In her solo exhibition « Waiting for Gebane », South African artist Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela addresses the history of South African women. Taking on the role of Theodorah Mthetyane, she uses embroidery, textiles, painting and photography to lift a corner of the veil on her six-year wait. It is based on the story of waiting after her husband Gebane Hlongwane left for Johannesburg in search of a better life.
To illustrate, the man left his house and gave an ishweshwe dress to his wife to symbolize the continuity of their union in his absence. It is a garment that testifies to the sacredness of married life in the Xhosa culture. Until his return, Theodorah will have to wear this dress daily to signify her fidelity to her man. But the prolonged stay of her companion forces Theodorah to search for him.
Deeply touched by Theodorah’s misadventure, the artist Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela decided to reflect the female condition of her community. Thus, like Theodorah, Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela wears the same red dress in her work.
Through her creations, Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela returns to the ordeal of South African women, starting with those of her grandmother’s time, having gone through the period known as « poussière rouge », a period marked by conflicts, injustices and inequalities that traumatized the daily life of blacks in South Africa. It was also the period during which the country was hit by a drought induced by the impact of the work in the gold mines of Johannesburg during the Second World War.
In her work, she evokes the pain and difficulties experienced during this period, and she brings to light the unspoken aspects of history, such as the torture endured daily by black people during this period.
Her critical gaze is not limited to the wait for Theodorah. Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela paints dark biographies of the waiting of other women such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Sarah Baartman, or Miss Havisham. She also uses demeaning and racist terms to re-establish the history of apartheid.
The artist also brings out the cultural aspect of the cloth used by prisoners to cover themselves. Also present in the mythological history of the Xhosa kings, this fabric for domestic use, is used to make curtains at the entrance of houses or to make funeral dresses in Xhosa cultural rituals.
Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela is a visual artist who uses several mediums to express her art: performance, photography, video, printmaking, textiles and embroidery. Inspired by her mother’s story, she initiated and implemented in 2003 the project entitled: « Theodorah vient à Johannesburg » where, through a performance, she relates her mother’s expeditions from the rural area of Mvenyane to Johannesburg.
Wishing to pay homage to all the women victims of the migrations imposed by apartheid, she dedicates her work to the highlighting of social and historical phenomena, with a particular emphasis on the issue of urbanization.
The use of the color red in her work is for her the way to evoke the era of the « poussière rouge ». A spotlight is put on the characteristics of contemporary life in Africa, notably South African fashion and identity.
Having been part of the Johannesburg pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, she has gained an international reputation and her work is now touring the world. The exhibition « Waiting for Gebane » is open at the Zeitz MOCAA-Museum of Contemporary in Cape Town, South Africa until August 29, 2021.