MILK TART HAS BEEN ADOPTED, ADAPTED AND SUBSUMED BY DIFFERENT CULTURES AND BACKGROUNDS INTO SOUTH AFRICAN HERITAGE

PICTURES: Theana Breugem (thefoodphotographer.co.za/).

DIANE DE BEER

The milk tart queen Rachel Botes.

From the time I first heard that power chef Rachel Botes was going to do her masters in the origins and originality of the South African milk tart, I knew that she would be stretching the limits of this local sweet thing to places where none of us could imagine.

Now with her master’s degree (Cum  Laude) in hand, she has done exactly that. I also knew that her approach and research would be complicated and worth getting your teeth into. Her aim was to also use the milk tart as an artefact of food culture to enable a better understanding of food as a vehicle for identity, food as memory as well as a form of communication.

Just allow your mind to linger a little on that and the of scope of what she was hoping to achieve boggles the mind.

Botes stated her intent right from the start as she approached her research from a historical point of view, with the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies (Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria) her place of departure.

She notes that the milk tart is often perceived as something that’s derived from Afrikaners’ tradition and culture. This, however, isn’t entirely  founded. “…milk tart has been adopted, adapted and subsumed by women of different cultures and backgrounds into South African heritage,” which is good news for our South African cuisine  heritage … and something most of us have suspected anyway. With our history and diversity, nothing simply happens simply.

She further notes (and that’s more good news) that it has been given the nod widely and indigenized to such an extent that it is now considered a national treasure regardless of background. We even have  a National Milk Tart Day, for heaven’s sake!

At the heart of investigating the much loved milk tart lie questions of identity, belonging and heritage – all arising at the intersection of food culture and history.

She quickly discovered that recipe books would be her best source of information – that and food writing. These were generally done by women and thus became the diaries, the memory bank and a gendered food archive that reflects as  a particular identity marker within the South African context.

Melktert at its best

As we know, women are not well considered or documented in the past (look at writers like Hilary Mantel,            who are taking new points of view just to introduce everyone into their writing) but what has emerged has exciting consequences. “Whole classes of documents which were previously held in low esteem, including household inventories as an index of kinship, obligations and ties” come into play, for example, argues historian Raphael Samuel.

She also deals with the problematic racial classifications of our past, the national identity of food, with examples of every nation borrowing freely  –  as renowned South African author Louis Leipoldt states, “often with unblushing audacity” –  which leads to  the term “indigenization”, meaning something becomes distinctive to a particular people or place.

Many argued that women’s handwritten books and published guides or recipe books, as well as those of servants, will not be found in history books. Their history, especially in the domestic domain, was not regarded as important enough to be formally. But that is what turns this into something so much more than simply the origins of the milk tart.

Penelope Hetherington, for example, explains that women’s history was ignored in the documentation of national history at least until 1960! That’s yesterday!

Keeping all this in mind, even though enslaved people shaped South African cuisine in many unexpected ways, it was never formally recorded and thus has to be found in the pages of the recipe books of the time.

As Botes reviews the research she has done on the milk tart, she encapsulates some of what food means (with a smile) in the following quotation in Hastings Beck’s book Meet the Cape Food: “During the war a general who is, in the grand phrase of Izaak Walton, now with God, visited a school in the Cape, somewhat suspect of subversive activities. On his return he declared, ‘There is absolutely nothing wrong with that school. Why! They entertained me with milk tart!’

This, explained the author, was the significance of milk tart, which he describes as more than a pastry. ‘It is a gesture, like the breaking of bread or the offering of salt in other times and places. When judges go to circuit or Important Persons open bazaars, they must be served milk tart. To fail to do so would be a social solecism if not an actual affront.’

Rachel Botes, a woman who knows her food, knows best how to make it and knows how to write about it.

Another quotation that appeals was that of Charlene, Princess of Monaco, who announces in You Magazine, “I want to take milk tart and mealiepap to the rest of the world.”

Botes also reports that milk tart was often served during the Mbeki presidency, but she reminds us that he certainly was not the only South African head of state to do so. The Rand Daily Mail of 6 January 1975 announced that “melktert and eclairs for tea…” were served at formal talks between Prime Minister John Vorster and Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Callaghan.

Milk tart was also a conciliatory symbol when former President Nelson Mandela went to the Afrikaner enclave of Orania in August 1995 to visit Mrs Betsie Verwoerd.

She notes that as indicated by philosopher Martin Versveld, it is evident that the cuisines of the world came together at the tip of Africa. In most cases, she suggests, it was not a willing or voluntary convergence and therefor the process to reach the fusion of these cuisines must have been troublesome.

It is apparent to her from many of the recipes discussed in her dissertation that custard tarts were introduced and adopted in the early colonial era by the people doing the cooking, either on their own or under instruction. It is also clear from the recipes she investigated (and these are all included) that a basic milk tart recipe evolved over time, but that each baker had her own secret milk tart success, be it in method, the pastry, the preparation of the filling or its flavouring.

She highlights that the role and influence of all the women from diverse cultures is undeniable in this process and most often not acknowledged. Most importantly, she adds, considering the milk tart as an artefact, it becomes clear that the archive was not only silent about women in history, but also about their day-to-day activities – whether it was baking a milk tart or recording a recipe for the family collection.

The original Rachel Botes.

It’s a tough one to capture everything of interest in a column like this, but being a fly on the wall during these studies, I always knew that Rachel Botes could publish the definitive milk tart book once her studies were completed.

Here’s holding thumbs that it will see the light of day!

And some examples from the earliest, then earliest local and then a local favourite:

“Tyropatinam” (Milk and egg sweet)

Origin:    Roman, 1st-3rd century CE

Estimate the amount of milk necessary for this dish and sweeten it with honey to taste; to a pint of fluid take 5 eggs; for half a pint. Dissolve 3 eggs in milk and beat well to incorporate thoroughly, strain through a colander into an earthen dish and cook on a slow fire [in hot water bath oven]. When congealed sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Apicius, 2009, De Re Coquinaria, translated and edited by J.D. Vehling and published digitally as Project Guttenberg’s Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome, E-book 29728, Recipe 301, no page no. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/, access: March 2020.

The earliest local milk tart recipe found for this study was in a handwritten manuscript identified as Keuke boek van mijn De Weduwe Blanckenberg gebore Zeeman Den 15 October 1819 (Kitchen book of mine, the widow Blanckenberg born Zeeman The 15[th] October 1819)

Recipe 49 is for a Room taart (Cream tart)[2] that is made with eggs and sweet cream or good milk. A little flour is added to stiffen the mixture. It is left to cool before the mixture is poured into a tart base and baked until cooked. It is finally sprinkled with sugar. This recipe is similar to that of a milk tart, except for the fact that no butter is added to the filling and it is not flavoured in any other way. Recipe 75, for Melk taart (Milk tart), is briefer and makes no reference to the method, crust or flavourings. It simply reads “6 eyeren, 2 lepels meel en een bottelmelk” (6 eggs, 2 spoons of flour and a bottle milk).

