Now hear me out first. Art is an expression derived from human creativity and imagination. When we hear art, we first picture visual imagery which evokes emotional power. Only after do we attach art to its other forms such as music, dance and literature.

What has art got to do with freedom? Well, the key word is expression.

I remember walking up the lively streets of Braamfontein, just soaking in its atmosphere and for some reason, all I saw was vivid colours, unique hairstyles and diverse clothing on these figures emerging from every direction. A scene I will never forget. I could not help but simply laugh because wow; after so many graves, we were finally granted the freedom of expression!

Before 1994, mere life was regulated in accordance to the colour of your skin. Restriction, control, restraint and repeat. Expression, nullified. Beauty, contained. The iconic Hugh Masekela once said; “art is life, it is a mirror of one’s reality”, however these individuals who ever dared to do this were arrested, tortured and banned from expressing their views about Apartheid in any form of their art. 

Apartheid was the (1948 – 1994) era where the minority exercised prejudice political power over the majority of the country. This era sought to diminish the identity of Africans, the expression though not lost but undermined.

Freedom day, 27th of April 1994, is remembered as the day democracy came out on top. The end of apartheid rule and the start of something fresh, the new South Africa – the Rainbow Nation.  The birth of diverse and vibrant creativity, and yes expression.

The manifestation of art, post-apartheid is a series of complex narratives and aesthetics. Each person in their own community, all collectively feeding towards a common plot. The plot being that of a newer South Africa, free of restraints and full of potential.

Getting back on track, is freedom art? Yes and no, because art is an act of freedom. Freedom being a philosophy, the state of no confinement, being at liberty.  Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wishes, Steve Biko summarizes it as a mental attitude.

As a matter of fact, freedom is only an art if it is being expressed. Bennie Wallace explains it as self-expression, and says if you are expressing someone else’s personality, it is not art. We should take advantage of our freedom to flourish and help one another to do just that. To love and respect another regardless of our backgrounds but because in the end, we are all South Africans, actually – we are all Africans. As Patrice Lumumba said; “African unity and solidarity are no longer dreams. They must be expressed in decisions.” If there was ever a greater strength, it is that of people coming together.

 

This past week, My Octopus Teacher by Craig Foster, became the second South African-made film to win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards.

This documentary makes you gush over the diverse beauty of our country. The narrative of tapping into unfamiliar territory with vulnerability and good intention, that respect is pretty much the only language you need to survive anywhere. If man can befriend an ‘underwater alien’, it does make you wonder what else is possible if we put in the effort.

Words that divide us do not exist in my dictionary, nor should they exist in the ideal common plot. This new nation should be united in the spirit of Ubuntu, the spirit of that transcends all barriers. Doing nothing makes you part of the problem, let us all act in freedom. Express, build, craft our futures together. Be united rather than divided. To be human means to not aim for perfection but to aim for humanities. It starts with you, aim for kindness.

Written by: Thokozane Mkhwanazi, North West University alumna and LLB student at the University of the Witwatersrand. I would like to specially thank all my friends and family members who allowed me to pick their brains and contributed to this literary piece by opening up their hearts to this view of freedom. God bless you all.

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