PICTURES: Fahiem Stellenboom

Liza Grobler Festival Artist and the winner of the art prize captures the essence of her Karoo which constantly changes.

Art has always played an important role at the festivals, with the Klein Karoo National Festival one of my favourite viewing venues. DIANE DE BEER tells you why:

It has to do with the place, because they have easy access to different venues and spaces, but perhaps because of the length of the festival, it has also meant that you have time to meander and really take note of the art.

Another reason might be the more recent introduction of curator Dineke van der Walt. Her choice of themes and artists has been unusual, varied and always presenting a large number of artists who I had no knowledge of.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that I don’t pay enough attention during the year and the festivals mean that artists from around the country are on display.

Curator Dineke van der Walt on one of her many walk-abouts. Picture: Hans van der Veen.

This year was no exception and I was lucky enough to catch one of Van der Walt’s walk-abouts which for this art fan is always a bonus and a learning experience. Sometimes the artists or the curators are around and do the talking, but other times, Van der Walt told the story. Keep this one in mind for the future.

This year’s theme very aptly was Hide and Seek: Reimagined Histories. It’s about taking a much wider and more representative look at the world. For far too long, stories have been told from a specific vantage. It has long been time to fling open those doors and allow the light in. We all gain from a wider and more honest perspective – on every level.

There are too many artists and  venues to include here, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t many more worthy of a mention. Simply that I had to make a choice, and for the moment, these were my picks.

Two stood outside of the parameters of the St Vincent Building which exhibited most of the art. Another well-deserved extension of Karoo Kaarte, was yet again a fantastic example of how art can include a much wider audience as well as introduce participants to a new way of expressing themselves.

 Collages and narratives feature strongly in this project and this time they were displayed in full view of everyone in town because at some point they would have passed these beautifully illustrated windows and stopped by to see what was happening.

The pictures best tell the story that is one that should just keep on running. Here are some of the collages in the building where they presented daily workshops.They had many contributions and one they cleverly slipped into the exhibition space was the way they re-imagined children’s games from the past ,which some of us might remember like kennetjie, skaloeloe, drieblik and gaatjie. These were then explained in a pamphlet with instruction-driven drawings to show the way. It’s also another way of appealing to the youngsters attending the festival.

The other was a series of site specific installations which apparently were meant to be quite hidden, but for hurried festinos it might have been a hazard rather than an adventure.

Three derelict buildings were selected as the backdrop for Norman O’Flynn and ONE. with the trio of installations titled Transparent. The idea was to lift these structures, which have probably for many years gone unnoticed, out of their environment by applying a quite ordinary yet eye catching pattern.

What they were hoping to achieve was to show the way society deals with issues like poverty, inequality and violence in a community, by turning a blind eye.

It was a wonderful exercise apart from the difficulty in finding especially one of the installations. The point about hidden had already been drawn by picking these structures all on the edge of society.

Art is enough of a niche not to add obstacles to further shift it closer to the edge.

Kanna for Best Presentation – visual arts, sponsored by Absa: Liza Grobler – Inkommers, laatkommers & laatlammers, as well as the Droom installation”:

And then moving inside to be enveloped by the colourful explosion of the Festival Artist. Liza Grobler dabbles in many different ways of making art. With the title Inkommers, laatkommers en laatlammers, this recent Oudtshoorn inhabitant was clearly stating her case.

From her side, there’s an exuberance, an energy and enthusiasm that’s catching. She targets the imagination not only with her variety of work but also with the way she invites you to engage with her art.

Stringing along while playing with your mind.

There’s a playfulness that’s engaging and yet her work is loaded with meaning if you take the time to explore and engage. And here the title took you by the hand and pointed the way.

As did her outside installation with the word DROOM in eight different languages. She also encourages others to dream by having workshops and including other Oudtshoorn creatives to collaborate.

Another artist’s work that grabbed my heart was titled Untitled: the Dumisani Mabaso Retrospective. I was immediately bowled over by the work, the emotional impact, the diversity, the way Mabaso moved from one visual look to the next.

Only then did I wonder about the artist and why I had never seen or perhaps noticed his work before? He was a painter, a master printmaker and a jazz musician, and all of these influences played a role in his art.

His approach was gentle but, living from 1955 to 2013, his art spoke to the time and the conditions of the disenfranchised and disaffected. And he never stopped. His was always a fight for the poor and the working class and for their emancipation.

A trio of Mabaso sketches that reminds of costume portraits with their delicacy.

This retrospective resulted from consultations with the Mabaso family by the William Humphreys Gallery about the importance of underlining his importance and contribution to South African art.

We are the richer for this inheritance.

Two other notables include the work of Johan Stegman who was very articulate in explaining the title of his exhibition: ‘n Goeie dag vir ‘n Slag.

It’s all about the one who writes the history and from where it is interpreted. Rather than argue the facts, he  takes the battle of Blood River, the legendary fight between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus, and investigates it from different angles with the idea that this will offer different perspectives.

Included are other works which immediately point you to the way his mind works.

In another grouping, Is ons nog ‘n ding, he smartly invited Lawrence Lemaoana to co-curate with a title exploring the use of the term Afrikaner which can be used or abused by white Afrikaans artists to explore their shared needs and desires.

The white artists’ lager only gains huge perspective when the work of a few outsiders is included, in this instance that of Lemaoane and his wife, Mary Sibande. You cannot find a more powerful art couple to make this point.

The worth of any work only comes into play when it is compared with others.

As already said, there are many other exciting examples, and the engaging and provocative approach of the art at this year’s festival again contributed to many conversations, in general and in particular, that is what it is meant to evoke.

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