Ifu Elimnyama (The Dark Cloud)

Russel Hlongwane &

The young uMalanje rubs his body with rust-colored mud. Barefoot, he enters a new sphere, a place in another world. Noise interference and digital noise accompany his mission. Timidly he touches the metallic structures, which lie piled on top of each other like timeless and masterless remnants of a long-gone culture. One learns of a dark cloud, the Dark Cloud, a powerful instance that has been contaminated. So much so that the symbiosis of knowledge and orientation has been thrown off course, and Inkanyamba, the mystical snake of the sky, can no longer locate its GPS signal. A powerful voice that lays over the scenario tells this story. It refers to the sunken city of Mapungubwe, a flourishing metropolis from 1220 that was to experience its demise just 70 years later. Step by step, uMalanje explores this place. He has traveled through time and space to warn the city's inhabitants. Against the Internet, a futuristic power that can store supposedly free knowledge in the cloud but cannot protect it from corruption and monetization.

The cinematic work of South African cultural producer Russel Hlongwane expects a lot from its recipients. The narration winds around concepts such as Inkanyamba and Mapungubwe, which are central to Zulu culture and South African history. Even a glossary can be found about his work, consisting of Zulu culture vocabulary and new words created especially for this work. The timeless narrative, which seems to come equally from the past and the present, is like a transcendental journey. One traverses Zulu religious traditions and encounters contemporary concepts of digitalized knowledge. Like uMalanje, one can draw on this experience in which global and temporal systems seem obsolete. Hlongwane does not allow for a dominant narrative. He challenges us to understand knowledge independently of time and space, to question the Western self-attribution of digital supremacy, and to refuse the egocentric attribution of skills to specific cultures. (Riccarda Hessling)

Artist statement
I am a cultural producer based in Durban, South Africa and my work obsesses over the tensions in Heritage/ Modernity and Culture/ Tradition as it applies to black life. My practice includes research, cultural production, design, film and curatorship. 
I’m part of a number of working groups on the African continent and internationally. A self-taught artist working with folkloric traditions of the Nguni people as a method to speculate on the long-past. From these ruins of history are forms of indigenous technology that make their way into my work. My long term work, Ifu Elimnyama: The Dark Cloud captures the artistic outcomes of these questions. My work spans the areas of film, performance, text and a feature film. I regularly contribute to academic publications and other writing platforms. 
I’m one/half of thirdspace, a collective focusing on speculative productions from the African continent ranging from literature, industrial products to visual communication. (Russel Hlongwane)

* We can only show an excerpt of this work in the online archive. For the complete version, please contact the artist.

Images: Russel Hlongwane, Ifu Elimnyama, 2019 © Russel Hlongwane

About the video

Title Ifu Elimnyama (The Dark Cloud)
Year 2019
Videonale VIDEONALE.18
Length 00:06:35
Format 4:3
Country South Africa,
Language isiZulu with English subtitles
Courtesy the artist
Specifications color, sound, two-channel video installation with "Ikhubalo" (intelezi, imeyile), "Cartographing a Suspended Universe" (motherboards)

About the artist

Russel Hlongwane
  • 1987 in Durban, ZAF, lives and works in Durban, ZAF

Insights at Videonale X

desktop selfie
A monk in the next life: Russel Hlongwane talks about his favourite places in the world, cultural heritage, and different forms of identity.
In an interview with Tasja Langenbach, the cultural producer Russel Hlongwane shares insights into his artistic practice and talks about the creation of his video work Ifu Elimnyama (The Dark Cloud).