Theatrerocket goes on Theatrical March in This Festival Season with Debut Shows

Pictures: The Sjokoladeshow and Koekeloer: Wendy van Heerden

 

Kamphoer
Sandra Prinsloo in Kamphoer.

With Theatrerocket in panic mode as three national festivals run almost at the same time, Rudi Sadler and Johan van der Merwe have all their theatre ducks in a row – as they always have. DIANE DE BEER checks their many productions in debut seasons at Innibos in Mbombela and at the Free State Festival in Bloemfontein starting this week:

 

 

The names of actress Sandra Prinsloo and director Lara Foot in the same sentence? That’s already a coup!

Then you give them a text adapted by Cecilia du Toit from Francois Smith’s fictionalised Kamphoer and Nico Moolman’s non- fiction Camp Whore, dealing with the life of Susan Nell – and you have fireworks.

Kamphoer which debuts in the Free State plays out against the backdrop of the South African War (Anglo Boer War, 1899 – 1902) where Susan Nell is raped in the Winburg concentration camp and left for dead. She is found by a black couple who gently nurse her back to life and from there she travels to the Cape and finds her way to Europe where she is trained as a psychologist. That’s in broad brush strokes.

During World War 1, she works at a psychiatric institution in England where she crosses paths with one of her rapists, who is suffering from a post-war condition that was then labelled as shellshock.

This year, 2019, is the 120th anniversary of the South African War and the production is about honouring that devastating period.

It is produced by Theatrerocket whose first solo production Die Reuk Van Appels (starring Gideon Lombard and directed by Lara Bye) was showered with awards for everyone involved. The anticipation for this one is quite something – and it is perhaps with some gentle breathing that they welcome this Free State debut.

For those not visiting the festival, this is a production that will travel. Make a note.

But with much more laughter in mind, their other two productions offer much lighter fare with debuts at Innibos (from June 26 to 29) before racing to the Free State Festival (July 1 – 7).

Moulin Rouge sjok plakkaat Innibos en Vryfees-s (002)Die Sjokoladeshow is something Johan van der Merwe came up with while visiting the Drakensberg, eating chocolate fondue and thinking that they had never done a chocolate show. It can absolutely be as random as that.

In conversation with author Riana Scheepers, they decided to invite a clutch of writers to come up with some sketches which would be selected for a show – which after much whittling down was exactly what happened.

Into the picture step a quartet of artists: director/writer Henriëtta Gryffenberg, actors Lizz Meiring and Jak de Priester and musical director Heinrich Pelser.

“I love the different stories,” says Gryffenberg. They range from drama, to comedy, monologues, storytelling and two songs that celebrate the sweet- and sadness of love. “Each item has its own colour and scent and leaves me with food for thought,” she reminisces.

Die Sjokoladeshow 2 (002)

“I wanted to do an escapist show as balm to these tough times. I didn’t want politics of the day to intrude. I wanted to work with themes of relationships between parents and children as well as men and women. I also wanted to explore the exile of the outsider because these are all issues that I believe are currently neglected.”

Talking about her team, she praises Meiring as the theatrical trooper. “Her enthusiasm and energy are catching. She eats, lives and breathes theatre and her interpretations stretch from a 20-something nun to a 60-year plus woman who rants about her mother’s moral messages.”

Situated on the opposite end of the acting spectrum, this is De Priester’s debut as actor. A successful singer and performer, the stage is also his home, but this has a different slant. “We had to turn him into an actor in 15 rehearsal sessions,” explains Gryffenberg. “He pulled it off and I didn’t think it would be possible! I think many of his admirers will be amazed at his performance.”

She also has high praise for her music man. “He is musical magic,” she says. His understanding of her needs was spot-on and his live soundtrack extraordinary without being overpowering in a theatre landscape. He also performs with aplomb.

For Gryffenberg, from putting together the text to ensure a dramatic arc, to the Johan Engelbrecht set to getting stuck into a stage production, was both tough and thrilling. In conclusion she celebrates that Die Sjokoladeshow is a confluence of many talents which will now be revealed at the two art festivals.

And last (but not least), it was time for Theatrerocket to dip their toe into farce territory with a production titled Koekeloer! And for this first effort, they were determined to get all the pieces of the puzzle to fit perfectly.

Koekeloer group
The cast of Koekeloer

The story deals with the popular kykNET cooking show Koekedoor, familiar territory for audiences. Playwright Braam van der Vyver, familiar with farce, got together with the two producers and together they believe they have concocted the perfect comedy plot.

Two finalists, Marié Coleské, a spinster from Koekenaap and Marié Kok, a lingerie model from Ruimsig have to battle this particular baking bulge with cunning conniving and some half-baked plans.

Also introduce a clumsy crook and a private detective, a jealous boxing champion, a lingerie designer (of course!), a dominee, a controversial book and an upside-down cake. That’s farce.

Ben en Gavin 1 (002)
Ben Pienaar and Gavin van den Berg

The cast includes many of the more experienced players from DEURnis with the bonus of veteran actor Gavin van den Berg as the fallible preacher.

This is one dish which they are determined will deliver in all its deliciousness. Fingers crossed for no load shedding in case the cake flops!

So get thee to the theatre at either Innibos in Mbombela or at the Free State Festival in Bloemfontein. If you’re in Grahamstown, see the DEURnis/Uzwelo season.

DEURnis/Uzwelo is One-On-One Theatre that Debuts at National Arts Festival

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The Afrikaans Festivals have for a couple of years enjoyed the expansive embrace of performance the Theatrerocket way. The production company has found innovative ways of appealing to theatre audiences as well as making the more seasoned theatre followers pay attention to DEURnis. Now they have collaborated with Windybrow Art Centre for the National Arts Festival (June 27 to July 7). DIANE DE BEER explores the concept:

No one would have given much of a thumbs up to this first and probably edgy concept dubbed DEURnis. It just sounds silly – one-on-one theatre!

But Rudi Sadler and Johan van der Merwe who a few years back formed a production company Theatrerocket had an idea and they were determined. DEURnis is a one-on-one site-specific theatrical production with a very intimate yet cutting-edge and experimental approach. It involves a single audience member who views three separate dramatic pieces per package (there are four different ones to choose from at the National Arts Festival for the first time this year), with each of these having one performer and one audience member.

Each piece is approximately 20 minutes long and written for a particular room/space in a house/building, so as a viewer, you move from one room or even caravan to the next to see your three chosen plays.

It is the social issues that permeate the different works that affect individuals in different ways depending who you are. And for those who aren’t interested in gimmicky theatre, that’s exactly the trap they have avoided by aiming for excellence and substance in the texts. Some will suit specific individuals better than others.

