"MOSALI NGOALANA" | Challenging Toxic Cultural Practices

This body of work reflects on the many years that female voices have been silenced, as well as why I think it is time to celebrate and embrace their voices. ‘Mosali Ngoalana’ is a story about an ancient practice of female initiation, juxtaposed with how the constructs of society describe women and who they are expected to be in a modern world.

Through my research on initiation in Africa, I learnt that in Lesotho, a significant number of women are initiated by men. Added to that, the women that run their own initiation schools are accredited or deemed qualified by the men that train them. I found this cultural bias quite disturbing that even one of the most sacred spaces for women has somehow been blemished with various forms of patriarchal philosophies, making the whole institution oppressive and counter-intuitive. It also occurred to me that the physical results of initiation for men increase sexual pleasure whereas it does the opposite for women.

This body of work addresses these toxic, oppressive and regressive cultural bigotries that continue to maim the voices of women in our society, while uplifting misogynistic perceptions that normalize and enable the horrors of patriarchy. To convey this visually, I used 'letsoku' (a clayey soil used for cosmetic and traditional purposes in Southern Africa). I specifically used the maroon colour which is traditionally for male initiates. In this case, it is applied to women, who traditionally use a white one instead. I used the 'letsoku' for covering the lips and eyes of one the muses, which symbolizes the contamination of women’s voices, at the same time, this application highlights how equally important female voices are to those of men and how we have to revisit some of our cultural structures to acknowledge this. On the second muse, the 'letsoku' is applied all over her face to speak on how the male gaze has to be adjusted in our society since women have the same capabilities that men do.

The neckpieces are parts of a 'thethana' which is worn by maidens during a traditional dance called 'litolobonya' that was performed in order to exercise and tighten the female vaginal muscles - in some accounts of my research, the ‘thethana’ was a 'twerking outfit'. In this context it reflects women taking charge of their sexuality whilst being juxtaposed with the fragility of masculinity that continues to surface through gender-based violence in our communities.

There are aspects of our cultures that are toxic and perpetuate patriarchy. This is why we continue to see the rapid rise in GBV even among younger males - a reflection of a passing down of misogynistic ideals. In our modern-day cultures, I feel that we need to create more platforms where continuous dialogue is held about ways of dismantling patriarchy, to the point of developing legislation and law that specifically protects women. These discussions can also help in understanding the science behind the destructive actions of men which, I feel, will assist in uprooting this pandemic.

Further, in the context of spirituality, gender-based violence is not only a manifestation of the pits of carnality but a brand of evil that needs to be uprooted. When delving into high states of consciousness that are achieved through various forms of prayer, veneration and meditation, it is important to remember that its fruits are selflessness, unconditional love (for self and others), empathy, compassion, piety, benevolence, beneficence, harmony, being one with nature and functioning primarily as the divine self, meaning we can only act and behave from a Godly disposition. It is my belief that if we were all spiritually aware of ourselves, human relations would immensely improve, toxicity would be dissolved and what would be left is a connection as strong as that of the Lumerians to the Source before our fall from consciousness. Love is the highest vibration in the universe - understanding this would aid a lot of our societal impairments with regards to gender relations and most importantly, it would usher in comprehensive healing. As far as storytelling goes, it is our responsibility as artists to tell authentic stories that provoke and shake the pillars of old in our cultures and also to take lead in building new societal structures where the voices of both women and men can be seen as equitable.

I am Sobukwe Thulasizwe Mapefane, a fine art photographer, concept developer, filmmaker and a visual activist. For the past five years, I have been working on the development of my creative voice to prepare myself for sharing my stories with the world and I believe that time has come. As a storyteller, I explore concepts of spirituality in all its various facets, primarily African spiritual systems, racial politics, gender inequality, initiation ceremonies, history and sacred knowledge. My primary objective is to reshape the false perceptions that surround some of these subjects by finding creative ways of interpreting them into newly packaged stories. Ultimately, I intend on impacting and educating people on a global scale on the intricate concepts of African spirituality and an African experience that all people can relate to whilst also highlighting cultural, racial and gender politics from an activist’s disposition.