28 Feb 2024
ICA Public Lecture Series
28 Feb 2024

The Institute for Creative Arts (ICA) hosted Great Texts/Big Questions Lecture Series in May and June 2023 and extended the thinking around the theme of disobedience. Drawing on work by writers of novels, plays, performances, memoirs and academic texts who theorise and practice various modes of disobedience and resistance, the public lecture series explored the grammar and texture of disobedience. Disobedience was reflected on as a refusal to engage conventional systems, epistemologies and practices of being — that which scholar Saidiya Hartman contemplates as waywardness; “related to the family of words: errant, fugitive, recalcitrant, anarchic, wilful, reckless, troublesome, riotous, tumultuous, rebellious and wild.” In this sense, disobedience reflects an ability to inhabit the world in ways inimical to those deemed proper and respectable.

ICA Public Lecture Series

The roster featured artists Chuma Sopotela and Qondiswa James in conversation with director of the ICA Jay Pather, interdisciplinary theatre practitioner Tamara Guhrs, writer and editor Stacy Hardy, authors Zikhona Valela and Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, historians Dr Joel Cabrita and Dr Kwasi Konadu and writer and critic Dr Wamuwi Mbao.

Artistic disobedience assembled in a riotous manner.

This session convened practitioners of live art on the topic of mobilising transgression and disobedience through live art. Panellists reflected on artistic and political disobedience as strategies for the rejection of conventional rationality. The conversation was situated firmly within an African context, giving specificity to lived realities and the socio-economic landscape.

Chuma Sopotela is a multi-award-winning actor, director, choreographer, performance artist and all-round collaborator. A Standard Bank Young Artist Award-winner for Performance (2018) and KKNK Best Actress Award-winner (2017) Sopotela’s work is internationally renowned.

Her notable stage credits include the multi-award-winning Karoo Moose and Waiting for the Barbarians while her work as a performance artist has seen her create award-winning works for international festivals such as Performa. Over the years, Sopotela has collaborated with architect Michelle Collis, performer John Cartwright and artists Buhlebezwe Siwani, Thabo Doni, Asanda Rilityana, Zanele Siko and Lusanda Dayimani. She has recently written the Opera work Amagokra for Cape Town Opera and worked with Calvin Ratladi at William Kentridge’s The Centre for the Less Good Idea. Thereafter, she directed Ratladi in the solo work Digaruru at the Speilart Festival in Germany.

Qondiswa James is a freelance cultural worker living between Cape Town and Johannesburg. She is an award-winning writer and theatre-maker, performance artist, film and theatre performer, installation artist, arts facilitator and activist. She has received her Master's in Live Art, Interdisciplinary, Public Art and Public Spheres at the University of Cape Town through the Institute of Creative Arts. Her work engages the socio-political imagination towards mobilising transgression.

ICA Public Lecture Series

The Play Only Speaks At Night

Tamara Guhrs and Stacy Hardy discussed the multiple failures in their attempt to stage Franz Fanon's The Drowning Eye. Written in 1949, with its mad blend of surrealist imagery, existentialism, love lyricism and life philosophising, there is more than a touch of young 20-something angstyness, but the dark undertow of trauma, and lines that are hauntingly prescient for Fanon’ later works, gives it a feeling of fluidity, maybe even timelessness. It is the kind of text you can immediately see in your mind’s eye -  yielding imagery, fleeting ideas for experimental staging, musical resonances.

Stacy Hardy is a writer, an editor with pan African platform Chimurenga and teacher in creative writing in South Africa. Her writing has appeared in multiple literary magazines, monographs and anthologies. Her first short fiction collection, Because the Night, was published by Pocko, London in 2015 and a new collection, Archéologie des trous was released via Rot-Bo-Krik, Sète, France in 2022 and is forthcoming in English via Bridge Books, USA. Her plays and librettos have been performed around the world. She is currently a research fellow at The University of Chicago where she is collaborating with anthropologist Kaushik Sunder Rajan, poet Daniel Borzutzky, and musician Neo Muyanga to design “breathing machines,” new multi-and un-disciplinary forms and forums for the building and expression of collectivity through the act of conspiring together.

