THE EXTRAORDINARY POWER OF PERFORMANCE AND LIVE THEATRE IS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED AT THE REVIVAL IN 2022 OF THE LIVE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT

When you are sitting in contemplation at the end of a year, your head packed full of memories of live festivals for the first time in 24 months, you realise the excitement, exuberance and energy live theatre brings to both performers and audiences. There’s simply nothing that compares DIANE DE BEER discovers. Here are just a few of those magical moments…:

There were many performances that I will hold onto for a lifetime, some that linger, others that were a fun watch, and one performance in particular that just made me senselessly happy.

(Pictures of Die Moeder by Emma Wiehman and top far right, Nardus Engelbrecht)

It was also the play, the director, and the rest of the cast, (Dawid Minnaar, Ludwig Binge, Ashley de Lange) , but Sandra Prinsloo was the star of Die Moeder, which had its debut at the Woordfees. It held all the potential of being something special, but what this actor brought to the role was spectacular. If this is how she dances into the twilight of her career, buckle up.

Director Christiaan Olwagen has been away playing successfully in television and movies, but it’s always on stage that he has been most impressive for me. It feels as if it is a medium he understands and where he feels at home and his vision translates magnificently.

With that driving her and a magnificent script, it was up to Prinsloo to plumb the depths of an ageing woman who has lost all sense of herself as the world (and her family) seems to have discarded her. Or that’s how she perceives it to be.

Prinsloo slips under her character’s skin (and yours) and more in a performance that simply surpasses everything she has done before (and there were some great ones). But this was next level and for this gracious actor, a just reward for years and years of hard work.

We all knew she was one of the greats and then she went one better! We’re blessed to have her.

The other magic Saartjie Botha created, with live performances allowing yet another experience of Sylvaine Strike and Andrew Buckland’s Ferine and Ferasse, was the breathtaking Firefly. A production I can see over and over again, each time reliving the complete and overwhelming embrace of old-fashioned storytelling.

But let’s start  at the beginning. I have been to perhaps too many festivals in my time, but this was my first time at Cape Town’s Suidooster at the start of a new (and hopefully) live 2022 and I was surprised and impressed by Jana Hatting’s ingenuity. Some of the smaller festivals have tight budgets, audience complexities and artists who are all vying for a slice of the cake.

She introduced a brilliant mini season titled Voices/Stemme for which she invited seasoned and exciting younger talent to tell stories, short ones, and they hit all the right buttons. It’s good at a festival, where the menu is diverse, to have short interludes of dedicated excellence. And with performances by Chris van Niekerk, Devonecia Swartz, Buhle Ngaba and Elton Landrew, for example, with directors and writers like Amelda Brand, Wessel Pretorius, Dean Balie and Jemma Kahn for these 10-minute short pieces, it hit the sweet spot time and again. And the shows were all free … and packed.

Because of the Zap Zap Circus, also on the Artscape premises, they’re included as part of the festival and that’s another huge tick in the box. There’s nothing like a circus for the whole family and especially this one, where such amazing development work is being done, is worth promoting. It also meant that the venue was available for other shows.

It’s a great little festival with great vibes as it is all contained on the premises of Artscape. Watch out for this one with many hidden treasures including young talent showing off their best on many different platforms. They had some amazing jazz as well, with some literary excellence happening on the writing/authors side.

KKNK was back with a bang, a smaller and shorter festival, but one that packed a punch. Perhaps it was a case of old favourites back at their best, but with the long break, that’s exactly what we wanted. Marthinus Basson delivered a double whammy with a recharged Ek, Anna van Wyk and a play that crept up on me and is still at work, Terminaal 3, both with star casts and both lingering with obliterating impact.

For me it was also a renewed admiration of Frieda van den Heever, the director and compiler of Oerkluts Kwyt, a programme celebrating the poetry of Antjie Krog, and the performance brilliance of Antoinette Kellermann, both of whom turned 70. Van den Heever had previously created the perfect Die Poet Wie’s Hy with Dean Balie.

She has a wonderful sensibility, she knows how to pick them and then present a programme basically consisting of the spoken word and music, but the way she balances content and creativity is delicately stunning. For this one she also brought on board astonishing sounds, two women who sing under the Ancient Voices title, the duo Lungiswa Plaatjies and Nimapostile  Nyiki, –  extraordinary.

Anna Davel

I was also reminded this year to watch out for producer/performer/writer Anna Davel (production manager for above mentioned show). She has turned into someone who seems to spot gold. She was also responsible (and part of performance) for Aardklop’s Mixtape van die Liefde where another new artist, Stephanie Baartman, made her mark. She has been part of the television soapie circuit for a few years, but she announced her presence on stage with poetry and song. And that, I suspect, is just a smidgeon of what she will show in the future.

Everyone was also raving about Davel’s exceptional 21, presented at KKNK. She has always shone on stagte, but her voice and her comfort levels on stage have matured magnificently.

