The illusion and substance in the written and spoken word has been and continues to be a subject of fascination within the conundrum of rhetoric and audiances are always caught between choosing to and/or not to believe that which they understand and don’t.
After all, what’s in a word?
It is from this vantage of critical thought that we approach Herman Mbamba’s art exhibit hung within the spacious confines of the National Art Gallery, a part of the paraphernalia making up the Tulipamwe Collection.
His acrylic bound canvas simply titled, Khaxatsus, seems to sprout from the negrotude era of iconoclastic political activism bordering on the politics of race.
Struggle and revolution are the veins within which colour shoots out with a dangerous if not firm intensity, one which seeks to rubble-rouse and stamp the condition of the Blackman.
Mbamba’s work is a product of naked politics that derives from the struggles of the past and its icons into the present and the uncertain future.
He strikes as an activist of a few words who wields the power of symbols, energy of colour into a combination of sloganeering which brings us to the words “nice”, “negro” and “future” all engraved with such intensity that they don’t escape an unsuspecting roving eye.
In art, nothing happens by chance, and it brings one at the departure point of pondering why the artist opts for these three words, what meaning can be derived from such and with what intent?
Could it be that the artist finds himself as having been too much a “nice negro” in a space within which the means of survival is in the hands of those who reap benefits at the expense of being nice?
One thing seems certain, a passive society is an antithesis to the struggle for ownership of land and all beneath and above it, and it is by no chance that Mbamba pins on his work a picture of Southern Africa’s icon of power, Heindrik Witbooi.
Here is a man that opted to give in to the brutal clamp-down of death than live the life of a nice passive negro and his place in this work is suitable.
It is by no shadow of chance that between the words “nice” and “negro” is painted a sobering image of a Blackman wearing an afro with sharp menacing teeth and below it, a hand stuck in blood.
How long Mbamba’s negro will be nice will determine the pace at which the future is to be reached and either deliberately or not, he renews and takes forward from where the Negrotudes left.
He takes the power of the word, “Negro” one that derives from, in this context, one of the most painful episodes of black history into a creative personal force that strikes down vices and asserts the liberty of man.
History fuels the future and struggle is the blast-furnace and baptismal fires to Black-redemption.
The political undertones are inescapable, and art is here regarded as a socialist endeavour, a function and call to arms rather than an object of vain beauty and gratification.