And then perhaps to bake …and one of the Botes favourites

The Zola Milk Tart

Crust:

Origin:    South Africa, 2017

60 g butter, at room temperature

¼ cup (50g) castor sugar

1 egg

1 cup (140g) cake flour

1 tsp (5ml) baking powder

A pinch of salt

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180° Celsius. Grease a 23 cm tart tin.
  2. Cream the butter and castor sugar together.
  3. Add the egg and stir to combine.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix into a stiff dough.
  5. Press the dough onto the base and sides of the tart tin.
  6. Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.
  7. Blind bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy.

Filling:

2 ¼ cups (565ml) milk

1 cinnamon stick

1 egg

½ cup (100g) sugar

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp (20ml) cake flour

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp (20ml) corn flour

1 tsp (5ml) vanilla essence

20 g butter

1 tsp (5ml) ground cinnamon

  1. In a saucepan set over moderate heat, add the milk and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Remove the cinnamon stick.
  2. Whisk together the egg, sugar, flour, corn flour, and vanilla essence
  3. While whisking continuously, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture.
  4. Return the mixture to the saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk until the mixture has thickened.
  5. Add the butter and stir through.
  6. Pour the filling into the prepared pastry crust.
  7. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
  8. Allow to cool completely before refrigerating.

M. Loewenstein, ‘The Zola Milk Tart’, Woman and Home Magazine, 24 February 2017, pp. 3-4. https://www.womanandhomemagazine.co.za/recipes/zola-milk-tart, access: October 2020.


 

 

CAPITAL CRAFT’S FOUR MUSKETEERS PLANT SOME HOPS TO COME UP WITH THEIR OWN PALE ALE

DIANE DE BEER

Pictures: Hennie Fisher and supplied

Devil’s Peak Brewery’s Wouter Rothman writes:
The Capital Craft team had a dream,
To one day brew beer together as a team.
In 2014 a little hop made its way from George to P-Town,
Wishing to one day be in a glass and hearing people say: “Down”!
7 years later that dream came true,
After a journey whereby a couple of gentlemen got on a plane, and to Cape Town they flew.
In quite a dodgy looking suitcase these amazing African Queen hops travelled,
Other people at the airport looked at us and they were quite bedazzled.
Brewer JC Steyn at Devil’s Peak Brewery had one look at the hops,
And he said, these hops are mighty fine, yes they are tops!
The brewing process of this amazing pale ale started,
We celebrated the occasion in Cape Town that evening, and the next day it felt as if we were darted…
The Hop On Hop Off was kegged and transported from Devil’s Peak Brewery to Capital Craft in P-town,
And these hops dream will tonight come true, after hearing: “DOWN”!
Tonight beers will be had, and more friendships will be formed,
All because of Capital Craft Hop On Hop Off the Pale Ale that was born!

It’s always been about the narrative for the Capital Craft gang of four as they move from one venture to the next, some big, some small and others just a whole lot of fun for the boys (brothers Henk and Willie van der Schyf, Johan Auriacombe and Niel Groenewald) and their customers.

It was all about brewing their own beer  ̶  something they were at first determined not to do, because Capital Craft was aimed at supporting independent craft beer brewers across the country, explained MC Auriacombe, one of the many delights of the night.

But they couldn’t resist. Once they had secured some plants from George, the heart of hops planting in South Africa, they decided to start their very own green gardens at their Capital Craft home in (aptly named) Greenlyn in Pretoria.

Once that was up and running, they aimed for a collaboration with Cape Town’s Devil’s Peak Brewery, which would prepare their limited edition Pale Ale dubbed Hop On Hop Off.

It is described as a “lovely array of fruit dominating hop aromas ranging from citrus to tropical fruits with a mild malt backbone”, and while I am no beer connoisseur, I can attest to something really refreshing  ̶  even for a non-beer drinker, I could go for a second round.

From the green gardens of the beer legends of Pretoria, to the heart of the beer masters of Cape Town: Capital Craft in collaboration with Devil’s Peak Brewery made the perfect team.

According to the brewers, hops are primarily used in the beer brewing process as a bittering, flavouring and stability agent, to which, in addition to bitterness, they impart floral, fruity, or citrus flavours and aromas.

But to begin at the genesis of this adventure. It really started when Groenewald (from Capital Craft) paid a visit to some hop farms in George, returning home with a sample of the African Queen hops. These are not supposed to grow in Pretoria, but after years and years of trying at, the hops they say, in florally terms, “finally took flame and grew into a lush forest surrounding their outside deck”  ̶  hence the picture.

Capital Craft Hops

After harvesting, the Pretoria team dried the hops and packaged them into a very suspicious-looking parcel for the trip to Cape Town, where they went straight to the brewery to start brewing their very own beer. Head brewer at Devil’s Peak JC Steyn was very happy with their samples and decided to use a base IPA and whole cone dry-hopped it with their hops (and hopefully beer afficionados will know what I’m talking about here), and thus Hop On Hop Off Pale Ale was born.

If you want to try it and need some fun food to have with it, make sure to talk to the manager, PJ Waugh, for some suggestions.

On the night, he made fabulous suggestions for our table of four and we shared the following: a helping of meat candy, which is BBQ inspired brisket burnt ends served with a ranch-type sauce (from the US) that was interesting; cheesy fried sticks  ̶  two panko-crusted mozarella wedges deep fried with Parmesan shavings, which was good after we added some salt; two hamburgers, including the Oklahoma Big M** burger with beef patty smashed and grilled with white onions with melted cheddar topped with Oklahoma inspired pickle and onion relish and the extremely hot Nashville chicken burger which was a great share between four, not sure I would have managed on my own. Their burgers are really good with buns baked on the premises, always a requirement!

We also had BBQ’d chicken wings, and to break the deep fry even if the alcohol helps, a lovely Poke bowl with black rice as a crunchy base and the salmon sashimi as our protein. I might opt for the falafel balls next time.

And as if all of that (even shared between four) wasn’t enough, we had to dip into their always retro-inspired desserts and couldn’t resist the strawberry cheesecake waffle topped by a delicious cappuccino.

This has always been a great hangout with friends. The ambience, the fun of the menu, the variety of beers, gin, wine and so much more…

And always a huge smile that comes with service.

From planting a simple seed to collaborating on a fantastic beer and ultimately entrenching dreams and friendships … One hop at a time!” noted the man who loves playing with words, Devil’s Peak brewery’s Wouter Rothman.

