Nono Motlhoki

Mma Pelo O Jele Serati

There are so many questions that I long to ask my mother, but I do not know where to begin. This is not because she is as unapproachable as my father, rather because, regardless of our closeness, I cannot bring myself to ask about things that might shift our relationship towards something which I might not have anticipated. And I am also not ready to answer certain questions that she too might be curious about.

There is an elusive curiosity that has always characterised our relationship, one which becomes more tangible with the maturity of it and I am afraid of what shifting that will bring.

What will I do with the reality of her unhappiness?

How will it sit between us? What will it shift? How much space does it require here? I want to ask, ask about how it sat between Ausi and herself? Wonder, did she inherit it from her mother? How do I ask about the whispers of regret and exhaustion that I’ve heard at the corners of her desires and how similar they sound to those which she says my grandmothers kept under her tongues too. Does she know this, that they sound the same? Can she not hear her own whispers?

Every time someone exclaims how much of a particular thing in me reminds them of Mma, I am always reminded that I carry her name and I continue to imagine who this woman whose name I bear -though have only ever heard about and seen in the bag carrying or history- really was. However, sometimes, this is rather scary because I wonder if I inherited more than the texture of her hair and the tone of her voice and if really “Weitsie nakwe o gola ne kere o tlo tshwana le Mma. Mma gape ne a ti didimaletse, wena nou, ai… O tletse ka leshata la basadi!” I wonder what I have inherited from these women and what my muscles have refused to remember and I begin to fear if they have kept anything from these
women that has made them stay in all that trauma. I wonder what these things are that have made all the women in my family stay and I wonder if I have them too, lying dormant in the texture of my approach to loving, waiting for the day its violence shows up. I wonder if I will stay, despite the certainty that I won’t because does one ever anticipate that they will?

I want to ask my mother about how much I remind her of Mma. If she thinks that Papa is really certain that I no longer carry his mother’s calm in my voice. I want to be sure of this. And if she hesitates to confirm, I tell her that the reason I’ve had an elusive proximity to romance is because here, between us, in our bones, we have a history of violence, and staying, in trauma and shame and fear and unknowing and staying and hurting and betrayal, of love and duty and suffering and exhaustion and unhappiness and regret and I am afraid to find out, when the violence shows up, if I have inherited any of these things. And I think that it will show up, I am almost certain of this because our story is a violent one and no one anticipates to stay so then I just stand in the living room, careful to not make myself too comfortable in people’s bodies because when they get uncomfortable, I want to always be able to find my way out. But I won’t, tell her this, ka’one ka tshaba.

So instead
I’ll ask if she wants a cup of coffee and if she could help me make something to go with it
and maybe then
when I’m struggling to knead the dough
I’ll ask her about these difficulties of marriage
Whether six cups of sugar is too much to pour into love and how much I should reserve for myself
If sweet things really do spoil quicker and if so
how do I stop the rot because I like them sweet so how much salt should I add to disinfect the wounds and how
high must I set the oven for the biscuits and if I happen to burn them
where should I hide the body?

Maybe I will ask this. Next of next week when we make ledombolo again, I will try and ask. Or maybe I’ll listen to her tell me about how Ausi never really taught her how to make pine, and she keeps asking Lesego to teach her but she doesn’t make it often and then continue to tell me how much she would give to see her again and I look at her and wonder: Really, how much hurt does this woman carry? How much pain could our bodies possibly hold before they collapse? I will do this; I will wonder and maybe think about asking.

Maybe next week the kitchen will become a holding space for these conversations
Maybe she will mistakenly spill hundreds and thousands of her tiny desires that we would mistakenly make
joy from them all
Maybe we can feed each other courage
not the kind it takes to stay
but the kind it takes to cultivate joy
to nourish our bones
I wonder if she remembers how long it should be left to rise in the sun
If she remembers where to get the yeast from
If she doesn’t
we might have to dig up graves and pull these recipes from Ausi le Mma’s bones
But what if there is nothing to find but hollowness in them
What if they too didn’t know how long it should be left to rise in the heat
and friction
and static
What if all that their bones remember is how to knead kghotlhello
What if the only things that their hair still holds in its fibre is the all that pain that festered during their lives
Who then will teach us how to make delicacies because we are tired of these generational staples. They have too
much struggle in their skin.

I want a delicacy.

Hundreds and thousands and millions of them and if they spoil
I will make more and feed them to my mother and place them at my grandmothers’ graves and when we eat so
much more than our bellies can hold
perhaps then we will begin to recalibrate the fibres of our muscles so that they too can hold and remember joy.

About the Artist

Artist Website

Motlhoki (b. 1998 in Mabopane, Pretoria) has currently completed her Honours in Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she graduated with five distinctions, and top of her class. Her studio practice is currently based in Johannesburg, where she uses Video and Printmaking as tools to investigate the textures of intimacies and violences that are implicated in romantic love. Nuanced ideas of inheritance, consumption, texture, and materiality are notable qualities in her work. Her practice is characterised by a valorisation, problematisation and curiosity towards black love, as well as abstract narrative and relationalities of space. She defines her practice as a decolonial and sociological enquiry into love. Currently, Motlhoki is engaged in materialising abstract, intangible and fragile forms of love, into tangible gestures. She is interested in how the texture of the feeling is woven into specific acts.

The artist’s work has appeared widely, notable group and collaborative exhibitions include Gallery Momo, Johannesburg –South Africa (2017); ‘Textile Visions’ Turbine Art Fair, Johannesburg –South Africa (2020); ‘The Nonrepresentational’ Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg –South Africa (2020), ‘Now-Now’ Gallery114 in Portland –USA (2020); ‘Now Bite The Hand That Feeds You’ Boda Boda Lounge International Video Festival, Tangier –Morocco (2020); ‘NeWWork’ The Point of Order, Johannesburg –South Africa (2020); ‘Home For the Holidays’ Danger Gevaar Ingozi, Johannesburg –South Africa (2021); ‘City SALTS: Boda Boda Lounge’ SALTS, Basel –Switzerland (2021); ‘Re/Projections: Video, Film, and Performance for the Rotunda’ Guggenheim –New York (2021); ‘Unusual Suspects’ African Artist’s Foundation, Lagos –Nigeria (2021); ’40 Under 40’ WhatIfTheWorld, Cape Town, South Africa (2021)

Notable awards and invitations include Thami Mnyele Fine Arts Awards Lizamore Prize (2021); Anya Millman Scholarship for outstanding practical work in Fine Arts (2020); Giovanna Millner Scholarship for distinguished postgraduate and undergraduate work in Fine Arts and History of Art (2020); Design Indaba Top 50 Emerging Creatives (2020); Liepzig International Art Programme Residency (2021); African Femenisms Conference (2021) where she was  invited to present her distinguished honours paper; Thabo Mbeki Women’s Day Foundation (2019), speaking about about her practice and the dynamics of creating in the Contemporary as a Black woman; On the Utility of Hands and Holding: A Discussion on Love, Work and Space at KZNSA Gallery (2020), where she was invited to speak about her video practice and love.