Tamara Guhrs is an interdisciplinary theatre practitioner and educator concerned with challenging audiences to reconsider relationships between self, community and spatial environments. Her practice includes eco-scenography, site-specific immersive theatre, writing, directing, and applied theatre methodologies. She has collaborated on projects ranging from human-elephant conflict in rural Zambia, to heritage and hauntology in inner city Johannesburg. She taught for many years at Wits Drama for Life, has been a visiting facilitator for the Market Lab, and for various community arts programmes. She has written several plays, including Thin Air, which won the Canada South Africa Women’s Playwriting Award (CASA) in 2019. In 2022, together with Stacy Hardy, she collaborated on a production of Frantz Fanon’s The Drowning Eye and accompanying exhibition, Revolutionary Love, which was part of the National Arts Festival’s curated programme. She runs an artist-led organisation, Flying House, and is currently busy with their forthcoming exhibition, hide.

ICA Public Lecture Series

Now You Know How Mapetla Died: The story of a Black Consciousness martyr.

In this public lecture, Zikhona Valela reflected on her book Now You Know How Mapetla Died: The Story of a Black Consciousness Martyr, in which she traces events that led to the brutal and tragic death of Mapetla Mohapi. Mohapi was a leading member of the Black Consciousness Movement, and the first to die in detention in 1976.

Zikhona Valela is a historian, writer, researcher and author. Her research interests include Black women's contributions to liberation movements on the African continent, Black Consciousness, Black feminism and the role of women as preservers of memory. Valela holds an MA in History from Rhodes University. Her thesis topic was I am 22 million: reading Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as the intellectual face of the anti-apartheid popular struggle. She has taught history at Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare. Valela uses social media as a teaching tool on forgotten histories of Black people's role in the liberation movement in order to expand mainstream historiography to tell a broader story beyond that of one liberation organisation and in Valela’s words its 'big men'. She has given talks at various organisations from The Cultural Forge, Tekano, the Steve Biko Foundation and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.  Valela is featured in the Showmax Multichoice Origins documentary series profiling her work as a storyteller and historian.

Driving While Black

In this public lecture, Dr Wamuwi Mbao considered technologies that systematically exclude Black people. Titled Driving while Black the talk reflected on the social impact of the car as a form of racialised and gendered authority.

Wamuwi Mbao is a literary critic and essayist. His reviews, essays and fiction appear in the Johannesburg Review of Books, Africa Is A Country, and other venues. He received a South African Literary Award in 2019 for his critical oeuvre. He teaches in the Department of English at Stellenbosch University. He is the editor of Years of Fire and Ash: Poetry of Decolonization, an anthology of South African struggle poetry published in 2021.

A 'Difficult' Woman: Patriarchy and Politics in the Career of Regina Gelana Twala

Regina Gelana Twala, a Black South African woman who died in 1968 in Swaziland (now Eswatini), was an extraordinarily prolific writer of books, columns, articles, and letters. Yet today Twala’s name is largely unknown. Her literary achievements are forgotten. Her books are unpublished. Her letters languish in the dusty study of a deceased South African academic. Her articles are buried in discontinued publications.

Joel Cabrita argues that Twala’s posthumous obscurity has not developed accidentally as she exposes the ways prejudices around race and gender blocked Black African women like Twala from establishing themselves as successful writers. Drawing upon Twala’s family papers, interviews, newspapers, and archival records from Pretoria, Uppsala, and Los Angeles, Cabrita argues that an entire cast of characters—censorious editors, territorial White academics, apartheid officials, and male African politicians whose politics were at odds with her own—conspired to erase Twala’s legacy. Through her unique documentary output, Twala marked herself as a radical voice on issues of gender, race, and class. The literary gatekeepers of the racist and sexist society of twentieth-century southern Africa clamped down by literally writing her out of the region’s history.

Dr Joel Cabrita is an associate professor of African history at Stanford University and Susan Ford Dorsey Director of the Center for African Studies. She is also a senior research associate in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Johannesburg. Her work focuses on religion, gender, and the politics of knowledge production in Africa and globally. She is the author of Text and Authority in the South African Nazaretha Church and The People’s Zion: Southern Africa, the United States, and a Transatlantic Faith-Healing Movement. Her new book – Written Out: The Silencing of Regina Gelana Twala (Ohio University Press, 2023) – is a biography of an important figure unjustly written out of history.

ICA Public Lecture Series

Disobedience and Resistance Against Global Empire

In this public lecture, Dr Konadu reflected on his new work, Many Black Women of this Fortress, a triple biography of women who exercised power against slavery and inquisition.

The book presents rare evidence about the lives of three African women in the sixteenth century—the very period from which we can trace the origins of global empires, slavery, capitalism, modern religious dogma and anti-Black violence. These features of today’s world took shape as Portugal built a global empire on African gold and bodies. Forced labour was essential to the world economy of the Atlantic basin, and afflicted many African women and girls who were enslaved and manumitted, baptized and unconvinced. While some women liaised with European and mixed-race men along the West African coast, others, ordinary yet bold, pushed back against new forms of captivity, racial capitalism, religious orthodoxy and sexual violence as if they were already self-governing. Many Black Women of this Fortress lays bare the insurgent ideas and actions of Graça, Mónica and Adwoa, charting how they advocated for themselves and exercised spiritual and female power. Theirs is a collective story, written from obscurity; from the forgotten and overlooked colonial records. By drawing attention to their lives, the book dares to grasp the complexities of modernity’s gestation.

Kwasi Konadu is John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Endowed Chair and Professor at Colgate University, where he teaches courses in African history and on worldwide African histories and cultures. With extensive archival and field research in West Africa, Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America, his writings focus on African and African diasporic histories, as well as major themes in world history. He is the author of Many Black Women of this Fortress (Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2022), Africa’s Gold Coast through Portuguese Sources, 1471-1671 (British Academy/Oxford University Press, 2022), the award-winning Our Own Way in This Part of the World: Biography of an African Community, Culture, and Nation (Duke University Press, 2019), The Ghana Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke University Press, 2016), Transatlantic Africa, 1440-1888 (Oxford University Press, 2014), The Akan Diaspora in the Americas (Oxford University Press, 2010), among other books. A father first and foremost, Konadu is also a healer (Tanɔ ɔbosomfoɔ) who studied with his grandfather in Jamaica and then in central Ghana and Brazil as well as a publisher of scholarly books about African world histories and cultures through Diasporic Africa Press. His life work is devoted to knowledge production and the worldwide communities and struggles of peoples of African ancestry.

The Sex Lives of African Women: Pleasure as Disobedience

In this lecture, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah considered disobedience through pleasure. She asserts that; “nothing good has ever come from being obedient, from following the system, especially when the systems that guide our lives are inherently flawed. So what happens when we disobey? When we push against the grain? We free ourselves to discover and that journey opens us up to a more expansive of love, joy and fulfillment.” Sekyiamah is the author of The Sex Lives of African Women, a critically acclaimed book that chronicles the journeys of African women towards sexual freedom.

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is the author of The Sex Lives of African Women, which Publishers Weekly described as “an astonishing report on the quest for sexual liberation” in their starred review. It was also listed by The Economist as a best book of the year. She is also co-founder of Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, a website, podcast and festival that publishes and creates content that tells stories of African women’s experiences around sex, sexualities, and pleasure. She was cited by the BBC in its list of 100 inspirational and influential women from around the world in 2022.


In August 2023, the ICA hosted a performance lecture with theatre practitioner Makhaola Ndebele.

The talk was titled; Liberating the Self through Performance Auto-Ethnography: A Journey of Exile, Agency, and Reflection. Through excerpts from Ndebele’s production, Cantos of a Life in Exile, the lecture unveiled the transformative power of personal storytelling and how performance auto-ethnography can be a beacon of self-liberation, empowering individuals to rewrite their narratives and reclaim agency.

Makhaola Ndebele is a versatile professional with over 25 years of acting experience in theatre, television, and film; as an actor, theatre director, and creative consultant. His artistic pursuits encompass diverse projects, including comedies, drama series, and variety-comedy shows. Makhaola's dramatist work delves into personal politics of identity and liberation within a South African context. Currently, Makhaola is a research associate at the University of Johannesburg. His work explores Performance Auto-ethnography as a method for liberatory agency.

1 July 2023 ~