The Portfolio: A return to eMbo

But we, we have come to be baptised here
We have come to stir the other world here
We have come to cleanse ourselves here
We have come to connect our living to the dead here
Our respect for water is what you have termed fear
The audacity to trade and murder us over water

 Koleka Putuma, Water

There’s an erasure that happened to black people’s cultures  and traditions, accounting for a history turned upside down by religion. When Christianity was introduced to us, it saw many of our ancestors joining the church, with most forced to turn their backs on their customs. 

Currently we are having a reckoning, a revival to go back to eMbo. 

               A remembering  



A revelation

A veil is being lifted off. We are remembering and connecting more with our ancestors. They are revealing things to us, reminding us of old technologies that science cannot explain, reminding us of our connection to nature. 

We see the rise of abantu abathwasayo. It is in the music and the healing conversations that are happening in various spaces. It is revealing to us the importance of going back, of embracing the old and the new. 

It is in the rituals that call for us to go to water, sea, rivers, dams or waterfalls, the contested water spaces notwithstanding. In our history, bodies of water have been places of violence and death, but also great power. 

For example, the ocean is called ikhaya elikhulu because of the belief that powerful spirits reside there. Water offers a place of letting go, cleansing, rejuvenation, rebirth, baptism and a reimagining of self. We come here to find our peace. It is perhaps the place where, on a spiritual level, religion and tradition come as one. 

The image was made in Sea Point, with two queer collaborators. The one is wearing a habit, as a commentary on religion, while the other is dressed in a white garment, which also relates to church but also, in a traditional sense, to purity and newness.

It is this coming as one that is a common thread in my work and that of Nonzuzo’s. Together we form part of a collective called Carbon Copy. We collaborate on photography projects, we make T-shirts and sweaters and are currently working on a book. Nonzuzo lives in Jozi, where she started Taxi Diaries, which is about her experiencing the city as she is commuting in a taxi. 

Isambulo was inspired by Koleka Putuma.

Lightworkers: The evidence of things unseen is currently showing at Ellis House, 23 Voorhout Street (corner 4th Street), New Doornfontein, Johannesburg 

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