Culture and heritage

Southern African creatives honour heroines at Arts House

Roberta Joy Rich and Rara Zulu

Discover generations of heroines who have defined, defied or described southern African culture through a dynamic creative program at Arts House in North Melbourne.

And she was wearing trousers: a call to our heroines shines a light on the legacies of teachers, linguists and queens to reframe stories skewed by colonialism and explore identity and experience across the southern African diaspora.

Curated by Roberta Joy Rich and Naomi Velaphi, the project has brought together multidisciplinary artists to collaborate on an exhibition, live music, window installations and artist talks.

‘We have worked with amazing national and international artists across varying creative disciplines from playwriting, theatre and spoken word, to graphic design, visual arts, performance and film,’ Roberta said.

‘Beyond learning about women of our histories, by connecting with southern African artists across the globe, the exhibition presents a suite of new commissions, from sound, video, light and typographic installations.’

The works on show at Arts House reflect on the legacy of significant women, venture deep into art and feminist archives, and demonstrate how collaborative practice can spark healing and connection.

The creative team described the development process as an ‘abundance of learning’.

‘It is extremely nourishing and refreshing to learn and deepen an understanding of Black female figures who have led revolutions, influenced the sound of a generation or the policies and formation of future communities and societies,’ Roberta said.

‘The power alone of the women we began focusing on for this project – Dorothy Masuka, Brenda Fassie, Queen Lozikeyi, Princess Krotoa, Thenjiwe Lesabe – is so immense, it has unearthed important questions about ourselves, about how we frame ourselves and knowledges in the context of so-called Australia.

‘Their work speaks back to colonial frameworks and leaves legacies for future generations like us to share.’

Looking to the future, the team aims to tour the exhibition internationally and continue to build on their own archive of challenging, contemporary, immersive artwork with creative peers.

‘Growing up, our elders were on the African continent or leaving the continent to support future generations, but they were not necessarily in positions to be creative writers or producers or artists,’ Roberta said.

‘We are beginning to have the privilege to dream and conjure creativity that can foster dialogues with peer multicultural communities we have not been able to before, which is exciting.

‘As southern African diaspora women, through creative projects we aim to reach out to our peer communities, and our peer diaspora Afro-communities to forge pathways and platforms for our voices.

‘The ambition is to have creative ventures, conversations and iterations that are completely led by First Nations, African and communities of colour that are not framed by a colonial institution, and we hope exhibitions such as this can be part of that journey.’

Program highlights

Discover a free exhibition of new commissions from artists, the Australian premiere of Sethembile Msezane’s short film ISIMO, and a collaborative textile work. Until 6 August. Monday to Saturday from 11am to 4pm.

Tune in online to enjoy an artist talk with multidisciplinary artist blk banaana, musician and vocalist Rara Zulu, filmmaker and photographer Jabu Nadia Newman and actor and playwright Kirsty Marillier, with host Roberta Joy Rich. Saturday 16 July at 5.30pm. Registrations required.

See a live performance by Rara Zulu, whose raw sound is influenced by soul, R’n’B and hip hop. Saturday 23 July at 7.30pm. Tickets from $10 to $35.

Tune in online to enjoy an artist talk with visual artist, public speaker and performer Sethembile Msezane and multidisciplinary storyteller and theatremaker Tariro Mavondo, with host Naomi Velaphi. Saturday 23 July at 5.30pm. Registrations required.

Head to the corner of Queensberry and Errol streets to see artist and educator Nontsikelelo Mutiti’s window installation Memeza, inspired by a song of the same name by Brenda Fassie, sometimes known as ‘Ma Brr’. Until 18 September.

Two women sitting on stairs and laughing

Roberta and Rara at Arts House

For more information, visit Arts House.

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