Judy Ann Seidman was once a member of the Medu Art Ensemble and alongside Thami Mnyele (plus many others), she produced silkscreen posters that were smuggled into South Africa during Apartheid. With one hand reaching out to the movement and the other holding a squeegee, Judy contributed her best work during her years as a cultural worker.
With a bit of help from the editor of ZAM magazine, I started a conversation with writer and artist Judy Seidman. Her book, Drawn Lines, flew around the world before landing on my doormat, but wow - it was well worth the wait!
She wrote candidly about her life, and - especially interesting for me - her experiences during the years she found herself creating political posters in Botswana to support the ANC movement. Her artwork and no doubt her philosophies, had radicalised in that time. Judy describes her beginnings in the Medu Art Ensemble: When I arrived in Gaborone, I found Medu up and running, doing exactly the kind of artwork that I dreamed of doing. Medu became a cornerstone of my life - artistically and politically, and inevitably personally.
Judy was keen to join the other SA artists (then in exile) and when she went to visit Thami for the first time, she presented him with a copy of her book: Ba Ye Zwa (meaning "the people live" in isiZulu). She recalls: Thami stopped the lesson long enough to look at my book; and say, "I think you should be a member of our group." Ba Ye Zwa was published in 1978 on American soil, and banned in SA for no apparent reason. (NB: Zuid Afrikahuis in Amsterdam has a copy that I've photographed next to some bananas in my studio. I assume no one has borrowed this book before, as there is no previous date stamps on the inner-leaf. Incidentally, I have borrowed several books written by Judy, which you can follow on my Reading List page.)
To give you a bit more insight to Judy's artistic practices, Athi Mongezeleli Joja writes in his Mail & Guardian review of Judy's exhibition at Africa Museum, 2019: Seidman continues to associate herself and her work with socially engaged community struggles and organisations in ways art and artists now shy away from. Part of the anxiety around the notion of commitment (in the arts) has been its demand for open social and political engagement, which the post 1994 logic of cultural production has distanced itself from.
I can relate to Judy's standpoint. What I do as an artist is fuelled from my dissatisfaction of politicians, their policies, our society and the resulting struggles within marginalised communities. I feel like I can classify myself as a "cultural worker" just like the artists of Medu Art Ensemble described themselves because I have chosen to create work related to around oppression in identity politics. Associating myself with these topics has been a difficult road to travel but honestly - what choice do I have? Here is a story worth telling, in hope that knowing our history will change our future for the better.
There are several posters I admire of Judy's making, but this one announcing the deaths of those who lost their lives in the Gaborone Raid on June 14th 1985 speaks volumes in its symbolism, and it's especially touching to me to see Thami's name listed first.
I have not yet learnt everything I would like to know of Thami's funeral or, consequently, his wedding (tragically, he was only married a few months before getting shoot by SADF officers). I hope Judy will be able to assist me visualising these events, so I can finally start to get some of this stuff drawn on paper!
Excerpts of this blog are taken from Drawn Lines, written and compiled by Judy Ann Seidman, Johannesburg 2017. ISBN 9781977644220. Artwork © JAS.