'Arts industry needs cleansing,' says Mamela Nyamza

Creative and activist Mamela Nyamza. / Sunday Times
Creative and activist Mamela Nyamza. / Sunday Times

Seasoned choreographer and dancer Mamela Nyamza is now floating above being a swan on stage to tackle ugly issues affecting women in the arts space.

Her latest piece titled Pest Control, that opens today at the virtual edition of National Arts Festival, looks at how women are sidelined in the arts.

Using her dismissal from work last year as a point of departure, Nyamza talked about bureaucracies in the arts and culture. She used the speech that allegedly cost her job as an inspiration to her protest dance piece.

The speech, delivered in Cape Town in 2018, was about inequality and lack of transformation in the arts.

"Pest Control interrogates the gendered aspect of subservience which aims to expose the real state of the arts in South Africa. My speech is dominant in my work that I made in Cape Town in 2018."

In the performance piece, Nyamza wears a white fencing gear because she says she feels unsafe. In dealing with the miscarriage of justice, Nyamza uses menstrual blood to highlight the point.

"I am wearing a fencing gear because I need to protect myself against a ninja that is out there. There are predators out there, discriminating against us as women. The use of menstrual blood shows women are bleeding whether internally or externally."

Nyamza, an art activist, developed the idea of Pest Control on the day she was fired from the South African State Theatre last year.

"After I was dismissed, I had to talk about it because even Miriam Makeba said if you do not talk about it, your oppressors will write about you.

This is my story and I am speaking about it."

The show also speaks direct to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On why she called her work Pest Control, she says: "I refer to it as a virus, people are becoming maggots and then become flies. These arts places are full of dirty people and they need to be cleansed."

"Pest Control addresses these mutually beneficial friendships, where kowtowing artists are advanced at the expense of the arts sector. Is there an antidote, or is the only response a poisonous one?"

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