Based in Swaziland, Yebo Contemporary Art Gallery functions as a much-needed platform for established and emerging artists to showcase and sell their work. Their upcoming exhibition ‘Just Now! – Neither here nor there but getting somewhere: communication from artists exploring current issues,’ (curated by Aleta Armstrong and Khulekani Msweli) will open on 27th May as part of the MTN Bushfire programme, one of the most significant cultural events in Southern Africa.
“Swaziland’s MTN BUSHFIRE festival was founded ten years ago in a spirit of cultural exploration,” said the festival Director Jiggs Thorne. “Through our ideals and our actions we continue to explore and redefine the typical festival formula. In doing this we ask questions of ourselves, of artists, and of our audiences: How best do we shape the Festival we have created, and what do we want to say? What role should the arts play in our society? How do we become Practical Dreamers?”
Yebo Gallery’s inclusion in the festival typifies this culture of questions, a space where the individual is encouraged to have a voice. “The Yebo Contemporary Art Gallery’s ‘Just Now!’ exhibition is not quite like any regular art exhibition, there is a need for it,” explained co-curator Msweli. “Staging the exhibition in Swaziland… at a time of social and political uncertainty in the region and the world at large, can only mean diversity of opinion delivered at full throttle.”
The exhibition will feature a diverse range of over fifty works, produced by twenty-five artists. In preparation for the exhibition each artist explored their own version of the ‘Just Now’ theme, producing sculptures, photographs, paintings, collages and sketches. The work produced tackles a wide range of concerns, from environmental issues and the current drought, to China’s impact on Africa, racial power dynamics and explorations of belonging.
“We accept everything almost blindly like we have no academia or other foundations we can build on,” says the participating Manzini-based artist Mesuli Mamba, whose series of three collages, Cross controls her, reflects on the various strengths and weaknesses of the region. “We conduct ourselves like programmed robots. Salvation is but a thought away,” he explains. Mamba’s artistic process is guided by his emotional response to the images he finds in books and magazines, but is also ingrained in his experiences of the world around him. Having attended the University of Swaziland to study Law, Mamba now works as a prison warden and is responsible for the security and welfare of the inmates. “My art frees me from my current job, no pun intended. Anything that happens in the life of an artist influences his work – without my job, my art would not be what it is. While being a prison warden can often be monotonous, it provides an interesting insight into human psychology… I work with many wayward minds.”
Mamba’s perspective is one of many on display at ‘Just Now,’ an exhibition that invites engagement from the 25 000 plus people that will be in attendance at MTN Bushfire this year. In accordance with the festivals inspired call to action (#BRINGYOURFIRE), all those in attendance this year are encouraged to be proactive, to engage the work on exhibition, and ask questions. After all, “Contemporary art is still new and not understood in Swaziland,” said Msweli, “thus the Bushfire platform is absolutely crucial in offering arts exposure which results in a nation with well-rounded development.”
The Just Now! Exhibition will run from 27 – 29th of May at the MTN Bushfire Festival. Open on Friday from 7- 11pm, Saturday from 9 – 11pm, Sunday from 9 – 5pm. All the work can also be viewed online at yeboswaziland.com from Friday evening. For daily updates check facebook.com/yebodesigns.