20190702 135042 e1562138414158 300x226A mass of bandaged penises, piled on a hospital stretcher made of a white bed-cover with two red stripes, flinched faces at the 2019 National Arts Festival in Makhanda (Grahamstwon).

The provoking piece by the national PPC Cement Imaginarium Awards winner and WSU Fine Art lecturer, Sonwabiso Ngcai’s explicitly interrogates the amaXhosa initiation ritual of “ulwaluko”, examining its evolutionary path from a traditional practice to an increasingly modernised health practice.

“The mobile hospital gurney alludes to the peculiar situation wherein initiates from mountains and transported to hospitals. Emergency calls from national stakeholders to intervene is emphasised by the group of 55 deformed terracotta penises bound in dirty white slip bandages,” said Ngcai.

Ngcai’s “Liyahamba Isiko themed show piece is embalmed in metaphoric language that speaks deeper that what meets the eyes. The exhibition casts light onto incidents where scores of young Xhosa men are mortally wounded by the circumcision rite of practice in recent years.

“Raising the hospital gurney to human height suggests a physical engagement between the viewer and artwork in the same way a nurse would engage with a patient in hospital. The white bed cover with accentuated red stripes is symbolic of the “umkhwetha” (Initiate) blanket worn throughout the ritual,” added Ngcai.

Ngaci said clay was also a predominant material of Liyahamba Isiko. Exhumed from the earth, clay is smeared over the body during the initiation period and is used in the art work to symbolise the fragility of life.

“The death of initiates during the circumcision season weighs heavily on my conscience. I see no closure without the intervention of society’s will to seek resolutions for this sacred practice that’s become synonymous with death,” he said.

The exhibition will be open until 7 July, 2019 at the Albany Museum in Makhanda.

By: Sinawo Hermans