KHULEKANI MSWELI: Well that’s an interesting question to say, why why is art there even within the context of a U.S. Embassy what purpose does it play?
ON-SCREEN: Art Embassies Swaziland
MSWELI: Within an American context, how do you bridge the culture gap of understanding either Swazi culture and for me as a Swazi, understanding American culture. So it’s beautiful to see the collection which is a fusion of American artworks and Swazi artworks.
PETER ARMSTRONG: They’re called Hadeda Ibis. These are the ones that fly over every day here.
(bird calls in the background)
ARMSTRONG: They have a very loud sound and everyone in Swaziland knows that sound. My piece was based on the space and the view and trying to introduce something that Swazi into an American space.
LES: When I first saw them I thought it was imported from the U.S. but when I learned that the it was a local one I was it was a surprise.
MSWELI: Swaziland is so rich in its culture and it’s one country which I take pride in in the sense that we’ve retained our culture for quite a while through much you know turmoil around the continent and the world at large, whether it’s through the ceremonies we have, through our kingship, I’m never quite short of inspiration that I draw from Swaziland.
ARMSTRONG: I think having seen the ones from the States, I thought, ‘That’s fantastic.’ Some artist sitting in a studio, creating work, trying to bridge a gap between their studio and Swaziland.
JOSH FAUGHT: At first I was kind of scratching my head and thinking, I’m this white dude that has no connection to Swaziland whatsoever, how am I going to make this piece to fit in to this place. Rather than actually thinking about what I’m producing for Swaziland, I’m more thinking about this opportunity as a way for me to understand that culture a little bit better, understanding my own subjectivities by what’s moving through my hand.
TIFFANY BOZIC: Definitely had this feeling that the Purple-Crested Turaco was the bird of Swaziland, because that’s their national bird. To have it sort of like coming up meekly and introducing itself to the turacos and the turaco is just like kind of leaning down very inquisitively, almost meeting each other for the first time, and sort of like coming together. And now what is the role of an embassy?
LISA PETERSON: Sometimes art is the only way that you have to communicate civilly with each other. It also helps remind people out in the community that the United States is not only about a policy that may or may not be popular in a country. It is a country of people just as the country we’re based in is a country of people. We come with talents, we come with opportunities, and those talents and opportunities and artistic expression may be the only way that you have to just have a civil dialogue with people in the country that you’re in.
MARI GARDNER: The concept of mosaics is about community, you know, it’s a bunch of little tiny pieces that are put together to make something big and beautiful, right, to make a big statement. And that’s just not something that you can necessarily do alone, not on this scale and it’s not something that I want to do because the whole point is that we’re doing it together as a community. I knew that I was making and designing this piece for a wall on the U.S. Embassy and because I’m living here, I’m collaborating with artists that are Swazi and automatically take on that cross-cultural element. And it can’t help but take on that conversation, it can’t help but take on that dialogue.
MSWELI: America has exported a lot of its culture to the world, and it’s far-reaching and it’s had so much influence to the world at large. Having artwork there, it’s a part of me sharing my story through art. It’s kind of saying, this is my culture as much as it’s within an American establishment it’s also taking ownership to those spaces and also sharing the stories the way I feel as a Swazi my story has to be shared.
ZANELE BUTHELEZI: Through drawing and painting, it’s where I learned that I have to speak. I have to say something. I have to share something with others that I can’t keep on quiet.
NONZWAKAZI DLAMINI: I felt like if I have that piece there whosoever went to the Embassy maybe their soul is down or is upset, my art piece must uplift them all, tell her something or him that okay this is done by someone who’s African.
ARMSTRONG: Most people who come to Swaziland spend only time here. They see that sort of duality in Swaziland. The old, the new, the West, the African, first-world, third-world, technology and ancient traditions, all mixed in a pot.
MSWELI: Art whether in embassies, art in public, art in society, it’s culture.
ARMSTRONG: And the culture embodies what the country is.
BOZIC: Like, the more that I understand about the intricate, unique, fascinating life forms on the planet, the more I learn about myself and I feel driven and captivated to continue to turn over these stones and ask big questions and I don’t know, chase that ephemeral question mark that I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the bottom of.
FAUGHT: I think for me art has this ability to transport us to those landscapes that we can’t access in our day-to-day lives.
MSWELI: Art becomes this other state which kind of keeps an eye on the world, society, so maybe it’s those conversations which would allow us to be more frank, to be more open about foreign mission in any country because it’s about knowing one another.
ART IN EMBASSIES. US DEPARTMENT OF STATE.