Painting & Poetry Corner


  • Cynthia Nair’s  paintings draw critically on several aesthetic and cultural influences. One of these is the impressionist, Paul Gauguin, with Nair subversively responding to this artist’s exoticising of the bodies of women and cuisine from the global South (Tahiti, where he was temporarily exiled). In Nair’s alternative celebration of the bodies, agencies and beauty of women of colour, and her complex portrayals of women’s relationships with one another and their engagement with the world surrounding them, she focuses provocatively on metaphors of food and eating. These often configure emotions, feelings that can’t be conveyed in written text: repressed or expressed feelings of desire, compelling passions, attachment and sensuality – as revealed in these paintings.   Cynthia Nair is a painter based in Johannesburg.

  • Zulfa Abrahams is an artists who has taught in the English, Women’s and Gender Studies and Anthropology Departments at the University of the Western Cape (email:


In much documentary photography that depicts starvation or hunger, the face of hunger (usually feminized) is often almost expressionless in the sense that hungry women are seen as totally destitute and almost entirely lacking in human complexity because of their desperation. Zulfa Abrahams, a painter who teaches at the University of the Western Cape, represents highly expressive women’s faces. In this painting she conveys the ways in which hunger, especially for women, is linked to complex emotional and psychological states that may include a sense of responsibility for others, deep feelings of shame, and profound anger towards and about the local, domestic or broader situations that cause individuals’ hunger.







1. Contemporary Pastoral


Don’t open the door to strangers.

Never take the path through the woods or fields.

Always walk in groups.

Don’t talk to strangers.

Don’t touch animals you don’t know.

Don’t drink from streams or eat berries growing

by the side of the path.

– by Gabeba Baderoon


2.A home is a place to die


My grandmother was blind

and made pastry, softness

in her hands and face.


My grandmother was deaf

and this made the laughter

of her daughters louder,


as you drove toward

the house, you could hear

their voices down the street.


My grandmother died in the cool shadows

of her room, water dripped into her lips

with a feather dipped in a cup.


At six, I did not know the word cancer

but heard the sound pour out of the room,

my father’s eyes bright with death.


I did not know the word

so I lay under my grandmother’s bed,

close to her.


After her death,

my grandfather sold the house

and went to live with his daughter.


Home is the bricks and the voices.


I think now a family house must not be sold

while one of the parents is alive.


A house should have mistakes

one has lived with for years,

like the angle of the washing lines missing


the sun, mistakes one has borne so long

their bitterness fades.


One must be able to forget things

in this house, and find them again,

years later.


The house must be able to face death

or leaving with hard words,

so one can return, forgiven.


– by Gabeba Baderoon


3. The  Geography of Spice

Incense –

taste and fury.

Burn cinnamon

to release its sweetness.


The geography of spice

traces the sea lanes from Java to Holland,

islands of cardamom, ginger, saffron, vanilla

like peppers on a string.


On the Spice Island of Banda

fifteen thousand heads keep guard

over the nutmeg groves.


Nutmeg, hard heart of myristica

and its red netting of mace, worth

an island, emptied

of all except one pitiless thing.


Halfway between Banda and Rotterdam,

the ships come to harbour in Cape Town,

and you know by smell what cargo they hold –

nutmeg or slaves.


In the stone houses of Europe the kitchens

smell of sugar and cloves.

Dutch coffee and English tea

claim their new names.


 – by Gabeba Baderoon

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