Karatara, a production I’ve written about frequently, is one that honours the story which deals with the devastating Knysna fires. The performers (dancers Grant Van Ster and Shaun Oelf and Dean Balie, narrator) as well as the creative team, Wilken Calitz and Gideon Lombard created something extraordinary . It’s worth seeing again and again as it feeds the soul.

And who can forget the art of Karen Preller? Her mesmerising exhibiton took you back in time in an extraordinarily unique way.

Om Skoon Te Wees with Conradie van Heerden

And as an interlude there was the hugely successful Lucky Pakkies, an extension of the previously popular Uitkampteater, which created a stage for shorter if no less exciting work and some extraordinary performances.

It’s also a concept that allows performers to practise and hone their craft in different genres as well as roles. Writers are given a chance for short and sassy work, actors have a smaller if intimate and often vulnerable stage and directors are offered an opportunity to try different things in challenging spaces.

In the Free State, it is always the art that overwhelms and again they didn’t disappoint, one example being Pitika Ntuli’s Return To The Source (which can still be seen at the Oliewenhout Art Museum on your way to the coast), which is simply stunning and perfect for the space at that amazing institution, and they also have a provocative permanent exhibition worth viewing again and again. André Bezuidenhout’s unique photographs was another winner, with the subject well-chosen and then magnificently captured.

And then there was the welcome return of Elzabé Zietsman with the hard-hitting Femme is Fatale. This is someone who understands how to grab you by the throat when there’s no other way. Her intent is to violently if necessary showcase gender-based violence. We all know the scourge it is in this country and no one is listening.

She is going to try her best to make you listen. And with a script which is as blunt and blistering as it is determined, she hits where it hurts most. Being the veteran she is, there’s not a note, a line or a hair out of place and she shows what contemporary cabaret can achieve when done with heartfelt honesty. It’s a courageous and memorable performance.

Another standout and engaging performance was the dance production Blame It On the Algorithm by the Darkroom Contemporary Dance Theatre. It was mesmerising, memorable and something completely different, always a gift for a festival.

Finally it was with a new stance that Aardklop approached the 2022 live season. Instead of hosting a festival in Potchefstroom (it will be returning there in 2023), shows were also presented in Pretoria and Jozi. There are many differing opinions about the success, but for artistic director Alexa Strachan it is about survival.

They’re a small and possibly struggling yet determined artistic collective and they produced a few winners of which the standout was Nataniël’s Die Smitstraat Suite, an astonishing accomplishment.

It’s been a lifelong dream for this prolific artist/composer whom many simply know as a pop composer. Not being my field of expertise, he explained that the music was inspired by the classical oratorium with nine compositions sung in English and Latin (some of his songs not previously recorded combined with original music). He was accompanied by the excellent Akustika Choir led by Christo Burger.

And to add his trademark stamp, an original series of stories, which cleverly pulls the title and the full performance together.

This is what makes him so unique. Few people have the skill to come up with something as complicated as this music with choir and solo parts, accompanied by the Charl du Plessis Trio. And then to add some achingly funny stories that introduce an explosive touch before you lose yourself again in the exquisite music.

He also had two other performances at festivals during the year. First there was Moscow at the Suidooster at the beginning of the year and then Prima Donna at the KKNK. Both of these were innovative and unique in performance, scripts and music, all executed by the artist himself except for the musicans (Charl du Plessis Trio) and costume designer Floris Louw who all contributed with flourish.

Aardklop Aubade’s driving force Charl du Plessis

Produced under the Aardklop Aubade flag, this classical season, introduced by Aardklop and led by Charl du Plessis presents Sunday morning classical concerts at Affies to re-introduce the classics to a previously enthusiastic audience as well as a stage for especially solo artists, but not exclusively so. It’s another great festival invention.

In similar vein, with the help of the KKNK, artists Neil Coppen and Vaughn Sadie established the ongoing Karoo Kaarte with the aim of promoting real change in communities. The idea was to use the arts in many different ways to change the narrative of the Oudtshoorn community to a more inclusive one.

These were early days, but the work which included fine art projects to navigate and explore identities as well as a theatre production which involved the community and workshopped a story to include all their lives and dreams.

Ownership has been activated, but this was simply the beginning and it is going to be hugely exciting to watch how this develops and how local artists are given wings.

And of course there was so much more…

THE SUPPORT OF MOTHER-TONGUE VOICES, THE PRIMARY AIM OF THE AVBOB POETRY PROJECT

The AVBOB poetry competition is a smart way to pay it forward in a country where words help to heal the past as well as celebrate hope. DIANE DE BEER celebrates the way the company has opted to play its part:

The AVBOB Poetry Trophies

If you think of projects companies could back to boost their philanthropic profile, poetry doesn’t immediately come to mind. But that’s exactly the route AVBOB, the funeral company, selected.

