– Autumn/Winter 2019

Nang'umfazomnyama: Race and Technology in Dineo Seshee Bopape's is i am sky

Portia Malatjie

Dineo Seshee Bopape, +/- 1791 (monument to the haitian revolution 1791), 2017, mixed media. Installation view, Sharjah Biennial 13, 2017. Produced by Sharjah Art Foundation. Image courtesy Sharjah Art Foundation. Courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg/Beirut

Dineo Seshee Bopape’s multimodal practice brings together diverse materials – soil, ash, video mixers, gold leaf, candles, petrol, flowers, feathers and sound – to address memory, land and occupation in relation to the lived experiences of black people. Through video works and, more recently, large-scale immersive installations, she engages Afro-diasporic spiritual practices – primarily those that are linked to revolutionary endeavours – as a means to conjure the eradication of anti-black worlds. Bopape’s installations employ an intense physicality in order to articulate the continued dispossession of black people from their land, as well as the continuing forces of healing, emancipation and refusal. In the entrancing sa ___ ke lerole, (sa lerole ke __) (2016), for example, large quantities of compressed soil are composed into huge geometric shapes in which the artist plants materials such as herbs, ash, charcoal and gold leaf conceived as shrines to different Afro-diasporic events and practices such as appeasing ancestors or spiritually-led revolutions. Yet it is Bopape’s earlier uses of digital video – a medium often associated with immateriality – that is of particular interest to me. For it is in these seemingly ‘immaterial’ works,

  1. Conversation with the author, 2019.

  2. The song was first composed and sung by Peter Mokaba at the funeral of assassinated uMkhonto we Sizwe member Chris Hani in 1993.

  3. See Gugu Hlongwane and Khondlo Mtshali, ‘Contextualizing South Africa’s Freedom Songs: A Critical Appropriation of Lee Hirsch’s Amandla!: A Revolution in Four Part Harmony’, Journal of Black Studies, vol.45, no.6, 2014, pp.507–27.

  4. It is this song that has been disambiguated into the essay title: nang’umfazomnyama (‘here comes the black woman’). Nans’indod’emnyama Verwoerd was originally composed by Vuyisile Mini in the 1950s.

  5. Retha Langa, ‘A “Counter-Monument” to the Liberation Struggle: The Deployment of Struggle Songs in Post-Apartheid South Africa’, South African Historical Journal, vol.70, no.1, 2018, pp.215–33.

  6. Ray P. Norris and Bill Yidumduma Harney, ‘Songlines and Navigation in Wardaman and Other Australian Aboriginal Cultures’, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, vol.17, no.2, 2014, pp.1–15.

  7. Bill Gammage, cited in ibid., p.6.

  8. Louis Chude-Sokei, The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2016, p.5.

  9. Ibid., pp.6 and 19.

  10. Ibid., p.6.

  11. Ibid., p.5.

  12. Strother B. Purdy, ‘Technopoetics: Seeing What Literature Has to Do with the Machine’, Critical Inquiry, vol.11, no.1, September 1984, pp.130–40.

  13. Ibid., p.133.

  14. This connects with what Simon Reynolds once said about English musician Tricky’s practice: that it ‘[retains] the glitches and inspired errors, the [sonic] hiss and crackle’. Cited in Mark Fisher, ‘The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology’, Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Music Culture, vol.5, no.2, 2013, pp.42–55.

  15. Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation: The Collected Poetry and Prose (ed. James L. Wolf and Hartmut Geerken), Wartaweil: Waitawhile, 2005, p.147.

  16. Ra’s poem oscillates between the ‘notion of nations’, ‘build[ing] a magic world’ and the endless treasure to be found in his ‘endless realm of nothing’; see ibid.