Stories of mobility are strongly linked to the individual and collective search for greener pastures. This yearning for a better life, place or situation is the conceptual thread that runs through this exhibition. This pursuit has motivated people towards social connectedness and upward mobility in search of utopian ideals. In this show, Machona explores past and present manifestations of this pursuit and utilises an intersectional approach to navigate the various ways in which interlocking systems of power impact and overlap with individual and collective aspiration towards greener pastures.
Post-colonial thought in Africa engendered utopian metanarratives. Many of these were based on articulating an African ideal, sans the political and economic travesties of colonialism. The end of European colonialism in Africa and the birth of African nation-states became a transitional moment where transnational Pan-Africanist movements were established. Modernities in Africa, though entangled with the colonial discourse, were inclined towards finding a pre-colonial past to define the postcolonial present and bringing practices that were an important part of that past to the present where they can reshape contemporary life.
Induku enhle igawulwa ezizweni is a Zulu proverb that expresses the desire and appreciation of searching for love in faraway places or nations. Journeying for survival, in a search to better understand oneself or even for love is not a foreign concept in tracing nomadic or migration patterns in Africa. Affected by laws of segregation that enforce a strong sense of apartness, this insider vs outsider rhetoric in South Africa in particular has shaped a culture of mistrust and suspicion amongst its citizens. With the advent of democracy these imbalances in South Africa have resulted in service delivery protests in townships and informal-settlements in what has been termed ‘xenophobic’ attacks against African immigrant communities residing in the country, but could perhaps be better described as ‘Afrophobia’.
On the backdrop of such violence across the country, there are stories of cross-cultural, transnational unions, space sharing and family raising. Increasingly traditions such as lobola have acquired this new symbolic importance in relation to the reconstruction of African cultural identities. However, these traditions have remained deeply entrenched in patriarchal norms, often at the exclusion of contemporary struggles for gender equality. The work Your Silence Will Not Protect You, for example, evokes a gesture in the lobola process where the women in the bride’s family playfully “beat” the groom. Machona mobilises a feminist narrative to expose how matriarchal voices are emerging and re-inventing how these traditions operate.
Machona argues that his experience of the gift-giving ceremonies of lobola, could be seen to undermine essentialist, biological determinist concepts of gendered, national and ethnic identity. The very notion that people can be ‘naturalised’ into a family, ethnicity or as citizens of a country through marriage contradicts any purist notions of national or ethnic identity rooted in autochthony. What it does point out, however, is that identities are in flux and are constantly navigating across national and ethnic boundaries.
In Machona’s case this liminality exists in his navigation of marital traditions across Zulu and Shona customs through the boundaries that separate Zimbabwe and South Africa. Such transnational cultural experiences reveal how the receding economic and social significance of boundaries, among African nation states, have heightened interconnectivity between once-segregated people.
Machona works with sculpture, performance, new media, photography and film, and the most notable aspect of his work is his innovative use of currency—particularly decommissioned Zimbabwean dollars—as an aesthetic material. Machona’s current work engages with issues of migration, transnationality, social interaction and xenophobia in South Africa, and explores the creative limits of visual art production through the use of decommissioned currency as a key medium.