Archive for the 'Art Criticism' Category


Art Book: Mbasa Portraits – spread 2


Michael Matthews: Mbasa Portraits – spread 2, acrylic, felt tip pen on bolted card (2x40x50cm).




Whispers and where, whispers

Whispers and whereas, whispers

whereas , and emotions frozen

In a fridge of oil paint, a time

In tradition

Needing a special lense to see, the

Meanings and cultural references

Image after image after painted

Image, and whereas seeing is as

Important as smell

Looking at images are hell

Sound is mixed into cell of

Distortion where the crackle sounds

Like a whisper, whispering to

Me, and I hear a star

Its all white noise, whispering

Whispering and whereas, whispering silence

I can’t see, feel and taste it

And therefore, wearing whispers

Is a travesty


Art Book: B-Secure – spread 2


Michael Matthews: B-Secure – spread 2, collage and acrylic on paper (2xA4).


A SHORT STORY: The Language of Love

The Language of Love

by michael matthews



“What did you say? What! What! Speak up boy!”

“Nix meneer. I mean nothing, sir. I don’t say nothing.”

“You lying sod. You are speaking Afrikaans; that bastard language. Are you a donkey, boy?”

I’m sorry sir. I don’t do it weer, I mean again.”

“You insolent boy. You need to be taught a lesson. You do not have a language. You are to stay behind after school.”

I sit waiting in the corner while the angry teacher draws up a sign and hangs it around my neck. It read, ‘I AM NOT A DONKEY’. I think he could have written more but he ran out of room. For some reason I am crying. I know my father will be mad at me for crying but I can’t help myself. It is as if a dam in my heart has burst and I can’t stop it. The sign is made of cardboard taken crudely from a box that once housed blackboard chalk. Mr Trollop had painstakingly painted the cruel sentence making sure it is legible from quite a distance. He ferreted string he kept for this purpose, from the upper left draw of his grimy desk. Punched two holes in the card, strung the string and secured it with two granny knots at each end. Now it hangs lamely around my neck and I feel miserable. I am not crying about this humiliation, but, for what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will have to wear the awful sign all day. The other English students will tease me; especially Jonathan. He’s the biggest boy in our class and he knows how to hurt us smaller boys. He grabs your arm and bends it up behind your back until you plead for mercy, then, his friends pull your pants down while all the girls laugh at your uncircumcised nakedness.

I am in love with Mary Princeton. She is an English girl, but, unlike the others she speaks to me and once we even kissed behind the girl’s toilets. Since the British won the war we have been banned from speaking Afrikaans. Not legally, but, if you do so at school this is what happens. A horrible sign is hung around your neck and the other children are left to bully you. I begged my father to send me to an Afrikaans school, but, he told me with emotion the times have changed now that the British are our rulers. All Afrikaans schools have been closed. I am forced to attend this English school or not to go to school at all. My father wants me to get an education, to learn the ways of our new master. My mother died in the war. When I asked my father about it he said the British had put her in a camp. For many years I thought of the camp as a holiday place. Only recently did I begin to understand what it really was, a kind of jail where the women and their children were left to die or to be abused by the British soldiers; a place of torture and degradation. My friend, Piet van der Merwe, told me it was a new way of punishing the farmers. Piet had a love for history, particularly Afrikaner history. So, he often wears ‘THE SIGN’ as we call it.

When I was not trying to impress Mary, Piet tells me stories about the Boer War as he called it.

“There was a great leader of his people.” Piet narrates his favourite story. “The problem was the rednecks. There was an army sent by their Queen to suppress the Afrikaners because they owned a land filled with gold and diamonds. Things she coveted. She sent an overwhelming force to suppress a handful of farmers. The farmers worked hard to make the land fertile and so justifiably were reluctant to hand it over. The Queen’s army landed and soldiers dressed in red, the colour of blood, with white helmets shone like stars in the harmonious browns of the African bush. They march in two lines, raping the farmer’s wives and daughters and killing anyone who resisted them. Then, they burnt the farms, this is now known as the scorched earth policy, used by the military to break down the enemy’s moral. The farmers gathered, became Boers and modern resistance fighters. As farmers they all had their own guns and knew how to use them. They defended their land from local tribes and animals for years. They were expert horsemen as well; so they could move quickly and quietly. Their numbers were small but out of their ranks a famous General emerged, General Joubert. He grouped his men into small fighting units. Dressed in Khaki, the colour of the land, they attacked the British columns sniping a few soldiers then blending back into the bush. This put terror into the hearts of the British soldiers. Never had they confronted such a fleeting enemy that would not fight face to face before. The General lived all his life in the bush and as a botanist understood the methods predators like leopards, cheetahs and baboons use. The Boer soldiers became mistakenly known as gorillas. This type of warfare was new to Western warfare and thanks to General Joubert one day we will win back our land.” Piet loves to tell this story of hope but we all knew he was making up. It made us all dream of being gorillas so we love to listen to him.

By the time the teacher returns my tears have dried up. I plugged the leaking ducts of my eyes with the fingers of my daydreams.

