Nkosi Sikelel

Nkosi Sikelel © Goethe-Institut Johannesburg
Nkosi Sikelel is a project initiated by Isaac Zavale and Huston Wilson. The visual intervention focuses quite literally on the famous phrase, its various translations, as well as the style of mural text that has come to be associated with township commerce and spaces of consumption.  

The phrase comes from the South African language of isiZulu which is represented alongside South Africa’s other ‘official’ languages. The song however, was originally composed by Enoch Mankayi Sontonga (c.1873 – 18 April 1905) in 1897 as a Christian hymn which was then later adopted into a Pan-African liberation song, with some versus used in the national anthems of nations such as Zambia, Tanzania and Namibia. In 1996, a shortened hybrid version, combined with the Apartheid anthem Die Stem, was composed and announced as the new national anthem of South Africa  

Nkosi Sikelel was rewritten with the intention to encourage hope and resilience in the attempt to unite a largely divided country, while also acknowledging the many languages spoken. The artists seek to do the same by using the space to encourage the sharing of positive messages, imagery and prayers for the nation.  

The idea comes as a response to the recent unrest caused by tribal divisions within our government and quite clearly, within our society. Singing the nation anthem, is the singing a praise poem. A poem calling us together. Nkosi Sikelel aligns itself with this call and asks that the audience find their own way to do the same.  

The installation is designed to visually map the various translations while creating a sense of spatial illusion by using bigger-than-life text and the bold colors from our national flag. In many ways the mural style used by the artists represents a visual language, where text is treated as an art work. Whether an art of rebellion or retail, the artists intend to use a number of activations and mediums to explore the conversation, call and message. The exhibition builds on the mural text design featured in the last Goethe-Institut exhibition, Feminism Ya Mang. 

Please see the programming for Nkosi Sikelel below:  

4 SEPTEMBER 11:00 – 13:00
OPENING TALK-ABOUT – Ft Surprise Praise Poem Performer

We invite you to join us for our opening which will kick off with a praise poem rendition of the national anthem. The artist’s will then walk-and-talk us through why this intervention is important to them at this particular time. The artists have chosen this format with the intention of inviting the audience to not only comment but ask and answers questions in a sort of group discussion style where the conversation is best brought to life by the varying opinions, memories and local experiences of our audience.  

The intervention includes a ‘graffiti’ prayer wall which invites audiences to note, illustrate, claim, exclaim, affirm or even reject their personal wishes for the future of South Africa and the continent. We encourage all guests to translate their thoughts in whatever language or medium they are most comfortable. 

Please send RSVP’s to masechaba.moloi@goethe.de by no later than Wednesday 1 September!

11 SEPTEMBER 11:00 – 15:00

The artists will be partnering with a youth center to create a live piece in response to the intervention. A wall will be dedicated to echoing the voices and wishes of the younger generation. This will form part of a permanent part of the installation. 

18 SEPTEMBER & 2 OCTOBER 11:00 – 13:00

These are the times the gallery is open to the public. Please RSVP to masechaba.moloi@goethe.de by Wednesday 15, 22 and 29 September if you are interested in viewing the show.

9 OCTOBER 10:00

The artist will curate an inner city walk that includes graffiti stops which they find most interesting and speak to the various tag styles that exist. The walk will broaden the conversation in the gallery by moving the conversation from the nation anthem and focusing of the medium used. The artists and invited industry friends will touch on the history of mural text and let us in on their messages of positivity. Thoughts on how each has used their illustration art as a language will be shared before enjoying a meal together.  

RSVPs via masechaba.moloi@goethe.de are essential for catering purposes and will open on 19 October 2021! The tour will include transport from the Goethe-Institut to the inner city for the first 15 guests to RSVP, as well as a plate and Ngudu of your choice. Guests who RSVP after the first 15 will still be accommodated in the tour and meal, but will have to make their own way to the chosen meet-up spot where the walk will begin.