Lunga Ntila: Ngizomemeza, 2020.
Lunga Ntila: Ngizomemeza, 2020.
Image: Supplied

Last month’s first Femininity issue marked a year since my appointment as editor.

I will save you the violins, confetti, sniffles, and Twinsavers, and just say that it has been at once inspiring, challenging, and building. On the days it has been borderline unbearable, though, I have looked to what I have really been obsessed with all my life: people — from our curious readers and my talented colleagues to the passionate people behind our commercial brand partners. And then there are our subjects. Fascinating characters from an array of worlds, enriching our lives with ingenuity and beauty. Not least among these, our artists.

Our September issue has become a staple in a month dedicated to our heritage and the abundance of art that surrounds us. At this time of the year, it has become customary for us to pan out and take stock. The short assessment, as far as my spectacles (cut from a glass half full) can see, is that there is a reawakening of the art scene — a line that can be drawn from Investec Cape Town Art Fair to the recent Turbine Art Fair and on to FNB Art Joburg, happening over the first weekend of this month.

This reawakening — an embrace of independence, of hybridity, of technology, and of a malleability I believe to be unprecedented in many ways among traditional institutions, even as they retain some stubborn old ways — is incomplete if it ignores voices such as those on our “Young and vital artists” and others, such as artist, curator, and resourceful, fabulous force-abouttown Siwa Mgoboza, that scream: “If they shut us out, Siyabangena!” Feeling excluded and stuck in the margins, young artists, queer folk, and other creators with difficult critiques of the world in which they work and produce are forcing themselves onto the agenda.

The timing of these increasingly loud voices couldn’t be better, as bidders at auctions, gallery clients, and private collectors embracing technology and subversion are getting rapidly younger and braver. One of the artists whose work they will covet is Dada Khanyisa — the recent recipient of the FNB Art Prize and alumnus of last year’s inaugural “Young and vital artists” list. In accepting the prize, the young multidisciplinary artist reflected on the “unexpected” accolade as a culmination of “five years of building a practice, developing a style, and coming into my own as a maker of things”.

Young artists, queer folk, and other creators with difficult critiques of the world in which they work and produce are forcing themselves onto the agenda

In the same week we celebrated Dada, the duality of life hit home cruelly with the loss of another “Young and vital” listee. Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Moses Molelekwa, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and now, Lunga Ntila. Dead at 27. Only 27. The 27 club of mystery, myth, of conspiracy, and coincidence? But this is real life, there’s nothing speculative, mythical, romantic, or “pop-culture phenom” about this particular transition; the pain is bone deep for those who adored her, from various degrees of proximity.

Ntila fixated on our inherent duality and used photography and collage to show the delicateness of our individual and collective distortion. Her gaze was shaped by a curiosity that the writer Mpumi Mayisa says “was like a malignant itch, the kind that touches one spot and sets the rest of the body on fire. This itch birthed an expansive body of work, experiments and captivating distortions of physical matter, space and time.”

Ntila grew up all over the world and this body of work is scattered as far and wide. May it continue to delight and may she rest in eternal, luminous beauty.

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