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.