Interview: Mamela Nyamza talks about her protest art film, Pest Control which will be released on The Curated Programme at the vNAF (Virtual National Arts Festival) on June 26, 2020. The vNAF is on from Thursday June 25 to July 5.
Details regarding booking and streaming for Pest Control, follows, after interview.
Mamela Nyamza began her career as a ballet dancer and that evolved into her work as a choreographer and performance artist. Her body has become the medium of expression. Her work pivots around her body as a Black Woman/Womxn Artist – referencing her experiences growing up in South Africa – from learning ballet at a township ballet school in a church to her recent experiences as an arts administrator at a state run theatre. Mamela Nyamza is more than a cultural activist. She disrupts. She shakes things apart. She makes us squirm as she pulls us into gazing into uncomfortable places. Uncomfortable is too soft a word: It is about so much which is being glossed over. In the pandemic and lockdown, creative artists who work freelance (as most do in this country) have been for the most part unrecognised. Their income has come to a standstill. In her new work – Pest Control – for the vNAF – Nyamza rages against the fact that artists are side-lined. However, she goes way beyond that as she rallies against pests in society, preying on artists, on womxn – the most vulnerable – and more so under lockdown- during the plague of Covid-19.
Streaming details for Pest Control, follow after the interview.
TheCapeRobyn: Is this the piece that you submitted to the NAF – what was supposed to be the physical festival?
Mamela Nyamza: This was the work I was going to submit for the festival, but because of Covid-19 and because of the format that was called for -a pre-recorded film to go out on a digital platform- I re-imagined it.
Filming has been a totally different way of approaching my work. I love challenges. This process has been a welcome challenge as it has broadened my art horizons. But it has been tough. I did not want reproduce a video or film of work –simply a recording. I wanted to create true form of art – in a virtual medium. I didn’t want it to be about “entertaining” but to be engaging, witty in places.
Maybe this challenge came at the right time. We will see.
TheCapeRobyn: Pest is presented as a “protest art film”. You have made a film which draws on live performance but has been about embracing the film medium in making this work?
Mamela Nyamza: I wanted the body to be present as a performing body not to be camouflaged and overwhelmed by digital effects. It is about highlighting the body of politics. That is central.
When I create work, I have always been informed by my personal experiences; my country’s topical issues and by global phenomena. Pest Control is no exception. The film medium is an extension of my body- to broaden my horizon and the scope of my work.
I saw the film medium as an opportunity to spread the message – to get my work out into digital space.
Years after I’m gone, the film, my work will remain. My team has been great in working with to bring about the transition from live to digital. Everything happens for a reason. I believe in that very much. This journey has opened up possibilities for future work.
TheCapeRobyn: You filmed this at The Market Theatre. Was it filmed during lockdown or before lockdown?
Mamela Nyamza: It was filmed during lockdown on level 3 and we followed all the rules
TheCapeRobyn: Does the film feature you and musician Aza Mphago?
Mamela Nyamza: Yes, we are both featured. He is present in the frame, as a musician who is creating sound. Metaphorically and symbolically, he represents a patriarchal figure in the film.
TheCapeRobyn: How long is it?
Mamela Nyamza: About 35 minutes. As a film, I did not want a long piece online. I’m thinking about data usage and that people cannot afford long downloads. I did not want to show lots of nuances. I just wanted to go straight to the point/ core.
TheCapeRobyn: In the film you present a protest performance “dedicated to the women exploited, abused” from “couch casting”. You also draw from your own experience of being dismissed publicly as an arts administrator. You are voicing the frustration of women – particularly women in the arts -who have been muted – by being dismissed fired, suspended, raped?
Mamela Nyamza: First of all a pest may be referred to a germ or virus that infects in a body. Metaphorically, pests can refer to bad people who sexually harass, molest or abuse children and women- sex pests.
