether it was a man or a woman, came around with a trolley full of canary yellow bananas. I bought one for R1 ndalumela ngeIce. I figured it would be another hour or so before I actually played and I didn't have all day to wait. I must have been there for about 70 minutes before I decided that I would rather be taking pictures. I asked a guy that was the same age as me whether it would be okay to take photographs of this setting and he said yes. I was a bit shy and only mildly took my camera out of my handbag. I took two pictures almost surreptitiously and another two when I realised that these men did not care to look at me. I got up and said I would see them later. I left with a sense of accomplishment, that even though I did not get to play, I felt like I was part of something else. I was the only woman in that group and I enjoyed being surrounded by older black men who were sitting in silence concentrating. I stood out because I was the only one that was fidgeting - with an oral fixation and restless fingers. I didn't have my cellphone with me so I think I was having a hard time being fully present without my usual vices. It was strange to be in a social setting without music and alcohol. It was sobering.
I walked out of the park and onto Wolmarans Street. To my left, I saw a large congregation of Zionists at church and took a few photographs in between the grooves of the metal fence. I have not stopped thinking about the phenomenon that is black people and the church ever since I moved to Yeoville where I am surrounded by praying people all the time. Seeing them is now commonplace but it has awakened a serious interest in the religious zeal of Africans. God must have heard my cry for more knowledge and a better understanding of this because out of thin air, I found a book while I was unpacking my apartment, a tattered old thing called ''Essays on Black Theology''. I have no idea how this book got into my boxes but I opened it to find a hand written note from 1982, a gift to the recipient on his 84th birthday. In it is a collection of essays written in or before 1972 by the leaders of black thought at that time including an essay by the then South African Students Organisation president Steve Biko and a striking essay by Adam Small amongst many others. I have been reading this book and my understanding of the world is unravelling like an epic poem. I won't say more until I have a better understanding of it and have fully grasped how to understand in in the context of modern life.
I continued to walk around town this time with my camera confidently hanging from my neck and I photographed things that I found interesting. The kids that you see in the first picture were on their way to a birthday party at their father's friends house. The young man standing in front of the Johnnie Walker advert asked me if I could take a picture of him and there were other people whom I met. I walked around the area for about an hour before heading back to JAG where my car was parked. I drove out of JAG down to the Steers near Ponte. I was starving and felt like I deserved a burger. I drove home rushing to eat and change and go to Greenside where I had an appointment. The weather had other plans. By the time I got to my building, a very dramatic afternoon shower had descended upon the skyline and I watched our dirty city take a shower through the steamy windscreen of my car. It was too intense to get out so I sat in the car slowly chewing the fat of a franchise burger. And I loved it.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Hahaha I know what you were expecting from that ambiguous title......
This past weekend I went to the North West to a very remote village 20 km past Groot Marico about 3 hours from Johannesburg. My friends were getting married and it was a perfect reason to let the phone batteries die and live in a Buddhist retreat for 3 days with amazing food, no cellphone reception, a perfect marriage of wet and dry weather and time well spent with old friends and new ones. We live in a country with such diverse in its beauty. We were all pleasantly surprised when our guide led us to the Eye of the Marico River and it was the most beautiful swim, on literal lily pads and water so clear that it looked fake. We're so lucky we live in South Africa. I travel locally whenever the opportunity arises and I'm always amazed at how much more beautiful this land is.
Not to sound like the ad or anything, but take a shot'left if you have a little gas in your car or a few hundred in the pig. The pictures were taken by me, King B (the very cool guy from Warm and Glad, you know which one) and Sian Elliot.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
You might have seen this on Facebook or Twitter but in case you haven't, Joop! Homme is relaunching South Africa and are looking for a South African brand ambassador. They've (cleverly) narrowed the search down to possibly two of the best potentials in models and presenters Maps Maponyane and Lunga Shabalala. These two have to compete in a series of challenges and activities over the next few weeks to determine who is the better Joop! Man and fans and readers will vote in their favourite to be the ambassador.
For instance, this week, the guys each have to take a girl out on The Best Date Ever. They have to execute the best date they can think of and it's up to fans to vote to decide which date was better, with feedback from the girls of course. My friends. Grown women who are older than these guys have entered to win the date and I don't blame them shem.
The winner will be announced at a fancy affair on 21 November where readers and fans will get the opportunity to attend. Oh and most importantly, vote for your favourite as many times as you want by SMSing MAPS or LUNGA to 45205
Are you #TeamMaps or #TeamLunga? Vote here
One would expect this kind of thing to have launched at the peak of the bricks-to-clicks exodus, which over the last 3 years saw the an exponential growth in online retail stores, especially by bricks and mortar retailers who were all chasing the winds made by the massive increase in customers shopping for clothing online.
But here in Africa, we are only launching our first pan African fashion online store in 2013. And there's a very good reason. What KISUA has managed to achieve is a first and something to be extremely proud of. Conceptualised by CEO and Founder Samuel Mensah, a Ghanaina businessman who at that point was not even mildly related to the fashion industry, the idea to launch an online store where African designers will sell Ready-To-Wear clothing to a global market was not unique, it had just not been done properly.
After working on the idea for over a year, Mensah was introduced to Danica Lepen, formerly at Black Coffee and Creative Director at Marion and Lindie before the company closed its doors. Not one to miss an opportunity when he sees one, Mensah got Lepen on board as the Creative Director and soon Kisua was born. It would be another 10 months before the store would launch.
I worked at Kisua for a few months and got a full understanding of what it is like to not only launch an e-store, but one where the production of the clothing is done in house but there are many designers to work with. Kisua approaches designers (or designers can approach Kisua) and makes collaborative clothing ranges with the designer to create a new range that Kisua will sell under the name Kisua by X Designer, from which profits will be distributed accordingly. The market they are targeting is the US and the UK purely because there is very little presence of African fashion on a Ready to Wear scale in the EU and US. The online shopping culture and economic activity is also much more developed in those markets so it only makes sense to launch something like this right now. It was a very high pressure environment and personally, especially after closing Mememe and the stress that came with that, I had no business being involved in another business so soon.
The response has been good so far with coverage from international titles such as Style.com, Elle and Vogue and interest from bloggers like Phil Oh, Tamu McPherson of All The Pretty Birds and Where Did U Get That's Karen Blanchard. It's no wonder. Kisua is working with probably the biggest and best PR and Digital Agency in the world Karla Otto, whose other clients include Celine, Maison Martin Margiella, Giambatista Valli, Valentino and Viktor and Rolfe.
I'm interested to see the growth of this company, the reception to a neo-African aesthetic when it comes to fashion, one that celebrates our foundation in prints and patterns, but what that transcends the typical and will hopefully shape a more modern aesthetic that people feel comfortable wearing every day. The designers that they have launched with are relatively unknown outside their countries. I didn't even know them but enjoyed seeing the process of how the eventual garments came to be based on what the designers submitted and what the Kisua design team did. I'm interested to see what other names they will work with, hopefully more established ones who carry more clout internationally.
If you didn't know, now you do. It seems like a distant mare (as in night) the time I lived my life not knowing who Fela Kuti was. I was introduced to his music in 2007 by an ex (the one thing exes are good for = music) and since then have joined the legions of Fela fans all over the world. His music never gets old and makes you feel like neither will you.
But this post is not about Fela, it's about his Queens - the 27 Women whom he married on the same day and a few years later divorced stating that he didn't believe in marriage. To me, these women are style icons who were so beyond their time that the world is still not really ready to see women looking like this nje on a Tuesday. That make up. The hair. The accessories. The attitude. Thank you history.
Pics from okayafrica.com