Personally I’m not too excited by the more confrontational ones (there’s usually one that’s slightly more out there in a package), but then other audience members might feel differently. “We have been inundated by people interested in writing for this venture,” says Van der Merwe.

The duo are theatre fanatics of a kind, they know and understand the pitfalls and what audiences want.

Deurnis poster

Part of why DEURnis works so well is because it is such a well-executed concept. They understood from the beginning that the control had to be constant to see that everything works superbly. And as they have had many plays to choose from, they have managed to execute their strict code of excellence.

It’s a fascinating experience, being the only one in the room in situations with a stranger telling a story that is often inclusive rather than intrusive but affects you as the viewer in very specific ways. For many it might also be uncomfortable to be this intimate with someone you’re not familiar with. But that’s part of the experience.

This is not a financial venture for the company. With only single actors and audience members, the numbers simply don’t add up. But because of the way it has been done, the performance-experience the mostly young actors accumulate, can’t be calculated.

And chatting to a few of them in-between performances, they are thrilled by how much they are learning in the process. “Each performance is different because of the reaction of the individual viewing,” says one performer. Many of them are already in their second or third play and the growth is obvious in their performances as well as a play’s toughness, a second time round.

Deurnis Poster3

Prospective directors are also excited about the challenge and safety of testing their skills on such a small and intimate stage. “It’s a safe environment in which to experiment and push your own boundaries,” says Van der Merwe.

Having sat through two nights of 12 plays (even a dance with Ignatius van Heerden, Droom, with multi-media included), it doesn’t matter which package you choose. They’re all extremely well crafted and in sometimes scary ways, fun to experience. Following the earliest season, I was excited because of the great potential – and they keep delivering.

They keep on adding to the concept with interesting twists. The latest will be seen at the National Arts Festival later this week. It all began when the head of the Windybrow Arts Centre, Keituletse Gwanga, came to see the production in Tshwane a while back. Six Market Lab graduates, Kwasha! Theatre Company, who work with Windybrow as an introduction to the professional world, have joined Theatrerocket for DEURnis/Uzwelo (a Zulu translation of deurnis which means empathy/compassion) on this year’s main programme.

Deurnis poster2

It’s been an amazing learning curve explains Van der Merwe because they started with expanded workshops with Windybrow where they explained, explored and taught the concept, with end results that deliver a diverse and rich programme.

“The stories they came with are fascinating,” says Sadler which meant that both groups benefitted from this collaborative effort. Each programme has been put together to showcase the diversity with the first, for example, presenting Koud (Afrikaans: a schoolboy with a secret, forbidden love, that should be kept secret at all costs); Khogo/Chicken (Sesotho: a man sells chickens in the basement of his building and is at pains to prove his compassion to the SPCA) and Kwas (Afrikaans: Esther loves posing for artists but has problems staying still).

Other languages included are English, Sepedi, Greek, IsiXhosa and even Tsotsi taal. Because many of the pieces feature the actor’s first language, it has been constructed to be played for audiences who might not understand but should follow the story which is another interesting addition to this already exploratory work.

A work titled Womb, for example, places the audience member in the womb, the language (in this instance English) shouldn’t matter, while Gone by Renos Spanoudes deals with death which expands on the Becket quote: “We are born astride a grave”. Even though he includes some Greek, the meaning is never lost.

DEURnis has won many different theatre prizes, most of them national and there have been a few acting awards as well. Two years into this project, the growth has been impressive. And while this latest innovation can be seen at Grahamstown from June 27 to July 1 (at 11am, 3pm and 4.30pm daily at PJ Olivier), they already have exciting new plans which they will pull from their theatrical hat at the right moment.

 

 

Spirited Curator is Celebrated with Glorious Exhibition at UJ Art Gallery

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The Wildebeest and the swarm of African Migratory locusts by artist Hannelie Coetzee (see more info below)

It’s a rare honour when a curator is celebrated with an exhibition. DIANE DE BEER went to the launch and spoke to many involved in  this luminous exhibition:

 

 

During her two decades of curatorship at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Annali Cabano-Dempsey has attempted to reach as far and wide as possible presenting a spectrum which would interest the public but also the students – one of the benefits of having an art gallery on a university campus is this potential audience which can be nurtured.

In acknowledging the dedication and passion Cabano-Dempsey has brought to the gallery, 21 Years of Curating the Cube (currently running until June 26) celebrates UJ’s continued role in supporting and embracing the diversity of art in South Africa.

The Keiskamma Guernica by members of the Keiskamma Art Project
The Keiskamma Guernica by members of the Keiskamma Art Project

 As the gallery’s 6th curator, Cabano-Dempsey has seen the gallery emerge as one of Johannesburg’s foremost art centres. The UJ Art Gallery (originally known as Rand Afrikaans University – RAU) opened in the 1960s and has since hosted numerous temporary exhibitions and acted as custodian of a large collection of artworks.

“My style of curatorship is collaborative.  I interact with artists on a regular basis before an exhibition, advise and shape a bit – and then I allow the artists to project their own voices.   I also hand over the reins to guest curators from time to time.  In the case of the 21 years exhibition, I felt too close to the artists, and called upon Johan Myburg to curate the show.  We worked through all the exhibitions of the past two decades and it was surprising that he found a golden thread of text, signs, signals, semiotics unveiling itself – something I never intentionally brought into my curatorship.”

Gordon Froud sculpture
Gordon Froud sculpture

In his opening address at the exhibition, artist Gordon Froud remarked on the amazing space designed by the architect, the late Jeremy Rose, which embraced and encouraged exciting exhibitions. He also praised Cabano-Dempsey for her detailed curation and the way she kept artists informed about specific exhibitions. They would know exactly how their work did, and who came to see it during the exhibition. “That’s rare,” he remarked.

He also spoke lyrically about her opening up the space to students and facilitating gallery training, for example, that would benefit them as artists in the future when they stepped into the real world. He described 21 Years of Curating the Cube as a meeting of old friends.

And fortunately for this remarkable sculptor, UJ also has an outdoor exhibition space which allows for large works to be displayed at their best (see picture).

Although she has been closely involved with a wide spectrum of artists forming part of the annual exhibition’s programmes for more than two decades, she chose to hand over the curatorship of 21 Years of Curating the Cube to respected arts writer and author Johan Myburg. They worked closely together in choosing the 38 works which was much more difficult than they expected, but the final decisions rested with him.

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Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone: Artist Majak Bredell deconstructs issues of religion, women and the body and her works are strongly informed by the African continent and the Black Madonnas of Europe.

“My brief was to curate a show as a celebration of Annali’s 21 years at the UJ Gallery, something like paging through her ‘exhibition album’, so to speak. You can imagine the amount of shows, artists and individual artworks we are talking about,” explains Myburg.

