I’m hooked on this street/party style blog from South Africa called “Skattie What Are You Wearing?” There are candid photos of hipsters, scenesters, and fashionistas galore. I laughed when I saw a friend who lives in Cape Town captured in a photo. It’s winter in South Africa, and these people look good.
I first heard about Spoek Mathambo because of his hot group Sweat.X. But I almost missed that he released an awesome solo album late last year; the hybrid sounds are teasing and unexpected and in your face and usually political.
I found South Africa to be a strange place: caught between a painful past and an awkward present, and not knowing what to do with itself, kind of like the Deep South. My memories of Cape Town are multi-layered: on one layer, thrilling, because of the sheer beauty and randomness of the city, and on another, unsettling, because of the segregation that was everywhere I turned. Black artists living in South Africa under Apartheid faced endless hurdles. But they somehow managed to thrive through underground and alternative art studios and print workshops.
In two weeks, the exhibit “Impressions from South Africa” will open at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The show is a collection of over 100 posters, wall stencils, and books that display the huge range of printmaking done by artists during and after Apartheid. These prints, products of periods of repression and upheaval, reflect both the personal and political longings of the diverse printmakers. And they also reflect the New South Africa, still unsure of what it wants to be.
Photo via MoMA
Mary Sibande, a South African artist, is one of the sharpest visual critics I’ve seen in a long time. In her latest series, “Long Live the Dead Queen,” she takes a look at a popular, persistent portrayal of black women in South African society — as the ever faithful maid — and then subverts those images in gloriously stunning ways.
The images are featured on billboards and sides of buildings as large murals throughout Johannesburg. Sibande originally sculpted the figures, then took photos of the sculptures, and then had the photos splayed in gigantic scale across walls, photos of women in Victorian-style gowns with layers of delicate, jarringly bright tulle and satin.
An excellent story came out last year about the transportation problems of black women who live in Soweto and other townships and who commute to the rich suburbs of Johannesburg to clean the houses and take care of the children of white families. One in six women in South Africa work as a maid or nanny, nearly all of them black. Despite the country’s considerable progress after the fall of apartheid, too many things have stayed the same. See more of her photos here.
I love South African rock, as I’ve said here before, and especially the members of Blk Jks (pronounced Black Jacks). The still-new band was the headliner of World Cup. As usual, they lit up the stage with their blend of moody, punk-ish, rousing music. One of my favorite songs of theirs is the short hymn “Mzabalazo” (they played an expanded version at the Cup).
I almost can’t believe I haven’t mentioned The Very Best here before. They made my favorite album of last year (and to be honest, this year, too) and are one of a few new acts that I have fallen in love with recently. Made up of Malawian singer and musician Esau Mwamwaya and British DJ-outfit Radioclit, The Very Best is this weird, wonderful, addictive mix of southern/eastern African and electronic music that somehow became the hit of clubs in both Kinshasa and New York.
Mwamwaya and Radioclit happened to connect one day in London after one of the Radioclit guys bought a bike from Esau (aren’t bicycles great?). The rest is music magic. Listen to “Salota” from their album below:
I won’t repeat all that has been said about the historic significance of Africa’s first World Cup. It’s a big deal, obviously. While South Africa is still the continent’s most economically advanced (and) politically stable nation, and even though the ways in which Africa will financially and diplomatically benefit from the tournament are severely limited, the fact that a global sports event of such importance is on African soil is an idea that was unimaginable to many not so long ago.
And for this World Cup at least, there’s no better place to watch it than on the continent. The opening game was during my first weekend in Uganda, and I couldn’t have ignored it even if I tried (I didn’t). The local supermarket played a radio station that announced players’ every move in the Luganda language, dimly lit bars nearby blasted the game on small boxy televisions and the city even erected a giant screen in the middle of town that lets commuters precariously drive and watch the game at the same time. It is more than World Cup fever, it’s World Cup malaria. It slowly built for months and has now taken over our bodies and minds, and it refuses to let go until it is finished. The malaria doesn’t discriminate by nationality. We’re not just cheering for South Africa or Nigeria or the Ivory Coast — we’re cheering for Africa, for her present, for her future.
Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler are both South African and both cyclists in a country that doesn’t have much of a cycling culture. Instead, in South Africa and several other African countries, bikes are prized more for utility than leisure or sport: a good way to get from one place to another, an efficient way to make a delivery, an often dangerous way to crisscross through town, depending on how hectic the traffic is.
But there is still a wide range of reasons why South Africans own and use bikes, and Engelbrecht and Grobler recently set out to find out why. In a project that they hope turn into a hardcover photographic book (help them do so here where you can watch a vivid short film), they photograph and ask everyday South Africans about their relationships to their bicycles. Both the photos and the answers are surprising, visually arresting and a portrait of the new South Africa. The project is called Bicycle Portraits and many more photos can be seen here.
Veleko reminds me of The Sartorialist in some ways, but without the superficial and recycled gloss of designer labels. This is original, creative style at it’s best, in one of the world’s most alive and hippest cities: Johannesburg. I was blown away by the outfits I saw on the streets of that town, and Veleko manages to capture the daily sidewalk fashion show in her photos.