And concluding on the night, Auriacombe paid homage to their hopes and dreams: “It’s all about the little hops and the little shop that could…

They have made 700 Liters of Hop On Hop Off Pale Ale was made, and is available at Capital Craft. Go and hang…

Shop No. 20
Greenlyn Village Centre
Cnr Thomas Edison & 12th Street East
Menlo Park, Pretoria

Trading hours: Monday to Thursdays 10.30 to 10pm; Fridays and Saturdays 10.30 am to 10.30pm and Sundays 10.30am to 7.30pm

THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION IS A STORY WITH A PERSISTENT BEATING HEART

DIANE DE BEER

Mary Twala captures the anguish of the widow Mantao who is shattered by the impending loss of her ancestral land.

THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION

DIRECTOR, WRITER and EDITOR: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

CAST: Mary Twala, Jerry Mofokeng, Makhaola Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng and many from the community

MUSIC: Yu Miyashita

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre de Villiers

The title of a Lesotho film opening on circuit today (May 21), This is not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection is enough to tweak your interest.

But there’s so much more. Not only is it the first film from Lesotho, made by Mosotho filmmaker, to ever be showcased internationally, it has also set director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese apart as a new African voice to take seriously.

It all started when the self-taught filmmaker and visual artist from Lesotho had his essay film Mother I am Suffocating selected for Final Cut in Venice in 2018, where it won six awards. It went on to premiere at the Berlinale in 2019.

He was then one of three filmmakers selected for Biennale College – Cinema with This Is Not A Burial It’s A Resurrection, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year where it won the Jury Award for Visionary Filmmaking

Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese

It won a further 26 awards, including eight Best Film Awards and three Best Director awards and Mosese is an alumnus of the Berlinale Talents, Focus Features Africa First, Realness African Screenwriting Residency and Cinefondation’s L’Atelier.

That’s quite a mouthful but once you experience this his debut film, it will all become clear. What we have here is a new cinematic star  in the making – and I’m not exaggerating.

Working with a story that emerged while he was walking (one of his favourite pastimes), it was turned into a flawless script with a powerful authentic voice.

And  this is where the power lies. For too long, these kinds of stories have been told by people distanced from the communities they’re exploring and it shows. But for Mosese, this is a story that impacted him as a young child when he suffered forced removals..

Set in the majestic  mountains of Lesotho, it is the story of an ageing widow, Mantao (Mary Twala Mhlongo) who is grieving the loss of her son. Because of her sorrow she is more determined than ever to be buried with the rest of her family. But her dreams are shattered when she discovers the village and its burial grounds will be forcibly resettled to make way for a dam.

There are many different things that impact this particular film. Like with Nomadland, which has just won the Oscar for Best Film, only a handful of characters are played by professional actors. The rest of the cast is made up of real villagers – and it adds to the texture of the film. You can’t buy that kind of weight in experience. They have actually lived the story they’re  trying to share – or something close enough.

The actors themselves were guided to let go of any affectations to keep it as natural as possible, even though I’m not sure it would have been much of an ask from the likes of Twala (who has since the filming sadly passed away) and Jerry Mofokeng, another brilliant piece of casting in the role of the narrator.

The director who with this effort achieved the status of a “notable new voice in African cinema” internationally, explained during a press  conference that because he is not a trained filmmaker he doesn’t work within a basic set of rules. He tells the story in almost organic fashion, filming certain moments which only become clear to him in the editing process. And there’s not always a reason, it’s just something he feels works in a particular way.

Mosese says he came onto set as a novice. “I allowed myself to dream and not filter anything. I have come to understand that ideas have a life of their own, all I have to do is to free them from myself. Technique and language are things to be used but not necessarily embraced. As far as the camera and composition, Pierre de Villiers has a very particular way of seeing light. I called him ‘the god of the sun’. I also trusted him with the choice of camera, which was the Sony Venice. It served us best in low light conditions.”

And it is this individual interpretation of a story that is his own voice and experience, that works so well. It is a slow story that unfolds in a way that draws you into the emotional heft of what is happening to an old woman who has nothing but her ancestral home and burial ground, where she hopes to find lasting peace, to hold onto.

Finally, stories are being told by those who understand the emotional baggage and the relentlessness of people’s existence. It is this new emergence of voices that enriches the landscape of what is happening on our stages and screens. It is phenomenal and about time.

This is the full package. Add to the story, the dramatic Lesotho backdrop, the fact that you never really get to meet the perpetrators  ̶  simply those who are fighting for their personal dreams and what is rightfully theirs. There’s the photography with the director allowing his cinematographer to do what he knows best. As well as the innovative, original soundtrack which is like another voice, complemented by the singing of the community which cuts deep.

It’s a slow walk, a tone poem, a life of a community, which is simply being ignored by decisions which trample all over their dignity with no consequences to those who are in charge. It is the single-mindedness of a  woman who decides to do what’s right without following the instructions that come from up high that is so important to witness.

The call to join her family is a strong one, the right one and something she cannot ignore. This community has never had much but they had their village in a landscape that for generations has been home. Now they are being told to leave it all behind because their lives are insignificant. But for the elderly Mantoa, it is enough. Hence the title!

I suspect this is a film that will open doors not only to this director but also other emerging storytellers from Southern Africa

FLAIR AND PLAYFULNESS CREATE CUISINE PERFECTION TO CELEBRATE JAPANESE CULTURE

PICTURES: HENNIE FISHER

When the Japanese Ambassador invites you to lunch and there’s no specific directive, you pay attention. DIANE DE BEER gives you some table talk:

Perfectly placed Japanese sweetness.

As my dealing with the Japanese have been mainly about their beautiful country, where I lost a piece of my heart, and their magnificent cuisine, which I still know very little about but am learning step by step, I was excited.

Instinct told me I should take along my chef friend Hennie Fisher, who shares my obsession with all things food and Japanese – and he takes fantastic pictures.

I was right, and delighted when Ambassador Norio Maruyama received us and we discovered we were the only guests on the day. That meant personal attention and  ̶  we suspected  ̶  a spectacular meal.

We had no idea. I hadn’t met the ambassador before so I didn’t know that he had a specific interest in food, and is also a marvellous storyteller. He told us that he had only arrived a year before Covid and when the pandemic hit these shores, he had to come up with innovative plans.

Dining companions Hennie Fisher, Ambassador Norio Maruyama and Diane de Beer.

He is in the fortunate position of having a fantastic chef, and his wife as his assistant, in his employ. When he was leaving for South Africa, a friend of his suggested he check out a young chef who was in the process of opening his own restaurant in Tokyo. Maruyama persuaded Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi to accompany him to South Africa, and after a few hours in the ambassador’s company, I know his powers of persuasion are impressive.

