Short email interview conducted with Gerald Machona for the exhibition project The Beautyful Ones, 2013
What do you understand, and think off when you hear ‘The Beautyful Ones’?
A song by Thandiswa Mazwai comes to mind from the album Zabalaza (which is analogous to the album by Marvin Gaye, ‘Whats going on?’). In one of the verses of a song titled ‘Nizalwa Ngobani’, Mazwai makes mention of the ‘beautiful ones’ and asks, “are the beautiful ones really dead?”
The world changes
And the children forget
the Ghetto is our first love
And our dreams are
drenched in gold
We don’t even cry
We don’t even cry about it
know it no more
are the beautiful ones really dead
The phrase appears to have been adapted from Ayi Kwei Armah’s book ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born’, that tells the story of a nameless man who struggles to reconcile himself with the dystopian reality of a post-independence Ghana, and critically questions the post-colonial condition faced by most African post-independent states of corrupt and totalitarian regimes.
If the meaning of the word beauty suggests a pure or immaculate standard of perfection, then The Beautyful Ones as a phrase, to me refers to a generation of thinkers or leaders without blemish. In Armah’s book they are not yet born, which in the context of the books story can be interpreted as referring to a generation of children ‘born free’ of the colonial bondage that preceded Ghana’s independence. But for many like myself who are the so called ‘born free generation’ are faced with our own forms of bondage, although blessed by the many freedoms and liberties won by our predecessors, the struggles for freedom continues through rebellion. For Mazwai the beautiful ones would be those that chose to rebel against injustices even if they are part of the status quo.
– “A lot of my life as a Black South African has to be quite rebellious. I’m lucky to be part of a generation that was able to see freedom in its own time. But it’s always a struggle to define myself as a Black person in South Africa, as a Black person on the continent, and as a Black person in the world. It’s not a very simple thing to do. I think it requires a bit of rebellion.
People don’t think that there is a need for rebellion any more. They think that because they have a Black government that things are OK, or that things will be OK. This song (Zabalaza) is to say to people look at your lives, look at your struggles, and remember that the struggle continues.” –
To Mazwai it is the revolutionary rebellious youth that are the beautiful ones.
Are there any particular African writers/theorists/intellectuals that have made an impact on you? Who, and in what way did they influence your practice as an artist?
Achille Mbembe, Dambudzo Marechera, Mapopa Mtonga, Heidi Holland, Chinua Achebe and Frantz Fanon. A lot of what I make is concerned with the politics of identity and cultural representation and critiques contemporary constructions of post-colonial Africa and its communities. So the mentioned authors have shaped the theoretical framework of my art practice.
Are you comfortable being called an ‘African’ artist? Is it a valid term? Any thoughts?
I am not uncomfortable with the term ‘African’ artist and don’t mind being identified with the label, although at times I feel the term carried a lot of historic baggage and is complicit in misrepresenting the continent as homogenous place and its art into a box full of negatives i.e. primitive art. So It depending on the occasion I often revert to calling myself a Zimbabwean born artist but I still feel the term has some relevant when accompanied by the word contemporary. i.e. contemporary African artist.
Where is home?
Where my heart is. At the present its in Cape Town.
Your practice spans performance, film, sculpture and photography – What connects these various media for you? How would you describe your practice?
My practice is best described as a process, at the moment my process begins with the creation of sculptural objects out of decommissioned currency. These objects are brought to life and encode with meaning through performance, film and photography. What connects these mediums is firstly my exploration of paper money as an artistic or aesthetic material, and secondly my theoretic concerns, that grapple with issues of identity pertaining to Afrophobia, nationalism, cultural representation and migratory constructions of the African foreign national in Southern Africa.
Have you ever felt like a stranger?
Yes, but i suspect my feelings of alienation have a lot to do with my current status as a foreign national residing in South Africa