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Khulekani Mayisa: Poetry in the polemic

Made on a cellphone camera, Power to the Purple is Khulekani Mayisa’s latest film dealing with what she calls “women issues”. That framing does nothing to explain Mayisa’s style, which blends polemicism with a unique, sensuous visual sensibility. In the lead-up her film screening as part of the Africa Rising International Film Festival, running from November 27 to 29, she spoke to the Mail & Guardian about her craft. 

Can you tell me about your process? It looks like writing is a key aspect. The films are very lyrical, both visually and verbally: in Power to the Purple that seems very upfront. 

 Scribbled in Red (my first work) happened in my honours year in 2018. I was studying television at the University of Johannesburg. It started with me exploring colours. So I figured, okay, if I use one consistent theme, and give it like a different sort of connotation, because you know, red is associated with danger, love, passion, et cetera. What if I take a spin on that? What if I explore the colour red as it pertains to something one wouldn’t think of, like shame, guilt or purity?” That’s when things started to flow. I figured, how about I make a film about menstruation? Luckily, with experimental film, it allows you to just go through that creative process of shooting without having to do all the paperwork. 

I asked my friend and she was happy to do it. And then after that, I just shot the rest. I figured I’d fuse my love of poetry, and that’s when I found award-winning poet Dominique Christina on YouTube, and from there came the idea to use Biblical verses to back up the visuals.

So I married the two art forms I love: writing and film. I promised myself that I would go forward working with other poets and other writers. And that’s how I got Power to the Purple to how it is. 

When you look at Power to the Purple, there’s a development of your style. How did you know who to use as the voice? For you, what stylistic leaps are there when you look at the two works?

I had this idea of working with writers I already know. I work with Tsepiso Mokobori: she’s a multi-faceted artist, but one of the things she does really well is write. I wanted it to be a collaboration of women  who experience — if not the subject I am talking about — at least know someone who has. That made it very personal. I figured if I continued on that trajectory, there’d be more room for me to get more artists like that and to grow my own voice by seeing how they get their creative process together. The face of the film is Thandi Busani, who I met at varsity. 

How did you end up working together?

I chose her mainly based on conversations that we’ve had in the past. I remember the second time we met, we were at a taxi rank. And we always just have these chats, you know, about experiences that we’ve had at the hands of men, or we’d just be walking down the street and you’d hear remarks. So when I approached her, I already knew, like, “Okay, here’s somebody who relates and this would appeal to her in a very profound way.” So, she was a natural: I asked her to do what she needed to do with her expressions and she really just executed it.

You mentioned putting up sets for faux video shoots when you were growing up. What else has influenced  your visual approach?

My work now has largely been influenced by the films I have watched over the past two years. I loved the marriage of visuals and poetry in For Colored Girls, the behind the scenes footage of the DVD collection we had at home. A director I really like in terms of his use of colour and just his filmic style, is Gaspar Noé.

Where do you want to take Power to the Purple?

I hope it will enable girls of the future to be more vocal; to live in a world that they feel is safe. There is something they can watch and relate to and feel like somebody understands what they go through. Somebody hears them. It takes time to develop the courage, but then they won’t be afraid to say what they have gone through, because more women out there have experienced it and they have seen it. Also, we need to see more men calling out their own  friends and standing up against these atrocities.

The film is confrontational, but not preachy:  How did you hack that? 

It comes from childhood: I don’t think any child likes being preached to. I prefer comfortable discussions, without feeling like I’m being intimidated. I wanted it to feel like a conversation I was having with my girl  or someone who doesn’t know better. With the latter, you have to take the gentle approach.

For information on the film festival, visit ariff.me

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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