Esther Kibuka-Sebitosi

Esther Kibuka-Sebitosi, 2018, Kanyanya Village. © Esther Kibuka-Sebitosi

so that you can begin the cultural journey of freedom

The notion of decolonizing self, arose out on reading several works on Decoloniality by Nelson Maldonado-Torres, Sabelo Gasheni Ndlovu and others.  Torres defines coloniality of being as “lived experience of colonization and its impact on language”. Colonization relates to the relations of power left behind and its impact on authority, sexuality, knowledge, economy and being. While exploitation and domination expresses themselves as  a notion of colonial power, the colonization of knowledge comes out as  different  forms of knowledge production; and colonization of being expresses its self as lived experiences and impact on language. Frantz Fanon in his book Black Skin, white masks (1968) depicts the master/slave encounters of the imperial racist.
The photo depicts the author in the process of decolonizing herself at a traditional wedding. Sitting down on a mat, she displays African cultural traditions mixed with western ways. This is the place where culture is set in motion in many African countries. The image demonstrates the traditional dress called Busuti but the contradiction in the western jewelery (necklace and ear rings as well as hand bag and sunglasses) show the layered nature of decolonization. It reveals with intertwined cultures that are perhaps best combined and left in peace?

  • Esther Kibuka-Sebitosi
    Esther Kibuka-Sebitosi

    “Decolonizing self” is a photo demonstrating the complexity of cultures and how inter twinned African and western cultures have become. The photo was taken at a traditional wedding in Kanyanya village, where African cultural practices like sitting down on the mat are proudly demonstrated. Paradoxically, decolonizing the self-starting with the dress, is not an easy process as pieces of the western culture are clearly visible, for example the sunglasses, the necklace and ear rings all show the interlinkages between cultures. The example is excellent in showing culture, history and evolution of the traditional dress and political economy for educators. The mood of the gaze is best described by former President Thabo Mbeki in his poem,” I am an African” as he proudly says, “ “Today I feel good to be an African”.


    In unravelling decolonizing self, I want to start with explaining colonialism; Torres (2007) refers to colonialism as, “ a political and economic relation in which the sovereignty of a nation or people rests on the power of another nation”. He refers to coloniality as a long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism but that define “culture, labour, intersubjective relations and knowledge production well beyond the duration of colonial administration”. Hence, coloniality, he argues, survives colonialism and is maintained through books, music, academic performance, cultural patterns, in self-image and aspirations of self and is lived every day. It follows therefore that decolonizing self would have aspects of culture, language and daily practices that one has to get rid of. Taking an example of cultural dress, I dress in my traditional dress called the busuti or Gomesi. The image shows the dress and the Shaath (cream colour that is used to tie it). The necklace is modern shining with stones. The accessories are also western. I am sitting down on a mat made out of sisal and “nsansa- palm tree leaves. Sitting down is a cultural tradition and practice that dates back for generations. This is also a gender demonstration of roles of women who would sit on the mat to greet visitors who had come to be introduced. The practice of paying lobola (bride price) is common in Southern Africa and traverses the African continent. In the photograph, everybody dresses in the traditional dresses. It is a way of saying “I am an African” and I dress like this, “Look how smart my dress is lovely”.


    Ironically, long ago, the traditional dress was made of out of the Mutuba tree- Fig tree Ficus species. They got it from the bark of the tree, which they smashed until it became flat. It was dried and then rolled out. The cloth (Kikunta or Lubugo) comprised only of a sheet, which was wrapped around, the shoulders. Over the years, the Kikoyi replaced the kikunta as it was made out of cloth- cotton. Linked to the traditional dress, is the decorative materials from India. Inside the dress is another wraparound Kikoyi that together with decorations were also from India. The image shows the material of the dress- silk with beads. This material is from India or Dubai. The modern materials are no longer traditional (Kikunta and kikoyi). The local industry has adapted to make traditional dresses out of new materials linen, nylon, chiffon or a mixture instead of cotton or Lubugo from the Mutuba tree back.


    The image also demonstrates the mostly western sunglasses or gaggles. The sunglasses show the western culture I have adopted over the years. The Europeans normally put on sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun. The occasion was held during the day as the sun was shining. It is not traditional practice to wear sunglasses. However, they help protect the shy people, as they do not have to look at all the guests. The gaze in the image is that of a woman comfortable in her body, sitting down with pride and taking pride in her tradition. This particular image was selected because it reveals the culture in transition. It is contemporary culture- a traditional wedding- a place where African Culture is luxuriously displayed. Paradoxically, the dress is traditional but the accessories are western showing the entangled nature of coloniality- the tradition African culture and the western culture, practices, all intertwined in intercultural interactions. The sunglasses may also demonstrate the cover up- hiding of self in the modern practices. Based on the above, it is not surprising that Decolonization is a layered process, which takes time and patience.


    Thabo Mbeki wrote a poem, “I am an African” expresses the objective of the constitution, “It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White”.

    As I sit on the mat and watch the bride and groom give gifts to each other, I remember the words of the former President of South Africa, “Today I feel good to be an African”.


    In decolonizing self, “decolonization” that has become the rallying cry for those trying to undo the racist legacies of the past, according to Achille Mbembe. Starting with cultural dressing is the first form of decolonizing self. Other forms include decolonizing power and decolonizing knowledge.



    published January 2020


    Katharina Knaus
    Katharina Knaus

    Beyoncé’s and Jay-Z´s Video „Apeshit“ discusses post-colonial exhibition art


    My first contact with art history was by reading E.H.Gombrich „The Story of art.“ (1909-2001). When starting my studies of art history in Munich, this was the book they recommended as standard literature. The cover text describes it as „the most famous and popular book on art ever published“. Although it claimes to be an introduction in art „for reader of all ages and backgrounds“ Gombrich tells a very one-sided story. Beyoncé’s and Jay-Z´s Video „Apeshit“ discusses post-colonial art historiography by exposing the Louvre as a white – dominated space.



    „Two black women are sitting on the floor wearing light brown tights and body-hugging beige vests. They are in profile, facing away from each other, and positioned at either side of David’s painting of the famous 19th Century French socialite. Linking the two women together is a flowing piece of white material, each end of which they wear on their heads like a turban.



    Above them, Madame Récamier reclines on her antique sofa, dressed in a simple sleeveless white dress, her head turned towards the viewer. The design of the sofa is similar to that of a sleigh-bed, with rising wooden ends. It is these bed ends that the women on the floor echo, the variance in the darkness of their skin matching the different tones of the wood in the painting.


    The cloth that links them represents the dress worn by the painting’s subject. The message is clear: It was on the backs of subjugated black people from the French colonies that Madame Récamier was able to enjoy her life of leisure and pleasure.“ (Will Gompertz)


    The Carters’ Louvre takeover isn’t just about protest; it is about power too. But the overall point is powerfully put. The game is up for those institutions – be it Hollywood, Broadway or the Louvre – which have ignored black artists, refused them a voice, or a seat at the top table.



    published January 2020