Cross-pollination: Interview with the artist Philiswa Lila

I Fore-Text

This text represent a typed version of a recording documenting Philiswa Lila’s thoughts around the recent  art making workshops presented to a group of autistic adults housed at Lethabo Le Khutso, culminating in an exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum (02 November – 26 November). Great care has been taken to translate the recording verbatim from audio to text. Herein the reader will gather Mme Lila’s ideas around transference of skills as far as visual art is concerned as well as the impact that artists from Lethabo Le Khutso has had on her  as  a practicing artist. It is also hoped that the reader will come to appreciate the fact that the writing tries to center around the interviewee; so the questions were constructed with economy to provoke undiluted calculated responses. Lastly the text is inclusive of verbal interruptions to retain nuances and mood as the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee develops. Welcome to interparadox, in search of an artist.

II The interview

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: Thank you Philiswa for agreeing to see me uhmm our interview involves umm the workshops that you have presented to Lethabo Le Khutso, but before we get there umm I will like to find out how long have you been involved with the education programme at at the Pretoria Art Museum?

Philiwa Lila: (laughs) Ok, thank you for having me for this interview ehh I started at the museum in 2007 when I sent you an email, of course, asking you if there were any space for students and things like that and so it began with the Preparatory Programme where you trained us to be guides to the museum and then I made it that year and I started doing the guides and also my first workshop was, I was a co-facilitator with Nthabiseng as the main facilitator for educators that same year and it was towards…the middle of the year in April somewhere there

MAK: Umhum…

Philiwa Lila: Yes. So that first experience was ehhmm, I don’t know something unexpected in a way (laughes), I don’t know what to expect from it first time doing a workshop, so ehhmm, I really enjoyed it at the same time and I wanted to continue doing that that’s why I (laughs) I stuck around, you know, doing more of the projects here at the museum and then towards 2008…2009 that’s when I really got involved, I saw the direction of where I wanted to go my self with the art and ahhh, I think here at the museum has helped me doing these projects in the way that you don’t really get tired of what you are doing in terms of the career because us a lot of times people get tired of painting all the time find that at the same time they just give in a way so ummm it has helped me to come up with my own ideas in a way, different, for  different workshops programme at the same time it keeps you thinking for fresh ideas on how you can do something much simpler than what you have learnt at school so yah until know I am still around.

MAK: Thank you. (scribbles)…do you regard your education or higher education training at Tshwane University of Technology as forming a vital role or a vital part of equipting you with skills to be a good facilitator for art making workshops?

PL: Ok. uhhm, TUT is, yah as an institution I think I have grown in terms of them grooming me my skills in the arts the way they teach has really had a vital role…

MAK: Umhum…

PL: in my work now in terms of the techniques, the whole, it’s not the basic thing the important thing about your work and how you groom your skills in that way because when I came here I knew that I came here to learn how to make art without any art background from the Eastern Cape, I think that side of it I think there’s really umm… worked, in terms of facilitation umm I’ve never done any facilitation before at TUT, we’ve never, we’ve had classes where we were told about community engagement projects, first year, with the communication class but I think, it ends there, and I think it should be a continuation because by the time you get to third year you don’t know actually what to do if they start only in first year and it ends there. So they, all in all facilitation at TUT has never happened yah. So a lot of ummm I think that has made a lot of students that come out from there to get lost…in a way, because even…the only facilitation that we are told of is the teaching where you have to apply for a teaching course and you’ll be able to be a teacher but I think it has to tart somewhere because not all of us can be teachers in a way so yah.

MAK: What was the aim of the workshops presented to Lethabo Le Khutso community?

