Pest Control is Mamela Nyamza’s angry ode to injustice. Her rage is searing, biting as she pours all of herself into this digital work created for #vNAF2020, based on real events that unfolded during the course of 2019.
Dressed in a pure white fencing outfit, she is dressed for battle, ready to joist and thrust. Her opponents are the bureaucratic structures that still exist within the arts and culture sector, cronyism, lack of transformation and gender inequality. Appearing on a red dirt road, she advances, face covered by the fencing mask, megaphone in hand.
A hooter (which later becomes an incessant siren) blasts into the silence; she wields the instrument between her ankles, then her thighs, the symbolism of an erect penis thrust into the camera lens. The megaphone also represents her outspokenness, her absolute commitment to be a voice for the voiceless, for offering commentary on a broad range of issues which situates her work solidly in the realm of protest art.
The voiceover offers us snippets of recordings from a speech she made at Artscape in Cape Town last year as well as from her response to her dismissal from the South African State Theatre where she was employed as Artistic Director. The word “stigma” is repeated often. The megaphone is replaced by a rapier as Nyamza parries and spars, forwards and backwards.
Nyamza’s works are never produced to make us, the watchers, comfortable; she provokes heavy discomfort, edges us to deliberate and confront many societal ills – she will not just let them slide away. She provokes us to ponder the meaning of value – who is valued, what is valued? The lens draws us to the red stain in her blinding white crotch, we cannot look away; the expletives uttered over and over, build to a crescendo; the message is artists, like women, are being screwed over time and time again.
The scene switches to a boardroom table and chairs, a cage constructed around it. Her voice reads the story of her anger over her black card, the hearing that followed. Nyamza’s desire to disrupt the notion of who holds the power sees her climb onto the table, run around it, while the siren bellows, and her breathing quickens.
Ending finally with her face uncovered for the first time calling “Fix it, fix it, fix it…” through the megaphone. Until silence, filled only with her eyes tearing up, straight into the camera lens for almost a full two minutes.
Pest Control embodies the lonely journey of a courageous voice calling for dignity and empowerment. It also lays bare the uncomfortable truth that outspokenness equals isolation.
Nyamza’s riposte to unfair treatment on so many levels is to raise the alarm. The question is: can we respond to it collectively and why have we failed to act before now?
- Featured Artist (Musician): Azah Mphago / Lighting & Set Designer: Wilhelm Disbergen / Camera & Graphic Designer: Ntombazana Shabangu / Digital Media Creative: Katty Vandenberghe