An ode to uMama: Creatives pay homage to the black matriarch

Much can be said about the representation of elderly black women. In our communities they have come to signify the thread that holds the community together. Sometimes they are our mothers, grandmothers, leaders of our communities or seen filling up the church on Sundays, and so much more.

Mmabatho Montsho

However in the mainstream, their representation has been reduced to a subservient figure, with films like Leon Schuster’s Mama Jack and The Help from the US as a few examples. The days when elderly black women are the subjects of mediocre adverts that show shucking and jiving are numbered as we strive to rewrite popular and hurtful narratives. In light of this creative revolution, we look at work made by artists who seek to celebrate black women.

Verona Banda

Series: The Help

Illustrator and art director Verona Banda recently released a series of illustrations, entitled The Help, which documents and celebrate the lives of black domestic workers in South Africa. “This project was created to celebrate woman who leave their homes to take care of other people’s families.”

Verona, who is based in Johannesburg, says the project was inspired by her mother and a lot of women that have been a part of her life. “I created it to appreciate the sacrifices that they’ve had to make to take care of their own families, ngibonga uthando ne s’neke abanaso.” The series uses a minimalist style to capture these women, often considered as peripheral and unimportant figures, taking care of other homes. 

 

Mmabatho Montsho

Series: The Methodist church womxn
A familiar image in the townships is that of mothers on a Sunday on their way to church. You can always see them carrying water bottles ne ntsimbi in one hand, while obliging their unwilling children to walk faster to service. This imagery replays itself in my mind when I see the oil paintings of Methodist-church goers made by actor Mmabatho Montsho.

The artworks are part of a series of drawings and paintings that the artist has shared on her Instagram. Mmabatho says she is particularly moved by the different stories, memories and specific feelings and this is captured in the paintings. Mmabatho, who has always been surrounded by women who are worshipers, says she was haunted by the image of the women at night and could not find peace until she started drawing. “I hold my own relationships with the women in my life in high esteem. I love that, through art, we can connect to our past, present and each other in meaningful ways.”

Puleng Mongale

Series: Intimate Strangers, Chapter One
When Joburg-based writer and blogger Puleng Mongale released the first installment of photographic series Intimate Strangers, I read the words in their words in their artist statement — “When the madam is away, the help will slay” — and my mind immediately set sail to the women in my family who spent most of their years cleaning suburban homes and slaying in the madam’s absence.

Conceptualised and styled by Puleng, what makes the series powerful is that it directly confronts the barriers that exist between the “madam” and “help”. And explores the complicated dynamics created by racial segregation and labour relations as it shows two domestic workers living their best lives, while the madam is away.

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