The link, of course, is the words. What do people need when attending a funeral or dealing with relatives or friends who have lost someone? And that’s what they have so cleverly done – while casting a wide net.

Not only did they decide to spotlight poetry, they also chose to feature all South Africa’s 11 languages in the process. What they have achieved even more smartly is to pay attention to the small stuff and to get it right.

It’s no small challenge to run a national poetry competition in 11 languages. And to then select 11 winners, one for each official language. Once these are selected, all the poems are translated and each year a poetry anthology is published to further celebrate the poems, and in the bigger picture, poetry as a whole.

Eleven talented poets were announced as the overall winners of the 2022 AVBOB Poetry Competition at a gala prize-giving at the Pretoria Country Club at the end of last month. The evening was a glorious celebration of the power of poetry to bring people together, to build community, and to offer uplifting words in times of loss.

AVBOB CEO Carl van der Riet in his keynote address described poetry as an art that has a unique ability to bypass the rational mind and logical intellectual process and to speak directly to the heart.

AVBOB’s CEO, Carl van der Riet

“We have a rich heritage of poetry in South Africa. So, as we each observe Heritage Day on 24 September, I would like to encourage all of us to also remember this unique part of our heritage which has served as such a beacon of hope and inspiration for people.”

Each winner received a prize which included R10 000 cash, a R2 500 book voucher, and an elegant trophy. Each guest also received a copy of the annual anthology containing the winning poems, I wish I’d said… Vol. 5, which was launched at the event.

Van der Riet explained, “The support of mother-tongue voices has been a primary aim of the AVBOB Poetry Project since the very beginning and so the editors were encouraged that 65% of all poems entered were written in South Africa’s vernacular languages.” He further noted that the AVBOB Poetry Library now contains over 17 000 poems, each of which earned the poet a usage fee of R300. That amounts to over R5.2m spent on building a cultural repository of poems available to those who need words of comfort and consolation.

The top six poems in each language appear in the anthology accompanied by an English translation. A selection of commissioned poems and four Khoisan poems from the Bleek and Lloyd collection round out the anthology. This comprehensive collection was compiled by the editor-in-chief of the AVBOB Poetry Competition, Johann De Lange, and the esteemed Xitsonga academic, literary translator and founding chair of the PAN South African Language Board, Professor Nxalati CP Golele.

De Lange said, “Poetry bears witness to our lives, our loves and our losses. It helps us traverse major transitions, giving us the words to name the feelings and to tame the emotions. It helps us to fathom what we must live for, define what we must protect, and focus on what we must promote in a changing world.”

Viewers around the country participated simultaneously via livestream on AVBOB Poetry’s social media channels.

The 2022 AVBOB Poetry Prize winners are: Clinton V. du Plessis (Afrikaans), Letitia Matthews (English), Nkosinathi Mduduzi Jiyana (isiNdebele), Sipho Kekezwa (isiXhosa), Nomkelemane Langa (isiZulu), Pabalelo Maphutha (Sepedi), Kgobani Mohapi (Sesotho), Molebatsi Joseph Bosilong (Setswana), Prisca Nkosi (Siswati), Mashudu Stanley Ramukhuba (Tshivenda) and Pretty Shiburi (Xitsonga).

To order I Wish I’d Said… Vol.5 SMS the word ‘POEM’ to 48423 (at a standard cost of R1.50 per SMS) to have it posted to you at a total cost of R240. Alternatively, email your order to tertia@naledi.co.za or find it at selected bookstores. Visit www.avbobpoetry.co.za to find elegiac poems for reading aloud at funerals or to include in memorial leaflets, and to register to enter the 2023 AVBOB Poetry Competition (which closes on 30 November 2022).

AVBOB POETRY PRIZE WINNERS IN MORE DETAIL:

2022 AFRIKAANS WINNER – Clinton V. du Plessis

Clinton V. du Plessis lives in Cradock in the Eastern Cape where he works as an accountant. He is a prolific poet with many poetry collections to his name and his work has appeared in translation in the international arena. Listening to stories on the radio was a powerful formative influence in his childhood. He particularly loved listening to PH Nortje’s Die groen ghoen and was desperately keen to read the book. His father, who was a labourer on the railways, persuaded his boss to borrow the book from the library on young Clinton’s behalf. His winning poem Leemte is an achingly tender tribute, written in honour of his father.

2022 ENGLISH WINNER – Letitia Matthews

Letitia Matthews feels blessed to live on the southern border of the Kruger National Park with her husband, Peter. She’s a freelance web and graphic designer who found that helped her through heart-breaking losses. As a cancer survivor, she realised that loss also leads to new life and adventures. These experiences showed her how to navigate bereavement. Her poem Time Of Death comes from the dark nights and empty days that eventually led to her embracing life again.