What he decided was instead of trying to host large functions in these hectic times, he would invite small parties to dine at his home in Waterkloof. He happens to have magnificent views and of course, the secret ingredient, a chef and his partner who are willing and able to play. How clever of him to allow these young ones to experiment with their country’s cuisine with such spectacular results.

Cold brewed green tea.

Maruyama explains that because of their relatively new emperor (since 2019), the current theme of the country is beautiful harmony. And as ambassadors do, he has decided with these meals to incorporate it in a way that honours both Japan and South Africa – hence the harmony between the different cuisines.

What that means is that while there is a strong Japanese influence and theme running through the menu, it is combined with food flavours and dishes we’re familiar with. This was a tasting menu with the added flourish of a green tea pairing. A silky smooth Sake, and a couple of South African wines, also with a particular story, were included.

Even my wine connoisseur had not hear of the Stark-Condé winery and the first wine offered, Round Mountain (a sauvignon blanc) is actually the translation of Ambassador Maruyama’s surname. “The owner’s grandmother was Japanese and the wine was named in honour of her surname!”. This was followed by their rich cabarnet sauvignon, which was as impressive, but the focus of the day was the green teas, which were all cold brewed, a method which originated in Japan.

Just like the superior sake we were served as an aperitif, we have all had our own versions of green tea, but nothing to compare with what the Japanese themselves serve you. Each one is carefully selected to go with each particular tasting. It added to the overall taste as well as intrigue of the masterful menu.

I can’t think of many things I enjoy more than being served the food of a particular country by someone who is a specialist and then to have an expert explain everything you’re savouring from beginning to end. That’s soul food for me and the best way to get to know a particular country’s cuisine!

They started us off with something they named One Bite Happiness of which there were two sample tastes. The first was the Reiwa Monaka, a rice wafer that appears cheekily more like a French macaron filled with duck rillettes and topped with a Japanese spice called kuroschichimi. Paired with a one-bite Kobucha, a green tea beverage using dried seaweed and coagulated with a seaweed-based ingredient. In different fashion, both captured the essence of Japan in the fine detail and the delicate taste.

This was followed by something more familiar, or so we thought, but the Salmon mi-cuit, Yuzu (Japanese citrus best described as tart and fragrant) flavoured, is an extremely slow- and low-cooked salmon. It was melt-in-the-mouth.

This was followed by a green salad with Hoozuki  ̶  Cape gooseberrie, which the ambassador explained, are regarded as a fruit in South Africa, and a vegetable back home in Japan. The compromise in the salad was perfect and pretty.

The meat of choice was a beef fillet with Kyoto miso (soy bean paste) with the meat thoroughly cooked first, then roasted topped with miso and roasted again together with leeks. Stone-milled sansho (a citrusy Japanese pepper) is sprinkled carefully as a final touch. It had a spectacularly robust Japanese flavour because of the flavouring.

To complete the main tasting, there was a Japanese-style pasta combined with fermented tuna and seasoned with Ume (Japanese plum), dried fish flakes and finished off with nori, all sparingly and subtly done and served in a spectacular dish. It’s all about the flavours, which make this Italian staple their own.

A Yamogi chiffon cake with Anko.

The sweet piece de resistance is a Yamogi (Japanese herb) chiffon cake accompanied by Anko (sweet bean paste). Light and airy as they are traditionally, yet in colour and taste, quite unique. The sensational tasting concluded as it started with two small bites in perfect harmony with a walnut mochi (tapioca) and a matcha coated cashew nut, so perfectly served as if offered to a fairy queen.

It was simply extraordinary and just the most exquisite meal to have in a mid-week breakaway lunch. And apart from the food, the plating and the presentation was  breathtaking.

Meeting the kitchen artists, dressed in kitchen couture perfectly suited for what I imagine a Japanese kitchen would need, was wonderful. We didn’t expect them to be quite so young, but in reflection, I thought the meal showcased exactly that.

The stylish couple Chef Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi

The thing about young creatives in any artistic endeavour is that they show respect for what has come before and they honour it, but they also play around to reinvent in a manner that shows their personality and reflects the times – and that’s what keeps us interested.

ARTISTIC FIREWORKS AS THREE COMMUNITY EMBROIDERY GROUPS SHOWCASE THEIR WORK AT THE ASSOCIATION OF ARTS IN TSHWANE

It’s a triple treat with three important community embroidery groups coming together for a phenomenal exhibition at Tshwane’s Association of Arts with the bonus of some traditional work, which had an influence on all the others. DIANE DE BEER embroiders on the show that will be running until May 29 :

MAPULA EMBROIDERIES: A Covid-19 panel by Dorah Hlongwane, Maria Phalatsi & Rossina Makhubela.

With Needle and Thread is the perfect name for this exciting and extraordinary exhibition where three community groups creating hand embroidered textiles from the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo as well as some solo women making traditional cloths from Northern Limpopo, are all brought together to showcase their work.

Included are the Keiskamma Art Project, (Hamburg, Eastern Cape), Kaross (Letsitele, Limpopo), Mapula Emrboideries (Winterveld, Gauteng) and as an added bonus some traditional Minceka by the Tsonga-Shangaan women in the far Northern Limpopo.

All three projects are established embroidery groups with works hanging in museums locally and abroad and they feature in many national and international publications on textile art. All three are highly regarded and can be seen as the most important community art projects in their field in this country.

The Kaross embroidery project produces beautiful and evocative quality African embroidery,  which are hand-crafted by women and men from VaTsonga and Northern Sotho cultural backgrounds since its inception in 1989. Their impetus has always been sustainable development and employment and they strive to create a commercially viable product that will help sustain all their embroiderers and employees. 

Before the devastating effects of Covid-19 on International tourism, they provided an income to more than 1 400 embroiderers, mostly women.

Their skilled stitching and their affinity for unusual and artistic colour combinations combined with well-designed Kaross images, makes their work distinctive.

They create mainly tableware, homeware and wall art, and currently export worldwide.

www.kaross.co.za

www.karossfoundation.org

The Keiskamma Art Project is part of the greater Keiskamma Trust, a South African not-for-profit organization dedicated to the holistic care of the communities that live in the area. alongside the Keiskamma River in the Eastern Cape. The trust was founded in 2000 by artist and doctor, Carol Hofmeyr and today the Keiskamma Art Project, the flagship of the greater Trust, works to maintain its founder’s vision, providing vital livelihoods through dignified work, while communicating, through art, the reality of rural lives affected by both poverty and history. 

Their aim is to provide employment and to support the development of creative skills for predominantly women and young members of the community who are then empowered with entry into the economy.
The Art Project engages collaboratively with artists from around the world and supplies training in design and craft skills and nurtures skills in production, financial administration, and computing, useful for the running of the Art studio and its shop. 

