Lukhanyiso Skosana is an actress, performance artist, vocalist and theatre-maker. Her performing credits include Love Like Blue directed by Puleng Lange-Stewart, Khanyisile Mbongwa’s performance art piece kuDanger, Ndawo directed and written by Thapelo Tharaga and Nguvu Ya Mbegu directed by Mandla Mbothwe. To continue her collaborations with womxn of colour, she was in the dance piece Bana Ba Mobu choreographed by Tshegofatso Mabutla. She is in the continuous process of touring and reworking Womb Of Fire, a production written and performed by Rehane Abrahams and directed by Dr Sara Matchett for which she was recently awarded a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for Best Original Music Score. She continued her longtime collaboration with The MotherTongue Project by performing in their performance piece Walk in India at the ITFOK festival, at the National Arts Festival in 2018 and at Woordfees 2019. She recently choreographed her debut dance piece entitled Zinyile i’Queers and also participated in Body Politics in a durational Butoh piece titled UMGOWO. In 2018, Lukhanyiso made her directorial as well as playwriting debut with her graduation piece Inguquko.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in the arts?
Sharpay Evans and the character of Nala from The Lion King. I was in pre-school and it was nap time and I just didn’t want to nap. I wasn’t tired so I fought with the teacher to let me go watch The Lion King again and I sang all the songs. I didn’t know the words but I knew the role and I was like, “One day it’s my turn. I want to be Nala.” Sharpay Evans because she is just so cute doing theatre and theatre is not cute. You are just in sweat pants and tights the entire time. You are like, “I wish I could look like Sharpay during movement. She doesn’t sweat.” That’s what inspired me, I guess.
You did your training at UCT. What was your time like there?
I finished last year. In first year, I walked in and shut down the university and in 2017 I did it again and in third year, I was just like, “I don’t want to be a part of it.” I think from my experience at UCT, and being a black queer body in performance in general, Hiddingh opens doors and allows you to be the creative that you want to be and allows you to harness your craft in as many different streams or paths that you want to experience in such a short space of time and you have that forever with you because the people who train us, believe in what they are doing. The other side of the coin is that the institution is not built for black queer bodies, for black bodies in general. It was built for a certain demographic and being a body that is disruptive in nature by virtue of me just being a black queer androgynous womxn, I am disruptive. When I walk into UCT, unknowingly I signed a contract saying, “I am going to be at odds with this university because they never made it for me.” Being in theatre and being in performance in general, for me, it’s ritualistic. It’s something that is beyond me and beyond this earth and when I step into a character, I always remove myself from my body and allow that character to step in and to use my body and all my extremities and everything that I have and everything that I’ve learned to portray or deliver what they need to say at that moment in time because it’s sacred. It’s someone else’s time. I’ve been allowed to have the ability to share a duel space or an existence with someone else for that short space in time. To have UCT and it’s colonial extremities, for lack of a better phrasing, inhibit that process for me, hurts me because then I can’t work and the moment you come between me and my work, then it becomes personal. The art of performing saved me. Anytime someone gets between me and my work, I am going to fight you and I am going to fight you to the death because you don’t know what this art has done for this body. For you to see me standing today is because of that art.
At the moment, you are in the midst of taking your studies further at UCT. What was the decision around continuing on and how is it going?
Continuing on, logistically, just works out because then I get to stay in Cape Town and work with The Mothertongue Project and continue the work that I’ve been doing with them. Second of all, I want to have a qualification and getting a qualification at UCT, what else could you wish for? It’s an entrance to life. It opens doors that other people, unfortunately, aren’t able to open for themselves and the training that is here, I don’t think I would get anywhere else because it’s as if my degree has been specialised for me so it’s personal. That’s why I’ve come back again… and because I just want to fight UCT one more time.
At the time of this interview, you are currently a nominee for a Fleur du Cap Theatre Award for your soundscape design for Womb of Fire. How are you feeling about all of that?
