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Image courtesy of Showmax.

In Simphiwe Dana, filmmaker and director Mmabatho Montsho has found an actress that is as shapeless as a lump of clay, but is full of warmth and she has chiselled out of her a measured performance minimal in tone and effort.

‘Joko ya Hao’ is Not Your Typical Apartheid Film

South African filmmaker Mmabatho Montsho doesn't rely on the politics of her new film to carry it along, but instead imposes her authorial voice on a tribute to Winnie Madikizela Mandela.

The defining flaw of the post-94 apartheid film is always its focus on the macro—the issues, the big political figureheads and so forth. The recently released short film Joko ya Hao (currently streaming on Showmax) signifies a continued stepping away from this conventional wisdom towards a more nuanced history from below.

Filmmaker Mmabatho Montsho does not linger on black pain, towering over it pornographically on Joho ya Hao. Instead, she zooms in; we see crying eyes and an attempt to wash hands red with blood. The objective is not to generate mere anger at the political moment as most films tend to do, but to do the more challenging work of making the viewer intimately aware of its human costs.


Montsho does not rely on the politics of the film to carry it along and instead imposes her authorial voice. In her, we have found a cinematic improviser who uses the camera as an extension of her own wandering eye. The faces are framed in warm close-ups, never always fully in focus. Faith is never static but is always fleeting and at times fading like the edges of the images on the screening.

Not your average apartheid film

In Montsho's peculiar yet accomplished take on the apartheid film, the eyes of God are always watching. The film is peppered with static aerial shots, the perspective of a higher power who is seemingly idle and unmoved by the events taking place within the confines of the frame.

Read: Netflix's '8' Is a Win for South African Horror

And what events are these? Set in 1955, Joko ya Hao stars South African musician Simphiwe Dana as Nozizwe, a widow who wants to be a priest. As expected, her ambitions are derailed by gender constrictions within the church as well as forced removals that threaten to upend her life and those of everyone she knows.

One of the opening shots of the film is of arms in a basin, washing, a cleansing saturated in hues of orange, but the tone of Joko ya Hao is a pastoral blue.

Its free-form scat tone is a bit jarring in the beginning, but once you settle into the groove, it moves like bebop and undoes our expectations of the film with its manipulation of time.

Simphiwe Dana's performance—minimal in tone and effort

Simphiwe Dana delivers a complex performance as Nozizwe, who holds on to memories of her dead husband via a wedding ring she doesn't take off. It's difficult to tell how long Nozizwe has been a widow. Not enough time has passed for her to stop wearing the wedding band, but enough time has passed for her to start holding hands with another man in her church named Yeni, played by Jet Novuka with a nudge, a wink and the most delicate of touches.

In Simphiwe Dana, Montsho has found an actress that is as shapeless as a lump of clay, but is full of warmth and she has chiselled out of her a measured performance minimal in tone and effort.

There is much to love about Dana's take on what becomes of a woman when supposedly the most important thing she was going to be, a wife, has come and gone. Her chemistry with Novuka is also undeniable. The scenes between the two are reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai's My blueberry Nights and In the Mood for Love. Here, there is always sensual anticipation, but also a reluctance to do anything about it, beyond talking it through logically.

One moment in which the walls of Jericho fall takes place in a passage after Yeni arrives and finds a devastated Nozizwe who has just learned she won't be living her best life as a pastor after "failing" a portfolio submission. Yeni comforts Nozizwe, and they fall like Lego pieces into an embrace as the camera pans away. I found myself shifting in my seat, aware that I was eavesdropping on a private moment, a kind of discomfort I only last felt when the camera moved away the same way on Travis Bickle as he was being rejected by Betsy over the phone in Taxi Driver. The humiliation of the moment is made no less palpable by its invisibility.

Dana's voice is used sparingly at the start of the film to help the audience along, an editorial choice that is abandoned for the latter half of the film and Joko ya Hao is all the better for it.

A fitting tribute to Winnie Madikizela Mandela

The film's end credits declare that it is dedicated to late apartheid struggle hero Winnie Madikizela Mandela and like the woman who she is based on, by the end of Joko ya Hao not only has Noziwe found her voice, but she stands firm in it and becomes a kind of spiritual giant.

