Art in times of a coming revolution

ITAI Hakim is a folk-soul singer, guitarist and songwriter with a sense of humor and a consciousness that allows for thoughtful conversation and spine-chilling socially aware music.

ITAI HAKIM: The singer,

ITAI HAKIM: The singer, songwriter and guitarist is planning o releasing more music and more creative collaborations this year. Photo: Michelle Gumede

Born in Diepkloof, Soweto, Hakim says he grew up listening to the likes of West Life, Andrea Bocelli, and only later were his tastes in music challenged. “From the get go I wasn’t listening to anything traditional or deeply black. I think my first interaction with a black musician was Craig David, and you know he is very sanitised,” he says.

He went to a mostly white primary school “in the suburbs and I became culturally assimilated.” His first encounters with “race” as a social qualifier of space and opportunity was in high school, “when your white friend can’t come over and sleep at your house because you live in Soweto, that’s when you realise that something is off,” he says laughing.

By the time Hakim got to Wits University, where he studied Psychology, Sociology, English and Philosophy, his conceptions of the world and music were highly influenced by the “underground” hip hop, slam poetry and live music scene of the late 2000’s.

By the time 2012 came, he had been performing in gigs around Johannesburg in different bands and he would later be signed, as part of the group 8 Bars Short at Motif records (although this didn’t work out as planned). He would also perform his Tsonga and Venda folk vocals in a tour of the United Kingdom with the band, The Brother Moves On.

For him going to the UK was a sobering experience, “it was great in the sense that it felt like it was all me, you know, I couldn’t be like it was because of someone else who made it happen.”

With an upcoming international tour, an EP and an album to be released later this year, the current events that have woken different forms of resistance in universities across the country have pushed Hakim, and many other artists, to interrogate the inextricable connections between art and politics. “Will inequality exist forever? That scares me… I don’t think that, or at least I don’t want that to be the case. So we need to make a plan, so that this is not the case,” he says.

“My question even as an artist is ‘how big is your fight?’” he says. “It’s the same thing as an artist, as a journalist, as a doctor, as a policeman. You always have the issues of justice that you always have to negotiate with internally.”


CONSCIOUS MUSICIANS: Itai Hakim is also part of the group, Children Of The Wind with poet Modise Sekgothe. Photo: Michelle Gumede

One of Hakim’s interests are in storytelling, specifically writing books for young black children with black illustrations as a way to counter and speak against a narrative that feeds young black children whiteness and white values from a young age.

Pointing to a book he is currently reading by black feminist scholar and cultural critic, bell hooks, called Black Looks: Race and Representation, he speaks about how the book has helped him contextualize notions of black representation and how certain messages i.e. writing black children’s books, are important, valid and necessary.

Speaking about the student movement and the paintings that were burnt by #RhodesMustFall activists at the University of Cape Town he says: “I just found myself asking the question, ‘kanti how is a revolution supposed to happen?’ We can’t always be in dialogue debating, and in meetings, no. And I feel like South Africa has been here before.”

“What do you expect to happen? You gonna spend R2 million on secret police and tell us there is no money for kids?”

With music projects, theatre collaborations, and writing projects coming up, Hakim believes the question that artists should be asking themselves now is, “as an artist you are never neutral… are you just doing this just to be popular or are you for real for real? I think every artist needs to ask themselves that question at some point.”


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Wits lecturer scoops eleven nominations at the Naledi Theatre Awards

Performance Studies and Dramatic Writing lecturer Makhaola Siyanda Ndebele’s two productions have been nominated for a score of awards at the Naledi Theatre Awards.   Continue reading

The Fuck Campaign at Wits

All pictures by Zimasa Mpemnyama

By Masego Panyane

UPDATE: The South African Human Right Commission (SAHRC)’s Issac Mangena has confirmed that a complaint has been laid with the commission regarding Mthunzi’s t-shirt and the matter is being looked into by the commission. Mangena added that there will be no hearing held by the commission for Mthunzi on Wednesday.

A group of protesting students took to the Great Hall Piazza to voice their displeasure about a fellow student, Zama Mthunzi being reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for Hate Speech over a t-shirt he created during an artistic protest over the financial exclusion of poor students, presence of security personnel and other reasons, on campus in January.

Mthunzi, a 3rd year Mathematical Sciences student caused a stir on social media after an image of him in a t-shirt written “Fuck White People” trended on social media sites.

The Art Activation, which happened in January, was a protest organized by students to say how they felt at Wits-like they are “dying” because of the “oppression they face at the hands of the institution”. Mthunzi says the activation was when he ‘spontaneously’ created his t-shirt to show how he was feeling at time.

“I just took a t-shirt and I wrote how I was feeling at that moment. I was feeling hatred, because it was times of financial exclusion…and you’d look, come to lines and see how White people are paying, they’re relaxed, there are no financial problems so it arose that Black exclusion is so [rampant] in this institution” Mthunzi said.

Mthunzi’s t-shirt was met with harsh criticism by some members of the university community with a complaint having been allegedly laid with the Human Rights Commission and an investigation taking place in the university.

The protest took place during the lunch hour on Monday afternoon and there was a considerable amount of security personnel guarding the Great Hall entrance and the immediate surroundings of the piazza. This, however, did not seem to faze the demonstrating students as they continued painting t-shirts, singing and explaining to fellow students why they were there.

The university released a statement condemning the actions of protesting students, and it has also stated that it has heard that Mthunzi will “apparently” be appearing before the SAHRC but they are “Not sure who laid the complaint with SAHRC”.

