The children of great men and woman often bear the weight of their parents’ legacy. They can choose to accept the burden or reject it. If they accept it, they could rise above and beyond or fail tragically. If they reject it, they could disparage it, turn into ashes or a mockery.
Some of these children can strike out on their own and end up ennobling their parents legacy…
In July, Mak Manaka toured Children of Asazi in Soweto. This debut exhibition of poetry, paintings and woodcuts prints featured work by the young poet and his late father poet, dramatist, artist Matsemela Manaka.
Titled after the senior Manaka’s 1984 play, The Children of Asazi, the exhibition was made up of portraits of poets such as Mutabaruka, Don Mattera, Bob Marley, Lesego Rampolokeng and Matsemela Manaka. Next to each portrait was a poem inspired by each poet and then a wood cut by Matsemela Manaka.
Though a small exhibition, it all came together thematically with each poem exploring the subjects of freedom, music, patriarchy, identity. The interesting part was the silent conversation between father and son through their work.
The Children of Asazi (children who don’t know), the play, was written by Matsemela Manaka in 1984. It is about dispossession, families being uprooted and evicted from Alexandra township. With it’s young lead characters clashing with the older generation, it is “both a tale of young love and a tale of old inertia” (Gussow, M. 1986). This play was written for the youth of that time but with themes that still resonate today.
We know Mak Manaka as a poet and a writer but this exhibition introduces us to a side that he had suppressed for some years now. During the Q&A session, Mak revealed that he hadn’t painted for some years because he had to resolve some feelings that he had harboured since his father passed way in a car accident in 1998. Mak related that he stopped painting when his father passed away and reveals that now he feels like he has resolved his pent up feelings he can create fully. This exhibition was in a sense a cathartic moment in the poets life. This exhibition was also and opportunity to show never before seen wood cut prints by Matsemela Manaka who is known more for his plays and poetry than his print-making.
One piece that really grabbed my interest can only be described thus:
under one of the wood cuts is a painted table. first, you notice a keyhole, under it the anc flag then your view opens up but you can’t see it yet. you notice what looks like books. book spines. yes, books on a shelf. but still you can’t see the whole. just the details. so you step back that’s the only way you’ll be able to see the whole. there are lines. interrupting the image of the books on the shelf. you step back again. the keyhole. the flag under the keyhole. the books on the shelf. the interruption. no. bars. like a burglar bar. or jail doors. yes. books, knowledge, locked behind bars. yes.
who would lock books up?
And this piece, I think captures the intent of the Children of Asazi exhibition. With this exhibition, Mak Manaka is not only revealing a part of himself many of us know little about, he is also claiming his parents’ legacy and giving it the honour and respect it deserves.
*Mel Gussow, The New York Times, 26 September 1986. Quoted in Beyond the Echoes of Soweto, Routledge 2004)
this article was published in our print quarterly number seven, Words.
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