A little while ago, we had the awesome pleasure of watching Vuyelwa Maluleke’s showcase at the Poetry League. This month, as promised, she is getting ready to present her production, No One Wants a Black Woman With a Mouth, alongside Andisiwe Mpinda.
Xongani Maluleke spoke with the two halves of BlackGirlPlotting ahead of their show on Saturday to find out a bit more about their work.
Xongani: What does Black Woman Plotting mean? What message and themes is it speaking to and about? Does the ‘woman’ mean that the expressions are those of women and for women?
Vuyelwa: It means several things at different times, to different people. If you asked Andisiwe what it meant for her, she would have a completely different answer, depending on what her experience at the moment is, and what her struggle is. Considering that Black woman faces a double oppression, along the lines of gender and race, her plotting depends on what she deems urgent at the time. But always, Black woman is making space for herself in her own life and sometimes that means telling her stories loudly, sometimes it means talking about the various ways we have been silenced by those we love and the world that will never love us.
NO ONE WANTS A BLACK WOMAN WITH A MOUTH is about the various levels of silencing experienced by Black women, the violence of silence, and how it keeps being sold to us as a strength. The idea that we should ‘keep sweet’ or ‘sibekezele’. This silence exists in all of our relationships, home and work; it secures spaces but it also acts a noose. Sometimes financial and social security tightens your tongue, sometimes that is what we do to survive. Love relations have this violence too.
The ‘woman’ means that the subject you will be observing for the duration of the show will be a woman, the stories will be hers, the anger and joy will also be hers. She is taking up space on purpose. However, who the show is for, I cannot say. If you are interested in dialogue about oppression and joy and celebration, then it is for you.
Xongani: Are you using your body as an instrument to tell your stories? How so?
Andisiwe: Yes, we use physical theatre as a means of telling parts of the story through the body. This replaces words, which then communicates to the audience that we don’t need to be heard but rather to be seen.
Vuyelwa: We use various creative languages, which fulfills our desire to ‘take up space on purpose’. It has been both interesting and challenging.
Xongani: What is your mission with BlackGirlPlotting?
Andisiwe: To create a community of Black Women, one in which they can collaborate and create work that is theirs.
Vuyelwa: … and to facilitate a space where the dominant voice is a Black woman’s voice, which means collaborating with Black women and making sure that that voice is lifted, because society very rarely (if ever) allows us even a crack to speak through.
Xongani: What should the audience expect from your show?
Andisiwe: Fun mashed with provoking content.
Vuyelwa: A lot of fun, and again breathlessness. Andy and I are really working outside our comfort zone in many ways and it’s been a lot of learning for.
Xongani: If anything, what are you hoping people will take away from your show?
Vuyelwa: Hmmmmmm … I know why we were desperate to make this space that places the Black woman’s voice in the front at all times, and I think it makes people uncomfortable, all people who are not Black women. I think when you are uncomfortable, you are also ready to ask yourself why, and perhaps learn from that feeling.
Andisiwe: Some clarity around the title of the series, namely, “No one wants a Black Woman with a mouth”.
Xongani: Do you think black people are telling enough black stories and how important is it that black people tell their own stories?
Andisiwe: I do not think so and if they are then they are telling them in the comfort of their privilege and not enough black people have access to such work. It is important to tell black people stories as it is to tell any other story. What is more important though is for black people to know that they can tell their stories and more so to believe that they can otherwise we will keep being staffed with what we supposedly want to hear and it being told by those with better tongues.
Vuyelwa: There are not very many spaces where the person authoring and being rewarded for telling their story is Black. It is important that we tell our own stories. The difficulty for me is always what is a ‘Black story’ are we talking about Black as context, as culture as derived from a particular experience of race and often class? Do we also speak about there being ‘white stories’, or have we coded those stories as ‘universal’?
Xongani: What are the major misconceptions about female poets in the poetry industry?
Vuyelwa: There is a particular softness that is expected then abhorred as emotional or too angry at times. However, my job is not always to operate within this awareness. If I am soft then I am soft, if I am angry, I am angry. I write from myself often as myself, I am not preoccupied with what I should be, more than I am with what I am becoming.
Xongani: Please share your process and experience in preparing for the showcase. Have you experienced any challenges in curating your set, and who are you working with?
Andisiwe: There were challenges but they were met with solutions or elimination because some challenges do not need to be tackled. We are working with a few Black women creatives – to be mentioned in the programme. The experience has not been smooth nor has it been unbearable.
Vuyelwa: Collaboration is difficult, but there is joy in learning to do things differently, to see another perspective. We have a choreographer- Lerato Matolodi and a director Zethu Dlomo who have assisted us greatly in directing and guiding our voice and story. If someone is to ask why you speak so much about women and not men, how would you respond to that?
“If I do not speak of myself, who will? Speaking and writing makes us alive, language acknowledges us. You want me to wait for you to make me alive? You want me to be quiet to not archive myself and the women around me so that you can act as if we were never alive? Not while I live love”
Xongani: As a poet, writer and performer, how much of your work is personal and how much of your work is through observation and listening to other people’s stories?
Andisiwe: As a performer the only personal thing (when it comes to work)is my body other than that everything else is informed by people and situations around me, whether real or imagined.
Vuyelwa: I write from myself often, but I also ask and observe. I am only one experience; I cannot fill entire poems all the time.
No One Wants a Black Woman With a Mouth will be showing this Saturday only, in the afternoon and the evening, at the Market Laboratory. Tickets cost R100.