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          Andile Dyalvane - opening of Southern Guild Los Angeles - sound healing ceremony
          Objects of Resonance: Patrisse Cullors, Andile Dyalvane and Sisonke Papu reflect on sound, art and healing

          2 Apr 2024 (14 min) read

          Southern Guild marked the opening of its Los Angeles location at the end of February 2024 with a Xhosa-inspired sonic ceremony, bringing together artists from South Africa and California who function at the intersection of healing and art, through sound. The collaboration catalysed a deep sharing of interests between the Cape Town contingent of creatives – led by Andile Dyalvane and Sisonke Papu – and Los Angelino activist, writer and artist Patrisse Cullors, founder of Dignity and Power Now, and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Crenshaw Dairy Mart.

          Southern Guild’s Cultural and Media Strategist Lindokuhle Nkosi sat down with the three artists as they delved into their individual and collective practices, their reflections on art as healing, and the larger call to commune through the vital act of art-making.

          LN: As artists working at the intersections of healing and art, how do your individual and collective practices navigate these ever-shifting realms?

          PC: In my practice, I navigate the complex realms of healing and art by treating my creative process as a form of therapy. I explore and express themes of healing, trauma, and care, believing that my art has the power to heal not just myself but also those who engage with it. This journey often involves deep introspection and a commitment to authenticity.

          AD: It's challenging to think of healing and art as two separate invocations - to think that creativity, in its pragmatic processes, is devoid of meditation and that we are not spirited here is simply impossible.

          So from the very inception of artistic vision, we undertake healing, acknowledging, learning. We've had to spiritually dig in from the very beginning, from our "serendipitous" spark. Healing is fundamental to creation for me. Ritual and ceremony have been a part of my upbringing, both traditionally and culturally. Creating for the purpose of gathering seems befitting of my choice of mediums - clay, sound, and making ink prints of ancestrally-channelled symbology. My sources are clear, as my ancestors are recalled and remembered, within ceremonial practices. We create for collective creation.

          SP: For us, our progression in connection with art has really guided us to this place of considering that healing in itself is a coming into presence. And it is when we are able to be present, and whole, with all of our different parts — those that we can see those that we cannot see. Things that bind us in our blood. Energetic forces that move around us and also throughout the cosmos, and how all of these things are so intricately interlinked in our unique experience of being in the world.

          Southern Guild artists and Patrisse Cullers during the sound healing ceremony - opening of Southern Guild Los Angeles
          Southern Guild artists and Patrisse Cullers during the sound healing ceremony - opening of Southern Guild Los Angeles

          LN: Nina Simone famously remarked that artists have a responsibility to reflect the times, encompassing both the immediacy of the present moment and the profound depths of human existence. Jung echoes these ideas, speaking to “the spirit of the times and the spirit of the depths” as the two-dimensions in which we operate. More specific to Blackness, WEB Du Bois speaks of the Double-Consciousness of blackness. He describes a "two-ness," saying "it is a peculiar sensation, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others.” Du Bois also presented double consciousness in conjunction with two other phenomena: the "veil" and the "gift" of "second-sight". Second sight is the potential ability of the racialised to see the world behind the veil and reflect the times more honestly. How do these sentiments resonate with you, and how do they manifest in your artistic practice?

          PC: I feel a profound responsibility to reflect the times in my artwork. This is evident in my choice of themes that speak to the immediacy of our current socio-political climate, as well as the deeper, more timeless aspects of human existence. My aim is to provoke a larger ethos around abolition, and help us understand the role abolitionist praxis plays in art making.

          AD: Human existence demands reflection. We mirror each other; relationships between human beings require deep healing work. So much depends on how we decide to learn and grow and where that healing could possibly happen. For example: at our studio, we decided that since my offering of the iThongo collection came from the constructs of stools for a communal imbadu, we should integrate the practice of ceremony within a circle. We should bring this crucial space into our studio here in the city. So we did. By integrating ancient practice into our contemporary space, we sit at both the lengths and the depths of time.

          SP: Art has become a way in which we understand when we are in the presence (present), or observing or witnessing presence (past). We're able to access the space within ourselves. Space that is vast, that is open, because more often than not, we exist in states of compression. There isn't enough room to be able to experience things beyond the urgent pull of the immediate, perceptible world. So for us, then, whatever becomes art is but a reflection of what is happening in those inner planes.