2022 ISINDEBELE WINNER – Nkosinathi Mduduzi Jiyana

Nkosinathi Mduduzi Jiyana is known in spoken word poetry circles as Gembe Da Poet. He comes from KwaDlawulale in Limpopo, and after discovering a love of writing poetry in 2018, established a reputation as a vibrant slam poet. His poem Ithemba alibulali encourages youth to be strong, to resist fear, and to remain faithful when grief strikes. He believes that by entering the poetry competition he is exhibiting his writing talent.

2022 ISIXHOSA WINNER – Sipho Kekezwa

Sipho Kekezwa is a prolific and multi-award-winning author of children’s books, dramas, short stories and YA novels. He started his writing life as a voracious reader. Various of his titles have wearned significant acclaim over the years, but this is his first poetry award. His dramatic work, Ubomi, ungancama!, published by Oxford University Publishers in 2020, won the 2021 SALA Award in the Youth Literature category. Sipho’s winning poem ICocekavaras is a plea to heed common sense and to get vaccinated. After living in Khayelitsha for 26 years, he recently returned to East London to continue his work as a freelance editor, proofreader, translator, book reviewer and creative writing facilitator.

2022 ISIZULU WINNER – Nomkelemane Langa

Nomkelemane Langa claims the majestic rolling hills of northern KwaZulu-Natal as his geographic and cultural heritage. Born in the deep rural village of Nkandla he now lives in Richards Bay where he freelances as a TV producer and presenter, Maskandi singer and guitarist, author, poet, crafter, actor and MC.

His winning poem Mhla lishona ilanga is an aching portrait of grief set between the last light of dusk and the first light of dawn. He started writing poetry in high school as a member of the Isulabasha Dancing Pencils Writing Club. He attributes his success to the ancestral promptings that guide his words.

2022 SEPEDI WINNER – Pabalelo Maphutha

Praise poems and powerful words were Pabalelo Maphutha’s inheritance at birth. He was born into a family of traditional praise poets and writers in rural Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo, and grew up with a deep love of the written and spoken word. He began writing and performing his own poems in the mid-2000s, while still at school. He has appeared in various theatrical and film productions and is committed to serving his artistic goals with passion, focus, and dedication. His poem Se išeng dipelo mafiša reflects on the process of aging and death and will comfort all who have lost an elder.

2022 SESOTHO WINNER – Kgobani Mohapi

Kgobani Mohapi comes from the eastern Free State town of Lindley. He has entered the AVBOB Poetry Competition every year since its inception to test his poetic skills against the best in the country and came second in 2019. His poem Ke o entseng deals with the issues lovers would ask after a separation. He was inspired to write poetry by his Sesotho teacher, Mr NJ Malindi. Kgobani is also a novelist, with a novel titled Lerato.

2022 SETSWANA WINNER – Molebatsi Joseph Bosilong

Molebatsi Joseph Bosilong is an educator and a published author from the North West province with an enormous passion for the arts. He is an engaged member of the regional writers community, committed to sharing opportunities and information with fellow Setswana writers. His poems appear in Volume 4 of the poetry anthology, ‘I wish I’d said…’ He used the form of the Mosikaro, which uses the first letter of the first word of each line going downwards to spell out the word Tsholofelo, which means hope. Tsholofelo is both the title and the theme of his poem, which pays tribute to the health workers who battled the pandemic and the hope for a vaccine to defeat the virus. He wrote this poem to heal from the pain of losing his mother.

2022 SISWATI WINNER – Prisca Nkosi

Nomvula Prisca Nkosi started writing short stories and poems at a very young age. She lives in Ermelo, where she works at a hamburger joint. While she makes fast food, she has many deep thoughts. She decided to enter the competition to improve her writing skills and to give voice to her rich imagination. Her poem Imihuzuko explores the scars that tell of life’s injuries. “Some people lose hope while others gain strength through their suffering,” says Prisca, “and to share the experience inside me.” This is her first poetry award.

2022 TSHIVENDA WINNER – Mashudu Stanley Ramukhuba

Mashudu Stanley Ramukhuba was born in Ha-Rabali village in Limpopo’s Nzhelele Valley. He attended Rabali Primary School and, later, Patrick Ramaano Mphephu Secondary School, where his love of poetry grew strong. He was inspired to enter the competition on the death of beloved family members. “When my sister died very young, it was hard to believe I would never see her again,” he says of his winning poem Maḓuvha a mudali. This carefully crafted and formal work honours his sister’s life. The poet reminds the reader in a wise and gentle tone that we are all visitors on this earth, and encourages us to consider our legacy. Mashudu is married and currently unemployed.

2022 XITSONGA WINNER – Pretty Shiburi

Pretty Shiburi is a poet making powerful connections. Born and raised in Madobi village in the far northern part of South Africa and currently studying electrical engineering at Westcol TVET College in Krugersdorp, this is a poet who makes sparks fly. Her darkly funny poem N’hwembe explores the idea of home and ownership by examining a pumpkin vine, which causes consternation in its wanderings into the neighbour’s yard. This playful metaphor demonstrates her  love of her mother tongue and offers a wry glance at other wanderers.

