Banji Chona- cisita

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Banji Chona is an artist, researcher and curator. Her current artistic practice is expressed through both earth-based alchemy, which involves using natural materials and visual poetry, expressed as digital collages which use anthropological photographs alongside personal objects, images and histories. These artistic offerings are grounded in the telluric and often spiritual practices of baTonga. Chona combines this with research and curation which allow the exploration of themes of identity, memory, and history grounded in a sense of storytelling and healing through alternative mediums. This act of reflection uses the self-composed methodology of Radical Zambezian Reimagination.

This notion is used by Chona as a portal leading to the creation of alternative and critical historiographies that challenge and repair pre-existing asymmetries in history. These deeply inform the present and the future. The use of the term Zambezia instead of Zambia is a clear example of this methodology, in that it is founded on the idea of imagining or reimagining an ancestral land that is not constrained by the limitations of colonial impositions, such as borders. This allows for a greater scope for connection and healing outside of the imagined nation-state of Zambia.

Chona’s works manifest in the visual, written and aural realm as experimental performance pieces, installations and dialogue.

PROJECT SYNOPSIS 

cisita (jhi-si-tah) is an on-going project (est. 2020) based on the exploration of baTonga corporeal expressions. The project follows the methodology of Radical Zambezian Reimaginings. It is rooted in the belief that ancestral buTonga personhood and methodologies hold immense intrinsic value which are yet to be recognised and given space within postcolonial imaginations. This approach challenges the hegemonic notion that baTonga are merely subjects and appendages of Western histories, imaginations and enquiries.

Existing research and archives on baTonga are mostly rooted in asymmetrical projections and narratives that have been conceived and published within and through oppressive frameworks and institutions. I counter this through actively positioning myself as a muTonga in the field of research and archival practice as being central to constructing a counter-narrative which seeks to heal historic and present day wounds through community. Through research and artistic production,

cisita aims to explore, rework and critique contemporary narratives around baTonga corporeal expressions as well as centre the reclamation of the connection to nature and the botanical world as a way to heal and critique the asymmetries and violent projection encased within many expressions of the post-colonial imagination.

Corporeal expressions, body modifications and adornments were part of spheres of expression central to buTonga personhood. Like many other baTonga markers of identity, they were heavily impacted and to many degrees phased out during periods of external socio-cultural intervention.

During colonial rule, baTonga adornment and body modification practices, such as

Kubangwa, the knocking out of the six front incisors and canines, of mainly girls and women, were forbidden by law and were fineable through systemised subjugation of the practices by ‘native authority law’.

This further cemented the process of the diminishing of the practice(s). Inversely, little to no documentation exists, without violence and bias, in mainstream the archive and in collective memory.

The last two years of the project have been focused on refining the research element of the project. The research, in part, is centred around exploring and unearthing the archive of various natural or botanical processes of baTonga knowledge, technique and ritual that surround cisita, a septum piercing often donned by baTonga women. The second part of the research project is centred around challenging and reimagining the position that Anthropology, Botany, Phrenology and Museology as Western schools of thoughts occupy in the post-colonial imagination.


The residency programme will launch the project into the next stage of production, a point where the project is opened up to a community of baTonga women in the Gwembe Valley. Through collaborative workshops and continuous research this phase of cisita will yield artistic and medicinal outputs such as septum jewellery made from natural materials, like reed and antimicrobial oils made from the seeds of the castor plant.

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