In this work, there is reference to men as pests who abuse women in the work place. This includes demanding of sex before employment or promotion; exploiting and turning women against other women. There are men who feel inferior when faced with strong women in the work place and plot to get them dismissed. This was my experience- being dismissed for being effective at work -and strong and forceful. This is a burning contemporary issue in institutions – state run and private. Not many people talk about what goes on. People tend to remain silent, complicit in their silence. Those who dare challenge and question tend to be dismissed; shunted away. They are cast out the way. They are excluded because they have opened their mouths. But, these men tend to remain in positions of power, as gods in these institutions.
We- women – are excluded- terminated. We are left bleeding. It is a miscarriage of justice. We give birth but we are side-lined. We lose kids, but we are still side lined. We tend to be the care givers; the nurturers. We pursue purity, love life but we are the most exploited, abused. The abuse is on every level – rape, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, we bleed every day, every month. Right now there is a woman bleeding in that boardroom and in any patriarchal led organisation.
TheCapeRobyn: The lockdown has muted women further. Jobs have been lost and women are vulnerable- even from the point of view of child care as schools have been shuttered so that adds to everything. Black Women are the most vulnerable. They have been squashed into taxis, going to work in supermarkets and care homes. They have probably been the most vulnerable in the time of the pandemic which as I interpret your title – Pest Control – you are howling out for Pest Control – curbing the pests in society –and here in the pandemic – the plague – we need Pest Control more than ever?
Mamela Nyamza: Definitely my work title was created before the pandemic and it speaks volumes to it as this pandemic is a virus that needs to be controlled or else we are all affected; just like these institutions. If no one does something the next generation will repeat this vicious circle
A pest is an annoying crawling or flying insect that infests and feeds on dirt, diseases and death. A maggot is a pest that turns into a fly and so are cockroaches
Those that are fighting pests, wear protective gear. Scientists working on viruses are wearing gear that protects them from infection. Astronauts wear protective gear against the dangers in space (which may not be visible to the eye). People in fencing as a sport, wear gear to protect and shield themselves. I chose the figure of the fencer because of its multi-layered meaning as an image. There are images of fencing – being caged in – against the ills/germs/pests in the working place. Also in South Africa most households are fenced or with high walls against the high rate of crime virus/ crime pests.
I miscarried a new baby -there- at that institution. Losing a child is very painful.
TheCapeRobyn: Pest Control will exist not only as an art piece but also as a document; an archive of protest?
Mamela Nyamza: Yes, this needs to be documented; acknowledged and responded to – not be pushed out of sight. Pest as a document, art film and archive can be viewed and accessed as 35 minutes of my expression of the protest that I want to make – and be heard – right now – and in the future. This works speak about the arts in general. It goes to the core situation during the pandemic – now- when artists and more so women artists – are dealing with pests from every direction.
The work was supported by the National Arts Festival, a big thank you to the festival.
Image credit: Mamela Nyamza in Pest Control. Photo by Ntombi Shabangu
Pest Control –at the vNAF – production and ticket details
Pest Control will be released at the vNAF (Virtual National Arts Festival) on June 26, 2020 as part of The Curated Programme. The vNAF is on from Thursday June 25 until July 5
✅ Performer/choreography/concept: Mamela Nyamza
✅ Featured artist (musician): Aza Mphago
✅ Videographer and digital media creative: katty vandenberghe
✅ Lighting, set and AV designer: Wilhelm Disbergen
✅ Photographer and graphic designer: Ntombazana Shabangu
✅ Platform: vNAF encrypted channel
✅ Programme: The Curated Programme at the vNAF. Access is by purchase of daily festival pass or a full festival pass
✅ Genre: Protest Art, Dance, Film
✅ Language: English, with isiXhosa exclamations
✅ Age advisory: PG 13+
✅ Direct booking link: https://nationalartsfestival.co.za/show/pest-control/
✅ Tickets: Pest Control is part of The Curated Programme. A Day Pass costs R80. A full festival 11-day pass costs R600. The passes provide access to all shows on The Curated Programme. Different shows released each day. Tickets on sale from June 25, 2020 at 9am.
✅ Booking details: For detailed information about booking for the vNAF, see https://thecaperobyn.co.za/national-arts-festival-2020-vnaf-streaming-from-south-africa/