They are especially well known and loved for large scale monumental artworks, from the Keiskamma Tapestry on permanent exhibition at the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town to the Keiskamma Altarpiece which has toured North America and England for two years, displayed in the most prestigious cathedrals, such as Washington and Southwark and their Keiskamma Guernica, a magnificent work can be seen in the UP Javett Art Centre.

But the anticipation for this current exhibition are the three large tapestries depicting key events in the life of Reverend Stephen Mzamane, the main character in A Sin of Omission (2019), the novel by Marguerite Poland, which has just been named as one of the books on the Sunday Times longlist for fiction 2021.

The novel is based on a true story and opens with Stephen (Malusi) Mzamane, a young Anglican priest, journeying to his mother’s rural home to inform her of his elder brother’s death. First educated at the Native College in Grahamstown, Stephen was sent to England in 1869 for training at the Missionary College in Canterbury. But on his return home, relegated to a dilapidated mission near Fort Beaufort, he had to confront not only the prejudices of a colonial society but the discrimination within the Church itself.

Seventeen artists from the Keiskamma Art Project were involved in the making of these works, in tribute to Poland, a long-time collaborator and close friend of the project. The themes of her literary works are felt intimately within the communities of the rural Eastern Cape where their Art Project is based.

The artists visited Nondyola, the missionary station to which Stephen was sent on his return from Canterbury, and the site of the Anglican Institution in Grahamstown, in order to understand more fully who Stephen was and what he experienced. Moved by his story, the artists chose scenes from his life to depict as tapestries.

Once you’ve seen the embroideries, you will want to read the book.

Mapula Embroideries celebrate their 30th anniversary this year. They assist over 150 women in developing artistic skills as they create unique embroidered works for sale. This income helps to feed and educate their children and improve their overall lives.

The Winterveld, where the women live and create, 70 kilometres northwest of Tshwane has a complex and troubled history because of political, social, economic and gender forces that have left the area under-developed and many residents unemployed, poor, and vulnerable. Their struggles and triumphs have been reflected in many of their embroideries over the years.

MAPULA EMBROIDERIES: Elizabeth Malete.

The project was initiated by the Pretoria Club of Soroptimist International in 1991. They have developed an intricate system involving design, production, and development of artistic skills. The project is now administered through the independent Mapula Embroidery Trust, a locally registered non-profit organization.

The Sisters of Mercywho live and run an education and skills training centrein the Winterveld, provide the embroiderers with the use of a workspace free of charge and have been involved with the project from the beginning.

They are internationally known for their depiction of historical events and social history through their embroideries. Their part of the exhibition will consist mainly of wall hangings with these themes. They include deeply personal images of the very real implications that Covid-19 has had on their lives and their society. 

MAPULA EMBROIDERIES: Elizabeth Mafamadi and Kelelo Maepa.

www.mapulaembroideries.co.za

Shangaan Minceka:

The traditional Tsonga /Shangaan Minceka are also being shown at this exhibition as they can be regarded as influencing some of the embroiderers of Kaross and Mapula Embroideries.  They are, for some of the embroiderers, their traditional inspiration.

A ncheka (singular)  (minceka, plural) –  is part of the traditional attire which is worn as a wrap that ties across the woman’s shoulders. It can be either a cloth, printed in bright colours, or a dark blue cloth with a printed black pattern, richly embroidered by incorporating beads, small mirrors, bells and safety pins. Hundreds of small brass safety pins are used to pin on the garment which then forms the patterns. The brass safety pins are referred to as the quick stich.

To see these authentic and increasingly rare cloths in real life is special.

As in so many instances across the country, Covid-19 has had a severe economic impact on each project. They’re hoping that the sales from this exhibition will help towards their sustainability but for viewers, it’s a fantastic opportunity to see the scope of the country’s community embroiderers – and that’s quite something.

The exhibition which opens this weekend runs until May 29 at the Association of Arts, 173 Mackie Street, New Muckleneuk.

Tel: 012 346 3100

Gallery Hours Tuesdays to Fridays: 9am to 5pm; Saturdays: 9am to 1pm

RESTAURATEUR GIOVANNI MAZZONE WILL BE REMEMBERED AS A GIANT OF A MAN WITH A GENTLE SOUL

DIANE DE BEER

Father and son Giovanni and Forti Mazzone

When Giovanni Mazzone passed away last week, it was with great sorrow that I received the sad news. But it also reminded me of the warmth and gentle smile of someone who very easily crept into your heart.

Paging through stories I had written through the years about the Mazzone father (Giovanni) and son (Forti) team, emphasizes the fact that any of their restaurants but especially Ritrovo (because my focus had been especially at that time), is as much about family and friends as it is about food.

Once you got to know these two very special men, you understood what their restaurants through the years meant to them. As Forti so poignantly wrote on social media the day of his dad’s death, Giovanni died like he lived – surrounded by his family.

That word is writ large in their world and it was always clear for everyone to see. One of my best invites was always to join the post-lunch meal in the deli-side of Ritrovo with the whole family and some staff gathered around the table.

It was a Giovanni institution which he explained was his solution when he realised he had to do something practical about cementing family life when his children were young.

This is what I wrote in the past: Visit the restaurant on any day in the early afternoon and the Mazzone clan and colleagues are gathered around a table enjoying their late lunch. Large bowls of pasta or some of their moreish pizzas are scattered on the table and in-between the patter, the diners are tucking in before they start preparing for the evening rush.

What started as a single restaurant (Giovanni’s brainchild) in Sunnyside a few decades ago has been turned into a small empire by an inspired son.

But that is only one of his legacies. Think of Giovanni the restaurateur and if you are led by your stomach you will remember that he is the bread specialist and to this day, it is his recipe that plays such a huge role in any of their restaurants or coffee bars.

That and of course the magnificent ice cream that was served by all the many BICCCS stores from here to Cape Town and in Franschhoek. And Forti is always very proud to point to his heritage. We were lucky enough to be close to his dad’s birth town in Naples while Forti and his family were doing their annual Italian trek.

He picked us up in Naples and took us to the quaint mountain village of Giovanni’s roots, Pietrastornina  and it was with great pride he introduced us to his dad’s family and showed off the region and the secret of his Italian flair.

It was a day filled with family, friends and the Mazzone warmth and bonhomie. And that started with Giovanni who in contrast with his flamboyant son, was quiet and always gentle with a twinkle in his eye. You could slip into a chair, he would bring a coffee and chat about his life and his world. But always he would make sure that you were content and had everything you needed. His was a quiet yet impactful presence.

Three generations with Forti, Giovanni and granddaughter Isabella Mazzone.

