Artist: Yonela Makoba
Copy: Modupe Oloruntoba
Photography of the exhibition: Orms Content Creator Courtney Rabbit
Yonela Makoba brought talent and a point of view to the table when she was selected as the first Orms Circle artist, but she also brought an open mind and a blank page. It’s a good starting point if you’re praying for a clean slate, for ‘Kwantlandlolo,’ for which her first solo exhibition was named. Actually I should say, Tangerine Waters first solo exhibition.
In exploring who she could be as an artist, Yonela formed a new identity. Tangie, as they are affectionately called, is a nickname from a relationship with a gaslighter. “We were watching The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind… Kate Winslet, in the movie, her name is Clementine but her nickname is Tangerine. There’s a lot of things in the movie that have to do with warped reality, with memories being erased and being added… Tangerine Water is the survivor of that. Tangerine is the empowered self, the stronger self, the self of endurance… They are an inspiration for me because the work that I do in order to create Tangerine means I get stronger, I get fearless… My aspirational self that doesn’t have any limitations is Tangerine. Tangerine knows their reality and knows they can make their own reality.” The name Waters came from the account of creation in Genesis, when God commanded light into existence over a world covered in earthly and heavenly layers of water — Tangie was born in the latter. Between them, Yonela and Tangie know a lot, even if neither was sure where to begin with this project.
“I just knew certain things. I knew I had to do butoh consistently, just to prepare.” Butoh is a movement practice that Yonela studied in Japan. It captured her attention right around the same time she embraced an identity as an artist, so it makes sense that it became part of this project. With no access to her workspace yet and no resources to start making something, the first of the four months was spent working on a concept. “It was me thinking about Tabula rasa, what that means, what it means for me, and how can I actualise it.” Tabula rasa is the philosophical theory that we are born without blueprinted mental content — that we are born blank slates.
That early time was spent thinking, in every corner of her day. Thinking about content and direction, and selectively gathering input from trusted sources, and once, from a perfect stranger. She came across a man under a bridge who instinctively knew she was ‘pregnant’ with something and advised her to step away to birth it. The exchange that followed fits the form of the singular encounters that have become common for Yonela: as long as I have known her, strangers have been drawn to her to inspire her, spill their guts to her, or both. “I feel like he was probably like an angel or some sort of being, because it just came at the right time… I trusted him because it was an accuracy that I can’t imagine can be imagined and the advice was too sincere to be wild.”
It’s a delicate time, because any change could upset the balance, reset the path. The man under the bridge was right — insulating Tangie’s mind became an important part of the process. “In November, [Kaira] showed me someone’s sculpture of like a fish tank, which was basically what I was wanting to create, and I literally almost lost my mind, so then I decided in that moment that I’m getting off of Instagram, because it was messing with my head.” Having to rethink the concept didn’t stop the work now that it was in motion. Butoh continued, and meetings began, for everything from funding to sculpture planning.
The key to getting it done was every artist’s best friend disguised as a worst enemy: routine.
“I would wake up, I would journal and I would pray, and after that I’d work out, and that’s from like 5:30 to 6, 6:30 sometimes. And after that I put in my schedule that every day at 12 I would do Butoh… Those were the constants during that time… I still couldn’t structure myself because nothing felt tangible.” The life-changing magic of routine is in the space it creates in your head and the order it creates in your day, freeing you up to focus on what is important. Focus they did, on weeks of exploration to create the ritual and resulting portraiture of ‘Kwantlandlolo,’ a photographic study requesting a clean slate while declaring that if we want it, we have it.
Routine, inspiration, solitude, and craft. No matter the medium, message or years of experience, that’s a solid recipe for meaningful art.