It’s surreal and it’s weird and it’s an out-of-body experience because growing up, I just wanted to act. Where I acted, how I acted, where it happened, I really didn’t care. I just wanted to play a character. That’s all I wanted to do. Then I found out that people do this for a living and I was like, “Might as well make some money out of it.” But there is that narrative of the poor starving artist and I was like, “It’s ok. I’ll be escaping to beautiful places. I’ll be escaping to beautiful people and I’ll be rich in some cases and poor in some cases but it’s ok, I get to live in different places I’ve never been to.” Now, I’m like, “Someone out there is listening. Someone out there is watching. Someone out there has taken recognition when I wasn’t even looking.” This is huge. For me, it’s a moment of all these people that I’ve been embodying, in these various forms, in the short four years of being in the industry and at UCT and with Womb of Fire and Walk, I am saying thank you to them for allowing me to do that for them and I think this is them saying, “Thank you for your hard work.” Characters are some crazy people. They have their own histories and nuances and you have to get used to them because they have to live in your body. We get angry and agitated sometimes but the work had to be done. It’s early days for me. For me, it’s saying that whatever the universe has taken from me, I’ll do it again and again even if there wasn’t the award, even if I wasn’t a nominee. I’m just thankful that someone was like, “You are doing something important in your corner of the world. Well done. Thanks.”
In regards to Womb of Fire, what was the creation process like?
In second year, Sara [Matchett] was my voice lecturer and I actually don’t know when she heard me sing because, at that time, I just never sang on campus. I sang in bathrooms and was like, “Don’t look at me. Please. It’s stressful.” I was coming out of the bathroom and she said, “I need to speak to you about something. I heard singing the other day. Was it you?” I said it was me. She sent me a message and said she’d like me to try out for a play that she was doing at that point in time. She said it would have Rehane Abrahams and I was like, “I don’t know who both these womxn are. One of them is my lecturer and I’m going to go and sing for them.” I started researching them and I think I plagued myself by researching them because these are gods. I woke up that morning and I did my entire vocal and physical warmup from top to bottom. I was ready and waiting. I arrive and I sit down and Sara says, “We’d like you to create a soundscape for our piece.” She gave me three soundtracks. All three of them were Indian music. The one was acoustic and the other two were guitar and singing. Then I was told the story and at the time, in class, we were doing rasas which is the way of emoting by evoking emotions and you incorporate the rasas when you are creating. She told me these three different womxn and their stories. They are big womxn and they are strong womxn and they are forceful and they have lived and they have experienced. They aren’t asking you anymore if you are going to hear them. They are demanding it and you will listen because you don’t have a choice. They are not here to play games with you, it’s their day in court, essentially. You are going to hear the atrocities that your forefathers have done to us and our bodies and what still happens to our children in 2019 is what happened to us back then. When I was creating them, I tremored and I was doing the rasas because I have no text to work off of. I don’t speak. All I do is sing so I had to give them a language. I had to give them a text that is specific to themselves. I had to give them nuance. If they were to move, how would they move? If the movement is a gesture like that, how do I make that sound? I have to listen to Rehane a lot and respond to what she is doing and that’s what was happening. There is a set guideline that I have set for myself and that I have learned but then I allow 10% space in the moment of performance for them to truthfully respond because Rehane’s method of acting is the same way I’ve learned to vocalise these womxn. We map out via the rasas and the energy center of the Fitzmaurice work as to where the journey’s need to be going. Yes, I must react and respond truthfully and honestly in the space but I cannot alter into a point where she doesn’t know where the map is going because then I get lost and then the audience gets lost as well. It’s ever-changing. It’s growing as they grow as well. It’s also about them. It’s not about us. Sometimes the ladies are filled. They are like, “I’m not here to play.” And sometimes they are like, “I don’t know if I can do it because it hurts. It’s hard.” You are very emotional when they get emotional. You have to be able to give them that allowance of being themselves in that space as well.
This project kicked off your professional relationship with The MotherTongue Project. What has it been like to be involved with that collective?