Right up to the end, Forti made sure he was kept busy where he knows what to do and how to be. Brooklyn Bridge’s BICCCS was specially created for his fabulous father and more often than not, that was where you would find his son during the day. These two were inseparable and like father like son, Forti was given the foundation to create what is there today. And rumours are swirling about new ventures!

Pretoria is a city that is known for its family restaurants and by that I mean there are quite a few of our most popular restaurants, which have established themselves because of the family running the establishment.

They love what they are doing, are usually on the premises and the standard has been established and maintained because of dedication and determination.

This is what it meant to those of us visiting the their premises. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Mazzone restaurants through the years.:

“It’s catching, this enthusiastic approach to life which is the ethos that runs through the restaurant. The staff has been empowered to take ownership and it shows from the moment you enter.

That is the secret Mazzone ingredient. It’s tough to invent or teach. You either have it or you don’t and you find it here in abundance. It’s what makes the Ritrovo (and now Forti’s Grill) ritual such a compulsive one.

It’s not just about serving good food in a gracious venue. It’s about the ambience and the attention that makes dining out at this Italian home-from-home such an embracing experience.”

And still Forti says it best: “I, who had the privilege of working with him for 35 years, only knows that he entered life a simple man. He left life calmly and with a simple beauty. But in between. He became an icon. But always part of the people. He served kings. Presidents. Ministers. Captains of industry. But always spoke to a humble sculler with the same respect and warm twinkle in his eyes. Pomposity never impressed him. He had a beautiful way with everyone and they gave it back in ladles. He was a soft touch for those in need. He could never say no. And his grandchildren adored him. And he adored them more.”

For those of us who knew him, the silver fox will be missed but his memory won’t fade. About that – with his gentle soul – he made sure.

A FEISTY PLAY FOR A FEISTY ACTRESS: CAMILLA WALDMAN DIRECTED BY MALCOLM PURKEY

The Market is celebrating its 45th year. This isn’t a time for the usual festivities associated with these kind of landmarks, but artistic director James Ngcobo has decided to be smart about his choices in honouring the iconic theatre in a way that pays tribute to both the people and the place. With that in mind, previous artistic director Malcolm Purkey and an actor who had close links with The Market in the past, Camilla Waldman, are presenting playwright Martin Sherman’s one-woman tour-de-force Rose (he is perhaps best remembered for Bent) until May 16. DIANE DE BEER spoke to the two artists:

The glorious Camilla Waldman in Rose

PICTURES: Suzy Bernstein

While both director Malcolm Purkey and actor Camilla Waldman had worked on solo productions many, many moons ago, they are thrilled to be engaging with a work so exciting, in a time when everyone is itching to get out there. For these two passionate storytellers, it’s what they love doing best.

Handed the play and the actor, Purkey is especially thrilled that both of these have come together in such an extraordinary fashion. “I have discovered that to work solo, you need an extremely strong script,” says Waldman and that’s exactly what she has been given with the extraordinary woman she is in  the process of portraying and getting to know inside out.

These two artists have never worked together on stage even though they have worked together, with Purkey an external examiner when she was still studying and then the Dean of Afda, when she was appointed lecturer.

Purkey describes Rose as a Jewish production, yet the woman of the title is anything but traditional. “She’s 86 years old, had three husbands and is involved with a much younger hippie lover. She explores black magic and tests Oriental religions amongst others by visiting a Buddhist retreat!”

But where he really lost his heart was in the script. “It’s excellent writing and we had a great time exploring Rose’s interior life,” he says.

Camilla Walman as Rose

The other thing that pleased him was the streak of Jewish comedy that runs through the piece. Rose didn’t have an easy life but she is forever playing with wit. “Both Camilla and I knew we could work with that.” And in these often troubling times, even when we work with issues, it would be good to laugh along the way.

Rose lived a full if sometimes exhausting life and the story told here is described as both tragic and brilliant. And because of her 86 years, most of what she experienced covers pretty much the highlights of the past century.

That was also one of the reasons they decided not to cut the text but rather present it with an interval. “It’s a very delicate text,” says Purkey. It was difficult to select any cuts which is an indication of the writing. “We decided to keep it largely intact,” says Waldman who realises this will be quite a marathon session for performer and audience.

But can anyone who loves theatre think of anything more exciting than experiencing live theatre again? Every once in a while something pops out but we’re nowhere back to where we were early in 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning to emerge and we didn’t yet have any clue of the extent of what we were about to experience.

If the play has a familiar ring to it, Annabel Linder performed in the acclaimed play almost 20 years ago and Waldman, who is a huge fan of Linder and has worked with her a few times in the past, was hoping to have a conversation with her. “But time pressure didn’t allow for any of that,” she wails – and that’s usually what happens in these cramped rehearsal times where actors and their directors simply have to press on at breakneck speed. And probably now even more than before.

Both of them are old hands at this game and know how to work at achieving the magic. That’s what makes this such an exciting venture. In the past, Waldman was one of those actors who could slip into different roles with consummate ease. And in the pictures of Rose (being so much older) she is hardly recognisable. Purkey is back in his old playground and happy to be there, even allowing for all the restraints and deadlines.

With this rich and evocative script, and their double dose of experience, Purkey and Waldman make a formidable team. Waldman also knows that this is a character that will keep growing. “It’s a wonderful chance to honour the beautiful writing,” she elaborates. She knows she has still has a lot of work to do and accepts that she will birth it during the run and just keep growing. It’s that kind of text.

Being who she is, she will give it every fibre of her being to get it right! If you’re more familiar with her work on television, do yourself a favour and witness this remarkable actress on stage. We haven’t seen enough of her in recent years while the  younger generation have benefitted from her teaching and coaching.

But personally I believe on stage is where the sparks fly – for both actor and director.

Bookings:

Season:                                                Friday 23 April – 16 May 2021

Venue:                                                 Barney Simon Theatre

Performance times:                             Tuesday – Saturday @19h00 and Sunday @15h15

Ticket prices:   Tuesday – Thursday R90.00 Friday – Saturday R150.00 and Sunday R130.00

ACTOR SANDRA PRINSLOO CAPTURES THE FRAILTY OF OLD AGE IN ELSA JOUBERT’S MEMOIR SPERTYD

DIANE DE BEER

Pictures: Robert A Hamblin

SPERTYD

Sandra Prinsloo as Elsa Joubert in Spertyd
TEXT ADAPTATION/DIRECTING: Philip Rademeyer
ACTOR: Sandra Prinsloo
PRODUCERS: Margit Meyer-Rödenbeck and Alexa Strachan
DATES and times: Tonight 8pm; Thursday April 22 8pm; Friday April 23 8pm;
Saturday April 24 3pm and 8pm; Sunday April 25 2pm
VENUE: Atterbury Theatre
BOOKINGS: https://seatme.co.za/tc-events/spertyd-met-sandra-prinsloo/

AGEING is not for sissies … and that was writer Elsa Joubert’s big battle as she seemed to hurtle towards yet another of those big numbers so revered –  not by but seemingly of the elderly.

