A Breathing Space Project
In 2020 we saw many of our assumptions about society, culture and economy upturned or broken. We saw in equal measure the emergence of possibilities for rapid and transformative change, and the deepening of existing fractures and injustices. It is clear we are inside a period of disruption that neither began nor will end with the COVID-19 pandemic, and in which the larger social-economic-ecological crises of our time become vivid and present. Against this backdrop, the Breathing Space grant programme of Pro Helvetia’s Johannesburg office looked to enable modest relief, or ‘breathing space’, for arts practitioners, organisations and networks across the subcontinent to rethink ways of working, to experiment with new formats of production, exchange and collaboration and reimagine the shape and position of cultural and creative work.
Motherbox is an artist-led organisation curious about collaborative arts processes and finding ways to articulate these. Mother Mind is a multi-faceted project of interconnected activities that is inspired by Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa’s notion of the ‘mother mind’– circular, multidirectional approaches to thinking and organisation that acknowledge the instinctual as well as the intellectual. The Mother Mind project focuses on two aspects: the organisation’s short-term investment in a series of four long-term projects by artist pairs already working intimately and long-distance; and developing research into a sustainable grant for African artist-mothers. Developed out of the uncertainty and flux of the current times, Motherbox see these projects as studies and practices for adaptable forms and ways of working. Each artist pair project has its own organic timeline and process framework, with Motherbox facilitating practical conversations about outcomes as the artists amass material.
The four artist pairs are:
H.Magumura (SA/Sri Lanka) & Urmila Abrahamse (SA) – Unpacking sex, death, intimacy and memory through experimental, call-and-response writing, and regular correspondence.
Mthabisi Sithole (SA) & Lindiwe Matshikiza (SA) – Collaborative writing using methods of free writing from a prompt with regular exchanges via email. This has been developed into a proposal for others to experiment with, to make space for their own creativity through writing, away from screens and without judgement or attention to form.
Lindiwe Matshikiza & Tracy September (SA, Zürich-based) – Oral history, archival and research project titled A *C of Voices: Audio interviews with womxn from South Africa, Switzerland, Cameroon, Japan and Brazil. They are now considering how best to continue/use/share/present the archive online towards community-building outcomes.
João Renato Orecchia Zúñiga (SA) & Lindiwe Matshikiza – Interdisciplinary performance project titled Sex With Demons: Exploring themes of fragility and failure through sound, text, live and digital performance, with multidisciplinary artist Amina Ross collaborating long-distance with visual art. Exploring hybrid forms of presentation and episodic storytelling,
Motherbox explain: “We find these processes of co-authoring, workshopping, and establishing (often) temporary methodologies to be exciting and symbolic of the times. We are drawn to the fact that the artists are already doing the work, unsupported except by each other; that there is a fluid approach to working between analogue and digital worlds; and that the artists are working at a distance – either from each other or in how they revisit the project between paid work – which itself forms a distinct feature of the process.”
Alongside the artist pairs, Motherbox has continued research for an annual or bi-annual micro-grant aimed at supporting artist-mothers in Africa, towards developing a proposal to attract future partners. Envisioned as a way to recognise the unique creative state of new motherhood, the grant also aims to support artist-mothers practically through a stipend, support systems, and access to a network and communal sounding board of other artist-mothers, thus supporting the recipient in the process of (re)invention and shaping her new reality.
Motherbox: Organisation for Cooperation in the Arts is a non-profit, artist-led organisation looking at collaborative arts processes and finding ways to articulate them. Motherbox consists of three independent artists – Lindiwe Matshikiza (SA), Mmakgosi Kgabi (SA/Botswana), and João Orecchia (SA/Peru/Italy) – who look to align the organisation with a broader network of like-minded African and diasporic artists and organisations. Motherbox initiates art projects, supports other artists with their projects and offers various services such as mediation, consultancy, proposal writing, creative brainstorming, and workshop facilitation to likeminded individuals and organisations. Motherbox is also interested in documenting and keeping records of how processes unfold, for the sake of reflection and as a contribution to a broader, decentralised, multifaceted library of resources for artists of the present and future.
H Magumura – Hailing from Johannesburg and Colombo, Magumura is the youngest of four on their mother’s side. As yet unpublished, their work embraces hybridity, and balances at the intersection of poetry and prose.
Urmila Abrahamse – South African literary recluse with transplanted and indigenous roots in areas currently known as Western, Northern and Eastern Cape. Living in voluntary isolation since 2008, her body of work – previously unpublished and largely unseen – consists of poetry, prose, essays, letters and speculative fiction based on her sometimes grim, sometimes whimsical observations, experiences, portraits and dreamtime visitations.
Mthabisi Sithole – Johannesburg-based poet. His writing is mostly concerned with the shortcomings of translation. He approaches writing largely as a tool to consider capacities/measures of temporal occupation and recognition in space. The implications of collecting past, present and future through poetry continues to be a marker in addressing the abovementioned. Mthabisi’s writing has been featured in Odd Magazine, Ja. Magazine, Teesta Review: A Journal of poetry and Best New African Poets 2019.
Lindiwe Matshikiza – Artist working with writing, directing, & performance in a variety of media and modes. She uses her background and training in theatre-making as a base from which to approach other kinds of work, often collaborative, exploratory projects that take on more than one form over time. Lindiwe’s writing has appeared in I’m in the bath on all fours (Well Projects, Margate, UK, 2019); Between the Pillar and the Post – A multilingual anthology of contemporary South African monologues and scenes (Diartskonageng and Market Theatre Laboratory, 2019); and DEY (Writing Room, The Reading Room Continues, Goethe-Institut, 2018) where she first collaborated with Mthabisi Sithole.
João Renato Orecchia Zúñiga – Artist, composer & musician. Through experimentation and improvisation, João explores sonic connective capacities, seeking a balance between computer technology, hand-made electronics and real-world sounds. João‘s background as a self-taught musician is in improvised performance and composition for video art, film and theatre. His practice extends to public performance and intervention. The completion of a Master’s degree in Digital Arts brought a shift towards a more spatial and physical approach to composition, where sound, vibration, space, music and audience become connected in experience.
Tracy September a.k.a. TRA – Zürich-based, South African artist working with music and sound as a vocalist, composer, songwriter, beat-maker and archivist. Her digital EP and zine, ‘The Book of the Dead’, was released in 2018 in collaboration with OOR Records. TRA is a founding member of the transcultural trio ‘Black Pitch’ with musicians SIANUR (Iran/Kurdistan) and Lynn Aineo (Uganda). TRA is also a DJ under the name of youngseptember, playing contemporary and experimental music from Africa and the Diaspora.
Mmakgosi Kgabi – A trained physical theatre and improvisation performer and performance facilitator. Her work often interrogates the premise of identity and nationalism, revisiting themes on the Black Female Body Politics and Migration. She is a firm believer in the power of performance to build a better world.