South Africa’s social media is the stuff of militant language. Depending on how the algorithm is tweaked, Twittersphere relentlessly churns chants on ‘repatriation’, ‘land first’, black body politics, #RhodesMustFall and rubbishing the non-racialism myth. This rhetoric, not all that new to the Joburg art scene, started doing rounds years back in poetry haunts and impromptu rap ciphers around the city, to only reach a zenith in the present. Kagiso Mnisi explores the nature of digital disruption among South African creatives.
In the throes of this militancy is an increasing yearning to re-imagine the present by young black creatives, whose aim is to advance the conversation by giving nuanced take on the state of affairs, especially where white rooted patriarchal systems have been failing. Among this tribe is Milisuthando Bongela, who is taking part in the anticipated conference on the latest digital marketing trends, Nedbank Digital Edge, which has director Spike Lee headlining.
Bongela is a blogger cum provocateur. Her blog is a longstanding platform that celebrates black excellence and confronts racial issues head on through the prism of style.
Bongela’s ethos ties in perfectly with that of Lee, as they both are advocates of injustices on the black body. Dovetailing his films is Lee’s stance against the displacement of minorities in the wake of escalating gentrification of formerly Black and Latino neighbourhoods of New York.
Speaking on violence inflicted on the black body, Bongela says, “the greatest problem we face as a nation is not our neo-liberal imperialist economy that favours US and British capitalist endeavours. Our biggest problem is the unwillingness and inability to address the common denominator between these problems: the white supremacy that has never conceded its creation or the imbalanced South Africa of yesterday and today”
The artist in the eye of the digital storm
With mobile adoption increasing at an exponential rate, Africa has made online its playground, where artists are debunking long-held stereotypes of the continent. The artist’s usage of digital storytelling has started to assume a vocabulary of its own, shunning the strangle hold of the Eurocentric developmental language commonly rife in the arts, to re-imagine cultural production via experimentation.
Writer Lindokuhle Nkosi puts it as such, “We need to imagine, re-imagine, re-engineer a position and throw it light-years ahead into the future, we need to know, to intimately know, where we are now and the systems and pressures in place that make it so. And not just the system as in ‘the man’, but also the system that exists under that. The negotiations that happen around it, how we maneuver, how we slip through the cracks. How we exist, not just within the mainframe, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the sub-terrain”
The Joburg artist’s engagement with this conversation of re-imagination, especially in music, points to a trend where their art is the gateway to a complete lifestyle of other talents (such as graphic design, creative writing and fine arts); these artists are an exemplar of the complexity of what modern day cool actually means.
All rounder Okamalumkoolkat reveals that, “The renaissance artist is back in favour again. We use channels such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram to package a lifestyle and tell stories that are complementary to our communities and attractive to brands who jump on that band wagon”
Self-PR generating artists of Okmalumkoolkat’s ilk find themselves having a magnetism that lures brands that want to galvanise marketing efforts around these so-called influencers of the time, especially up and coming musicians who fuse the popular with the niche.
Intracontinental travel through digital tools
The urgency to foster collaborations within the continent has become woven into the broader voice of militancy. Inverse to the wave of migration of political refugees heading to Europe, more local artists are involved in intra-Africa travel, as a form of political expression and stance of solidaririty with their counterparts elsewhere in the continent. In this wake, the usage of technology as a tool for funding and advancing the cultural engagement has gained traction. Indicative of this is the recent trail blazing effort by a group of South African artists of many disciplines, who headed to Chale Wote Street Arts Festival in Jamestown, Accra last August via crowdfunding.
The upward curve of undesirables feeds the artist
As far as trends are concerned, the militant young voice – be it from the streets of Jozi or Stellenbosch’s black student body in the form of Luister, will as expected, thrive at the back of this country’s widening inequality gap and unresolved racial past. South Africa’s millennials are evidently taking up these issues in ways unfathomable to their predecessors through the voice of technology. The artist finds him/herself in a privileged position in this context to perpetually mutate and further disrupt one hashtag after the other.
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