“You are to wear this sign till the end of the week.” Mr Trollop says: “Let that be a lesson to you for speaking that bastard language in my presence.”

Walking home I pass through an English neighbourhood and the children, as well as some adults chanted: “He is a donkey! He is a donkey!” Then, they make hee-hawing sounds; each trying to outdo the other. I ran ashamed through this gauntlet like a pig to its slaughter. Just before I reach home I hide the sign in a bush. If my father saw the sign he will be so ashamed it will break his heart. The next day I try to convince my father I am sick but he forces me to go to school. I surreptitiously adorn the sign on my way to school.

I had not seen Mary since my punishment. So at break I am hoping to see her while hiding from Jonathan; at least she will empathise with me. I am lurking behind the girl’s toilets when suddenly Mary and eleven other girls confront me.

“What do we have here?” Mary cackles and her disciples chant out: “a donkey, a donkey, a donkey.”

“What does this donkey want?” Mary snorts and her disciples bark out: “heehaw, heehaw, hee haw.” My heart broke at that moment.


‘Don’t you think that sign reads wrong?” Linette asks me.

“Come on Linette, don’t be so pedantic. I know it should read: ‘Afrikaans’ and not ‘Dutch’, but, it’s in the spirit of the event.” I enthusiastically elucidate the troubling sign. “You always have to be so pedantic.”

“Well you should know how our people have struggled against the suppression of the British. How they placed our great grandma in a concentration camp. Raping and abusing her, then killing her through starvation and neglect. How they treat our language. How they made our own father wear ‘THE SIGN’. How can I not be passionate?” Linette is getting hysterical again. She is passionate about our language and our Afrikaner history, but lately she seems to have become disillusioned with Afrikaans politics. Linette is a strong National Party supporter. The Party appeals to her common identity of being Afrikaans. She loves history and the Party enriches that history: The Great Trek, British persecution, the South African war, the horrors of the concentration camps and the destruction of the Afrikaner Republics. Even when the Party stepped up its policies on segregation and systematised the process by applying the new policies rigidly and dogmatically Linette stayed true to the Party. She was one of the first to support the Party’s theory of apartheid in 1948. She told me once that Afrikaners are the chosen people. That it is right that the government gives preference to Afrikaans farmers, Afrikaans workers and Afrikaner businesses. She belongs to the NG Kerk, the Afrikaner church, and has always believed Afrikaners should remain a pure race. That it is sinful for different races to mix. She supported the idea races from different racial groups should not even live together in the same community. Although, she was only twenty-four in 1953 she agreed Blacks required an education that fitted in accordance with their culture as the new Education Act stipulated. In reality, we all knew this meant that Blacks were to be given an education that would limit them to subservient positions in society; to performing labour and low skilled jobs. She believes in the god given right of Afrikaners over all other peoples, races and religions.

About eighteen months ago we needed to have our house painted. I discussed this with Linette and we agreed to each pay half. I married young and when I couldn’t produce children for my husband our marriage fell to pieces. By twenty-eight I was divorced with nowhere to live. Linette, on the other hand, never married. My father always joked about it, saying it would take a man with a bear-chest and huge balls to tame her. After my divorce, Linette let me move in with her. Her house was quaint with a fish pond next to the front door. The bright orange Koi always welcoming you home as they popped bubbles on the surface with their botoxed looking lips. Once I moved in, we found we really got on well together. We didn’t fight like when we were children; that is until recently. About a year ago I met Michael, an Englishman and artist. Linette was horrified I was sleeping with an Englishman. I haven’t told her yet, but, we are planning to marry. Every day she comes home from her job, an Afrikaans media editor, she drinks too much wine and we land up in an argument about the purity of Afrikaners. She tries to get me to leave Michael as she says: “It was one of those bastards who raped your grandmother.” She really knows how to kick someone below the belt when she’s drunk.

Then a strange thing happened. Soon after I had hired a painter to paint our house and her accusations stopped. She started treating Michael as a human. She stopped calling him ‘sout peel’ and became more reflective. Our neighbour, also a divorced woman, recommended this house painter to me. She claimed the painter who painted her house, who came from Zululand, worked neatly and expertly. His name is Sipho Mokena and his price is good; meaning he is cheap to hire. He is also my neighbour’s domestic worker’s son so I was able to get a message to him.

About sixteen months ago, on a Saturday morning, this young black man of about twenty-eight arrived at our house. Linette ignored him totally. He spoke perfect Afrikaans and I could see that Linette was impressed by this and she looked up from her book. He has a clean honest open face with a strong athletic build. Soon he is hard at work and later when I am making lunch for Sipho Linette came into the kitchen: “What are you doing?” She rhetorically asked. “You can’t make him lunch, you are not his servant!” She raged at me. The usual fight about race and purity was going to start when Sipho appeared at the back door. He apologised to Linette and said gracefully he wasn’t hungry. He is very polite and sincerely apologetic. I observed a light flare up in Linette’s eyes and it wasn’t anger. For the first time she seemed to see someone other than an Afrikaner as human. In retrospect, it is now easy to see that for Linette it was love at first sight. To cut a long story short the relationship between the two grew, Sipho subsequently painted our house more than twenty times. He moved into the outside servant’s quarters. Due to the apartheid policy he is not allowed to stay on the property and inter-relations with other races are unlawful. Linette and Sipho are risking their lives every day. If the police catch them they most probably will rape Linette as a white whore and beat Sipho to death out of jealousy. Michael’s become Sipho’s best friend and Linette has rejected the National Party, but not her nationalism. So here we are at the centenary of the Voortrekker Monument.

