Monday, May 25, 2020

Relwa ntwa ya kokwana took ya Corona: Ramarutha Makoba

Ramarutha Makoba
Relwa ntwa ya kokwana took ya Corona
Together We fighting the sickness of Coronavirus

 Ramarutha Makoba
Relwa ntwa ya kokwana took ya Corona
(From sePedi: "Together We are fighting the sickness of Coronavirus")
Charcoal, acrylic and pastels on fabiano paper.
140x80 cm

The Lockdown Collection (TLC): Extension Collection (South Africa). May 2020.

Commentaries by Pamela Allara, David Coplan, and Mark Auslander

Overview: The image is dominated by a large, front- facing  male figure, a miner, clad in a protective mask,  mining ear protection, glovs, boots, and work uniform. In the left  background, we see a large mining shaft, its wheels in red. Behind the figure we see houses and several smaller figures, one with his back turned to us, pushing a wheelbarrow To the right, roughly balanced with the mine shaft we see the outlines of a lone tree in full foliage, as well as a streetlight, and a distant cityscape. Above the horizon, flanking the figure, we see drawn lines in red and black, perhaps evocative of energy or even of angels' wings.

Artist's Statement: My statement for covid19 art work was constructed from my new concept which is mining. Named it "Relwa ntwa ya kokwana took ya Corona"  meaning (Together We are fighting the sickness of Coronavirus). I used the man who works in the mines as the metaphor because of the protection gear they wear when going underground. It is as similar with the scientist and doctors how they dress up to protect them when going to discover and fight the virus. The country has to work together during this covid19 as the mining plays a big role. How? The mining needs save lives by making sure it produces its main functioning. The doctor and scientist needs the power of electricity in order to perform their duties to save lives of those who are infected by the virus. The patrol stations needs to be filled with oil to fill the transportation in order to reach to the patients and hospitals at any time of state of the emergency. We as the country we fighting the sickness that is invisible. As the world we need to work hand in hand to fight the covid-19 and help our presidency by respecting and complying with the regulations. My inspired art work I look at it and see the man who's ready go in a war to fight and who has a belief that through God we will overcome the covid 19 pandemic. It is a prayer again that through God we will win the coronavirus.

Pamela Allara: In Makoba’s composition, the miner’s body fills the space vertically from top to bottom. It is evident from his firm, rooted stance that he is resolute, determined and immovable. Behind him on the left is the rigging for a gold mine, which is the historic source of Johannesburg’s wealth, but also of the creation of a severely exploited labor force. Unlike the miners in Kentridge’s film “Mine” (1991), however, this miner’s body is not broken, far from it. Behind him in the lower register are township houses that frequently appear in Makoba’s artwork. In front of the house on the right is a boy, partially obscured by the miner’s arm, playing with a wire toy car. A woman carrying a bag has her back to us, as if she is about to enter the house. Beyond and above the domestic scene is a tree and an electric light fixture; this township has grown up around the mine itself, so that families do not have to be separated, as they were in the past when miners left their families in remote rural villages. Our fearless miner is ‘keeping the lights on’ and the family together in a time of crisis.

David Coplan:  I appreciate the artist’s use of red accents, especially the mining head-gear, and the lone tree, that like the miner stands unbowed amid the industrial wreckage. These accents enliven the image and draw attention to key elements just enough, producing a nice compositional balance. The central figure is outsized, not only proportionately but also because he is not posed in front of the mine or its structures but rather before a low, rambling set of humble structures off-mine that represent where camp followers and even some miners and families live. There is a woman in the background to indicate a domestic setting. The mask is for Covid-19, but the side pieces appear more like the ear protection pads miners wear underground. His stance, as Mark notes below, is that of a gunslinger but steadfast rather than aggressive. A bit of a hero out of Soviet socialist realism but of course not formulaic. His boots do have an incredible shine, though, especially as in life they are always dirty after a shift underground.  The miner’s gaze is powerful, but to me has a bit of the “what’s it to you” seen in many photographs of miners.There is an element of challenge to it.

Mark Auslander: The miner here is likened to a physician or health worker, who heroically descends into the internal depths and mysteries of the human body, returning to the surface with the treasure of health.  The miner's ventilation mask is rendered akin to the personal protective gear worn by frontline health workers. As suggested in the artist's statement, the towering miner  stands in for the national body politic, whose collective energies must be directed to the struggle against the coronavirus. Lines of energy seem to circulate around the upper body of the miner, some suggesting (as in many depictions of frontline medical workers around the world) that he is angel-like.  American viewers are likely to see in the miner's stance an echo of the classic sheriff or gunslinger in an American Western, his hands held loosely at his side ready to fire in an instant.

Significantly, the artist's linguistic and ethnic heritage is grounded in the Bapedi community. Trees are of great medicinal and spiritual importance for Bapedi healers and ritual specialists, and are at times intimately associated with the protective embrace of the ancestral shades. It would appear that the great tree that touches the miner's left arm helps infuse him with the strength needed to wage the coming struggle.

Makoba implies an analogy between this tree to the miner's left and the mine shaft  to this right. The artist has written that the most meaningful people in one's life are those who are like the roots of a tree, and here one senses that the miner in front of us, like the mine and the tree themselves, has foundations and roots that sink deep underground.  (Like Pam, I'm reminded of William Kentridge's 1991 film "Mine," in which we descend  from the minelord Soko Eckstein's desk through the shaft into the mysteries of the underworld and psychic underground of the protagonist.)

Among the Bapedi people, there is a long history of miners being engaged in the defense of the community, In the 1800s, young men who had undergone initiation together and formed age regiments (mephato) traveled together to the mines around Kimberly; the resources they remitted home, including firearms, allowed the Pedi sovereigns Sekwati and Sekhukhune I for a time to defend the realm against the Transvaal Republic and the South African Republic (Delius 1984: Paulin 2002).  More recently, Bapedi migrant miners have provided vital financial and logistical support to the revivatilziation of the institution of BaPedi chieftancy (Oomen 2016).

The analogy between going to work in the mines and heading out to battle is well developed in South African popular culture, especially in the word music or difela of the Basotho people, most famously analyzed in David Coplan's 1994 monograph and in the 1988 film by Gei Zantzinger "Songs of the Adventurers," based on Coplan's research.  (Basotho men, Coplan notes, were the fabled "shaft sinkers" on the Rand, who justly boast to this day that "we dug the mines.")

In the complex poetic imagery of difela, a reworking of the classical poetics of precolonial war songs and male ritual initiation language, the miner enters into a highly transformative field of conflict underground, which is mirrored in the poetic duels undertaken among male miners within mining compounds. Danger lurks in the mines, but so does a chance for glory and mastery, in an assertive masculine idiom.  It would appear that such is also the case for the national struggle against Covid-19: for all the terrible dangers that confront the nation, the collectivity just might emerge from the battle transformed and re-empowered.


David B. Coplan, 1994.  In the Time of Cannibals. The Word Music of South Africa's Basotho Migrants. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Peter Delius. 1984.  The Land Belongs to Us: The Pedi Polity, the Boers and the British in the Nineteenth-Century Transvaal. Heinemann

Barbara Oomen, 2016. McTradition in the New South Africa: Commodified Custom and Rights Talk with the Bafokeng and the BaPedi, in  Mobile People, Mobile Law: Expanding Legal Relations in a Contracting World. Franz von Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von Benda,eds.  Routledge.

Christopher Paulin. 2002 White Men's Dreams, Black Men's Blood: African Labor and British Expansionism in Southern Africa, 1877-1895. Africa World Press.

For more information:
#TLCExtensionCollection #ArtForGood #TheLockdownCollection

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