This essay is a reflection of the screening of Pule Diphare’s Sister In Wonderland on the evening of 25 November 2010. It acutely tied in best with South Africa’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign which runs from 25 November to 10 December.
The first part of this essay introduces the film to the reader by setting the tone for the vital theme at the crux of the artwork. While the second part tries to introduce the subject matter to the reader through a subdued reportage the last section, using dialogue approach, focuses on the questions which were raised during the last part of that evening following the screening. Here the reader must be made aware that while great care has been taken to record every question through short hand a lot of editing went into the writing of this part to re-focus the questions and retain their motive. Even the sharp responses from Diphare as he deflected and dealt with questions were seethed to retain their directness. With that said the reader might find this part far more different (if not put off by it) compared to audio recorded interviews that I have hitherto conducted especially towards the end of 2010.
Pule Diphare is an interesting artist living and practicing in Tshwane/Pretoria today in that he still holds to the credo that a work of art does not need the artist to defend it in order for it to stand its ground in the echelons of creativity. It should stand by itself, for itself. Furthermore he professes individuality at an epoch where belonging is the norm.
I A Shunned Trade
Pule Diphare’s film, Sister In Wonderland, is a harsh exposition of a world our society is familiar with, yet through social conditioning steeped in moral values, this is a world that is easily shrugged away at and pretentiously ignored as if it does not exist. Yet this world is out there. The world of the pleasure girls, the world of prostitution. The world that will endure many moons to come because there remains a demand for its services despite our so called evolved culture.
At the advent of the FIFA Soccer World Cup there was a debate in the Republic to make the trade legal1. Unfortunately those involved in the debate whether to legalize the trade or not could come to no agreement and the Soccer Tournament came and ended without consensus; be rest assured that this industry did benefit from the tournament. The making of Sister I Wonderland precedes the debate to legalize the pleasure girls’ services in South Africa2 and in actuality it does not campaign for the legalization whatsoever of the trade (this will be revealed in the questions and answers section of the present jottings). Sister in Wonderland is an artwork that beckons the viewer to take that journey into the dark recesses of our social psych. It is also an artwork that expects nothing in return except that you’ll be left with its messages etched into you mind. Suddenly you will walk around in the twilight of any given night of any city or drive around in the comfort of your car in any city and when you see the ‘pleasure girls’ at the street corners, their world, the world you shun, will affirm itself on you. You will be humbled by the knowledge of what they have to bare every evening or day when they conduct their trade to our society.
It is with a great degree that the work that this present jotting is concerned with differs with other mainstream documentaries which tries to expose the darkness that underpins our social structures. Through powerful devises such as not concealing the speakers face or altering their voice gives the film’s audio visual narrative an authentic flair. This device is further enhanced by the focal points positioning on the subject matter itself; letting the woman speak; giving her a voice which leads the audience into her world to peer without flinching from distortions (on the artists side) into a field of undeniable reality that the world shuns away despite the knowledge that the very world we deny will always be there with us, because somehow there is a need for it.
II Pimp’s Tatoo
The narrative of the protagonist in the film is of a classic nature set against the background of the non existence of a father figure, poverty and abuse. She was attached to a man from whom her mother was receiving her training as a traditional healer, having subsequently called on by the gods. The spiritual guide man was older than her, so she states, and she could not hold her self faithful to him once she came to Gauteng in pursuit of an education. She had romantic liaisons with other men whilst on study period in Pretoria. Although the old man back home did love her she did not reciprocate the love; she strung him along to appease her mother since the man was taking care of their family. Then she was introduced to drugs through the ladies she befriended in the city.
When she got acquainted with cocaine; though she thought that she would not get hooked – she did. She was also introduced to crack. Under the bondage of ‘snow’ and ‘rock’ she dropped out from school and ceased to visit home. She lost her self in the world of drug abuse and soon the little cash that she had ran out and also her fellow drug users found their drug reserves depleted. A plan will have to be put in place to satisfy the expensive habits.
One day when the drugs had ran out the ladies took her along to show her how they managed to buy the drugs. They sold their bodies to satisfy their hunger for a high. She had to do it since all the time she has been having a high on them. She fell into the life of a prostitute. And soon she learned how the pimp controlled the purse of the prostitute’s proceeds; and that even after a long and a hard day the pimp also want some. Without care, you could even get a beating from the pimp should you refuse them sex. She emphasized. Crawling out of a hole into another – She deserted those girls and the pimps to settle for a life and business under a woman pimp. It is much better, she points out, to work for a female pimp, unlike her male counterparts she is not going to ask you for sex after you have hassled in the street. But the drugs.
