AZARIA J.C MBATHA
Human beings make use of tools, adapting them like intermediaries to some intended result. Those who use tools perfect them, achieving ever more fascinating results, not only by hand but also with their tools, which, however, tend to become independent of their makers. Are these tool-makers content? Let them always ensure that they have total control of their tools. Even small creatures, like bees and ants, can use their social structure to wreak disaster. So the tools we create, if they pass beyond our control by interacting of their own accord, can expose us to danger.
In so far as we develop tools for their own purpose, they give birth to the not I. Is my artwork, which you see in this book, a tool? Or is it really me? For the moment, however, let us turn to face the enemy, the enemy that is myself, I, Azaria Mbatha.
Azariah is a boys name, of Hebrew origin, meaning helped by God. Its religious associations are biblical. Azaria, again, is a girls name, also of Hebrew origin, meaning blessed by God. It too was given to me, for my parents wanted to be helped and blessed by God. As I was a boy, however, my parents, so as to give me both names, wrote Azaria Mbatha, though they knew that I, their son, was Azariah.
In Zulu they gave me two other names, each related to these variants: Celumusa Jabulani. I do feel helped by God, but I do not know if Im blessed, for I have met with many troubles. I would prefer Nameless, however, instead of all this confusion. But my name is Azariah and I find no reason why I shouldn't use it correctly now. My sister once said to me - stand for what you think it's right.
A tool should be subordinate to the man who uses it, who can modify it as he pleases in pursuit of a particular result. Did my parents use my names like a tool? Did they clone the tool to work independently of the man? I would like now to use the name Azariah the rest of my life.
As a author and an artist, I am seeking the position of the art I produced, dependently or independently. Who am I? Am I outside my art as the subject? What does my art reveal? I alone produced it. This I, this Azariah, presents problems. Should I rather use we? But we, Azaria and Azariah, did not share the ideas behind my art. Only I, Azariah, engendered those ideas. Then, who is this Azariah, if you like Azaria.
When art is used as a tool, it loses its value, it introduces a third person into the conflict of being I or not I. The tool itself has no value; the subject worked by the tool has the value, though only in terms of its anticipated result. That result is attained by using the tool on a subject. The time spent in making the tool directly establishes its utility, its subordination to the user and his purpose. If art becomes a tool, therefore, anyone can use it for his own ends, not merely the one who produced it to be viewed, for example, as a landscape. Take a stick made as a tool to dig with. Suppose that the artist, I, Azariah, made an artwork comparable to this stick and that others made use of it, even without my permission. Then I, Azariah, would not clearly know my position in respect of my art and its context.
If art is my clone, again, I shall be wracked by those who use me like a tool. Nor will I know myself clearly until I see myself clearly from the outside as another. This idea grows from a wish to know the difference between the subject and object. So the I of the artist is the I of desire, just as we can form and maintain our human reality only within a biological reality, an animal life. Desire alone, however, does not suffice as a condition for self-awareness; it constitutes only the opinion or emotion of self.
When writing my autobiography is it I, or what I have experienced, that drives me on my way? Others, again, might see the path of my clone very differently. Speaking for myself, though, I contend that I was impelled by my own experience rather than by some personal altruistic motive.
In order to assess this view, let the reader study my art, as displayed here - I shall say no more about it - for the union of my art with me, the real Azariah, emerges clearly in my works.
Am I, the autghor, artist-animal filled with desire, in the world like water in water? The big waves swallow up the small waves and grow bigger. The bigger waves do not fly, but the smaller waves must keep them aloft. I do not perceive living creatures in this way. Yet the devourer does not transcend the devoured, no hunter confronts the hunted to affirm their difference. Nothing in animal life, in short, introduces a master to its subject, nothing establishes autonomy and a corresponding dependence.
Animals may be of unequal strength, but the lion is not the king of the beasts, in the waters he is but a bigger wave swallowing up smaller waves. So the animals are in the world like water in water.
Now, my first autobiography is about the smaller world which is my home and the bigger world outside my home. I could have chosen to write about the one or the other; instead I mixed them together, even as the animals are in the world like water in water. Yet what of this I, the enemy I spoke of, I Azariah, whom I confront today?
My mother had already lived more than 90 years when I asked her:
- How long did it take you to give birth to me?
- It depends what you mean. To feel you wanting to come out took only 15 minutes, but you were in my stomach for almost a year before you chose to come out.
- That is a long time, mother.
- Yes, my son, it is a long time, especially when you think of the day I will die ... it will take only a minute. If you kill a person, remember, it takes only a short time. Yet that person could have lived so many years ... and before he was born there were great preparations in a womans stomach.
- I did not know you were a poet, mother. It is frightening ... but it is true.
My mother understood me better than anyone. She and my family made me grow, and I now focus briefly on them, gathering my thoughts and recalling a vision, a dream.
Azariah clutched the smooth tight-fitting stone of the high wall, unmindful of the fierce direct rays of the Aegean sun on his neck staring through a chink. He had come to this tiny island, dropped into the middle of the Aegean like a pebble on a vast blue shield, simply in the hope that something would turn up beyond the wall. And indeed it had, for there a gentle fountain splashed, in the centre of which were two nudes, a mother and child, marvellously intertwined, carved from some wondrous stone.
Azariah took a miniature telescope from his pocket, and extending it gasped at the refinement of the woman. Her head slightly turned, her eyes just widening with the onset of surprise, she gazed ... at what? And half sliding, clutching at her smooth thigh, his puckered mouth slightly rounded, but not quite reaching the milk-swollen breast - the child. Azariah's gaze slid over the two figures, his mind racing, seeking to find the sculptor, but failing. The statue was of no known period, it could be from yesterday, it might be from a millennium ago. One thing alone was certain - no earthly catalogue contained it.
Azariah had chanced upon this island while on board a strange, decrepit ciaque plying the Aegean, coursing without schedule, nudging slowly from island to island.
- There is a little island over there, Azariah said.
The captain, grinning, squinted in the direction of his pointing finger.
- There is a wall on it, Azariah went on.
Instantly the captains grin vanished, his head snapped round, he stared fixedly ahead, away from the island.
- It is nothing, he said harshly. Only a few goatherds live there.
- I want to see the wall and what is behind it, Azariah persisted.
The captain flashed an eye at him, Azariah started, the stare was undeniably wild.
- There is nothing behind it, the captain insisted, it is a very old place, everything is long since gone.
- I want to see the wall, Azariah said quietly...