As an artist- and-writer duo, Funda Alumni and curators Simangaliso Sibiya and Phumzile Nombuso Twala are disrupting existing alternative education spaces with the aim of creating effective programmes that help with addressing social ills. Using the medium of art, the duo seeks to not only create conversation but to drive action that leads to self-sustainable creative programmes.
By utilising African Literature and art as a tool, the curators aim to encourage alternative thinking in terms of social development and community work.
It was the dusty periodicals that lay bare the foundations of this mammoth education and cultural institution, FUNDA - that beckoned for a deeper understanding. The pages implored the reader to more.
What lay before these cultural cadets was no longer just a pile of documents with the potential to form the basis of a rich and diverse archival collection, but a portal into the shibboleth of Afrikan Humanism.
A philosophy most commonly associated with acclaimed writer and educationist Professor Es’kia Mphahlele, Afrikan Humanism became the catalyst that was needed to inspire this duo of cultural cadets to dig deeper.
Staring back was an account of a book exhibition hosted at the Funda Centre Library in August 1986. IsiZulu refers to this month as Ncwaba, in reference to the sprouting of new grasses, much like Funda as a new, dynamic entity it was at the time.
What would it take to re-interpret this exhibition in a post-1994, post- tablets-are-cooler-than-actual-books society?
And why now?
In Anthem of the Decades, Professor Mazisi Kunene reminds us that “man must trace all actions, ultimately, to the original creative purpose of life”. As creatives driven by the spiritual essence of art, driven by an intangible pursuit, the call was probed by the cosmic mind and reminded us to rely less on our precision mind. The former, according to Prof. Kunene “synthesizes fragments of information to create a universally significant body of knowledge”.
It was the echoes of Prof. Kunene’s fundamental belief that “an equally aggressive creative edge will restore Africa’s thoughts to their former greatness”, that created the impetus to dig deeper.
It was in 2019, a significant year in the literary and cultural sphere as the legacies of four centenarians born in South Africa were honoured nationally. Our point of departure as we sought to do the same was to explore in part, the legacy of Professor Mphahlele at Funda.
After his return from exile, he continues to advocate for an overhaul of the education system and punted creative expression - viewing these as tools for the self-emancipation of the Black mind. His occupation with broadening the understanding of The African’s Traditional Habit of Mind formed the bedrock of his quest to re-orient humanity with the principles of Afrikan Humanism.
At the time of the book exhibition opening at the Funda Centre Library, Mphahlele’s writing featured clear observations of a “South Africa battling to realise itself” akin to the state of the nation in 2020.
This observation sparked a need for a critical analysis of the African image, through the unique lens of an exhibition of books and art from the Funda Collection. With a sea of books available, these cultural cadets decided to focus on the collection of African Literature books donated to the library by Prof. Mphahlele.
It was our intention to bring to light what Prof. Kunene calls “the varied African literary traditions which too often were denigrated and obscured in the colonial period”.
Throughout his nineteen years in exile Prof. Mphahlele’s creative pursuits were unrelenting, leading to his paths crossing with fellow celebrated scribes and leaders. His passion for creative expression saw him traverse the African continent, Europe and North American terrains. His homecoming signalled the beginning of a new era of desires to teach his own people, in his own land, to give back as he longed to for years.
As founding chairperson of the Funda board when the centre was opened in 1984, Prof. Mphahlele continued his unflinching criticism of Bantu education and actively championed Alternative Education. Quite significant was his donation of his personal African Literature Collection to the Funda Centre Library – essentially one of his numerous contributions towards remedying what he called “minding schooling: of South African education systems.
In the centenary year of Mphahlele, these cultural cadets drew wisdom from an exploration of the intersectionality of African literature, alternative education and Afrikan Humanism to create a canon of knowledge, paying homage to Prof. Mphahlele’s behemoth of an all-too-easily-forgotten legacy.
It became critical to fully grasp the notion of the need to create a social consciousness in order to create pillars of support for transformative ways of thinking.
In Conversation with the Funda Library African Literature Collection
The various collections, including poetry, novels, short stories, biographies, autobiographies and Prof. Mphahlele’s writings conversed with artworks from the Funda Community College Fine Art Collection. Beyond solely serving as a reminder that the marriage of literature and fine arts has been a long-standing one, this exhibition showcased titles by a plethora of writers who expressed African thought and philosophies through text and oral literature.
A digression from typical Western-centric contemporary book exhibitions by these cultural cadets includes the curatorial decision to frame the books and in essence free the art.
Framing this narrative in this way is two-fold:
- -Firstly, as a social experiment, designed to monitor the frequency of requests to access the books for reading.
- -Secondly, to invert Western- centric notions that artworks need to be framed, which ultimately adds to the commercial value of the work, which may be viewed as a form of limiting creative expression and thought in an African sense – free-thinking, unhindered, communal and connected.
Inter-connectedness is an underlying theme in this exhibition, framed around the principles of Afrikan Humanism, which affirm that I am because we are, we are because you are.
As Funda Community College Executive Director Ntate Motsumi Makhene reminds us that “art is meant to highlight distortions of nature”, these cultural cadets sought to place this exhibition at the fore of cultural and literary analyses of the impact of arts education, within a township context; echoing Prof. Mphahlele’s sentiments that “we owe it to ourselves to treat the arts as education”.
#FundaUFundise is a movement inspired by Prof. Mphahlele, lauded as a philosopher, probing teacher and entrepreneurial intellectual” by one of his students and foremost proponents, Ntate Makhene.
#FundaUFundise is a rallying call to action to re-align with culture as an educating thought, in harmony with nature.
As Funda Community College continues to evolve in order to be an institution that cultivates the community’s imagination to rediscover the creative principle, Ntate Makhene reminds us of this institution’s role in re-establishing connections in a beautiful powerful language of organic intelligence.
*The African (Literature) Image Funda UFundise Book Exhibition is curated by Simangaliso Sibiya and Phumzile Nombuso Twala. The exhibition ran between 23 November 2019 and16 January 2020 and will be travelling nationally.
-Phumzile Nombuso Twala is a Creator, Connector, Researcher, Intellectual, Innovator, Organiser and Activist. She is a writer, independent curator and a Creative Arts Enterprise Incubation Programme Communications and Multimedia Alum of the iconic black arts institution, Funda Community College.