PL: Lethabo Le Khutso, ehhmm since we had that project last year with Cresset House this, we sort of had the idea in a way sort of what to expect, so in terms of our programme it was a very simple programme umm that did not have lot of material to spent on, because you wanted to it to be very simple and not a waste of money at the same time but just a transfer for skills in a way…(pause, loss of trail thought)

MAK: Yeh, transfer of kills…? (prompts)

PL: (laughs) transfer of skills, so ehh the workshop is very basic, I can say especially in the material that we used because we improvised a lot and they were also surprised that the things that they throw away can be used to produced artworks and the umm programme was ehh long this time and we have never done very long programme like that so it really helped us to work together in terms of rotating amongst our selves and also bringing in new ideas from other people and not only having one person focusing on that programme of four weeks or six weeks to having those different techniques applied in a very simplest form shows that umm so that the skills that we have acquired from the institution can be made without actually having to go to school and things like that other people and things like that so this showed us that it is actually something that you can also start at home in a way that you bring kids together start teaching them these techniques if they are to fill in art building the creativity of the kids also. So Lethabo Le Khutso project I feel it was, the programme was a success, was a success on our side, yah.

MAK: What are your thoughts on the marginalized communities as far as visual arts education is concerned with regard to autistic people?

PL: Ok, in our communities, the black communities, not much of, like art is not…like that well known that it is taken seriously, you understand

MAK: umhum…

PL: So umm it’s really hard to to say that you are an artist, you paint, they take it as as something, you are just playing around in a way there is no way that you can actually make a living out of it, so in terms of our communities umm they see it just as a basic thing that is there. But not everybody has got the talent, they no that, that not everybody has got the talent but at the same time they are not willing to supports the talent. So in terms of the autistic people the first, I learned about autistic people last year the word autistic. But in our communities there are autistic people but they’re regarded as someone who’s mad or something like that, they’ve,…there’s something wrong with them in a way you understand, so once I learnt about the autistic in terms of the workshops that we had before we started with the project you get to go back to your community, like in your mind, to go back and think what has been happening in the community towards those people and you see that there was actually nothing wrong with them or else we’re all the same ideas we are not all ok you understand, so umm, with regard to autistic people I say there is still a lack in a way because things from this project, they learnt a lot , they are able to capture things they are able to remember things, it’s not only reading about  the definition of the autism as a word the fact that you need to meet with the people before you can actually decide on what kind of person this is, they’re all individuals  of their own umm even their autistic situation is not the same ,you understand, so you don’t know what to expect, it is like meeting a group of people in one room you don’t know where to start who you’re gonna start, who you gonna seat to next to first before start talking to a person. So it needs to be communicated to our communities, it needs to be something that is taken seriously in a way, in terms of umm communicating with autistic people, in terms of how treat them as as not as individual but as also, also like in the same level as you and also for parents that has autistic kids not to keep them in doors, you know, that’s another thing that happens in our communities the parents also keeps them indoors so that they don’t get to go outside because the won’t be seen as umm the same as other kids and things like that, but that is not the case, that is really not the case

MAK: What do you see the role of the artist umm in our contemporary society, the role of the artist

PL: The role of the artist?

MAK: Yes

PL: Ok… nowadays the artist…


MAK: As an artist yourself


PL: As an artist my self (laughs) Yah you know the artist creates they always ideas to put and things like that, but at the same time the communication that’s there it’s what was not wanted, since I am researching now (laughs), I am doing research on Township art in a way, since those days of the apartheid it was not wanted then because it showed the truth, it told what was happening and things like that, so umm contemporary art goes with what is happening in our society so it’s contemporary that way in that it shows what is happening now, so being an artist you’re telling, you’re showing to the people that this is the situation but sometimes it can be reversed, play around with the whole thing either joke about it or you become serious about it, but either way you get to make people aware of it in the way, in the way,

MAK: umhum…

PL: in the you conceptualize the whole situation your self as an individual but the best thing about it is to show it to the world so that they also see it and also interpret in their own way,..I think yah.

MAK: (scribbles) individually speaking umm how has the experience of working with Lethabo le Khutso community enriched you as an artist?

