The first thing I encountered when I walked into Sophie Lalonde art gallery in the evening of February 12 was the luring smell of brand new german print material, commonly known as Leteisi in Setswana. On the white walls of the gallery stands a very unique display; art made on german print. It is a fascinating view — this is a fabric we have adopted as a national dress popular in traditional functions and it is used as the ground on which the majority of this artwork is made. Not only is the colourful assortment of the fabrics used captivating, but also the art weaved on them poses interesting statements, some of which question one’s identity, hence the exhibition’s title ‘Omang’ which directly translates to ‘who are you’.
This was no ordinary opening where art is the only visual attraction. Poetry became a platform through which the art pieces came alive. I was fortunate enough to have been one of the poets called to decipher what this work depicts, together with three young talented poets; Masego Matheo, Mmakgosi Tau and Nametso Phonchi. In what was an enthralling fusion of spoken word and art, the audience got to gather different perspectives of what it means to be a person in a contemporary developing Botswana. The opening pulled a large crowd. I thought their chatters would surely drown the poetry we had to offer, and the complimentary wine that was flowing from the bar counter did not ease that thought. Even though some were not cooperative, some listened gracefully to our performance. Themes of cultural importance, politics, modernity and Botswana as a nation that is seeking to become a more integrated society were explored through this collaboration of art and poetry.
The display brings about an issue of wide importance; identity. It seems unusual for a non-Motswana to ask such a question to locals, or to even create artwork about their identity on a cloth with a history of colonialism. “With this work I’m not trying to tell people who they should be, I actually want them to question themselves who they are as people of a developing society,” said the contemporary artist who is now a permanent resident in Botswana. “We all contribute to the societies we find ourselves in, despite the issues of belonging that can come with it,” she added.
Masego Matheo, one of the poets, says when he enquired about what it means to be a Motswana, he underwent a conflict. “No one truly knows what it is to be a Motswana since it is relatively a new word formed through independence. You are only a Motswana when a foreigner asks you where you come from, yet to your own people, you identify yourself through your tribe.” he stated. Laone Matlapeng, the facilitator of this fusion of art and poetry said, “The O Mang Project is a poetry and visual art collaboration between young Batswana, a resident British Visual Artist and a Georgian philosophy student.”
One of the attendees, Tigele Nlebesi had this to say about the show, “The highlight of the night for me was the performances. They made me proud to be a Motswana,” she said. Kaone Yane who also came to see the art mentioned how exciting it is to see different forms of art collaborating with each other.
As much as this was an exhibition, some turned it into a conversation that explored what it means to identify as a Motswana. They did so as they gazed at these images that range from traditional women holding tree branches, figures with animal heads and a giant man wearing a suit whose face cannot be seen. The artwork is thought provoking and definitely worth a look.
This visual art exhibition will be on display from the Thursday 12 February till Wednesday, 11 March, 2015, at Sophie Lalonde Art, Floor 19A, iTowers, New CBD.