It is impossible to be in any of South Africa’s many townships on a Sunday morning without spotting the ubiquitous uniform worn by members of the Wesleyan Methodist church’s mothers union. A uniform dominated by the bright red jacket which signifies the blood of Christ, worn with a black skirt symbolizing sin, and a white hat signifying the purity of the woman. These women are commonly known as oomama bebhatyi (literally, “the mothers of the jacket” or “the jacketed mothers”). If you listen closely, you may also catch some of the men say “Oomama bebhatyi bayathakatha. Umkhonza njani uNkulunkulu?” (loosely translated as “the women who belong to these mothers unions are witches. How do they serve god?”), a statement that tells of a belief among some that the women who belong to these mothers unions also practice witchcraft and are therefore hypocrites, presenting holy façades with their red jackets whilst dabbling in evil practices behind closed doors.
Khaya Sineyile explores this idea of hypocrisy in a series of paintings depicting these ‘oomama bebhatyi’. The women are depicted holding owls, wearing shoes that are too big for them and clutching knives – all images that, according to the artist, allude to acts of witchcraft. These paintings are executed by Sineyile’s assured hand with a rawness that contrasts with the cartoon-like outlines; a device which removes the figures from their ground and introduces an element of playfulness to the otherwise loaded subject matter.
In this body of work, Sineyile examines and comments on the clashing and merging of traditional South African culture and Christian beliefs. Of central importance to the artist is the telling of the story about faction-fighting for positions of prestige in the churches; including the use of witchcraft as weaponry in these fights, mutilation and the ritualistic use of body parts in witchcraft.
Sineyile was born in 1983 in New Crossroads, Cape Town and lives and work there. He has had no formal art education, but attended the Arts and Media Centre (AMAC) from 2004 to 2005 and was selected as a residency artist at Greatmore Studios in 2009. He has exhibited in numerous group shows, both locally and internationally, and his work is represented in private and public collections, including the Spier collection and The New Church Museum. His first solo exhibition, Rewind, was held at the Association of Visual Arts in 2012.