PLAYGROUND SHINES A LIGHT ON SCHOOL BULLYING WITH A STORY THAT FEATURES ACTING BRILLIANCE

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. Here is a short review by DIANE DE BEER on one of the films:

PLAYGROUND

BELGIUM

Director: Laura Wandel

Cast: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Lena Girard Voss, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden

Genre: Drama Time: 72 minutes

French with English subtitles – 2021

Even if you were never bullied in school, all of us have been witness to something like that in our lives. Take Donald Trump for example, his whole existence is thanks to bullying, not an easy thing to watch even from afar.

But the title of this one says it all, and again, it is the way the young people deal with what is given to them that is captured so brilliantly.

We all know and understand the impact of abuse during your younger years, on the rest of your life. When seven-year-old Nora witnesses the bullying her older brother Abel has to endure at school, she rushes to help out. But he persuades her not to tell anyone.

She is still trying to adapt to school herself and this is something that she finds quite unbearable – that and the subtle bullying that is happening amongst her own circle of new acquaintances.

It’s a hugely emotional film with the camera rigged at Nora’s height so that we are really pulled into the centre of her storm.

It’s also the inability of doing the right thing on every level. The sensitive teacher isn’t always around at the right time, and when they are, the problem is much easier to deal with – and yet when away from the adults, is when the pressure comes into play.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

PETITE MAMAN DELVES INTO THE HEARTACHE OF THE YOUNG WHEN THEY’RE DEALING WITH GRIEF

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. Here is a short review by DIANE DE BEER on one of the films:

PETITE MAMAN

 FRANCE

Director: Céline Sciamma

Cast: Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Stéphane Varupenne

Genre: Drama, Coming-of-age

Time: 72 minutes 

French with English subtitles – 2021

Children feature strongly in this haunting, beautifully told story about a child’s perception of loss. Nelly has lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clear out her mother’s childhood home. She explores and discovers both the house and the surrounding woods where her mom, Marion, used to play and built a treehouse Nelly has often heard about.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, her mother leaves and that is when Nelly meets a girl her own age building her own treehouse and named Marion.

It’s a film that explores specifically the world of children, how they are affected by what is happening in the world around them, how adults deal with them and how they cope with feelings that are way beyond their tender years.

The two young actresses are superb and add another dimension to the film, which is tenderly made and sensitively unfolds.

It is not a children’s movie, but it is very much about their lives, they way they digest what is given to them by the adults who run their little lives and how they make sense of things they don’t understand.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

OLGA IS A GRITTY FILM WITH BEATING HEART

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. Here is a short review by DIANE DE BEER on one of the films:

OLGA

(SWITZERLAND)

 Director: Elie Grappe

Cast: Nastya Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Jérôme Martin

Genre: Drama, Coming of Age

Time: 85 minutes

French, Russian, Ukrainian with English subtitles – 2021

Anything that comes from Ukraine has added appeal because of its harrowing circumstances for almost a decade now, resulting in the most recent horrors inflicted by Putin.

But this is not a story about that, even though there are signs of things to come. What it does capture is how these catastrophic events impact the lives of children. What should have been relatively carefree times in their young lives are clouded by what is happening on the periphery.

Olga is a teenage gymnast living in exile in Switzerland where she dreams of Olympic gold as she battles to fit in with her new team.

Her mom, who is a journalist, is suffering the hardship of what that means with a sudden uprising in Kiev, the forerunner of what that brave country is facing right now.

Olga is heartbroken and scared, feeling she has deserted those she cares most about while fighting for her own freedom.

It is by no means a perfect movie, but it does have added impact because of the lives it captures almost in a bubble as we know now and with hindsight. It also throws a light on these young athletes and the pressures they face as we have recently been made much more aware of with gymnasts like Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

THE EUROPEAN FILM FESTIVAL IN SOUTH AFRICA GOES HYBRID AND OFFERS FANTASTIC OPTIONS

Each year, The European Film Festival is one of the movie highlights of the year – and this time is no different running between October 13 and 23. DIANE DE BEER picks a few to highlight and expands on everything available to watch – for free:

SMALL BODY

Festival co-director Magdalene Reddy explains that they will continue to cater for viewers and followers who have become accustomed to watching films at home, while also providing for those who long to return to the cinema.  

 “This is our transitional approach of coming back to theatres gradually,” she says – and I will hold thumbs that it stays this way especially for those of us not in cities where the screenings happen.

The online screenings are free while a ticket price will be charged for the theatre screenings.  Each film will have a single screening at both Ster-Kinekor’s The Zone in Johannesburg and at The Labia in Cape Town.

 Sixteen award-winning films, eight of them by women directors, will be screened. This year’s theme, Innocence and Beyond, explores innocence not just as a legal concept, but also as a human quality. This includes two stand-out perspectives through the eyes of children in Petite Maman and Playground (see reviews below) with fantastic performances by the young stars.