          What is stirring inside? What needs attention? What needs to be focused on? These questions speak to the subconscious experiences and sensations that flow through us. Through the body. Through the Spirit. Through memory. Art isn't just art, but it is, in itself, a form of prayer, a form of devotion.

          If one really allows themselves to be an open channel, to receive that all things move in, through, and with them, then they can be able to access different kinds of energies. And maybe even work with them. This is why we’re focusing on anchoring the energy through sound, and different vibrational sonic devices. These objects of resonance that are able to hold information and also harness the energy and memory of what the land knows, what the plants know, and what the elements know.

          LN: Can you elaborate on the role of sound in your artistic practice and its potential for fostering healing and transformation?

          AD: When I was young, playing along the river bed, I would sing jingles. As young boys, we'd make up songs, walking across hills, herding cattle, or walking around the village. During milestone initiations, song has always been the powerful momentum that carries you through. Dark nights of the soul need vibration, safety, and care.

          This is what clay teaches me - there is still care needed within the collapse as much as the build. Sound offers my work vibrational momentum and energises moments with spirited charge. At the end of each studio day, retreating into the circle with an instrument to play is grounding and invites others to do the same.

          PC: I use music, ambient sounds, or soundscapes to create immersive experiences that promote healing and transformation. I believe in the power of sound frequencies to influence our mental, emotional, and physical states, offering a pathway to wellness that complements the visual and tactile elements of my work.

          SP: Our bodies hold a lot of knowledge. What can, through the Sonic, be accessed in our DNA and in our memory? This quest to work with sound and how sound shapes reality has also led us into a deep exploration of colour and breath, and how these facets are interlinked in thinking about our experiences and ourselves. Fundamentally, these elements are all working at a vibrational plane.

          Vibration in itself simply means that there is movement. There is motion. There is constant, dynamic change. These elements, I feel, are also able to help me continually transform in the practice or in the stillness of observing these things.

          Sisonke Papu and Andile Dyalvane - sound healing ceremony at opening of Southern Guild Los Angeles
          Ziziphp Poswa and Alexis Dyalvane at the sound healing ceremony at the opening of Southern Guild Los Angeles

          LN: Art has the capacity to transcend language and geopolitical barriers, allowing for communication on a deeper level. How does your work utilise this to speak beyond conventional limits?

          PC: My work leverages the universal language of emotion, symbolism, and beauty to advance understanding, empathy, and unity across diverse audiences.

          AD: Attending residency programmes and travelling, I learned I needed lessons in universal language speaking. This was consciously highlighted for me when participating in the New Taipei Yinnge Ceramic Museum's artist residency in 2014. I was invited to ‘Glocal’ by Dr. Wendy Gers, where I collaborated with local master Chan. We understood and engaged in this sentient language as creators, exploring scale as a collaborative space where his expertise met with my hand in making.

          My prior experiences had always brought familiar shared structures of home into focus, like how land felt, was used and structured, and in the utilitarian objects created for home. To meet place and person expands our universal understanding of what it means to be human.

          SP: Working with vibration and frequency as the fundamental language of creation is, for me at this present moment, the most urgent thing. Even if we're speaking about a visual language, we're still speaking about an auditory language. Essentially, we're speaking about a fluctuation in the vibrational signatures and how, through our bodies, we receive that information.

          Knowing and feeling the kinds of times that we're living in is important for me to be a vehicle that communicates with the nervous system to bring about an energy of rest, and an energy of release. And that is a way of connecting to the universal wisdom of the heart.

          LN: Hugh Masekela spoke about art as a form of channeling and invocation, suggesting that the artist's best work is not consciously produced but rather received from a subconscious or spiritual realm. How does this concept resonate with you, and how do you approach the process of channeling and invocation in your own artistic practice?

          PC: I resonate deeply with the concept of art as a form of channeling. My creative process often feels like tapping into deeper, often subconscious realms, where I access and manifest ideas, emotions, and messages that transcend my conscious thought. This approach leads to the creation of work that feels more authentic and powerful, as it emerges from a place beyond my immediate control.

          AD: When one is consciously aware of spirit throughout the processes of making, ritual becomes clear. Taking a moment on entry to my studio or anywhere the creative flow is high vibrational, becoming present to the undertaking ahead begins with taking my shoes off, lighting impepho, and a candle. Sound is introduced, and my environment is honed to being held within the collective of vibration. So yes, subconscious dimensions are porous in this time, they bring a fresh understanding into consciousness.