That was the context he had to operate within and that formed the scope of the exhibition as well.

Panorama of Franschhoek by Titus Matiyane
Panorama of Franschhoek by Titus Matiyane

“I made a selection based on a thread I detected in a number of the exhibitions/works of the past 21 years – the thread being manifestations of messages or mark makings in the form of signals/codes/text – in its widest sense of communication.”

He offers an example as explanation: On entering the gallery the first salient piece of sculpture is Marco Cianfanelli’s text-based work, referencing the quote by Desmond Tutu that truth, knowledge and beauty will triumph. “Whatever you want to understand under ‘truth, knowledge and beauty’ is subjective, but the basis, I think, is that of triumph. The message will live on. And art as carrier of message will triumph,” he says.

“I think the tweet (Jan’s Last Tweet, a work by the genial Jan van der Merwe – pictured) is a poignant little amplification of this triumph.”

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The Last Tweet refers to technology (twitter), a method of disseminating very quickly whereby a message could be conveyed on a global scale, also enabling misuse of power.

Anyone familiar with Myburg’s work and processes will witness the thought he puts into this kind of effort. “My intention was to highlight this notion (of triumph) in a subtle way. Not in your face. Should the viewer miss it, so be it. There is, right at the back of the gallery, a clue to my curatorial thinking,” he says. (And for those who like puzzles, this is like a challenge in treasure hunt!)

The artists included are the ones that had a link with the gallery in the last 21 years (to start with) but then also the ones whose artworks comment on the named “thread”.

It includes existing work (as per UJ Collection) and work on loan, but also recent work, i.e. Hannelie Coetzee, Diane Victor, Michael Meyersfeld, Angus Taylor, Mark Swart.

“My intention was a show as ‘unintrusive’ as possible in order for the work to speak. My approach was less rather than more, since the works all have an inner strength. I did not want to tamper with that. Hence a quiet show.

Bohlale-bja-mathome by Colbert Mashile
Bohlale-bja-mathome by Colbert Mashile

“Favourites? All of them. Being able to work so closely with these gorgeous works is a privilege. And I realised how limited my understanding of these works were. Perhaps still superficial. But that is the beauty of art: You cannot see too much of a particular piece. There is always something that you miss.”

All of these elements can be found in this remarkable snapshot of South African art in a specific period of time.

Do yourself a favour. If you’ve never visited the gallery, that’s an added bonus.

 A last word from the curator who is being honoured: “The next decade of my art journey (or what is left of it) will focus on two things:  To make the gallery accessible to wider audiences.  It has been my mission over the past few years to break down the ivory tower, to create a more informal atmosphere and to invite a younger generation to interact with the gallery programme on an interdisciplinary level. And then to recognise established and revered artists, but to also bring in younger promising artists into the fold.  I found that collaborations with corporate partners, artists’ collectives and joint exhibitions (the established with the emerging) allow for this approach.”

 

 

  • 21 Years of Curating the Cube runs until  26 June 2019 at the UJ Art Gallery. FREE OF CHARGE. Open Times: Mon to Fri from 9am to 3.30pm. Address: University of Johannesburg, Corner of Kingsway Ave and University Rd, Auckland Park, Johannesburg

Phone011 559 4674

 

  • More info on Hannelie Coetzee’s featured artwork: She did a succession study of humanity’s relationship with nature. Locusts eat the same amount of grass per body weight as wildebeest. A swarm consumes as much of a crop as a fire does. Disclosure: This swarm was bred and studied by Wits Scientists in the 1960s. The current curator of the AP&ES Museum, James Harrison made it available to the artist to repurpose into an artwork

 

 

 

Two Young Art Activists, Herschelle Benjamin and Jeremeo Le Cordeur, Shine their Creative Light with Flair

Pictures: Jeremeo Le Cordeur

 

Jeremeo and Herschelle
Jeremeo Le Cordeur and Herschelle Benjamin

In a world where the arts are no longer a priority, two young art activists caught DIANE DE BEER’S eye in the way they were forging ahead and establishing their careers in a space which would nourish their own creativity but where they also wanted to promote that of others:

 

Two young Capetonians Herschelle Benjamin and Jeremeo Le Cordeur are proof that artists often don’t have a choice. Once those creative genes kick in, they have to listen.

Benjamin, an only child, when choosing a career knew that law would be a wiser bet, but he enrolled for that as well as a drama degree – just to make sure.

“After one week of depressing law lectures, knowing that I will fail because I had no real interest or passion for it and seeing all of my drama friends at the library or at the drama department living their dreams, I changed courses without consulting my parents.”

With bursaries for Stellenbosch University studies, when switching lanes he knew he had to succeed and show his parents that he would still be a star pupil.

Jeremeo Le Cordeur
Jeremeo Le Cordeur with his award from the Suidoosterfees

Independently, Jeremeo Le Cordeur who describes himself as a creative soul, is a performer, theatre-maker and arts photographer who graduated from City Varsity, a school of media and creative arts in 2008.

Since then he has been working the arts in any way he knew how. In 2009, he joined Fresh Theatre Company, a community theatre group specialising in musical theatre, where he performed in musicals such as, Life is Rock N Roll, Love in Cyberspace, and Pinocchio.

In the following year, he created Vulture Productions, a platform to support and create new work. Since then, he has been at the helm of many successful productions such as Pizza’s Here (2011), I Know How You Screamed Last Scary Movie (2011), and Risk for the 2012 and 2013 National Arts Fringe Festival in Grahamstown and in 2013, he directed a play at Artscape titled, February 14th, which received excellent reviews.

In 2014, he directed Tannie Dora Goes Bos, which was included as part of Artscape’s 8th Women’s Humanity Arts Festival. The following year he directed John, which explored the controversial world of sex workers, working alongside SWEAT (Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce).

In the meantime, in 2016, a photography project was introduced to Vulture Productions. It was aimed at showcasing the work of South African theatre practitioners through arts journalism. In 2018, he was selected to represent Artscape Theatre in an arts-residency program called EVS (European Volunteer Service), based in Liverpool in the UK – which led to the creation of Mama, with performances at The Unity Theatre, Woordfees and Artscape.

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Jeremeo Le Cordeur starring in his own production Dude, Wa’s My Bakkie? Picture: Warren Meyer

And this year, he wrote and performed in two mono-dramas and collaborated with directors Ian van der Westhuizen and Dan van der Ventel to present Jerry An Unconventional Hero and Dude, Wa’s My Bakkie? (A Double Feature). These productions performed at Alexander Bar, Woordfees Fringe and Suidoosterfees, where he was the recipient of the NATi (Nationale Afrikanse Teater-inisiatief) Rising Star award for his vibrant storytelling.

