Imbizo Ka Mafavuke (Mafavuke's Tribunal)
Imbizo Ka Mafavuke (Mafavuke’s Tribunal) is an experimental documentary set at the edge of a nature reserve in Johannesburg. A kind of Brechtian Lehrstück, the film shows the preparations for a people’s tribunal where traditional healers, activists and lawyers come together to discuss indigenous knowledge and bio-prospecting. The pharmaceutical industry has come to consider traditional medicine as a source for identification of new bioactive agents that can be used in the preparation of synthetic medicine. This raises new questions about intellectual copyright protection of indigenous knowledge.
Imbizo Ka Mafavuke asks who benefits when plants become pharmaceuticals, given multiple claims to ownership, priority, locality and appropriation. The protagonists in the film slip into different roles and make use of real-world cases involving multinational pharmaceuticals scouting in indigenous communities for the next wonder drug. Ghosts of colonial explorers, botanists and judges observe the proceedings.
The Crown Against Mafavuke is based on a South African trial from 1940. Mafavuke Ngcobo was a traditional herbalist who was accused by the local white medical establishment of untraditional behaviour. The film explores the ideological and commercial confrontation between two different yet intertwining medicinal traditions and their uses of plants, with slippages across gender and race further questioning notions of purity and origination. The re-imagined court case is filmed at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, where the Rivonia trial was held that sent Mandela and his fellow accused to Robben Island prison.
Uriel Orlow lives and works between London and Lisbon. He studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design London, the Slade School of Art, University College London and the University of Geneva, completing a PhD in Fine Art in 2002. His practice is research-based, process-oriented and multi-disciplinary including film, photography, drawing and sound. He is known for single screen film works, lecture performances and modular, multi-media installations that focus on specific locations and micro-histories and bring different image-regimes and narrative modes into correspondence. His work is concerned with residues of colonialism, spatial manifestations of memory, blind spots of representation and plants as political actors.
Orlow’s work has been presented in many international survey shows including Lubumbashi Biennial in 2019, Manifesta 12 in 2018, Sharjah Biennial 13 in 2017. His work has also been shown internationally in museums and galleries including Tate Modern and Whitechapel Gallery in London, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Kunsthaus Zurich and Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva amongst others. Orlow’s films have been screened at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival; the Locarno Film Festival; Videoex, Zurich, Switzerland; Centre Pompidou, Paris; BFI, London; Kino der Kunst, Germany, and elsewhere.