Crossing over from spiritual world of ancestors to visual art

Multi-award winning visual artist and public performer Sethembile Msezane.
Multi-award winning visual artist and public performer Sethembile Msezane.

The fusion of art and spirituality has been a long-standing practice in Africa and some of the current generation of visual artists still channel portals to their ancestors to communicate messages to the living.

Multi-award winning visual artist and public performer Sethembile Msezane from KwaZulu-Natal unpacks how spirituality inspires some of her work and shares her understanding of ancestors sparking creativity in art.

“The curtain between the two worlds can be more porous for some people, more than others. I believe when one is open to acknowledging them and surrenders themselves to learning from the ancestors, they can receive messages from them,” Msezane says.

The artist whose work explores themes of spirituality, politics and African knowledge systems says she constantly received messages that triggered her unplanned famed embodiment of the soapstone Zimbabwe Bird on the same day that the statue of Cecil John Rhodes was removed at the University of Cape Town.

“For me the most popular instance of understanding a message that was continually being shown to me manifested on the day Rhodes's statue was scheduled to be removed at the University of Cape Town. I didn’t know what it meant or that the statue would be removed that day and found out by chance.”

She says that on that day she embodied the bird she had been having visions of, the Zimbabwe Bird soapstone statue that was taken from the Great Zimbabwe ruins and sold to Cecil Rhodes in the late 1800s and that still sits in his house in Cape Town.

Water Bodies - Isinqumo (2018)
Water Bodies - Isinqumo (2018)

“Some of the works I create are guided by my dreams and intuition whereas some are from an interest in a particular subject matter. In both instances I do a lot of research online, reading books, speaking to people, listening to music and consulting with my ancestors.”

In her current body of work, Speaking Through Walls, Msezane says she was drawn to natural landscapes moving through historical spaces of trauma and communion, primarily in a Southern African landscape

“The work journeys through portals of reflections and ancestral communication through spiritual dreams that are articulated in natural landscapes in South Africa and Zimbabwe; highlighting the history and influence of spirituality, violence and land in both settings.”

Bhodla (2019)
Bhodla (2019)

Meanwhile, acclaimed fine artist and performer Sellone Moeti, also from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, whose work advocates the marginalisation of black women, says that her work draws from her spiritual journey.

“My work speaks loudly about cleansing, healing, dislocation, and relocation. My paintings were an attempt to trace and understand my lineage as a Mosotho 'womxn', born, raised and still living in KwaZulu-Natal.”

Moeti says her late grandmother, who had a gift of healing through prayer, inspires her visuals that explore spiritual gifts and burdens transmitted from one generation to another.

“My body of work was highly influenced by my late grandmother who used to heal through prayer and that was passed on to my mother. It talks about spiritual gifts or sometimes burdens that are passed from generation to generation. I portrayed these spiritual dreamscapes in my paintings.”

The award-winning artist identifies herself as an African woman before being an artist who is led by divine forces in her art.

“I'm an African woman first, before an artist. I wouldn't go as far as calling myself a medium at all. I'm more of a conduit or vessel of the unseen forces that guide me specifically. I'm on a spiritual journey and I'm using my art as a form of documenting the collection of my dreams.”

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