USING OUR LANGUAGES TO TELL STORIES THROUGH CARTOONS- THE POWER OF LANGUAGE AND CARTOONS AS MEDIUMS FOR STORYTELLING AND COMMUNICATION
By: Nontobeko Moimane – 15 September 2023
The Department of Visual Arts and Design (Bodutu Art Gallery) at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) proudly hosted a remarkable art exhibition, titled “Red Tape: Community + Cartoon + African Languages.” This engaging and thought-provoking event was curated under the expert guidance of two esteemed VUT Visual Arts Lecturers, namely Mr. Gilbert Maepa and Mr. Mashaole Makwela.
This exhibition marked a significant milestone in the university’s commitment to the arts and cultural expression. It brought together the creative talents of both the VUT faculty and students, as well as alumni, to explore the dynamic interplay between three central themes: community engagement, the art of cartooning, and the rich diversity of African languages.
The curatorial concept behind the “Red Tape! Community + Cartoons + African Languages” art exhibition revolves around the multifaceted use of the term “Red tape,” both metaphorically and literally. On one hand, it symbolizes a mindset that tends to underestimate the potential of African indigenous languages and the visual language of cartoons as powerful tools for conveying intellectual and impactful messages to indigenous Africans. Diphete Bopape’s (2022) statement on “…batho ba bangwe ba na le kgopolo ya gore ge ke le mopedi ke kgona segowa…ga ke sale mopedi…ke legowa…” wisely points out that some individuals associate speaking their mother tongue with being backward, and this perception hinders progress. Bopape’s warning serves as a stark reminder that linguistic and cultural preservation is integral to societal advancement.
On the other hand, cartoons, often perceived as humorous or playful, have a rich history of instigating transformative change in the world, as observed by Navasky in 2013. However, within this context, there exists a noticeable void in community-based cartoons at the grassroots level of community media. These cartoons have the potential to provide valuable information and engagement to ordinary people, addressing an unmet need within the community.
Drawing from Diphete Bopape’s insightful observation, quoted in Sepedi, which speaks to the problem of people not taking pride in their African languages, the exhibition challenges such perceptions and emphasizes that linguistic and cultural preservation is intrinsic to progress in one hand. While on the other hand, identifies a gap at the community media level in which the power of the cartoon language can be used to communicate information in African languages that can be accessible by ordinary people. These views were also iterated during the opening of this art exhibition messages delivered by the guest speakers. Dr Diphete Bopape encouraged Fine Art students that “we need people who can create [cartoons] in Sesotho or IsiZulu so that as children grow up, they can learn their mother tongue [through cartoons]”. Whereas from a political perspective of the medium of the cartoons Dr Anton Pillay, from the Centre for Academic Development (CAD) highlighted the importance of the positive narratives about us in South Africa and the possibilities of the cross-border cartoons in Africa where artistic freedom of expression is not tolerated.
Under the skillful curation of Mr. Gilbert Maepa and Mr. Mashaole Makwela, the Bodutu Gallery transformed into a vibrant showcase of artistic innovation and cultural exploration. The “Red Tape” theme added an intriguing layer of meaning to the exhibition, emphasizing the often-overlooked power of indigenous African languages and the visual storytelling capabilities of cartoons.
This event not only celebrated the creative spirit thriving within VUT but also addressed the vital importance of preserving and promoting African languages as vessels of cultural identity and understanding. Through this exhibition, the Bodutu Art Gallery and VUT’s Department of Visual Arts and Design demonstrated their dedication to nurturing artistic talent, fostering community engagement, and contributing to the broader discourse on cultural expression and linguistic diversity.
The “Red Tape: Community + Cartoon + African Languages” exhibition served as a powerful testament to the role of African university in shaping cultural dialogues and promoting the arts as a means of connecting communities and celebrating the rich tapestry of African languages and cultures as part of heritage month celebration.