While reading My Elands Heart, the first publication of the stories and art from the !Xun and Khwe Art Project, I came across an artist whose long narrative was on a subject that piqued my interest.
Kasiku Donna Rumao, a young !Xun grandmother, living in a family that houses four generations of women under one roof, says, “If I should talk about being a woman in !Xun culture, I will tell long stories.”
And indeed she goes on to tell an incredibly complex tale about a man who took an elephant for his wife and his mad brother who killed her and her child. This story, like most !Xun tales, is incredibly rich in a metaphorical tradition that Westerners may find difficult to access.
A lot of its meaning is lost on me though, after Donna’s tale, her mother, the grand matriarch of the family explains some details to her gathered grand and great-grandchildren, and the translator.
Her explanation links hunting meat and having sex with women in the hunters mind, and is a microcosmic metaphor for birth and death and the cycle of life.
This insight into the life and experience of women in the !Xun culture stayed with me, as did the vibrant smiling face of Donna, from her photograph in My Elands Heart.
This is why when the work above caught my eye at the Broken Arrow opening (and its dreamy colours and atmosphere drew me to it) I was excited to see that it had been painted by the woman who had intrigued me so much.
The work is entitled Red Veldt Food and as one can immediately see, the only red objects to are three tiny nubs on the end of a tree branch at the very top of the painting that is otherwise filled to capacity with hungry wildlife. There is no doubt that what the artist is trying to communicate here is a scarcity of food.
This is extremely interesting in that many of these artists speak of the old times with great longing and describe a rich, plentiful life living off the land.
I went back to My Elands Heart to see if I could deduce something concrete about Donna’s opinions on the matter and sure enough the life she describes, though good in many ways, was a struggle.
Her and her mother both agree that, for them, today’s’ life is better, and great-grandmother Lalilu says she is glad her children were born in these times.
Below is a link to Donna’s extract from My Elands Heart.
The works below are further examples of Kasiku Donna Rumao’s work.