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Zana Masombuka

Artist 96 Zana Masombuka Conceptual Photography Time

Zana Masombuka is a South African artist who uses photography to explore her Ndebele identity in Modern Day Africa.

She was raised in a small rural town in Kwa-Ndebele, called Siyabuswa. Immersed in this space, she found herself often, “marvelling at the complexity and intricacy of the Ndebele culture… I draw a lot of inspiration from IsiNdebele, not only as a culture, but as well as a language and a way of life.”

She probes notions of heritage and its relevance in the contemporary moment – across the time-space continuum.

Masombuka has created Ndebele adoptions of the superhero figure using sci-fi culture.

For Masombuka, science fiction is a form of storytelling that allows people to reimagine themselves and their circumstances.

The commercialized superhero narrative, which often involves violence as a medium for transformative direction or the undoing of evil, is reworked by Masombuka. She takes the Ndebele culture as her source of strength.

Evidence of this can be seen in her latest project titled ‘Time’, a series of photographs coupled with a poem by Thembisile Mkhatshwa.

The project refers to the process of passing down knowledge and the tension between generations in postcolonial contexts.

The series features figures with dried lemon slices covering their face. The calm yet commanding postures work together with the lemon slices to create a mysterious godliness, evoking visual recollections of African sculptures that portray spiritual deities.

This immediately transfers the figure to into the realm of the supernatural. This too, demonstrates the transformative power that art possesses, daring people to think about themselves, their experiences and their cultures differently.

‘The role of science fiction within history is what some may call folk tales, and I think that it is a form of preserving the imaginative spirit of the African,’ Masombuka explains.

She captures the essence of time as well as its relationship to the evolution of African culture with a particular focus on inter-generational knowledge systems and the tensions between them.

Theoretically framed by Frantz Fanon’s seminal text, The Wretched of the Earth the project probes notions of “decolonization, unlearning and the remaking of culture within African societies post-colonial Africa. This allows... to dig deeper into questions of African knowledge and how it informs identity and belonging.”

Lemons are used as a visual signifier to juxtapose young and ancestral generations. They are simultaneously symbolic of arrogance and vulnerability.

“It is the blind leading the blind and hoping for the better future. It is the cultivation of a reactionary existence.” The artist explains reflecting on how colonial influence has shifted African perspectives.

Masombuka addresses the collective clout these generations possess when they comes together. When viewed in this way ‘Time’ is also a kind of call to action, expressing the idea that the time is now for African people across generations to work collaboratively to reclaim, relearn and to rebuild to sustain cultural practices and knowledge systems.

The work is hauntingly beautiful creating distortion out of nature. The lemons both look like eyes and a disease. There is power in their natural manifestation.


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