The opening of the exhibition "Ntsako Wa Xibelani" by Philemon Hlungwani was curated yesterday, 17th May 2019 at Johannesburg’s Everard Read art gallery. The show was a night filled with a beautiful culture shock experience, where the art was brought to life and the room was filled with the joy that the Xibelani brings, as expressed in this collection.
Ntsako Wa Xibelani is an exhibition that is made up of several charcoal drawings that depict an unfolding day in Giyani (a village in Limpopo) that leads toward a big event. The body of work culminates in the celebration and the beauty of Xibelani, not only as a striking and colorful traditional garment, but also as a powerful uniform that represents a state of unity. Xibelani is predominantly worn by women, a phenomenon that is common not only in the Xitsonga culture, but by African women as a whole. As a Tsonga woman myself the room became a time capsule that took me back to when I was child visiting the village of Giyani as a girl from Johannesburg and experiencing “Xisebesebe” an event of dancing and gathering expressed by the Xitsonga culture.
This exhibition which is on going until the 15th June 2019, is a celebration of Hlungwani’s own Xitsonga culture, but also speaks to the complex histories and suppression of African traditional cultures at large. The works have a particular focus on women, a long-running theme in Hlungwani’s oeuvre, as symbols of power, protectors of culture and as central figures who continue to galvanize communities as they rebuild themselves on their own terms.
He expressed this passion at the opening by introducing his mother who he describes as a queen and motivator, also as an inspiration behind his works, adding he wanted a special day like the opening of Ntako Wa Xibelani to introduce her to the world. He then introduced his wife, further adding that the opening was a special day for all to meet his family. This saw the collection come to life as the women were dressed in Xibelani and symbolised power as depicted in Hlungwani’s works.
The opening was a moment of reminiscing for me as I was captured by familiar scenes of Giyani and the beauty of the Xitsonga culture.