Someone jabs me in the ribs. Linette: “Sing sister sing.” She screams above the noise. I look around and a line of a hundred women dressed like us in Voortrekker clothing, with kappie’s and all, with their arms linked, empowering their language as they chant:



I AM …”


I can never understand why I live in the kaya, in the back of the garden with my father, Sipho. My mother and her sister live in the big house. I also didn’t notice my mother is as white as an albino till I reached high school. Of cause I knew never to let anyone know she was my mother and only recently did I start to question that. My father said if anyone found out I would be taken away, he would be jailed and my mother humiliated and tortured. It just didn’t make sense to me but I keep my mouth shut. I have a dark brown skin and features like my father. I have big beautiful full lips, a squashed nose my mother likes honking and curly black hair. I can only speak Afrikaans and found school life rather dull. The things I am taught are simple to grasp. My mother, Linette, gives me books to read. Books I love, any book, my appetite for books is insatiable.  I’ve read every Afrikaans writer and love Etienne Leroux most of all. I think I get my love for the language from my mother. My father is well known in the neighbourhood as he is the local house painter and my grandmother lives next door. It was perfect until I went to high school.

One day a law was passed and suddenly all lessons were taught in Afrikaans. This didn’t seem too bad to me, as I only know Afrikaans, but to my friends this was a disaster. From that day I was introduced to politics and I immediately knew I wanted to be a politician so I could change the world and make a difference. I realised there was something wrong with school if people can not be taught in their home language. Why the children should be disadvantaged by language I cannot accept. Then, it struck me. Apartheid is unfair and as a young adult I needed to do something.

I made posters that read: ‘I AM NOT AN ANIMAL. I SPEAK A LANGUAGE.’ I put these posters around the school. At first everyone laughed at me. Then, after lessons were taught in Afrikaans my posters were copied. Then, like a virus, they spread to other Bantu schools. I was thrust forward as a Black Youth Leader.

I grew up in a white neighbourhood with my father in a Kaya, but next door to me lived a beautiful white girl. She was born two years after me to an unmarried mother. From childhood, Senette, became my close friend. We are like brother and sister. That is until I turned fifteen and then she became my girlfriend. When I finish school we are planning to get married. The problem is we are not allowed to get married by the Apartheid laws. I just know, like my father and mother, we’ll be together forever. Her mother is English but that doesn’t matter. I can learn to speak it and I am learning every day.

Things got worse at school. I was elected head of the student committee. My father is angry with me and says I must leave politics alone. He wants me to be a painter like him. My mother is worried about my safety. She encourages me to resist apartheid but doesn’t want me to get hurt. She says we should pray that things change as apartheid is wrong. All because of my love for language I have been thrust into the front lines of ‘the struggle’ as they are calling it. Student leaders all over the city are organising a march; a peaceful march against the Bantu education system.

Senette is horrified I am involved. She loves me and I love her but I need to stand against apartheid and its ban on language. We make love, she cries, and then pleads with me not to partake in the march. What she doesn’t know is that I am leading the march. I love her and will do anything for her. We are in love and we will overcome this I believe.

The next day the march begins with me at the head. The crowd is small at first just me and my school. We march down the road proudly then another school joins us, then another and another as we progress. Soldiers appear in rows with shields and automatic weapons – R4s. Our numbers swell as the morning progresses. Now we are in our thousands and still we march peacefully. I mean we are only teenagers and are aghast at the amount of soldiers sent to control us.

At one o’clock, a tear gas canister is lobbed into the crowd by one of the soldiers and all hell breaks loose. Then more tear gas and more chaos as everyone starts to run for their lives in a mass panic. Shots are fired. I hear the sharp cracks and feel the rushing air of the bullets. Then I hear a voice: “There he is! I can see him and yes I identify him; it’s Sipho!” Its Senette’s voice; then I see her pointing at me. She is standing with a police officer. He points at me and commands his officers to fire at will. The last thing I feel as I run for my life is the burn of the lead from the bullet delivered to me by my lover as it penetrates and shatters my heart.




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I take a ribbon from

Your mind

I make a spark, magic

Draw you, through.

I take a smile from

Your facebook page

I see a face, magic

Photobombing  you, too.

I take a thread from

Your heart

Killing you, tragic

Text you, who.

I pull a pin out from

Your Whatsapp

Throw it free, magic

Blowing us apart, true.



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