I’m beginning to realise that words are weak and insufficient tools to convey anything truly relevant about the power and authenticity of the work of the !Xun and Khwe. It is created by people with whom communication is a long-winded and inadequate process.
Marlene Sullivan Winberg relates her experiences with the translation process in Memory and Magic, her second book on these artists. A translator was required for the translator as he could speak !Xun and Afrikaans and she neither. This broken telephone is both a beautiful and sad phenomenon; an illustration of the paradox of language – that it is both a bridge and a barrier.
In contemporary culture we are used to thinking that words are the pinnacle of communication (and perhaps this is so) but ultimately, and something that has been addressed in postmodern theory, is the idea that we are all playing broken telephone with one another whether we speak the same language or not.
The power of these works lies in their wordlessness, their raw, vital sense of being, of existence, something that words do not have the power to convey.
All the works features today are by artist /Tuoi Stefaans Samcuia. A reticent young man, he speaks with long pauses between his sentences. He experienced terrible things when fighting against the Swapo in the Border War. These are his words on this experience and on his art:
“I don’t remember much but this I do: once we came upon a group of them [Swapo members] and shot three. The rest ran away. It hurt in my heart. This is why sometimes we drink a lot and walk around with the drunkenness in our heads. Then you cannot think or remember. But I do a lot of work with the paintings [....] I cannot read and write. I draw and paint. That is where people must read my work.”
His lino-cuts are amongst some of the most beautiful I have seen, both humourous and beautifully rendered.
[Below is a link to a history of the South African Border War on Wikipedia.]