the power of connection with zethu Maseko

Film Still. Zethu Maseko, Zuggans, A collaboration with Dear Ribane (2019), 2 minutes 28 seconds. Courtesy of the artist. Photo Kay Kay Ribane

It is said that in creating relationships that pool talent together, meaningful and new modes of expression can be found. For the past year, these connections have been hard to come by, as people have been marooned in their homes, unable to foster new these relations. However, as we slowly begin to crawl out of this hibernation, the act of collaboration and being connected to others can offer a valuable healing process.

But what is collaboration? Collaboration is connection. It’s about connecting yourself to other human beings, forging relationships and conversations that accommodate and react to the different values of each party to create some new and productive. But how does this manifest within artistic production? As we have seen in this month’s issue, it can found in the built environment of the art, or in the collaborative process of exhibiting an under appreciated art form.

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Zethu Maseko, Ukudansa, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Both the power of collaboration and the importance of connection underpins the work of London based artist Zethu Maseko. Firstly her focus is on healing the wounds wrought by Western imperialism, that constituted a loss of connection to her African heritage. In her use of instruments such as the Mbira, Maseko begins to heal her own identity by implementing pre-colonial methods, which can be seen in her work Afro Safety Net. The piece is emblematic of the comfort found reconnecting to Maseko’s own lived experience to her origins, exemplified by the beautifully melodic tones of the mbira. Maseko describes her initiative to incorporate the lives of her ancestors in her work during a trip to Southern Africa, during which she produced Ukudansa:

“In Southern Africa, where I was researching and visiting friends and family, I experienced a somatic epiphany; recalled something that wasn’t my own lived experience. This remembrance didn’t take place in the form of deja-vu or in present time, but a pre-birth memory which took place in my body. I fell into my African body and now I feel as if I’m carrying the post-colonial body of my ancestors.”

In 2020, Maseko created the North London Creatives Resistance, a collective that embodies the power of collaboration. With workshops and talks, the collective provides a space for voices that cannot be heard to the ears that have not been listening.

Read the following interview between Zethu Maseko and SuperGlue.

Film Still. Zethu Maseko, Zuggans, A collaboration with Dear Ribane (2019), 2 minutes 28 seconds. Courtesy of the artist. Photo Kay Kay Ribane

SuperGlue: With this month’s theme Collaboration//Connection in mind, how do you incorporate collaboration within your artistic practice? What do you think can be gained from working in such collaborative processes?

Zethu Maseko: Collaboration within my practice is a source of learning with others through the process of conversing and making. I gain insight through the experiences and minds of like minded artists.

SG: Your art manifests through many media, from performance, to music, and embroidery. Throughout all your works there is a focus on the lived diasporic experience, and the displacement of identity as a consequence of colonialism. Could you reflect on how you deal with this through your artistic expression?

ZM: My work has always been a means to unpack and understand my positionality, experiences and hardships. I use whatever means necessary to speak to different global issues within the diaspora that affect me. In turn, this brings visibility to the experience of others that are similar to my own.

SG: There is a strong sense of healing within your art, and indeed the spirituality that this healing is bedded within. For instance, in the accompanying text to your piece Ukudansa, you describe your experience of returning to Southern Africa, during which you experienced a form of remembering, in which the spirituality of your heritage came into focus. How did this experience inform your work following?

ZM: Healing comes from remembering the ‘past’ that you come from, how it affects your ‘present’ self and in turn helps you to visualise your ‘future’.  ‘Remembering’ has shifted my understanding of self, from a individualist understanding to a more holistic, collective one. Past, Present and Future are ongoing themes in my practice. 

Zethu Maseko, Afro Safety Net, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

SG: Your work is often scored by the sounds of the Mbira. Could you tell us a bit more about how the mbira connects your art to your own identity, and what you hope to achieve through its use?

ZM: Mbira is a stone-age instrument, from which many instruments have evolved. For me, this instrument sounds like home, it has a powerful grounding effect. In southern Africa, where my heritage lies, the mbira is played in contemporary music. It has also been used in healing rituals and as a storytelling tool. Sharing my explorations with this instrument has been a way of encouraging collective healing, reclaiming ancient tools for healing that are overlooked in contemporary society and Indigenising the way we engage in healing practices.

SG: During the summer of 2020, you formed the North London Creatives Resistance group out of the Black Lives Matter protests held in your own ends in Tottenham. Could you explain in a bit more detail how the collective was formed, and how the collective is promoting the social potential of art and collaboration?

ZM: NLCR is a platform for sharing ideas, collaborating on projects & organising ways to make social change through visual arts. We set up ‘Creative Corners’ at local BLM protests, with banner making materials, stray paints and stencils. We chalked Black Lives Matter on many pavements in Tottenham and made large fabric banners for protests. This way people who had something to express and contribute, didn’t have to use their voices to do so.

Zethu Maseko, Remembering Saatjie Bartman, 2020. Front. Quilt 200x150 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Zethu Maseko, Remembering Saatjie Bartman, 2020. Back. Quilt 200x150 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

SG: How do you relate to glue?

ZM: As an emerging artist living in London, I think it’s important to be connected with other artists around the world, especially during the current global circumstances.

SG: Finally, what do you have coming up 2021? Is there anything you want to promote or to leave our readers thinking about?

Some of my upcoming exhibitions in London include New Contemporaries Bloomberg at South London Gallery and  a group show at BACKLIT Gallery in Nottingham.

Keep up with all of Zethu Maseko’s work on her artist page & her instagram @zetzina 

Follow the progress of the North London Creative Resistance @nlcreativeresistance