/ 1 March 2023

Time for healers to rise

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To close off the fact that it’s Black History Month in the United States, Kim M Reynolds looks at the unveiling of the controversial The Embrace, a sculpture erected in Boston to celebrate Martin Luther King. Photo: Supplied

Friday Editors Note

One thing you should know about me is that I’m a fan and I’m not afraid to show it. I know we live in times when we’re too cool for school, where many consider themselves to be on par with their heroes, but I’m not one of those people. I am a fan through and through. 

Whether it is a musician or an artist, if I finally get to meet someone I admire I will not only tell them how much of a fan I am, but I also will hold on to every word they say because I recognise a rare moment when you have the privilege to talk to someone whose work inspires you. 

And so, when the Investec Cape Town Art Fair came along, I knew I was going to meet so many creatives I love and admire. I was totally prepared to spend the weekend in awe. And boy did I. 

On 18 February — through the curatorial stewardship of Annicia Manyaapelo for Women Who Collect — I attended a gallery visit at Imiso Ceramics, in Woodstock, hosted by two artists I revere, Andile Dyalvane and Zizipho Poswa. The duo drew us into a spiritual conversation through art. They grounded us instead of sitting in a tower of greatness. We were asked to take off our shoes and sit on the floor. In the centre of the space there were candles, impepho and palo santo, and African music was sung. We gave thanks, saying “camagu” to the gods and ancestors. 

There were Americans in the room and they got to witness the rituals of African people and how we honour our ancestral teachings, medicinal healing and our gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon us by those who came before us. 

Later, we went next door and had African food at Nolz Kitchen. We broke bread — literally too, as we had idombolo — over ulusu (tripe), umleqwa (hardbody chicken) and champagne. Yes, the duality of bubbles with umnqusho is congruent with the experience of being an African during this time. 

In something straight out of a Netflix film, that night we ended up at Gorgeous George, watching Lesotho’s internationally renowned Morena Leraba move the crowd with his buttery Basotho sounds.

Meeting Poswa and Dyalvane exceeded my wildest dreams. They are so rooted in being Xhosa, in having a spiritual connection with the ancestors and higher powers, that you become acutely aware that they don’t do this for the money but to honour their gifts because they come from otherworldly dimensions. 

Their understanding of how ancient methods, medicines and healing are crucial to art and community is one of the reasons people such as Donna Karan and Mark Shuttleworth collect their work. 

And so, when I saw 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art Buhlebezwe Siwani was dedicating her new exhibition Iyeza to the ancestral use of traditional herbal medicines, I got excited. Initiated as a traditional healer herself, Siwani sat down with Mamaputle Boikanyo to talk about her exhibition, which launched this week in Joburg. 

“I had been thinking about the negative attitude that people have had about amayeza and how traditional medicine is vilified. If you go to a traditional healer, the healer will tell you this plant is made for this and that is what it has or this is what it does. You know exactly what you’re getting and yet people project so many negative thoughts and ideas about iyeza,” says Siwani. 

This is a great point Siwani makes because if the pandemic taught us anything, it is that the answers to healing lie in nature. The deeper we got into Covid, the more we went back to drinking umhlonyane (that bitter drink my grandmother used to force me to down when I had flu as a child), steaming with eucalyptus and making herbal teas — while meditating and looking at how mushrooms can help with depression. 

Yes, vaccination is important but to maintain good health we’ve had to find the answers from the earth, not our bank accounts. I am part of that gang too. Since 2020, I have found myself making my own turmeric and ginger shots at home; I burn palo santo incense when I meditate and I blend green juices. 

Blackness and black traditions have been so whitewashed and sanitised it is a struggle to figure our way back to ourselves. Whether in America or South Africa, black people have been forced to find their way back to something deeper than just rainbows and honey because we’ve had centuries of degradation and trauma we need to work through. 

We have to rely on ancient coding within us to figure out how to heal ourselves because expensive designer bags and cars are not working. 

To close off the fact that it’s Black History Month in the United States, Kim M Reynolds looks at the unveiling of the controversial The Embrace, a sculpture erected in Boston to celebrate Martin Luther King. Reynolds draws parallels between South Africa and the US and poses questions about what happens after we’ve tried to kumbaya but we’re still being brutalised by police and our lived experience is seen as inconsequential. 

I’m proud of this issue for tackling some seriously uncomfortable subjects, using art as a conduit for deeper understanding and discourse. 

My wish is that all of us who are heeding the call to be healers use the spirit knowledge being downloaded onto us to educate, inspire and encourage more people to acknowledge their purpose and as a call for mindful living. Healers, show yourselves — you’d be surprised how many people are ready for it.