As a youngster, Benjamin’s mom would tell him that a “pencil should never be left untouched”. “I didn’t think I was the best artist or writer but was forced to become friends with pencils, pens, paper and books. They were always there. Through all the phases and changes, my relationship to words and language is one constant one that has helped me in some of the darkest times of my life,” he explains.

The writing became more frequent and across different mediums. “Poetry still remains my secret love, dramas entice and challenge me, journalism makes me feel I don’t know enough and that I want to know more… It’s not the medium or genre that resonates but the power or ability of words, the imagination and the truth always being at the forefront of it all.”

Completing his initial studies, he received an internship at Media24 as an arts journalist. He also won the international Elizabeth McLennan Scholarship for Theatre & Performance from the Scottish Universities’ International Summerschool in Edinburgh. “This year, I’m going back after being picked as the first student host/tutor from Africa to the summer school.”

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Herschelle Benjamin’s Slavenhuis 39 performed at the US Woordfees

Last year he won the Teksmark Writers Bursary, was also picked as one of Artscape’s New Voices and had a play produced and performed in the Arena Theatre under direction of Sandra Temmingh. Another play, In Slavenhuis 39, was also produced this year for the US Woordfees where it was well received and won the award for Best Upcoming Artist(s).

“I’ve written pieces for the Die Student on Netwerk24 and the new Vrye Weekblad. I am also working on my M degree. And I’m partnering on a few other projects for the future.”

Just a glance at their work and one can see these two artists were destined to meet. “We first met at Teksmark in 2017 and started working together,” explains Le Cordeur.

“He told me about his media production company, Vulture Productions, and that he needed a writer for the US Woordfees, because the company was invited as media. I was busy with my Honours degree and had time to help him during the festival. The rest is history…”

Herschelle
Herschelle Benjamin

“With Herschelle’s creative writing and my arts photography, we reported on many productions in Cape Town and at the Stellenbosch Woordfees. Our work was later recognized by Hugo Theart, artistic director of KKNK, who invited us to join Kritiek, a critical writing project to nurture new arts writers in 2018.”

This year they moved into the marketing departments at arts festivals. At the US Woordfees Benjamin ran the social media for the festival and at the KKNK, Vulture Productions were represented by the two of them as part of the social media marketing team.

“It’s all about building our industry, becoming well-rounded business-like artists and creating a career that span decades,” explains Benjamin.

Le Cordeur believes that Vulture Productions has shown the importance and value of support within the arts. “It’s provided opportunities for myself and so many others and it continues to have a significant impact on my own artistic development. I would love to have an exhibition of my photographs in the future,” he concludes.

As a performer, he’d like to sink his teeth into as many characters as he can, which is exactly why he collaborated with two directors to bring his own creations to life. He was rewarded richly for the effort. He will also be presenting three plays at the Free State arts festival from July 1 to 7.

Watching them operate at festivals is hectic, but these two youngsters understand that they have to grab every opportunity to make their way – especially in these early days. From reporting on and photographing the arts, to writing, performing and directing usually their own material, they have individually and collectively created a brand.

They deliver, are often over-used to a point of exhaustion because of the quality of their work, but this is their way of becoming fully fledged artists. Who says it’s easy? But if you’re Jeremeo Le Cordeur and Herschelle Benjamin, you have found a way. It’s hard work, but that’s how they keep those creative juices pumping – for themselves and their community.

For more information visit www.vulture-productions.com

Make Time for the Lives of Others: It Alternatively Shakes and Makes the World a Better Place for Everyone

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A heartbreaking scene from Capernaum

When filmmakers take issues of the day and shine a glaring light on them – smartly – it can shake your world in the best possible sense. DIANE DE BEER highlights two of the best:

Living in South Africa, we all know what it means to read about something and the horror of living it. For too long we lived in a country where it was a matter of law to keep things separate and in the dark. Evil needs to be shouted from the mountain tops.

Two films (one currently on circuit) currently making the rounds in cinemas and available out there to stream, tell stories that are as close to living it as is possible on screen.

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Nadine Labaki, the writer,director and actor.

The first is Capernaum, a film by Nadine Labaki, a Lebanese filmmaker whose previous two movies (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) were screened locally with this one, Oscar nominated, currently on circuit.

She truly believes in the power of cinema and her latest, Capernaum, which in this context means chaos, deals with refugees, people who are stateless and as she says, “become invisible.”

The story she picked to tell was specifically that of the children trapped in these lives.  “We’re talking about children not receiving their fundamental rights,” is how she describes it in an interview.

With a script in hand, she started to look for the actors and smartly turned to the very people whose stories she wanted to tell. And then she listened to their lives and adapted her screenplay to reflect their reality.

Capernaum Poster

Most important in this equation is Syrian refugee child actor Zain Al Rafeea as Zain El Hajj, a 12-year- old living in the slums of Beirut. In yet another interview the director explained that in real life he is that age, but because of their lives, the children are all smaller because of malnutrition. (He and his family have since moved to Sweden where he is going to school for the first time.)

It’s a world of pain but those living there are simply trying to survive. When landing up in prison simply because he’s fighting for others in his life, a 12-year-old boy sues his parents for neglect. “Being born,” is how he says it.

If you want to see what survival looks like, this is it. It is done with compassion but without shying away from the harsh realities that many people – in this instance children – find themselves in. The number of refugees in the world at this specific time is horrifying with many countries and world leaders fighting to keep them from safety – that is, their countries.

The film reflects the lives of the children who had to flee Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, Honduras, and the list goes on and keeps expanding daily.

“I need proof you’re a human being?” A sentence that might not be familiar to any of us, but in this world you need papers to say who you are and where you belong. Without them, as the director says, you become invisible.

And when one child is left caring for another because the mother has gone missing, your heart breaks. Even towards the young in that harshest of worlds, having nothing isn’t enough to change anything. Survival means exactly that, a drop of water, a crust of bread and no one to turn to because everyone is hustling – some more cunningly than others.

The ingenuity of children who have to look after themselves is astonishing. A car-wash, for example, will clean both bodies and clothes. When feeding a baby ice because there’s nothing else, he says: “Seriously, isn’t this better than a shawarma  sandwich?” And your heart shatters as it should because we all need to understand the lives of others.

And the parents? Can you judge them? Have you walked in their shoes? They believe that more children is their way out.

But when one child dies, another is born and the young son tells his mother, “My heart aches”.

This 12-year-old is tired of those who can’t care for their children. “That kid in your belly will be just like me,” he tells his mother.

Indiewire, Canada Goose and YouTube Dinner, Sundance Film Festival, Park City, USA - 21 Jan 2018
Reinaldo Marcus Green, director of Monsters and Men

In a similar vein, Monsters and Men deals with the scourge of African American men dying at the hands of police, publicly and visibly, yet nothing happens to change the situation. We from afar watch in horror.