I’m living my dream. I’m making work about me. About us. About a community that no one listens to and no one sees. Siphumeze Khundayi always says, there is this queer narrative that is being perpetuated in the country and it must perpetuate because it is true. The narrative of the queer black poor body. The struggling body. The site of violence, an enactment of violence, a battlefield and we have all these battle scars and all we do is be attacked and cry and be victimized and yes, that’s true but also we do laugh. We are not idiots. We are not just the struggle. Working with MotherTongue and doing Walk and Womb of Fire, you discover, even in those struggles, these womxn are having fun. They are playing. These womxn are us and we are having fun and we are playing in our global journey in our little corner of the world that we’ve been gifted by the universe or whatever higher power you believe in that says, “Here is your space in the world. Do what you have to do because society needs you to do that.” It’s like being a kid again. It’s like being on a playground because there is room for you, there is a space for you that is carved and it’s yours and you can do whatever you see fit in that space. There’s a level of independence to it. MotherTongue doesn’t own you. It says, “I want you because your voice needs to be heard because you have something important to say that is part of a larger discussion and a larger ethos of the world that you need to start partaking in.” I’m running with it. I’m playing. I’m having fun. It’s a matriarchy. It’s queens doing shit for themselves. It’s queens running shit like they should be. When we took Womb of Fire for the first time to NAF Makhanda, we were pushing against a mould and people didn’t like that it was three womxn walking into a space saying, “Here we are putting on a show just the three of us. Take it or leave it.” I love seeing men fall apart in the presence of womxn, in the presences of gods. We love it because it’s debilitating for them that three womxn took a show to Grahamstown and it’s here and it’s on the main and it’s big and it’s good and it deserves a place for it. We had a Joburg run for Womb of Fire and even there, we were fighting. It’s a constant push and pull for us to create the work and be respected in the space because people just don’t want to recognise us because we are womxn and we rock at being womxn. Even with our most recent Woordfees run of Walk, we had to fight. We were disrespected and we are here to respond to it. Moral of the story is, when we walk into a space, there is a moment of confrontation first before anything happens because we are womxn. That’s the truth of it all.
When I was reading your bio, I noticed that you tend to talk about your past projects with words that indicate such a sense of gratitude towards the work that you have done. Why is that something that’s important to you?
Earlier on I said that performing is spiritual and sacred for me and, in that, the universe has allowed me the ability to participate in performance and not a lot of us get that opportunity. When you get it, use it because a lot of people died for this gift. A lot of people lose their lives for this gift. It truly is hard. It’s lonely and you have to be able to understand yourself and know yourself and love yourself enough because the truth of the matter is, in this industry, we are all out here for ourselves. We are all trying to make a difference and life is life. Sometimes life is kind to us, sometimes life is not kind to us and I just look at myself as a mere molecule in comparison to the souls that I’ve embodied and someone out there decided to pick a particular story and a particular soul for me to enact and said, “I trust you with this duty and this role and I know you are going to do alright with it.” I love working. I never want to stop working because it makes me happy. I’ve been homeless. I have encountered sexual assault on various levels. I have been beaten by various men. I have gone hungry for long periods of time for this craft. Mandla Mbothwe gave me Nguvu Ya Mbegu. It was our class project but for me, it’s a thing of, “Thank you for seeing me and trusting that I can do that for you and bring her vision to light.” When Puleng Lange-Stewart for Love Like Blue said, “I want you to portray this young girl who is living in deep colonial Africa and is an artist and doesn’t understand her worldview because her relationship with her mother is a mess and she is trying to connect but cannot. I need you to do that for her. Fight for her.” Not many people are up for the challenge and I am grateful that my body and the universe has given me the energy and the spirit of the world to fight for these people. I learn from them, they learn from me and when we part ways it’s like I lived with someone who I have never met and never saw for three months or however long that project was.” Tshegofatso Mabutla’s choreography piece is about two feminine energies and whatever their context was at that point in time, that was their land. When I say that, I am not being petty about it. I’m saying land as in the universe, the world is made for them and is allowing them to exist. Anything and everything that they have ever dreamed of or wanted or ever needed is there. There is no harm. It’s a paradise, a heaven if you’d like. In that project, I grew. It was me and Anne Bosch, a fantastic artist. The three of them changed me. They made me better than what I was when I came into the project. All these different projects that I have been working on and am still working on, I am grateful because I get to play again. I get given opportunities. I get to live another life. It’s almost like marriage just without the kak. It’s beautiful and then we part ways again and it’s done. Then the next one comes and it’s like another lover and its different with each lover. When we part ways, it’s not on bad terms. We’ve fulfilled our job. We did our duty and our time is up. I’m very grateful for every project that I get because I get to have that relationship again.
Who are some South African womxn in the arts that inspire you?
Dr Sara Matchett, Tiisetso Mashifane wa Noni, Rehane Abrahams, Kanya Viljoen, Nambitha Mpumlwana, Leleti Khumalo, Rami Chuene, Sindi Dlathu, Connie Ferguson, Masasa Mbangeni and many more.
You can follow Lukhanyiso on Instagram.
Special thanks to Lukhanyiso Skosana.
All photos were taken on March 7th 2019.
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