June 25, 2020 - December 31, 2020
"All pandemics seem to have one purpose, to strip people of their flesh leaving only bones! So we use our bones to heal. Our divinatory bones, and an angry abused earth are the catalyst underpinning this exhibition. I believe it is vitally important to focus people’s minds on healing in all its aspects at a time like this, and to emphasise that our common survival depends on us working collectively to both heal ourselves and the earth." - Pitika Ntuli
Azibuyele Emasisweni, (Return to the Source) is the first solo exhibition of the renowned artist and Sangoma (spiritual healer) Pitika Ntuli to comprise solely of works sculpted from bone. Pitika uses bones to ‘divine the state of the nation in a season of anomie’.
It took Pitika 3 years to create these sculptures, long before the Covid-19 pandemic or the global protests and discourse around ‘Black Lives Matter’. Yet this exhibition seems an apt response or antidote to the social and political upheaval of our times. As the exhibition title ‘Azibuyele Emasisweni’ (Return to the Source) suggests, a return to the ‘source’ of African spiritualism and knowledge may lead the way to reconnecting with human ethics, the essence of existence, and, of course, nature.
This exhibition was initially conceptualised as a museum show featuring 45 sculptures created by Pitika that was to be launched at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. When it was decided to present this year’s festival virtually due to Covid-19, ‘Azibuyele Emasisweni’ was reconceptualised in order for its release online prior to the museum tour in 2021.
Instead of simply presenting photographs of the sculptures online so as to replicate an exhibition in a physical space, The Melrose Gallery, Ruzy Rusike – the curator and Pitika considered how they could maximise on the benefits that the platform offered in terms of impact, engagement and reach.
Pitika wrote and recorded 45 praise songs, one for each sculpture to present these as audio notes to accompany the images. He also gathered a circle of 33 thought and creative leaders to engage with him around the exhibition, the artworks, African spirituality, indigenous knowledge systems and healing. These engagements have resulted in a moving and valuable collection of poetry, songs, thought notes, essays, films and a talks programme which has been made available on this viewing room and on the National Arts Festival website.
“An African ethos doesn’t encourage individualism. In Africa we say, “ A group of trees break the angry wind but the tree that towers above the rest is broken by the wind”. I have no desire to be broken by the wind of my people, rather I desire that we should breathe together with one nose for a communion of spirits. I needed collective voices to generate the most powerful possible ethos of healing and awareness and to generate commitment towards better treatment of the earth, of each other, and of animals. Thus it is to strengthen and magnify the message that I am collaborating with so many creative and talented people - speaking, poetising, singing!” Pitika Ntuli.
The artist may be reaching into the depths of time to reflect on the spiritual wasteland that might define this era but he does so using the latest technologies to take his much needed message of catharsis and healing to the world. Thereby collapsing those hard lines that were thought to divide ancient and contemporary concerns and art.
We invite you to spend some time truly engaging with this moving content.
Opening Airways for the Ancestors by Sesiyakhula Njalo
This exhibition is in association with the Virtual National Arts Festival