Invitations are like tantrums. With fantasised anticipation they stamp their feet in preparation and howl pathways to limbo. They make demands as if they were moral contracts and apply for 360 degrees of consideration. The psychological fallout is like fire poured on dry bones.

Friends are like a scroll. I layer myself over them in black crayon, again and again. Having slowly spread myself right to the edge like a well-buttered toast, I begin to scratch at its surface. One fingernail digs in and the rest get pressed back into my palm. The trick is to keep the membrane beneath intact whilst scratching myself into the surface to stop the pain. I keep the coils of isolated crayon in my heart and negotiate the value of what remains.

Mandy McIntosh is my friend; the invitation is to draw myself into the picture book, travelogue, auto-mythography, soundscape and map of Oompie ka Doompie. I need a place to start from and a way to know I’m finished.

On a plane to Dublin, at my glass-topped table, at Julie’s house, on my obstinate television, at a bar constructed from the leftovers of Lily Langtry’s bedroom I watch the DVD. Sometimes I watch it once, mostly I watch it several times and on one paranoiac night it keeps me company nine times. Every time, I put it back in the jewel case and then in the padded envelope it arrived in and then I slip it into a suitcase, an overnight bag or my pocket.We spend time trying to get to know each other and then we need to be pushed apart.

Oompie ka Doompie is an invitation to accompany its subjects on a journey to a ghost town called ‘before’on a personal ring road with no marked exits. When Mandy made her film ‘I am BOY’ in 2000 I described it as having come from her rucksack studio. Oompie ka Doompie could never be described as being pulled out of the bag. Over lifetimes in development, like the geographies and peoples it portrays, it is carved from personal experience.

Oompie ka Doompie is Mandy putting on record how a compassionate beam of light can be squeezed through the harsh prism of economic, social and political circumstances that confront the subjects of this film: a Scottish working class family as émigrés to the South African 1970s. Their own route to a new sense of self is negotiated amidst the impact of a colonialist history and framed alongside images of the struggle for rights to black citizenship that South Africa’s white governments sought to deny.

Oompie ka Doompie is perfumed with the colonialist scent the Empire’s working classes were invited to smell as a new form of liberty from their social status at home. The hand-drawn, full-faced character of the McIntosh family’s journey is contrasted with the black fingerprint face of their hired help Selina as they travel from Glasgow’s chilly high-rises to the promise offered by new jobs filing for Liberty Life, and driving new routes through parts of Johannesburg where roots were forbidden to pass.

The opening sequence in which Mandy introduces her mother, herself, her father and her sister Paula begins the process of looking back on, across to, below the surface of and towards the remarkable experienced by the ordinary.

Overall, the film takes place in a situation I recognise, have never been to, but have often been visited by. It prises open the remnants of the role the ordinary working class has played in colonialist activities prior to my and Mandy’s generation hope to distance ourselves from it by moving closer to aglobal economy by buying goats for faceless strangers as gifts for those we tire of looking at and learning how to slow food down whilst praying for fast growing crops in African states.

Oompie ka Doompie forces me to recall sitting on the knee of my seamstress grandmother whilst eyeing up her two brothers who proudly tilled the landscapes of two adjoining farms in West Kilbride throughout the late fifties and sixties having finished mining the plantations they had owned in the West Indies. It questions my grandmother’s relationship to the brooch she treasured, its value summarised in the need for a safety clasp to secure this bespoke charm of gold to her breast. The gold was personally excavated by my grandfather from the teeth of Japanese heroes in the Second World War.

Oompie ka Doompie is not an easy place to get to. Whereas the McIntosh family got to South Africa by jet plane and left for ‘home’ by a slow boat, that’s not where we are being invited to. Mandy McIntosh invites us instead to the place where we can be adult in seeing her sister and she as children engaged in the apartheid era in the making of what will become their own history and their past alongside that of her parents and Selina.
Oompie ka Doompie is a set of pages bound together, with combined mutual experience, into a picture book that collages drawings, video footage, computer-generated animation, photographs, voice over and sound. At the centre is an artist who has spent two years developing this work and a lifetime leading it. It ripples with voices and sounds, those who physically, emotionally and psychologically remain and those that inspire their survival.

It is a clenched fist held high in protest, a protest that demands us to understand that comfort, complicity, closeness and love should be remembered as the compassion that is essential to any formula for change. It has been drawn with beautiful, beautiful ghosts, drinking cups and feeding bowls, tell-tale perfumes, diamonds and Neil Diamond, far-off feelings held close to home, blistered skins, bruised identities and shackled prides, political posters and personal post-its.

Friends are belongings we cherish, belongings we know, belongings we remember, belongings we hide, belongings we evade, belongings we ignore and belongings we forget. Invitations are trails we make, trails we pursue, trails we evade, trails we cover and trails we covet. Oompie ka Doompie is now here with you in a museum. Mandy is inviting you to become its friend.

Please take your time, watch out, listen carefully, stretch out your hand and keep it close.


Jason E. Bowman, 2006
Jason E. Bowman is an artist and independent curator who focuses on finding the weird within the wonderful.