She cannot go on without them. She says in the visual narrative as she crushes and mixes them on the coffee table. She rolls them neatly into a zoll. She smokes. In a flash you see Diphare, in the living room with her, looking. In a flash you are returned to the woman, she is stoned.
Sometimes she can go on without food for days. She muses. The drugs, they chase away the appetite. They make it easier for her to do her business in the street without remorse.
III Question and Answers
Posing questions to Pule Diphare, one must always prance for rhetorical responses. He shoots from the hip. Following the screening of Sister in Wonderland the floor was opened for questions from the audience and I had the honor of conveying the proceedings. I was also privileged to be in the position to break the ice. It is always difficult to pose questions after a complex statement has been made. The viewer or the listener is still undergoing assimilation of the information into their psyche. And within this assimilation there is an analysis that is taking place for how else can one make sense of what they are viewing or reading if they do not pit it against their world view and immediate time. Scrutinize. It is doubly hard when the subject matter is of an uncomfortable nature.
Enveloped by a somber darkness in the darkroom of the Pretoria Art Museum’s Darkroom, a space reserved to show art videos and artworks that have been constructed to glow in darkness, I asked Ntate Diphare whether the title of the film ‘Sister in Wonderland’ Had by any chance a parody to Louis Carol’s ‘Alice in winderland’. Diphare denied any relation to that text and pointed out that the work have nothing to do with it. That it was dealing with a specific issue that the viewers had been subjected to over the past thirty minutes. The viewer has a leeway to relate it to anything that they would like to relate it to.
And then the floor opened up…
Jacob: What is the focus of the film and why is the film maker (Pule Diphare) included in the film?
Pule Diphare: There is no focus in the film, the film is what it is furthermore the inclusion of the film maker is a device that corroborates the fact that the film maker was there, listening not judging his subject, in this case the woman, henceforth, when ever I appeared, I never utter any word. You just see me there seated, listening to the woman.
Nthabiseng: Does the artist, in this case the film maker, have a construct that they need to focus on when producing work, then?
Pule Diphare: Not really, the construct is in the audience’s mind.
Obakeng: Can you please elaborate on your style? I have picked up a lot of tragedy in most of your work.
Pule: Poignancy! Deep seated sadness. As a people we dismiss our sadness. We internalize sadness.
Thomas: What about sub-titles will your future documentaries be titled in vernacular?
Pule: Why make films in languages I do not speak. You can ask my family members seated here tonight in the audience, at home, though we consider our selves to be Tswana, however the language that we speak is far off from SeTswana. It is a broken Sesotho that is spoken by Pretorians.
Ishmael: (Commentary) I think this film opens up conversation to look within our selves as a society. Thank you Pule for making the work accessible through this screening.
Pule: You are welcome, thank you.
Gaven: Will you work with organizations that focuses on aspects that ‘Sister In Wonderland’ touches on?
Pule: I am not an activist, I am not a preacher. The film was made with the intention to stimulate discourse. For me it is a ritual to make a film, organizations are welcome to use the film however they want to. They need not involve me at that level.
Philiswa: Why do you not hide the identity of the people you represent, similar to what confronts the viewer in television documentaries where you will find the speaker’s face is hidden?
Pule: Journalists usually hide the faces of the people they represent to the world because they do not have consent to present those people to the world. I started off in journalism and what I can say in this regard is that Journalists are not governed by ethics of representation of the other. Whereas on the other hand an artist’ duty is to draw attention to the subject. In the present work beforehand I had to win the trust of the woman represented. An artist must look into the subject not at the subject like you will find with journalistic reportage where faces are hidden. There care is not given to the person as an individual but to their affliction, either social or physical predicament.
Pfunzo: Are you not being subjective by representing the woman at night? This is problematic to the issue of the artist’s isolation of the subject matter to fit into their desired paradigm.
Pule: The purpose of art if interpretation. To open up the subject. To investigate contradictions and paradoxes.
Tshepo: What has working with the lady helped you to learn?
Pule: I have learnt that as artists we suffer failure of not focusing on human beings in our work. We should not be judgmental in our approach to our subject matter so that the full human being can emerge for others to the world to see.
1. Surprisingly the debate was opened up by a woman Nomvula Mokonyane, Gauteng Premier.
2. It would have been interesting to witness what would’ve happened if the trade was legalized and the nature that it would have taken once the soccer tournament was over.
Mmutle Arthur Kgokong ©2011