Language, Sound, Clay and Thread

From the outset, Andile Dyalvaneʼs vision for iThongo was holistic and expansive, encompassing collaborations with practitioners from other creative disciplines. His interests in sound, language and spiritual symbology have seen him forge connections with others – as far afield as Taipei, Cornwall and New Mexico – who draw on the wisdom of ancient knowledge systems to bring about healing.

These clay structures with their circular bases and sculptured symbolic back rests, as supports, connect to worlds beyond our perceived linear time. We enter cosmic ancestral and spiritual dreamtime (iThongo) when we enter Dyalvaneʼs circle of channelled symbols. We commune with active ancestors, who have us utter and call their names, striving to plug us into their messages (uyalezo) to aid remembering who we truly are.

In the process of making the iThongo works, Dyalvane called upon Sisonke Khanyisa Papu – traditional healer, writer and multi-media storyteller based in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape – to share his understanding of structures of African knowledge, reflected in the isiXhosa language. Papu introduced the tools of home (umzi) + sound (mba) = umzimba (body). Systems of language are encoded manifestations of spirit and natureʼs symbology, meeting with external geometric space and internal spheres, where universal spiritual and scientific elements unify in the body. The four elements can be viewed as portals, paramount constituents of creation: fire (umlilo) as blood and heart; earth (umhlaba) as magnetic, muscle and organ function and active structural communication; water (amanzi) as intention, flows of thought and consciousness; and air (umoya) as life in spirited breath.

Dyalvaneʼs circle of collaborators reverberated with the sonic vibrations of Nkosenathi Ernie Koela (Mntana.WeXhwele), an indigenous instrumentalist and sound healer. In music, conversation and ceremony, he enfolded us once again into the womb of our origins, the source, ethongweni – a place of great spirit. The resonant sound of the round igubu drum took us back to our motherʼs heartbeat.

The painted symbols that birthed Dyalvaneʼs stools found a new life as gestural marks painted in indigo dye onto wearable artworks by Onesimo Bam, a conceptual textile designer in Cape Town. The process of making opened Bam up to his own ancestral story. Like many other Westernised black South Africans of his generation, he has only vague memories of his home village.

Wherever we are on our journey, iThongo welcomes us into a collaborative network of healing. Those who sit here, in this circle, engage with ethongweni – the great spirit of belonging, the place within all of us called home.

Nkuthazo Dyalvane is a multi-disciplinary visual artist, exploring different modalities of expression toward personal, spiritual and social transformation.

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