But here are some answers as the movie follows the rise of tensions in the neighbourhood and how it affects the bystanders, one of whom filmed the scene as it unfolds – something that often happens.

It is the dilemma of the innocent, how to react and what to do. How to be a man when you’re living among monsters. That’s the story director Reinaldo Marcus Green tells with such honesty and clarity. There’s no way you don’t get this one.

When a black policeman asks his white female colleague how often she has been stopped that year, her response is that she drives too well not understanding the nuanced question. “I have been stopped six times,” he says, “and it’s only June.” That sentence captures his life and that of every black man living in America (and of course elsewhere). Skin has always mattered, no matter where you live – even in Africa.

But how does he go about his life and building a career when his chosen calling is policing in a force where he is regarded as the monster. To share his insights on the officer who was fast to draw his gun, means the end of his career, his livelihood and his “normal” family life that we all expect when we live in a certain way. But not here.

Monsters And Men DVD Cover

The young man who captures the event on his phone finds himself compelled to send it and his life turns into the nightmare he knew it would.

And then there’s the young sport star on the verge of making the big league – a new life not only for himself but also for his long-suffering father. How are you expected to make these life decisions about doing the right thing in a world that won’t take even your best word? Not even being caught on camera will seal the fate of those who go around terrorising African American men because they can.

What both these films do so majestically yet with illuminating simplicity is take you for a walk in the other’s shoes.

These stories need to be told and to be seen so that we all understand how the world works and what is at stake with every choice we make.

 

Choices Choices Choices: Entertainment In Style – Out On The Town Or At Home

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Cinema in style at Cine Prestige The Grove

There’s a world of entertainment out there for you to tap into whatever your interests. DIANE DE BEER explores some of the options and the way it stretches your mind:

 

 

If your movie-going days seem to have dwindled, The Grove Ster-Kinekor recently launched its revamped Cine Prestige theatre with a screening of action thriller John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum – and all of Cine Prestige’s signature comfort.

If you are one of those people who are reluctant to leave the comfort of their home because cinemas have become rowdy places with cell phone interruptions and blinding screen lights that detract from the experience, then this might be a way to entice you back.

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Cocktails at Cine Prestige

It reminded me of business or first class flying with seats that move and change into comfortable sofas with you and your partner sweetly ensconced into your own private space.

The experience also includes a cosy private lounge, and a full bar offering with a range of drinks from wine, beer, cocktails, and hot drinks.

You are no longer reliant on popcorn and coke, although those are also available for those die-hard movie memories. Guests can also enjoy gourmet snack platters, and a selection of desserts, all served in the comfort of a fully reclining leather seat. It’s a great way of watching a movie.

All of this comes at a price, naturally (R161 a ticket without refreshments) but assuming you want to watch movies on a big screen in extreme comfort, this certainly is that.

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Fight or flight in John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Personally, I realise that I’m not the target audience of the John Wick franchise which we were invited to see yet fortunately this was my first experience of this particular Keanu Reeves strongman, which meant there was an element of novelty involved.

But not for too long. These films are simply a series of flight and fight scenes in various guises, with little happening in-between.

Their next offering, Longshot, is a love story that tracks the life of a free-spirited journalist who keeps running into trouble. Played by Seth Rogen, Fred unexpectedly charms Charlotte (Charlize Theron), who is smart, sophisticated and sassy. The combo of the silly and the serious should be fun and our girl is always someone to watch.

This will be followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which won’t be diarised, and Rocket Man, which is described as an epic musical fantasy which makes sense if you’re told it is based on the unfiltered story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. It nevertheless is not an unauthorised version, Sir Elton was a big part of the process.

Cine Prestige, it seems, is about a fun experience rather than movies that might seriously engage your mind, but we need these escapist adventures as well. And seeing the whole adventure as a bit of a fantasy, the movie itself might just as well fall in that genre too.

But while on the subject of entertainment and keeping up with the latest out there in a way that’s easy – and perhaps not putting you out of pocket, I was recently watching a Christiane Amanpour programme on CNN. This is one of the few that cover politics but also the arts with authors, filmmakers, directors and the like all making an appearance. (Check it out on CNN, currently at 7pm on weeknights and again repeated at 5am in the morning. She keeps you in touch.)

But this particular segment featured two extraordinary women who are both tasked with introducing us to a new world fast emerging out there.

Radhika Jones
Radhika Jones

The first was Radhika Jones, the first mixed race editor of the pop culture magazine Vanity Fair, which immediately impacts their cover and story choices to reflect the world we live in – all of it – not just from a certain vantage. She makes some brave decisions for the future of the magazine, and this is where you get to play around for a while. She recently opened up the Vanity Fair archives, free of charge for now.

Vanity Fair archive
From the Vanity Fair archives

That means you can sit endlessly scrolling through issues from the beginning of time depending on your interest. Vanity Fair has always been a magazine that homes in on the zeitgeist which is what makes it of interest internationally.

As Jones explained to Amanpour, her cover choices weren’t really the result of who she is but rather of what is happening in the world around us, with the success for example of Black Panther and Get Out and she wants to capture the spirit of the times. To allow readers into this world through the archives is a treat. Go and have a look. Just make sure that you are in the archives, not the magazine itself which is limited to four articles a month, of Vanity Fair and then have fun with your reading choices.

 

And on that note, if you have a Netflix account, don’t miss the Rachel Lears documentary Knock Down The House. It looks at the primary campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin, four Democrats endorsed by Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress (the names say it all) who ran for Congress in last year’s US midterm elections.

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The four women competing in the Midterm Elections

It premiered at Sundance 2019 in January, was voted an audience favourite and was bought by Netflix for the most money ever paid for a documentary.

These women were running together on a grassroots level and what the filmmaker wanted to explore was power now and what it looked like, how representatives and money converge and what happens when people who don’t have the money, are brought into the process. Because of the large amounts of money required to run, usually only certain kinds of people can access the process, but this is changing with Ocasio-Cortez and her particular brand (and charisma)  turned into hot currency with the current crop of Democratic Presidential hopefuls whenever they have a stage.

She was the only one elected and has already challenged the status quo in a country where a largely white male Alabama senate recently passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the US deciding about the rights of women and their bodies, “the only thing men cannot control,” argues Gloria Steinem.

All of the above are “entertainment” options in our new world of access, streaming and many other avenues that keep popping up.

It’s time to play and stretch the mind – and that’s the best way.

Author Lauri Kubuitsile – Force of Nature

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” 
― Haruki Murakami

 

 

Evil cover HR

DIANE DE BEER

 

Everything about author Lauri Kubuitsile is unexpected.