OLGA

There is no set age for when loss of innocence can occur and a number of films focus on youth as they navigate the often turbulent process of growing into adults. From the Netherlands, Shariff Korver’s slow-burning psychological thriller Do Not Hesitate depicts unprepared Dutch youths thrown into the crucible of war, while Swiss film Olga, by Elie Grappe, is a tense but sensitively handled tale of exile (see review below). The riveting women-driven film Small Body is an adventure story infused with a wonderful mythological sensibility that earned Laura Samani the best new director prize at Italy’s David d’Donatello awards.

AS FAR AS I CAN WALK

How much does innocence inform a young woman’s quest for love and meaning? This is the question in Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, a Norwegian/French/Danish/Swedish co-production that earned two Oscar nominations this year.  Stefan Arsenijević’s Serbian/French/Luxembourgian/Bulgarian/Lithuanian co-production As Far As I Can Walk highlights that it’s not just securing a roof over one’s head but also the challenges of emotional and intellectual deprivation that young migrants face today.

THE EMIGRANTS

 Is innocence solely about what’s right and what’s wrong?  Sometimes it’s about what we don’t do.  Silent Land, by Poland’s Aga Woszczyńska, is a case of what the protagonists didn’t do (see review), and Erik Poppe’s Swedish film The Emigrants is an epic period drama about a poverty-stricken family who emigrate to the United States in the 1800s, told from a woman’s perspective, in a  search for a second chance in life. From the Republic of Georgia, Levan Koguashvili’s comedic Brighton 4th is a portrait of parental sacrifice and the love of a father for his son that also shows the elusiveness of the American Dream.  

THE GOOD BOSS

 Ali and Ava, written and directed by one of the UK’s most distinctive cinematic voices, Clio Barnard, is about a couple from different cultural backgrounds beginning a relationship while The Good Boss, directed by Fernando León de Aranoa, is a satire about the indignities of working life, with Javier Bardem in the spotlight (see review).

Austrian Sebastian Meise’s Cannes-winner Great Freedom explores tenderness, love, lost time, and the tenacity of the human spirit while Portuguese director Catarina Vasconcelos’s unorthodox film The Metamorphosis of Birds sifts through the memories and dreams of her ancestors. The German film I’m Your Man by Maria Schrader is a spunky sci-fi dramedy that asks what humans want in relationships, and if AI beings should have rights.  

Finally, the world is again witnessing and affected by a terrible war, and innocence is an unfortunate casualty.  Director/screenwriter/editor Maryna Er Gorbach’s Ukrainian-set drama Klondike deals with the travails of parents-to-be living near the Russian border exposing the absurdity of war and how it affects those who aren’t directly involved.

This is a fantastic opportunity to catch up on many of the best movies from Europe of the past year. For details on all the films and how to watch visit www.eurofilmfest.co.za

OLGA

(SWITZERLAND)

 Director: Elie Grappe Cast: Nastya Budiashkina, Sabrina Rubtsova, Jérôme Martin Genre: Drama, Coming of Age Time: 85 minutes

French, Russian, Ukrainian with English subtitles – 2021

Anything that comes from Ukraine has added appeal because of its harrowing circumstances for almost a decade now, resulting in the most recent horrors inflicted by Putin.

But this is not a story about that, even though there are signs of things to come. What it does capture is how these catastrophic events impact the lives of children. What should have been relatively carefree times in their young lives are clouded by what is happening on the periphery.

Olga is a teenage gymnast living in exile in Switzerland where she dreams of Olympic gold as she battles to fit in with her new team.

Her mom, who is a journalist, is suffering the hardship of what that means with a sudden uprising in Kiev, the forerunner of what that brave country is facing right now.

Olga is heartbroken and scared, feeling she has deserted those she cares most about while fighting for her own freedom.

It is by no means a perfect movie, but it does have added impact because of the lives it captures almost in a bubble as we know now and with hindsight. It also throws a light on these young athletes and the pressures they face as we have recently been made much more aware of with gymnasts like Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka.

PETITE MAMAN

 FRANCE

Director: Céline Sciamma Cast: Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Stéphane Varupenne Genre: Drama, Coming-of-age Time: 72 minutes 

French with English subtitles – 2021

Children feature strongly in this haunting, beautifully told story about a child’s perception of loss. Nelly has lost her beloved grandmother and is helping her parents clear out her mother’s childhood home. She explores and discovers both the house and the surrounding woods where her mom, Marion, used to play and built a treehouse Nelly has often heard about.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, her mother leaves and that is when Nelly meets a girl her own age building her own treehouse and named Marion.

It’s a film that explores specifically the world of children, how they are affected by what is happening in the world around them, how adults deal with them and how they cope with feelings that are way beyond their tender years.

The two young actresses are superb and add another dimension to the film, which is tenderly made and sensitively unfolds.