Joko ya Hao ends on a triumphant note. A kind of defiance against odds, but after the credits go up, the viewer is left questioning if Nozizwe really did become the woman of her dreams or if she too was eventually weighed down by life and its endless supply of disappointments.

Watch the trailer for Joho ya Hao below and stream the film on Showmax.

Joko Ya Hao | Drama | Trailer | Showmax www.youtube.com

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Artwork: Barthélémy Toguo Lockdown Selfportrait 10, 2020. Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Goes to Paris in 2021

The longstanding celebration of African art will be hosted by Parisian hot spot Christie's for the first time ever.

In admittedly unideal circumstances, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will be touching French soil in 2021. The internationally celebrated art fair devoted to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora will be hosted in Paris, France from January 20 - 23. With COVID-19 still having its way around the globe, finding new ways to connect is what it's all about and 1-54 is certainly taking the innovative steps to keep African art alive and well.
In partnership with Christie's, the in-person exhibits will take place at the auction house's city HQ at Avenue Matignon, while 20 international exhibitors will be featured online at Christies.com. And the fun doesn't stop there as the collaboration has brought in new ways to admire the talent from participating galleries from across Africa and Europe. The fair's multi-disciplinary program of talks, screenings, performances, workshops, and readings are set to excite and entice revelers.

Artwork: Delphine Desane Deep Sorrow, 2020. Courtesy Luce Gallery


The tech dependant program, curated by Le 18, a multi-disciplinary art space in Marrakech medina, will see events take place during the Parisian run fair, followed by more throughout February.
This year's 1-54 online will be accessible to global visitors virtually, following the success of the 2019's fair in New York City and London in 2020. In the wake of COVID-19 related regulations and public guidelines, 1-54 in collaboration with Christie's Paris is in compliance with all national regulations, strict sanitary measures, and security.

Artwork: Cristiano Mongovo Murmurantes Acrilico Sobre Tela 190x200cm 2019


1-54 founding director Touria El Glaoui commented, "Whilst we're sad not to be able to go ahead with the fourth edition of 1-54 Marrakech in February as hoped, we are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be in Paris this January with our first-ever fair on French soil thanks to our dedicated partners Christie's. 1-54's vision has always been to promote vibrant and dynamic contemporary art from a diverse set of African perspectives and bring it to new audiences, and what better way of doing so than to launch an edition somewhere completely new. Thanks to the special Season of African Culture in France, 2021 is already set to be a great year for African art in the country so we are excited to be playing our part and look forward, all being well, to welcoming our French friends to Christie's and many more from around the world to our online fair in January."

Julien Pradels, General Director of Christie's France, said, "Christie's is delighted to announce our second collaboration with 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, following a successful edition in London this October. Paris, with its strong links to the continent, is a perfect place for such a project and the additional context of the delayed Saison Africa 2020 makes this partnership all the more special. We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are."


Artwork: Kwesi Botchway Metamorphose in July, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957


Here's a list of participating galleries to be on the lookout for:

Galleries

31 PROJECT (Paris, France)
50 Golborne (London, United Kingdom)
Dominique Fiat (Paris, France)
Galerie 127 (Marrakech, Morocco)
Galerie Anne de Villepoix (Paris, France)
Galerie Cécile Fakhoury (Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire/ Dakar, Senegal)
Galerie Eric Dupont (Paris, France)
Galerie Lelong & Co. (Paris, France / New York, USA)
Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris, France / Brussels, Belgium)
Galleria Continua (Beijing, China / Havana, Cuba / Les Moulins, France / San Gimignano, Italy / Rome, Italy)
Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana / London, United Kingdom)
Loft Art Gallery (Casablanca, Morocco)

Luce Gallery (Turin, Italy)
MAGNIN-A (Paris, France)
Nil Gallery (Paris, France)
POLARTICS (Lagos, Nigeria)
SEPTIEME Gallery (Paris, France)
This is Not a White Cube (Luanda, Angola) THK Gallery (Cape Town, South Africa) Wilde (Geneva, Switzerland)

For more info visit 1-54

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