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FERVENT prayer: ‘Yehla Moya Oyingcwele’, a photograph by Sethembiso Zulu, on show at NWU Gallery.

A WOMAN’S FACE is drenched with baptismal fluid. Her expression is serene. Her eyes closed. Another woman holds her peer from behind, a call of fierceness on her lips, fervency in her posture. A child peeks solemnly through the fabric and drapery surrounding him. You can hear the energy in the environment, feel it shimmering against the membranes which contain you. Multimedia journalist and healer Sethembiso Zulu leaps into this whirligig of ritual and captures it, in his debut solo show, Ikhaya LikaMoya, currently on show online at the University of the North West.

The first work you see offers a glance at a humble, seemingly improvised edifice made of corrugated iron. The sky is dramatically big. A Christian cross is precariously mounted to its roof. But as you look, so do you realise that this is a sacred space, a place of great potency and intensity, and not one to approach light-heartedly. Going through the body of 15 photographs, you are swept into the vortex of emotion captured so beautifully and with so much wisdom by this Market Photo Workshop-trained photographer, who hails from Vosloorus.

You do not need to understand the nature of the rituals captured in this astonishingly fine body of works. The women who weep, the men who gyrate, the bible, the substances. The rituals of mourning and transformation, of initiation and rebirth slip into universality here, and as your eyes flow over the nuances and alongside the blurs in these extraordinarily moving pieces, and in dynamic and simply brilliant compositions, the environment comes alive and grabs you by your secret essence.

It’s interesting to think of this university, tucked away in the small town of Tlokwe, formerly known as Potchefstroom, as being at the forefront of workable online exhibitions through an era thwarted and locked down. Cleanly designed and easily accessible, this exhibition is an important one on several levels. Without the expensive technological doodads that may enable you to virtually walk around a piece, or ‘be’ there, as you sit at your computer at home, this university gallery doesn’t boast tricks and gimmicks to keep you focused.

Rather, it uses the skills of veteran artist Senzeni Marasela, as curator, to give Zulu’s body of work the direct light and frank attention it warrants. With the changing face of South African arts and paradigm shifts that are happening under our very feet, Zulu’s work embraces that kind of fierce, raw and broken timelessness which is about what it means to be human.

  • Ikhaya Likamoya by Sethembiso Zulu is curated by Senzeni Marasela and on show, online, at the art gallery of North West University, until 7 August 2020.

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