In the patriarchal Kingdom of Eswatini, men vastly dominate most spheres of life, causing gender-based violence to be granted a dauntingly ‘normal’ place within society. Tibi Tendlu, The Dirt That Binds Us, was a two year film and photography project exploring this normality. Rooted in participation and dialogue, art was used as a vehicle to witness and challange the female position in society, while celebrating the strength, dignity and grace of Swazi women. These portraits are part of a series that were made in conjunction with those who participated in the Tibi Tendlu program. We spent two years together as they share with me their culture and fearlessly divulged their stories – in kitchen huts and under trees. Many times it was dangerous for them to speak, yet these strong women were determined to make change. It was from them that I learned the meaning of bravery.
*The resulting film continues to be used extensively around Sub Saharan Africa as a training tool and a platform for dialogue surrounding violence within families; its causes, its effects and the possibilities for making change.
Currently, the film is in the process of being edited for audiences off the continent of Africa with uncovered faces (with permission of the participants).
Mari Gardner is an internationally recognized public artist, community-based artist and educator. Her work is rooted in the belief that art is a tool for personal and social transformation. She creates large scale glass mosaics and sculptures, as well as facilitates socially engaged art with communities. Together with communities she facilitates the creation of a safe space for self expression and self empowerment; building bridges between people, culture, class, race and religion. Gardner has worked with communities throughout the United States, Brazil, Eswatini, and Botswana. She has created public artwork for clients that include: the US Department of State, the Hilton Hotel group, the American Visionary Art Museum, the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, and the Glazer Children’s Museum.