There’s also a glaring difference in the ageing of those between 60 and 80 and those above 80, she argues, as her children get busy planning her 90th birthday.

And she isn’t even sure she wants to participate in any celebrations!

It all began with the death of her husband Klaas, trying to adapt to a life without him, then her choice to move to an old-age home with losses of many different kinds looming large.

It starts with a family home swapped for a single room, the loss of mobility and, perhaps more than anything, the loss of independence as your world becomes smaller by the day.

Words and writing are her closest friends.

She is in mourning for her life, the one that is gone, that which is disappearing and she wants to hold onto. She has to work hard at letting go and finding a new source of inspiration. Writing and reading remain her close friends and are probably what pulls her through until she can see the light.

Adapting a book of 200 pages plus and capturing the essence in a script of 20 pages is tricky but director/writer Rademeyer has cleverly focussed on what he felt would best get to the heart of what Joubert was trying to say.

It has to do with acceptance and focussing on the small miracles that become lost in a world where everyone is rushing past. Ageing halts you in your tracks. It gives you time to breathe, to take in the world around you. It could be seen as a life gone by and also a future that might deprive you of the freedoms of the past – yet open up a new world where life slows down and gives you the chance to behold and to cherish.

This isn’t an easy text to play, with Joubert finding it especially tough to adapt and to accept the hand she has been dealt. Who would have known that this woman of such accomplishments (Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena for example) would suffer such anxiety in old age – a time when one could possibly savour everything you have achieved.

But Prinsloo knows how to tell this story. By the time she and Rademeyer stepped into the rehearsal space, they had both spent time refining the text in different ways and they knew where they were headed and what they hoped to achieve.

Philip Rademeyer in repetition. Picture Stephanie Gericke

It’s the peaks and troughs that she navigates so seamlessly as she takes you to a world either you yourself – or your parents – might be approaching. And as Rademeyer, still a young man, says, the story brings empathy for something all of us will experience in some form.

It is through the movement, her laughter, her initial obstinacy which grows to acceptance that the story is given life. And then you can savour Joubert’s words, her struggle to find solace and finally her wonderment as she moves closer to the meaning of especially that which has become her life.

Prinsloo is a master at getting under the skin of a character. And with this not her first woman navigating old age, she had to find the uniqueness of the writer’s voice, her way of coming to terms with a life she feels so diminished.

And finally, as Joubert understands so miraculously, you have to find meaning for yourself and it isn’t in the ageing process. But if you look, listen and open your heart, it’s there. There’s something about the frailty we have as babies when we first arrive in this world, which returns in all its tenderness at the end of our lives.

It’s a quiet production in which the story and how it is told is what overwhelms you. And again Prinsloo as always has the final word. She tells it with heartfelt honesty and finally a gracefulness that embraces Joubert’s world and the riches it still has to offer.

SOLO QUEEN SANDRA PRINSLOO TEAMS UP WITH DIRECTOR PHILIP RADEMEYER FOR SPERTYD

Sandra Prinsloo has this past decade proved her weight in gold as someone who easily slips into a solo show, packs a punch because she knows how to pick them and pulls in the audiences because of her track record. Her latest production is based on the Elsa Joubert memoir Spertyd (Cul-De-Sac) which deals with the author’s aversion to ageing which will be performed at Pretoria’s Atterbury Theatre from April 20 to 25. DIANE DE BEER speaks to Philip Rademeyer who adapted the book as well as directed the play:

In rehearsal with director Philip Rademeyer and actress Sandra Prinsloo

After director/playwright Philip Rademeyer had read Elsa Joubert’s book, he knew he wanted to both adapt and direct the play.

While his parents aren’t old, they are ageing and just on the first reading he already had more insight, he says about Joubert’s memoir Spertyd (Cul de Sac) which deals with her personal ageing process.

But he also relished the opportunity at a second chance to direct the stunning Sandra Prinsloo, who had previously been part of the Soebatsfontein cast. This solo production would give him the opportunity again to work with someone whose art and work ethic he admired.

“I was quite intimidated the first time round,” he explains, but in the meantime he had experienced in full force Prinsloo’s humanity – a rare human being. He knew this was going to be a learning experience with rich rewards. “She has such a wealth of experience,” he notes and that doesn’t even take into account her abundant talent.

Take-out time: Margit Meyer-Rödenbeck, Sandra Prinsloo and Philip Rademeyer.

Because of lockdown, he was given the time to spend on the script as well as the collaboration of Prinsloo and producers Alexa Strachan and Margit Meyer-Rödenbeck. It doesn’t get  much better than that.

The problems started with an adaptation that meant stripping a memoir of 200 pages into a script of 20. “We decided early on that the focus would be as the author herself described it, “a journey through the continent of ageing”.

He had the luxury of reworking one draft after the next until everybody was satisfied or as close as they could achieve.

It also meant that by the time he and Prinsloo stepped into the rehearsal room they had really worked through the text over and over again. “We were already on the same page,” he says. And they had by that time determined that she wasn’t going to try to replicate Elsa Joubert.

Sandra Prinsloo as Elsa Joubert in Spertyd. Picture Robert A Hamblin

“We worked with the woman we found in the text”, as well as trying to differentiate this latest character from another ageing character Prinsloo had previously portrayed in Die Naaimasjien.

What appealed to Rademeyer about the memoir was Joubert’s directness about and dislike of ageing. “I don’t think we should be in denial,” he says. “I liked that she was so honest about her limitations.” And it was this loss the author experienced in a world that seemed to become painfully small and isolated from what she had experienced in an earlier life that they hoped to capture.

From a directing vantage, Rademeyer is all about giving the performer the best advantage to tell their story. The first challenge was the space and the 95-year-old Joubert whom Prinsloo had to inhabit.

Spertyd with Sandra. Picture Robert A Hamblin

Prinsloo is a young 70-ish, so both her movement and youthfulness had to be curtailed. “I couldn’t do quick scene changes with her running across the room,” says the director.

He was also aware that his insecurities probably hampered their first encounter.

This time round he could wallow in their personal engagement as well as marvelling at her work process. “She doesn’t take anything for granted,” he says, and realised that those who sustain their careers for this length of time achieve that longevity with hard work. “It’s all about her talent and the person she is.”

In the end, what they hoped to achieve was to heighten the state of captivity the writer felt as her life, because of many different factors, seemed to diminish – slowly but surely.

It is a reminder of the Churchill quote that intially the world was his stage. This changed to his country, then his home, his room and finally his bed.

And that was the image Rademeyer held onto when he was imagining both the physical and mental picture of Joubert’s state of mind about ageing. “We created this single room to suggest her world inside – and that of the outside world.”