The demonstration is set to continue till Wednesday in solidarity with Mthunzi who will allegedly be appearing before the Human Rights Commission regarding this complaint.


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The short lifespan of the black mannequin

ON Tuesday, a picture of a black mannequin hanging by a noose from a tree at the Wits Library Lawns, made rounds on social media. The image was retweeted more than 600 times with Twitter users expressing outrage at the image which they said resembled the lynchings of black men in America.

The mannequin was hung late Monday night with clothes and placards but was discovered the following morning undressed.

Arriving on the scene almost an hour after the picture went viral, Wits Vuvuzela was told by SRC general secretary, Fasiha Hassan that the exhibition was part of #IsraelApartheidWeek activities and represented Israel’s disregard for black lives.

The message was clearly not well received, with some students not understanding its meaning.

Around 15 minutes later, Wits PSC members came and wrapped a Palestinian keffiyeh around the neck of the mannequin along with a t-shirt with the words, “Resistance is not Terrorism.”

A little while after that the mannequin was taken down, allegedly by students who felt insulted by the exhibition.

The mannequin was left on the ground of the library lawns, in two halves. When one of the Wits Palestine Solidarity Committee students was asked what happened to the exhibition, he replied: “It wasn’t received as we had wished.”

On Wednesday night, the Wits PSC released a statement apologising for the exhibition.

Review: The girl without a sound


What does it mean to find your voice? And as women of colour, who have historically been marginalised and (physically) silenced in many ways, how do we write, so that we don’t perpetuate the same oppressive culture? For Buhle Ngaba, her eagerness to speak back and ‘find her voice’ came in the form of writing a children’s book.

As she says in the preface, the book was written as a “healing balm” for herself. “For the part of me that winces every time black female bodies are dismissed or violated in a white, patriarchal and racist reality.”

The digital, free-for-download, poetically written book is a tale of a young girl with “a fluff of hair, a mouth the shape of a cherry blossom and brown pools for eyes”.

The girl in the story is voiceless, except for the humble hum of a golden cocoon in her throat – a hum only she can understand. As the story moves, the girl becomes and feels alienated because of her voicelessness. She grows empty and disheartened, compromising herself in order to ‘fit-in’.
But then something, or rather someone, in the form of a red-winged woman, brings the girl back to herself. She realises, “her voice, that she had been chasing, had been inside her all along”, writes Ngaba.

The story is accompanied by black and white images of a young girl and the red-winged woman which narrate the story in a compassionate way. On top of that, colourful illustrations layered onto the pictures give the book a playful and inviting feel.

The book tackles, visually and textually, the issue of black female representation and how certain fairy tale images [blonde hair, blue eyes and a very thin figure]; can be scarring for young girls.
In the introduction to Black Looks: Race and Representation, feminist scholar and cultural critic Bell Hooks says, “Opening a magazine or book … we are most likely to see images of black people that reinforce and re-inscribe white supremacy.”

Ngaba courageously puts herself in a space and position that intentionally undermine these images that re-inscribe white supremacy.
The book can be downloaded at


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Review: The Sound Of Silence at WAM


All pictures by Zimasa Mpemnyama

The second civil war in Sudan was from 1983 to 2005. Twenty-two years characterised by famine, disease and death. And as with any war situation, journalists and photographers were there, documenting the horrors of the war.

One of these photojournalists, Kevin Carter, became world famous after taking the iconic picture of a crouching baby girl being stalked by a vulture at a refugee camp.

Carter, who was part of the prominent Bang-bang club (a group of four white-male photographers who became known for taking pictures of apartheid violence in the late 80’s) and who won a Pulitzer Prize for the image, is said to have taken 20 minutes to take the picture. The question then has always been, why did Carter not go and help the little girl? A girl whose name, face and identity has now disappeared into the blank spaces of history where the most vulnerable (black bodies mostly) disappear into nothingness.

Bringing this picture taken in 1993 back into the spotlight is Chilean-born, New York-based artist, filmmaker and architect Alfredo Jaar. Showing at the Wits Art Museum, the installation work, called The Sound Of Silence, consists of a very large aluminium structure in the middle of the museum. On the side facing the entrance of the museum, the structure has large horizontal white lights. At the back of the box is an entrance to a pitch black cinema where a large black screen shows words written in white.

Kevin. Carter. Kevin Carter. The words read, going on to tell the story of the troubled photojournalist. In the silence and darkness of the room, one is absorbed into the screen. Towards the end of the display, four mounted cameras flash brightly to blind the audience, only to slowly reveal the picture in discussion.

Once the picture is revealed the words go on to examine the corporate ownership of such images and how such images are made to feed into capitalist consumption based on who owns them.

“For me this exhibition [in Johannesburg] is the most important exhibition of The Sound Of Silence,” said Jaar at the opening. “This is the 26th time that this work has been shown but finally for me The Sound Of Silence has come home. This is it’s home, this is the home of Kevin Carter, the protagonist of this work and I am very proud that it is being shown here.”

Following Jaar’s oeuvre, this installation challenges viewers to examine the problematic ways in which consumers and image makers partake in a process of giving or taking away power. Jaar indirectly asks, what is the responsibility of image makers (photographers, photojournalists)? And what is the responsibility of consumers and viewers? The ethical implications of capturing, owning and distributing such politically charged images are deeply questioned.

The Sound of Silence is showing at the Wits Art Museum from 23 February to Sunday 10 April 2016.


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