First there’s the name which (for me anyway) implied that I was meeting a black Botswana writer, only to be surprised by this Baltimore-born woman appearing at the guesthouse in Johannesburg where we were set to meet.

She moved to Botswana in 1989 (first running away from home at the young age of 16), where she met her husband (they are recently divorced). She declares herself a proud Botswana citizen hence the stories she has written especially in her last two books: The Scattering with at the centre the Herero who were forced to flee in 1904 South-West Africa when the German colonial authorities issued an extermination order; and now But Deliver Us From Evil (Penguin Books), a story about a young Koranna woman who is mistaken for a kidnapped white child, something that determines her whole life.

Kubuitsile only started writing at 40 and that was by accident. An unscrupulous business partner left her with a publishing business which finally led to this former science teacher publishing the first of many books.

Before these two books, she has won or been shortlisted for many awards. She twice won Africa’s premier prize for children’s writing, The Golden Baobab. She also won the creative writing prize sponsored by Botswana’s Department of Youth and Culture. In 2011, she was shortlisted for Africa’s most prestigious short story prize, The Caine Prize.

She writes across the age spectrum for adults, teens and children and her books cross many genres. Her book, Signed, Hopelessly in Love was recognised by South Africa’s O Magazine as one of the best reads in December 2011. The first book in her Kate Gomolemo Mysteries series, The Fatal Payout, is a prescribed book in Botswana for all junior secondary school children.

And she writes easily it seems. Once the story is in her head, she rushes through that first draft just to get it down on paper. Only then the tough work begins as she starts editing. That takes much reading and rewriting, but the process has always worked for her. “I know I won’t die while I have a story in my head because that need to get it out on paper is too overwhelming,” she says – only half in jest.

The thing about Kubuitsile’s writing is her storytelling ability. She draws you in immediately with a style that is focussed on plot rather than characters, she says, but even copping to this penchant, she manages to flesh everything out: the places, the people and their incredible lives. That’s what keeps you turning those pages as you delve back into a history that’s familiar but unknown.

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Fearless author Lauri Kubuitsile

Many of us would know about the Koranna, but that’s probably in most instances the extent of our knowledge. Their history is vague. “I’m surprised by how few people know their story or even about them,” says Kubuitsile, who hopes to change some of that with this and hopefully a next book (following another story in-between) which will also be revealing.

The other intriguing aspect of her writing is that she is telling the story of especially the women – and added to that, the women of the oppressed/vanquished, which makes it doubly hard but also timely. These stories of our past were mostly recorded by men thus writing the odd throwaway line about women or their place in society into the actual history being told, those of the men and their wars.

But we know, says Kubuitsile that these women were doing a lot and often keeping things going. “This is history as a narrative,” she explains. “You can’t find the voices anywhere, but you are given leeway to fill in, because the evidence is there.”

She loves the research and has stumbled on the most amazing stories that have informed her own writing or even set a book in motion, like this one. It was while researching The Scattering that she read a line about “the daughter of the maid at the missionary’s home” as well as a letter by Kgosi Sechele (the ruler of the Bakwena of Botswana) in which he corrects a letter that accuses him of killing 25 witches to say that they were only five and in any case well known as witches. All of these fuelled her imagination as the story so masterfully unfolds.

More than anything though, it is her fascination with the Koranna that first piqued her interest. She explains that most of them came from the colonies, some mixed race but more a mix of many people including the Batlhaping, San, Griqua, Baster, Dutch and other Khoi people, hence the lightness of her protagonist Beatrice’s complexion, lived on islands in the Gariep River and were big raiders. “They wanted to be free and to be left alone,” she says and what kept them alive was their ability to swim and navigate the river, better than anyone else.

She talks about her books in the same way she writes, with a confidence and credibility that sits comfortably with someone who has published 30 often very different books, with much success.

She calls herself a generalist, loves the fact that she can make her living from writing, but that’s only half of what is going on in her life. She talks of many different projects, amongst others writing computer games, the one she had to tackle immediately and features hugely in her life.

But there’s also a book with the current title of Reflecting Light that she describes as probably her most autobiographical. It tells the story of a woman who grew up with a very famous mother followed by a famous husband. Her light was always reflected by who they were, making compromises, and being defined by feelings that weren’t her own.

That’s not all – naturally! She is currently collaborating on a project with with an established well-known South African  author, which they are writing as a first-person narrative. “We come from very different places, she is character driven and I do plot,” she says. “We will have to see if two people can get their brains together to make one!” It’s early days still but if anyone can, it will be these two.

That is if either of them can be penned down to get it done. For Lauri Kubuitsile, for a story to be written, it must be aching in her head.

And thank goodness, that’s exactly why But Deliver Us From Evil is so riveting. She desperately needed to tell that story and did so quite brilliantly.

Storytelling for a Novel Congregation

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Muzi Mthabela as Jobe

As it became more and more difficult to produce theatre, director/playwright Josias Dos Moleele decided to combine all his passions. He speaks to DIANE DE BEER about his latest production Jobe, which plays at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square from May 29 until June 15:

 

Josias Moleele looked around at the theatre landscape he believed was diminishing, and decided he would take theatre and the church and bring the two together.

As the son of a pastor, when he was younger, there were expectations for him to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he had different plans. He wanted a career on the stage, whether it was performing in a production like Five Guys Named Mo or writing and directing his most popular play Call Me Crazy (which will have yet another run at Sandton’s  Auto & General Theatre on the Square later this year), or my personal favourite, Sarafina in Black and White which he did a few years back with the TUT students.

And to this day, he still lectures at both TUT and the University of Pretoria’s drama departments.

Josias Dos Moleele
Director/playwright Josias Dos Moleele

But writing and staging his own productions is his calling and when he thought about the tradition in local churches to dramatize stories from the bible, he knew this was where he wanted to go.

He knew that there were more than enough ministries in Gauteng, that he would be able to put together professional productions and that he would have an inbuilt audience. His model was a simple one. While he would be doing training for free, people would have to pay for the production, which included the actors and everyone who worked on it.

Once his ideas were aired, a young aspirant playwright came to him with the story of Job which he knew would be inspiring. He knew there was something there and together he and Teboho Sengoai started reworking the original text to take it to a different level.

Once they had played it at different ministries, Moleele wanted to test the professional stage and they did a run at the Joburg Theatre in 2017. “There’s a new audience emerging,” he says as he explains that churchgoers enjoy seeing a familiar story reinterpreted in a modern setting. And this is when he decided to contact Daphne Kuhn at Sandton’s  Auto & General Theatre on the Square for a season with the hope of testing his theories positively.

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Mogau Motlhatswi as Princess and Muzi Mthabela as Jobe

Jobe is the story of a man who goes through adversity and pain, and longs for an explanation and counsel as to why his world has been turned upside down. Why do bad things happen to good people? When life is going smoothly, faith is easy. The test of faith always comes when life stops making sense.