PL: As an artist working with the group, it was, I don’t know it-it just did something, you know from the first day they walked in until the last day it’s like was even if you’re not in a good mood, things like that you just can’t help but smile when you see them in a way, as an artist the way they created artworks, it was a new experience, you remember, you remember we came to you telling you that you the workshop actually took one hour and you don’t know what to do after that and you have to think quickly because you can’t say they must go home their time is not up yet, you have to think quickly on what to do next, that’s how it enriched our creativity also, you understand, in terms of thinking something that is there it show that we-we actually have the skill our selves to-work to work on something and so passionate about it you know so umm from the beginning  there was a bit of a challenge in that sense, so as we continued with the workshops you find that there is also followed on the same level to a point where you just started on a workshop by just telling them – this is what we gonna do, you show them the demonstration and they just start and they do exactly what you told them to, to an ext…to where they don’t need help from you in a way that someone is holding their pen tight so that you don’t have to take it and fix their artwork and help them so umm I was able to see the growth in a way that I saw the growth for self when I started in first year where a lot of times when I, when I packed my artworks at home you just see the progression of where you are now, and you like wow did I make that back then? And you thought you were like best back then (laughs)! you understand, so umm for the group it was also as a difference in the way that the first works that they made they still remember it also, and for them they don’t se a problem with that, they don’t see a problem with what they have made, but like the first workshop then it was just a continuation of knowing that that I made it, it’s mine it has my name in a way yah. So the workshops were really-we really exciting because sometimes you find your selves coming to the museum and going to the studio whereas you were not the one whose suppose to be in that workshops you just start helping out (laughs) with the workshop, you know, forgetting about the staff that you came in for you get to enjoy the environment yah…

MAK: Thank you, thanks a lot

Philiswa Lila: Thank you

Mmutle Arthur Kgokong: We are done with our interview.

Running time 18.01 minutes

III Philiswa Lila’s Meditations

(taken from the upcoming NEO Emergence Catalog)

I was born on the 16 January 1988 in the city of Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape. Choosing a career in the arts was very remote for me because art was not taught as a subject at my school. At school I was known for drawing illustrations on the black board and my notebooks were works of art. Growing up in a place with so much history makes one proud although history was not favorite subject. I knew that I had a skill and that the only way to develop the skill was to go to an art institution. I matriculated in 2005 and enrolled at Tshwane University of Technology, Department of Fine and Applied Arts.

Art has shifted from being a hobby into something that the society recognizes as significant. I have continuously challenged my self in the body of work that I produce. The past three years would not had been a success for me without dedication and believing in the career path that have chosen. Also being a volunteer, an Education Assistant, at the Pretoria Art Museum has helped me to learn more about the history of art. It has also given me the opportunity to meet with other South African artists. I am also involved with the museum practical art making workshops presented mostly to children living in and around Pretoria. The experience of connecting with the younger generation gives me hope in our society’s visual art appreciation and perhaps in the long run investment in the visual arts. Since setting foot in an art institution I have come to realize that everything that I use at home is a work of art. It has been made by someone who is artistically creative. As a society we sometimes really takes things for granted and art as a creativity pursuit is one of those things.

Being an artist is about individualism. The challenge for an artist is to discover an individual style unique to them. To deviate from prevailing artistic norms though still remain relevant by addressing contemporary issues. There are no boundaries in artistic expression as long as one identifies a medium that they are comfortable working with and masters that medium. The world is changing and the environment is becoming unpredictable however religion and culture remain key players in our history. Religions and Culture connects us with our ancestors through a thread that permeates through our grandparents and parents, this thread is in a form of stories. The way we deal with what has happened and what is happening now makes us dream about the future.

My work is focused on the appearance of skin. The three animals that identify with the most are goats, sheep and cows. These animals play an important role in my culture. These animals have clothed my ancestors, they are a source of sustenance and they serve a central function in traditional ceremonial celebration. When the animal has been used in traditional ceremonial celebration the skin remains. The skin protects and also camouflaged.


3 November

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong