Achille Mbembe, in his classic text “On the Postcolony,” showed how public art forms have been important sites of critique and commentary that reveal the form and nature of power and its operations in postcolonial African societies. This kind of analysis of art is important because it undermines the notion that Africans do not have a representational form or tradition through which publics are constituted and politics are contested.
Themba Siwela’s painting is a brilliantly ironic critique of the way in which the use of enemas for many Zulu people in South Africa is a key index of the purity of cultural performance, of Zulu identity, and of the changing mores and ideas about bodily wellbeing and health in the time of HIV and AIDS denialism. Public debate about the place of culture and ideas about ethnicity have been a central feature of public life in South Africa, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal province because of its controversial role in complicating the 1994 negotiated settlement that heralded the end of the system of the legalised racial discrimination known as apartheid.
In South Africa, and in many other parts of southern Africa, many people use enemas and purgatives in both daily techniques aimed at wellbeing and in specialized ritual. The South African artist Themba Siwela subjects the Zulu practice of daily enemas to ironic critique in his painting, “My culture”.