According to the biblical tale, counsel is revealed in a dramatic life changing dream and vision that hits his beliefs to the core and those of his friends and his wife.

“It’s a universal story set in a modern time,” says Moleele.

What interests him is also the mixed audience that will hopefully see the play. In his diverse working life, he has produced documentaries for a Jewish audience, and with Jobe based on an old testament story, he believes that in discussion sessions following the performances, interesting conversations could emerge.

It’s the different congregations present at the theatre that Moleele finds intriguing and hopes will instigate probing conversations.

“I feel theatre isn’t speaking boldly at the moment and because I kept on facing rejection, I had to redirect my own intentions and passions.”

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The cast of Jobe with Muzi Mthabela (centre,) questioning his conscience.

He was determined to do it professionally with a cast that includes the following:

Muzi Mthabela (Jobe) who aside from his role on Isibaya, is a regular on TV including Jacob’s Cross, Dream World, The Road and more. Mogau Motlhatswi (Princess, Jobe’s wife)

is best known for her role as Mapitsi in Skeem Saam. This is her debut stage role.

Titus Mekgwe (Lebese Titus) started his career professionally in 2010 and is both actor and director. He has also worked on film. Simpho Mathenjwa (Jwara) has a BA deg in the arts (Wits) and has done mainly industrial theatre and television while Teboho Sengoai (Professor) who wrote the initial play which he reworked with Moleele, completes the cast.

Following his work with the different ministries, Moleele has also established his own ministry in Atteridgeville Faith Acts Ministries (FAM where he hopes to do things a little differently with all the focus on the congregation. His work around theatre will continue as he keeps training actors through his Graduate Arts Project (GAP) as a feeder programmed to community theatre groups. and everyone involved with the production from the different congregations he works with.

He wants to keep it as professional as possible and has joined a Chamber of Business to help guide him in this world.

Having found a way to feed his different passions, Moleele is determined to navigate his way through all the teething problems. Like many others before him (and many to come), his choice of career(s) is more of a calling which makes it tough to turn his back on any of this.

He knows he is probably a trailblazer but with so many disruptors in this time, it is those who can be innovative who will find new ways to follow their dreams.

In the meantime, this novice preacher is determined to keep telling stories and to find different ways of finding a captive audience. He wants to keep it exciting and with our diverse audiences, reverting to age-old stories familiar to many in different guises, he hopes to get the conversations up and running.

 

 

“Take good care of it, it is my life,” said artist Charlotte Salomon about Life? or Theatre? which was also her Life’s Work

Pictures are all the work of Charlotte Salomon from Taschen’s  Life? or Theatre?

Charlotte SalomonDIANE DE BEER

Charlotte by David Foenkinos (Canongate) and Charlotte Salomon Life? Or Theatre? – Charlotte Salomon’s artistic feat under the Third Reich Charlotte Salomon Life? Or Theatre? – Charlotte Salomon’s artistic feat under the Third Reich (Taschen):

Charlotte Salomon is born into a family stricken by suicide and a country at war – but there is something very exceptional about her. She has a gift, a talent for painting. And she has a great love, for a brilliant, eccentric musician.

But just as she is coming into her own as an artist, death is coming to control her country. The Nazis have risen to power and, as a Jew in Berlin, her life is narrowing – she is kept from her art, torn from her love and her family and chased from her country. But still she is not safe, not from the madness that has haunted her family, or from the one gripping Europe…

Charlotte is a heart-breaking true story – inspiring, unflinching, awful, hopeful – of a life filled with curiosity, animated by genius and cut short by hatred. A beautifully, lucidly told memorial, it has become an international success.

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Inside cover of Life? or Theatre?

These are the words on the jacket of David Foenkinos’s Charlotte (Canongate).

I was given this book as a gift by an astute friend together with Taschen’s Charlotte Salomon Life? Or Theatre? – Charlotte Salomon’s artistic feat under the Third Reich which includes essays by Judith C.E. Belinfante and Evelyn Benesch as well as a selection of 450 gouaches.

Because I didn’t know the artist at all, I didn’t immediately connect the two books but soon discovered, the first, written almost in poetic prose –  like an epic poem – was inspired by Charlotte’s lightly fictionalised memoir consisting of hundreds of paintings, sketches, text and musical annotations created during the years she was in hiding.

Foekinos is an award-winning French novelist and screenwriter who won the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, and Charlotte has sold more than half a million copies in France and was translated into 19 languages.

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And they walked home together, absorbed in silent communication.

It is excellently translated from French into English by American Sam Taylor. So once you have read the intriguing story by the novelist who simultaneously with Charlotte’s life story shares his own tale of discovering the artist, you can follow that with the Taschen art collection which again delves into Charlotte’s life but this time with the paintings and illustrations in hand.

It is an extraordinary insight into an artist who before these two books, might not have been familiar to you.

Foenkinos, for example, only discovered her work in 2004 in a museum in Germany and this propelled him to tell her story. It’s difficult to imagine that the life you encounter was such a short one and in a time as a Jewess in Germany (1917 – 1943), there wasn’t much chance of her visibility as artist flourishing.

Executing her gouache series Life? Or Theatre? she pleaded with a friend to “take good care of it, it is my entire life.” Perhaps she had a premonition because a few months later, the 26-year-old was deported to Auschwitz where she was killed shortly after her arrival.

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Out there in the forest there he stands – there dwells many a beautiful king’s child – in the forest there we want to listen.

The work tells her life story with a ground-breaking narrative that spans her entire short life: her complicated family life coloured by the high incidence of female suicides; her youth in Berlin marked by die rise of the Nazis and the oppression that followed; her close relationship with singing teacher Alfred Wolfsohn; her exile in France where her masterwork was accomplished; as well as abuse suffered on different levels from different people.

All these are reflected in her personal story that she embellishes with pseudonyms and fantasies to hide the actual personae, but reading both books, the story is clear. It’s an astonishing insight into her inner world, into that time, the way people lived and were terrorised, the decisions you make under duress and without foresight of course. Now we know everything in full colour, but at the time, the citizens of Germany, especially those being persecuted, had no idea of the horrors lying in wait.

But what also makes this such an intriguing read is the passions of the artist when it comes to the people and her painting and how she told her personal story in a way that kept her sane and allowed her artistic expression to flower.

Illustrated diaries, art books, aren’t uncommon anymore but at that time, given her youth and her life, what she produced is astonishing and adds greatly to her story and her art – both in equal measure and with astounding strength.

In 1947, her parents discover her life project in the South of France. They decide to donate it to the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum) in Amsterdam in 1971. Throughout the years, parts of the work have been displayed in museums around the world, but many art lovers are still unaware of this artist and her body of unique and unusual art.

