The Art of Quilting (or, I Have Hope)

So today, we remember those who would not be voiceless… Those agents of change… Those who took centre stage against one of the fiercest of regimes. I salute you and your brave deeds leave me humbled. We have not come as far as I’d hoped by now. But there is room for growth each day and for all my misgivings, I remain hopeful. 

I was reminded this morning, as the African sun rose so benevolently on yet another day, of an editorial I wrote once for the NMMU’s annual arts collaborative project and publication, Sharp! Sadly, I think it is yet another endeavour fallen by the wayside. All things said and done, I thought I might share it, on this, the 16th of June, when we both celebrate and mourn as a nation in transition. xx

September 2008

The writing of an editorial is nothing if not a humbling task. As part of this year’s Sharp! editorial team, I was simply the make-up artist behind a famous face. (And if I may extend the metaphor to this courageous publication, it was a face that, to me, had launched a thousand ships, while I was but a university first year.) And here I am, asked to say a little something on its behalf.

How to answer the question that comes with the editorial, “What is Sharp!?” (It’s as slippery a question as when the Italian asks that I tell her about ‘my country’ and I wonder what it is to call something ‘mine’ or a ‘country’.) So I begin with what I do know, and that is what I’ve hoped throughout the process, Sharp! would not be. I hoped it would not be the stuff of Ivory Towers, for any Rapunzel will tell you that she is lonely. And I hoped it would never be alienating or intimidating. Instead, I hoped that you would find it beyond definition, because it is in the ‘beyond definition’ that we might arrive at possibility and find within the makings of magic.

Our country is in the process of prising open even the most territorialized of the past’s tyrannical strongholds, and our arts must carry the torch into these spaces. So if you open up this edition, expecting a theme, you will find none. It speaks only in the vibrant, quilted tongue of the proud chimera that is often, all at once: frustrated, infuriated, challenged but excited, riveted, even beguiled. In Sharp! 2008 are the voices and visions of the African griot, the storyteller, the one who witnesses and passes the story on.

And when I consider how blessed this venture has been in the diverse scope of its artistic reach, I am reminded of African American writer, Alice Walker, and her insistence that what is needed most in the appreciation of art, and life, is “the larger perspective,” and the ability to find in this “varied world the common thread.”

While it may seem, at times, that we are speaking in tongues that do not understand each other, that do not share the same heart nor mind, it is this observation of Alice Walker’s that might prove a point of departure in turning these pages. For the stories that we tell are not remote, are not strangers to each other, but rather pieces of an Immense Story simply torn from different cloths, strips that when brought together, make for the most dazzling of tapestries.

The tapestry you are holding in your hands in Sharp! is made of African, South African, Afrikaans, Xhosa, English, Irish, multilingual, mulit-visual and multi-coloured thread, that weaves together some of our Immense Story. It tells of the human spirit that is neither black nor white, nor brown nor yellow, and speaks back to power: Do what you will to my body, and throw what you may at my mind, but you will never have my song.


Tapestry by Faith Ringgold 

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