          Patrisse Cullors at the sound healing ceremony at the opening of Southern Guild Los Angeles

          LN: Your collaborative efforts resulted in a remarkable confluence of creativity, craft, and something a lot older, a lot more difficult to hold in words. It was a collision of histories, a long time coming, carved in time by those who came before us. In the late 1960s, a group of artists left South Africa in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, mass bannings and the censorship of political parties and cultural workers, eventually establishing a contact point for the interchange of knowledge and meaning between South Africa and California. Having willed the promises of the future into the now with his cover of The Mamas and Papas hit California Dreaming, it is in Los Angeles where Hugh Masekela, arguably one of the continent's most renowned cultural exports, establishes a home for Afro sounds as an imprint of Motown Records. Where Letta Mbulu lays a vocal track on Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl. Where the Roots soundtrack is produced with several South African musicians. What did it mean to be able to come together, to touch this moment and history, and to connect South Guild to its future?

          SP: Our feeling was that the request for us to be in Los Angeles was about more than a simple performance. It was, in fact, about the creation of a healing space. A space for communion and connectivity. We knew that our posture in the space needed to connect at a deep and essential level. Connecting to the land, the water, the air. Also the fire; our shared histories and cosmologies as black people, particularly in relation to our arts and spirituality.

          Essentially, what is now engaged as art is not only something that is material, it also has an immaterial dimension to it. As abantu (black people), we are cognisant that the gifts that we have stream from a particular plane. And so when we are in a space where we are honouring where those things come from, we’re able to bring in energy that is both physical and timeless at the same time. It allows those who are there to really enter deep space within themselves.

          That’s what we felt when we're in the gallery, with everyone in the space. We’d also done the prior preparation. Like announcing that we are embarking on this journey to go to this particular place to do this kind of work, arriving there, samkelwa (we were welcomed). Going to the ocean to declare our intentions for being there… it was really about being able to create the energetic holding space that all of us needed. In a way, ukubethelelela umoya or to consecrate a healing energy and vibration in this space. And we're really, really so amazed that a lot of people could feel that just by being in the space.

          PC: Reflecting on the sound healing session, I find myself deeply moved by the experience. Having received a call to join the performance with only two days' notice, I didn't hesitate to say yes. I felt an immense sense of gratitude for being invited to contribute.

          Sound healing has been a cornerstone of my artistic practice for many years, so I brought my sound bowl to the event, eager to harmonise with the frequency that had been established by the collective of South African artists. Their longstanding engagement in this beautiful, ceremonial, and ritual work was palpable, and I was simply looking to become a part of that energy.

          The aftermath of our collective performance was profound, marked by a mutual recognition of each other's work and the paths we're on. Through this experience, I felt as though I had found family, a feeling that underscores the transformative power of shared artistic endeavours and the deep connections they forge.

          AD: I am held within a collective of ancestral directives channelled through by those I walk with. Nkuthazo – my partner - has a practice of speaking to the waters before we travel. She is guided to where she needs to go. She must also meet the body of waters after we arrive.

          This practice is crucial for our ancestors to support our endeavours. Mkhulu Sisonke needs to ground in ceremony, in a circle, and with sound vibration clearing the way. We all share and meet in this practice. I need to speak into the guidance and protection of what we energetically have come to do and announce our forebears from the onset.

          So we all have energised parts of our collective movement to ground space. We've all breathed into our lives using ancestral tools, instruments, and deep empathy to see clearly the ruptures and learn the medicine of harmony, of nature, and of being.

          NAD: The energetic work that came with contributing to an already energy layered space required a shift of spirit. Asking of the great waters in Santa Monica to meet us after our travels to L.A, meant meeting our great waters here in Cape Town, South Africa before our collective departure. The road clears with a good wash.

          Cleansing and harmonising energy within spaces requires a cleansing and harmonising of Self -- our bodies as our first homes. And a willingness of the heart to go beyond the material dimension, so that those who encounter the works can feel beyond matter and into the energy of the creations; their vibration, ancestral story, offerings and artists legacy.

          We walk, learn and nurture one another, trusting the processes of creation. We’re grateful for all that has transpired and continues to flourish with our collective nurturing.