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…and died under the slowly dying flames of the blazing flag.

According to Wikipedia, in 1981 the Museum presented 250 scenes in narrative sequence, and critics began to comment on the work.  An exhibition was presented at the London Royal Academy in 1998  and was an unexpected sensation, helped by the publication of a complete catalogue. Part of her anonymity, they believe, is the result of Salomon’s work not appearing on the international art market, as the whole archive belongs to the protective Charlotte Salomon Foundation based at the Joods Historisch Museum. The art historian Griselda Pollock dedicated a chapter to Charlotte Salomon in her Virtual Feminist Museum, analysing her work in terms of contemporary art, Jewish history and cultural theory.

And most recently Charlotte Salomon: Life? or Theatre? was exhibited at the Joods Historisch Museum from October 2017 to March 2018.

With these two latest books, there’s a chance of a wider audience and perhaps a deeper understanding of her work. But more than anything, it is the excitement of discovering an artist with such a strong voice, a woman to boot, who tells her story in such an individual and inspiring fashion.

It’s not an uplifting story, but it is inspiring that she could find a way to express herself so magnificently and with such a unique voice in such dark times. And leave such an luminous legacy.

 

 

 

 

The House That Jack Built Celebrates the Life and Art of Local Artist Jack Lugg

house-that-jack-built-book-cover-high-res.jpgLocal artist Jack Lugg is being celebrated with a book launch and a retrospective exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum from May 7 until June 23. DIANE DE BEER investigates his life and work which is detailed in The House That Jack Built, an illustrated biography instigated by his daughter Pippa Lugg Verster:

Jack sculpting in the 70's at Tech
Jack sculpting in the 70’s at Tech

 

Checking my artistic circle, none of them was really familiar with the artist Jack Lugg, but if you should venture into academic and artist circles, the response would be totally different.

“I first heard of Jack Lugg in about 1965 while I was still a student at Selborne College. He was the best-known artist in East London and his art was totally different from the art I had grown up with…” writes celebrated artist Norman Catherine in the foreword of The House That Jack Built – Jack Lugg (Jack Lugg Art Gallery CC).

For many, says his daughter, Pippa Lugg, in her introduction, the name brings back memories of an influential mentor, or others who own his art are reminded of a devoted and passionate artist. “My father worked tirelessly: sketching, sculpting and painting over the course of seven decades.”

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Spirited Ride, Oil, 1993

He was the head of the of the department at the East London Technical College Art School for 35 years and it was her hope that this book (together with the exhibition in the Pretoria Art Museum) would be a testament to “his remarkable life, and to all that he built”.

She explains that the foundations for the book were laid by the artist himself, and his wife Rosemary. They planned to publish it to celebrate his 80th birthday but sadly it didn’t happen in time for his birthday or even before his death in 2013.

But things were set in motion and part of these was a blank sketchbook that his daughter gifted to him on his 78th birthday which became an integral part of the book. She explains: “The cover of the book was decorated with a collage of his paintings and sculptures and I titled it Jack Lugg’s Memoirs.”

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The Greedy Man, Oil on cloth/board, is one of a series of twelve different African Legends.

She wrote a note encouraging her artist dad to record his memories with the aim of including it in his book. His response: “If it ever happens.” Hers: “Not if but when.”

And she proved him wrong. When she was sorting through her parents’ vast collection, including 1 000 artworks, with her brother, the last box she unpacked was the small book which her father had created, and she describes as a gem. She believed he had given her a masterpiece handwriting his entire life story and illustrating every page. “It was the actual moment of conception of this publication,” she recalls.

Once she started gathering her thoughts and the people she wanted to include, she invited Kin Bentley, at the time sub editor at Port Elizabeth’s The Herald. She describes him as an experienced art critic and also a past student of her father. “He paints a picture of a man whom he knew as an inspiring mentor and teacher.”

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Each tells the other, Oil on board, 1993, is the work in mind to use for the marketing of the Pretoria Exhibition next year.

And what makes the essay special to her as the daughter is that in quoting for her dad’s memoirs, Kin has allowed the artist to tell his own story. “The result is a sensitive and personal account.”

Complementing this work, Barry Gibb, an Eastern Cape art historian who taught Lugg in the ‘50s drew on his vast art historical knowledge to present an insightful and layered analysis of the artist’s paintings and sculptures.

Because these two writers knew the artist, they brought a wealth of knowledge and perspective but, writes Lugg Verster, the book is about the artist and his extraordinary body of art.  For her it is important that “the artworks take centre stage” and together with the current exhibition, they have published many works which have never been seen in public before.

Thus, The Visual Essay is dedicated to illustrating his creativity and includes prints, sketches and paintings. The idea was to allow readers to witness the development of the artist and his particular journey.

“Short textual inserts highlight important life events, themes and anecdotes,” she notes. It follows his work through the decades from 1938 when he was a teenager to 2013, the year of his death.

2007 Taxi rank
Taxi Rank, Oil on board, 2007

 

It’s quite extraordinary to be introduced to an artist in this way, if indeed that is the case as it was for me, and to have an accompanying exhibition showing a comprehensive collection of his work.

And covering a life and a prolific one at that, it is fascinating to see the way the artist has developed, where he has been influenced by his time or artists living in specific eras.

Initially, the Jack Lugg Art Gallery was based in Knysna for 18 years. Then it continued to operate in Plettenberg Bay through the gallery website and studio appointments until the author’s death in 2013. Now run by his children, the Jack Lugg Art Gallery sells artworks through the website and arranges private viewings by appointment in Port Elizabeth. The works on show range from Lugg’s teens in Pretoria where he studied under Walter Battiss, to his service in World War 2, through his studies in Durban where he won the Emma Smith scholarship, to Camberwell, London and Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, where he studied under Matisse.

Perusing the gallery website or his book, Lugg had a deep connection with the landscape, animals, and people of Africa. He held his first exhibition at 17 and continued to exhibit in many solo and group exhibitions throughout his expansive career. His art can be found in significant public and private art collections around the world and this current Pretoria Art Museum exhibition, which runs until June 23 in the South Gallery.

The first iteration of this current exhibition and launch of The House That Jack Built was held at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth in February last year and was opened by Dirk Oegema, Director of the Pretoria Art Museum. An East London exhibition and launch took place at the Ann Bryant Art Gallery in April 2018 and was opened by Marlene Neumann, South African Master Fine Art Photographer.

Now Gauteng can catch a glimpse of this Eastern Cape painter/sculptor who should be better known and celebrated and whose family is determined to nourish and nurture his legacy.

*The exhibition will be opened on Tuesday (May 7) at 6.30 for 7pm by Prof Ora Joubert.