It is not a children’s movie, but it is very much about their lives, they way they digest what is given to them by the adults who run their little lives and how they make sense of things they don’t understand.

PLAYGROUND

BELGIUM

Director: Laura Wandel Cast: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Lena Girard Voss, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden Genre: Drama Time: 72 minutes

French with English subtitles – 2021

Even if you were never bullied in school, all of us have been witness to something like that in our lives. Take Donald Trump for example, his whole existence is thanks to bullying, not an easy thing to watch even from afar.

But the title of this one says it all, and again, it is the way the young people deal with what is given to them that is captured so brilliantly.

We all know and understand the impact of abuse during your younger years, on the rest of your life. When seven-year-old Nora witnesses the bullying her older brother Abel has to endure at school, she rushes to help out. But he persuades her not to tell anyone.

She is still trying to adapt to school herself and this is something that she finds quite unbearable – that and the subtle bullying that is happening amongst her own circle of new acquaintances.

It’s a hugely emotional film with the camera rigged at Nora’s height so that we are really pulled into the centre of her storm.

It’s also the inability of doing the right thing on every level. The sensitive teacher isn’t always around at the right time, and when they are, the problem is much easier to deal with – and yet when away from the adults, is when the pressure comes into play.

It is their lives that become the playground as Nora starts acting out because of the way she has been messed up by all these raging emotions around the problems of protecting her brother.

Astonishing acting from all the children in a story that can impact so many lives everywhere. It’s also a directorial debut for Laura Wandel and shows great promise for the future. Her filmmaking is already faultless.

SILENT LAND

POLAND

Director: Agnieszka Woszczyńska Cast: Dobromir Dymecki, Agnieszka Żulewska, Jean Marc Barr, Alma Jodorowsky, Marcello Romolo Genre: Drama Time: 113 minutes

Polish, English, French, Italian with English subtitles – 2021

Everything about this film screams art movie in the best sense of the word. It’s the setting up of the story, the young couple playing the leads, the pace or sometimes lack thereof as well as the unfolding and slightly mysterious tone of film that adds to the quality of the viewing.

I was reminded throughout of European movies seen in the past presenting a similar atmosphere and handling of character and content. There’s no spoon feeding and the substance is serious yet accessible.

Director Agnieszka Woszczyńska says it best: ‘Silent Land is not only about the collapse of a relationship, but also about the collapse of the value system in the modern world, the general indifference to reality, and social lethargy. Ultimately, it is a tale about alienation, not only from each other, but also from the world. It’s about conformity and passivity, where the need for safety and convenience is a strategy for survival.’

THE GOOD BOSS

SPAIN

Director: Fernando León de Aranoa Cast: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor Genre: Comedy Drama Time: 116 minutes

Spanish with English subtitles – 2021

Javier Bardem is one of those actors always worth watching. Not only does he pick his projects well, but his acting prowess is astonishing.

It’s especially when he is not the hero that all his instincts seem to kick in as he taps into even the darkest soul he has to portray.

As the title of this one suggests, he is anything but The Good Boss and again, few of us as employees would not recognise this manipulating, truly wily, yet awful human being. He is only concerned with his own well-being and whatever serves his personal needs.

That’s why his downfall is so delightful to experience especially in the capable hands of Bardem, who plays the smarmy owner of a family-run factory. If you need further persuasion, the film scooped a record-breaking 20 nominations at the 36th Spanish Goya Film Awards, winning 6 (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Score and Best Editing). It was also the Spanish entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards

THE PURPLE HAZE OF PRETORIA’S JACARANDAS CREATES THE PERFECT PICTURE OF A CAPITAL CITY

DIANE DE BEER

PICTURES: Thomas Honiball

PRETORIA, jakarandastad,

Dis weer Oktobermaand…

Miskien is dit die rede dat

Ek só verlang vanaand,

Want hoeveel jare het jy nie

My life en leed gedeel

En stil geluister wanneer ek

My ou kitaar bespeel

This is the first verse of singer/songwriter sublime Koos du Plessis’s ode to Pretoria.

He frames his beloved city in a cloak of purple haze, which is how many of us identify the most colourful capital city.

But much controversy has surrounded this emblem of the city over the years and there are visions of fights for this particular tree and the replanting and upkeep of the city’s pride for those of us living here long enough.

Money talks, and the hordes of tourists who visit the city annually is proof enough for everyone who witnesses this influx that, at least for the moment, Jacarandas are allowed to flourish and bloom in all their splendour.

The four annual stages of the Jacaranda tree

Jacaranda trees were first imported from Rio de Janeiro by Baron von Ludwig of Cape Town in about 1830. A travelling nurseryman from Cape Town named Templemann brought two Jacaranda trees to Pretoria in 1888. He planted them in the garden he had laid out for Jacob Daniel (Japie) Celliers at Myrtle Lodge in Sunnyside, shortly after it was established as Pretoria’s second suburb.

