KZNSA – Artists in Focus: Q&A with Sibusiso Duma

In collaboration with The KZNSA gallery, Niamh Walsh-Vorster uncovers the intentions behind the artist currently exhibiting at The Mezzanine Gallery, Sibusiso Duma.


Walking into the Park Contemporary Gallery, with an art bag always at his side, it is no surprise to see Sibusiso Duma at the KZNSA for his bi-weekly drop-off of artworks to sell.  Asking, “Hows it going, hows the wife?” he always has a quirky remark to share, either about the art struggle or updates on pieces still in progress.  Eventually, I sat him down to ask about his process and his current body of work focusing on the traditional people of South Africa.



Tell me about the new series you did on traditional women and men, how did that start?

Sibusiso Duma: The Series of Traditionalism started this year. I noticed that people forget about their own tradition especially when they get educated, it seems like tradition things are for people who are not educated.  


All of these artworks and crafts you see at most of the museums they were collected from the homes. They told us they used to the farms to collect these artworks from the women. 


These days if you are concentrating more on tradition, they will tease you, “you are Mpondo”, they will call you names, but it is your traditional. You end up hiding it. If you are sitting here like this, if the Mpondo come here to sit and have breakfast they must come wearing their tradition, Ndebele attire. 


So people end up following the Western Side, sorry if you are from the West. What I am wearing, like this, you can’t see me as a Zulu man, or an Mpondo or a Xhosa.

Except you ask me, “where are you from?” and then I will say I am from Zululand, I’m Mpondo. I am dealing with those things.



What was the initial inspiration and decision where you were like “I’m going to make these pictures”, what made you decide, did you see something, were you tired of not seeing something?

SD: My daughter told me there was a meeting for the governing body at school for the parents. So I went there, there was an issue, it was a serious thing, but I didn’t comment about it at school but I was thinking about it all the time. There was a boy who was teasing a child [saying] that they’re Mpondo and it was a serious case. The parent was angry when she was raising that point at the meeting, I was scared to comment. 


The problem is in the community and the parents. They were deciding to take that child out of school, but they didn’t. If I tell you you’re English or Afrikaans it’s not seen as an insult. I was willing to talk to the parent of that boy, my daughter she said  I musn’t do that. I was willing to tell them that they must deal with it, at least we are living in the modern day, they must go to the library and take the books and show him the pictures.  


They must use firstly, people like Mandela, leaders from the Eastern Cape, they were Impondo, you see, they must guide him to say Impondo is not a wrong thing. If they call you Impondo, you must be proud.  


How old are they?

SD: My daughter is 11 or 12.



You have Queen Nandi in the work, no other big figures, like Shaka himself, why not?

SD: I didn’t choose to think about Shaka, I’m not really sure about Shaka. Sometimes I don’t think he was a bad person but everybody when they think about Shaka they think about him as a murderer, a ruler who forced. 


If you don’t understand his commandment or follow his commandment, he will destroy you. I don’t think he was like that. I was scared to do him because I would get critics.  


I thought about Winnie Mandela, the problem is a lot of politics and situations. You have to answer those questions, especially now. 



You’re celebrating traditional styles in your work and your work resonates with African style and colours. How would you describe your style?

SD: It is more traditional African. I can’t work with other colours, I have to get the Ndebele colours, if its not the Ndebele colours, I can’t do it. I have to do it exactly.  If Ndebele comes and sees the exact colours, I wont get critics. Like with the beadwork, it’s black and white or black and blue, I have to do it exact.


So looking at the series, can you give me some background to the stories behind them. Like the blue man drinking umqombothi?

SD: He’s a Zulu man, I was thinking about the beer, traditional Zulu beer, when we are at our homes and have ceremonies. When you go to talk to the ancestors, you need to have the Zulu beer, with imphepho, you must prepare a few days before.  You can’t talk to the ancestors without meat and Zulu beer. The Zulu beer is the one they know, before Shaka. 


It’s strong, it’s something magical, you get drunk. After people drink it, maybe they were feeling down, they will start to sing. Because they feel it in their veins. They start to dance. 



I like the skateboarding one, whats the story behind that?

SD: [Laughs] My son likes those toys. The problem is I haven’t bought him many. He likes the skateboard. The other time he stole the skateboard from the other child. He hid it in the house. He was skating in the house, then I heard him. It had three wheels, it was scratching and scraping the tiles inside the house. Then I found it, yho! “Where you get this?”, he told me he took it from the neighbours house. He was 5. 



Are there any other artists who do what you do? Those who might be actively trying to keep traditions alive?  Like Gogo Esther Mahlangu. 

SD: They are scarce in this time.  I think the problem is money, if I commission you with something, I want something specific. You end up not doing the traditional, you end up doing the other works, just the beautiful works, the landscapes, ‘cause you have to get the money. 



Duma’s work can be seen in galleries and museums throughout KZN and in private collections across the world.  


He is currently part of a group exhibition titled ‘Vivid Lurid’ in the Mezzanine Gallery alongside Derrick Nxumalo and the late Barry Truter. The exhibition ends 22 July 2018.  


Words and Images by Niamh Walsh-Vorster.


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