Buhlebezwe Siwani at the National Arts Festival 2022

WORDS Cheri Morris PHOTOS Supplied; Lauren Theunniseun (Iyeza)

This year’s National Arts Festival – an experiential tapestry of theatre, dance, music, jazz, visual art, comedy and more – will be taking place in Makhanda from 23 June to 3 July 2022. We caught up with Buhlebezwe Siwani – an artist and iSangoma whose work expresses truth like beauty; in the eye of the beholder, bendable, multidimensional.

Who is Buhlebezwe?

Buhlebezwe is an artist who is passionate about the country of her birth and the people that live in this country. She is iSangoma. This journey has led me to understanding myself and my position in society in a more nuanced way. I have been able to see things, been allowed access to things, that I could never have imagined, both as an artist and iSangoma. I am also a daughter, a sister, a lover, a friend and most importantly, a mother. I make work about all of this; I make work about my traumas and my joy all under the umbrella of my spiritual journey.

I used to be driven by what I thought people needed to hear, now I believe truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Truth is bendable. There is not one simple truth. Truth is complicated and right now speaking my truth is what is important. I know it could sound like somewhat of a narcissistic exercise, but what it is, is seeing ones own reflection through the inflections of society.

Tell us about Iyeza.

Iyeza is the beginning of a project I have been working on for the past eight years, trying to make work with traditional and indigenous medicinal plants. It is a love letter to my healing journey and the person who makes me think of healing, my great grandmother.

Buhlebezwe Siwani
A scene from Iyeza.

Iyeza is about how traditional healers and medicine are viewed and the effects people, climate and other factors are having on traditional methods of healing.

What inspires your style and subject matter?

EVERYTHING. This is not an exaggeration. Everything inspires me – feelings, landscapes, experiences, words, people, food. I cannot think of anything that has not inspired me.

What draws you to your chosen medium?

I definitely would begin by saying I do not have a specific medium. I choose not to conform to the idea that one must have a fixed medium. We are ever changing. I heard somewhere that the only constant was change so I allow the work to choose itself and where it ends up. So, I am not drawn to a particular medium – I think the work chooses that on its own.

Take us through your artistic process. Do you begin with an idea or do you just begin? 

This is a tough question. I see what you mean by that but I think there is a symbiosis here; one cannot exist without the other. Can they both not happen at the same time? Sometimes I am bored in studio and just doodling or doing something and what I started with gives way to an idea. Other times I have a clear idea in my head and the rest just follows from then on.

Describe the space in which you are most creative.

I thrive in complete solitude or utter chaos, it has to be either extreme. This is mentally, physically and emotionally.

What is your proudest moment thus far, as an artist and/or as a person? What is your most wanted achievement for the future?

What is meant for me will find me, ancestor willing, so there is nothing that I most want per se. I think it is multiple ways of fulfilment and maybe creating generational wealth.

My proudest moment as an artist is being awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award 2021. As an artist and as a person I think my proudest moments are learning more about my craft and no longer being afraid.

Where can people find your work?

At the National Arts Festival from the 23rd June in Makhanda. In Miami, Amsterdam, London and Naples. If online, at buhlebezwesiwani.com and with my gallerist at Galeria Madragoa.

What’s next for you?

I have a solo show coming up in September and I want to concentrate on that. I also have a few photographs that I just shot and a video – I have no idea where they are going but I don’t make work for it to go somewhere, I make work because I feel like it needs to be made.

For more information on the National Arts Festival, visit nationalartsfestival.co.za.

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