Looking back at the process and the experience, Rademeyer believes that he feels much more caring about older people. When you’re young, you’re irritated by the slow speed of ageing people, he explained. But now he has a much gentler eye. “We’re all on our way there,” he says with much more understanding.

That is what he hopes this play will do for both young and old – remind them to be mindful both of what was and what will be. “It brings you up close to your own mortality,” he says. And it’s a reminder of how to treat older people.

“You should treat them as you would like to be respected when you get there,” he concludes.

Looking ahead, he is mindful of the time just past and where we find ourselves right now. 2020 wasn’t a bad year because he had both the Spertyd script and production. There was also less awareness of the damage to come due to Covid-19.

Philip Rademeyer in repetition. Picture Stephanie Gericke

But now he is tired of the isolation, battles with the loss and loneliness of creativity and hopes to find inspiration in the future. But as a creative, he knows things will change and he is determined to wow audiences with large casts and big issues.

It’s time to grapple with the problems of our time, he believes. And he knows the audiences are there to support their work.

Here’s holding thumbs.

In the meantime, Spertyd will be playing at the Atterbury Theatre from April 20 to 25 and move to the Suidoosterfees in Cape Town from April 29.

Hopefully once the festival circuit is up and running again, Spertyd will travel far and wide and like the book that was translated as Cul-De-Sac, the play might also eventually be translated to reach a wider audience.

WITH HIS LATEST EXHIBITION WORD/WOES, WILLEM BOSHOFF GETS THE WORLD READING

It’s glorious to know that one of our most exciting and enchanting artists Willem Boshoff is currently exhibiting in the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria. DIANE DE BEER tells more:

No better introduction of Willem Boshoff possible!

When genius artist/wordsmith Willem Boshoff appointed Hélène Smuts as his curator a few years back, his instincts were as savvy as his art.

Bless the Javett Centre that in these tough times they had one of the few art exhibition openings worthy of a creator of Willem Boshoff’s calibre.

And with the wealth of experience of the curator and artist combined, they have stretched this one to early January 2022, so that South Africans will have more than enough time to experience both the earlier and latest work of one of our most exciting artists. Also keep an eye out for all the events, workshops, launching of an extensive catalogue, druid walks by Boshoff, all of which will be announced and will be huge fun to engage in.

Willem Boshoff’s BLUE close-up of making process

The exhibition (as the press release states so succinctly) Word Woes is a retrospective of works spanning the duration of  Boshoff’s artistic practice. The exhibition title, taken from a signature work by Boshoff, is understood in English and in Afrikaans. In either language the two words look identical, but their meanings differ sharply. Read in English, the title WORD WOES bemoans difficult issues around words and language. Read in Afrikaans, the same words liberate, prompting us to let go and be wild.

Detail of Word Woes etching (2014)

And so it goes with Boshoff’s art. It is as awe-inspiring as it is accessible, and huge fun as the artist works with words in a way that is genius while those who look, first have fun with the vocabulary and then get lost in the artwork and the way the artist produces something so spectacular. His work is always detailed and can take the viewer exploring indefinitely.

He has already moved on, he says. Busy with approximately 30 works currently, he had a breakthrough that morning (of the opening) and was itching to get back to test his solution – something that will probably brilliantly bewitch viewers in the future.

Boshoff’s concern according to the curator and entrenched in his work is often with the context in which we receive language and the power it yields to exclude or to privilege. He uses unconventional tactics, she points out, to challenge the use of language as an instrument of cultural identity or exclusion. He describes all his works, whether sculptural or graphic, as conceptual books. That’s why it needs time to view as you not only look at the work but also read the different “books”.

City Book

As art writer/critic Dr Johan Myburg, the opening speaker noted: “Although meaning (what does it mean?) is an important aspect of Willem Boshoff’s art – in order to get the meaning, to get the hang of the words, requires a performative input from the viewer (the viewer has to change his or her position: either to under+stand or to vêr-staan or to get up close to (I am thinking of Abamfusa Lawula)) – the presence of the artwork – from the earliest aluminium Cube to the recent Blue, made from wood, cut paper and glue – has the ability to communicate immediately. In the words of the poet TS Eliot: ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’.

It is the way he states his case – not with the obvious but in a way that is often playful yet deadly serious in message.

Myburg also explains that WORD WOES/WORD WOES (and a preamble to this current exhibition as are many other works), the mural made in Richmond in 2018, has been dedicated to a fellow artist, the writer Karel Schoeman – known for his novels (translated) such as Promised Land, Another Country and This Life.  He died the year before in 2017.

In front of the word wizardry of artist Willem Boshoff at MAP

The similarities between these giants are remarkable, says Myburg in his speech. “Both Boshoff and Schoeman are writing with stones and slabs of granite, both are writing with thorns and sand.  Both are employing words searching for meaning, for double meanings, for hidden meanings, for meaning lost in translation. Both are employing woeful words to lament the lack of meaning. Above all, both require to know: What is the meaning of it all.”

And that, he says, is what Hélène Smuts as creator, translator of meaning, states so clearly with this remarkable retrospective exhibition.

“The ability to marvel – and not to know for sure.

The ability to doubt woes – without any one firm belief.

The ability to question, om te bly torring, to unravel, om te ontrafel.

Die vermoë om te speel, om te goël, om woes met woorde om te gaan. (The ability to play, to cast a spell, to work fiercely with words.)





And then concludes: There is only one Willem Boshoff.”

 And it takes one poet to recognise and explain another.

Smuts elaborates that the wanderings of Word Woes started in 2019 when a smaller version of the current exhibition was curated for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) in the UK by Smuts and Louise Lohr (YSP) to introduce the spectacular artist after he had a work included in the YSP’s permanent collection.

As with this current exhibition, the Claire and Edoardo Villa Trust facilitated the Yorkshire exhibition after Boshoff had received the trust’s award in 2018. And with this current one,also co-sponsored with the Matthias and Gervanne Leridon Collection.

Smuts explains that she has expanded the curatorial focus “to a locking and unlocking of knowledge and meaning through the artist’s life-long exploration of language”.                          .

A supporting educational and public programme will offer guided tours, school/student workshops, printed educational resources and weekend events with invited guests.​ Watch this space. It will be worth watching out for walkabouts with the artist talking about his work. He is as much an artist when he talks.

Willem Boshoff Druid Walk Main Reef road (2010)

Venue: The Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria, 23 Lynnwood Road, Hatfield, Pretoria. https://javettup.art/contact for more detail. Open daily from 10 am to 5pm and they have a number of free entrance days throughout the year  listed.

Guided tours on the hour from 1pm to 4pm.

To book for tours email: bookings@javettup.art