In the 1890s Celliers secured a concession from President Paul Kruger to plant trees in Groenkloof for the Government of the Republic. James Clark, a wholesale and retail seedsman, florist and nursery, received the order to import seeds from Australia.

The story goes that among the consignment of eucalyptus seeds Clark imported for planting in Pretoria in 1898, a packet of Jacaranda seeds had found their way.

On 16 November 1906, the 51st anniversary of the founding of Pretoria, Clark presented 200 Jacaranda trees to the City Council as a birthday present to Pretoria. These trees were planted in Bosman street in Arcadia Park where the Pretoria Art Museum was established in 1864.

Frank Walton James was appointed as town engineer in 1909. He suggested the planting of Jacarandas in all the streets of the town to enhance the status of Pretoria as the proposed capital of the Union. When Jameson left the Council in 1920, fewer than 6 000 trees had been planted. By 1939, with the constant encouragement of Jameson, the number of trees had risen to 17 000.

Today there are approximately 40 000 Jacaranda trees in the streets of Pretoria.

And these facts were all handed to me in a letter by Jacaranda activist, architect Thomas Honiball, a man who has always battled and fought for the preservation of Pretoria as the beautiful city it is.

Some of us still remember the huge controversy about the west façade of  Church Square, which was going to be demolished, but was finally left intact thanks to Honiball and a committee he had established with exactly this in mind. And the city proudly hails this part of its heritage today.

The aforementioned letter was written with a request to the Minister of Agriculture for the planting of Jacaranda trees in the city of Tshwane – and fortunately those battles were hard fought and won.

For Thomas, who lives in Nieu Muckleneuk with a spectacular view of Jacaranda blossoms when they are in full bloom, these trees hold and embrace the spirit of the city. He believes they were first planted to establish the character of a city that would be named the country’s capital – and thus it was.

“We have something that no other city boasts in such abundance,” he says. He also argues it is especially the city’s layout, the long streets, and the koppies,  that allow for the spectacular showing of this tree Pretorians have claimed for themselves.

And he has many anecdotes to claim the city’s towering Jacaranda status. “I was told the story that Elon Musk’s grandfather when he flew over the city and saw the spectacle of the purple blooms was so overwhelmed, he emigrated here,” he says.

He also remembers as a young Free State lad paying his first visit to the city and sighting the purple spectacle, how it overwhelmed him. “It was just so pretty!”

Thomas Honiball and the book of listings he instigated.

That’s not all he achieved in this city. He was also instrumental in the production of a book with the listing of buildings worth holding on to, often used by city planners to save specific buildings which form a part of the city’s heritage. It’s not something South Africa has always done well and we need these visual planners who understand the importance of cherishing the old while celebrating the new.

He is very aware that everything cannot be kept simply because its old. There’s a saying that if a city centre doesn’t change, keep up with the times, it will die.

Fortunately for Tshwane, we have citizens like Thomas Honiball in our midst who have the city’s interests at heart and understand the importance of the picture perfect visual that keeps us all mesmerised.

DIRECTOR SYLVAINE STRIKE CELEBRATES 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ICONIC EDWARD ALBEE SHOWPIECE, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

PICTURES: Jesse Kramer

Edward Albee’s iconic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf celebrates its 60th anniversary. But this didn’t scare seasoned director Sylvaine Strike, who jumped at the chance even if she knew it would be tough. She spoke to DIANE DE BEER about the process:

Alan Committie (George), Robyn Scott (Martha), Berenice Barbier (Honey) and Sanda Shandu (Nick).

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf runs at Cape Town’s Theatre on The Bay until Saturday 8 October with performances every Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm and a Saturday matinee at 4pm.  It then moves to Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre in Fourways, where it will run from 14 October to 6 November with performances Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm.

An age appropriate restriction of no under 13’s apply.

Tickets are available through Computicket

“Where does one begin?

“A 60-year-old iconic play, a great classic known all over the world and translated into many languages. The first time I came across Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was at university when I was in first year and the play at the time was 30 years old and that seemed ancient! And now, it’s 60 years old and I’m doing it. So do the maths!”

But this is Sylvaine, someone who understands the pitfalls and go for it anyway. It’s been mammoth, far harder than she could imagine. And it started with the casting. The ensemble includes Alan Committie (George), Robyn Scott (Martha), Sanda Shandu (Nick) and newcomer Berenice Barbier (Honey).

Committie initially approached her with the project, asking if she would direct him and Robyn in those roles, she explains. “And quite frankly, even though the roles seemed so ancient when I attempted them in first year (I attempted to play Martha at 19, in an exercise of course when we were studying texts!), but now I realise that they weren’t that old at all.”

En famille in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 Albee specifies that Martha is 52 and George is 48, so she’s gone with the original ages. “Robyn is a little younger, but it feels completely right so I immediately said yes, jumped at the chance of directing an Albee play. With him there’s always the circularity, the nonsensical, as each character exists in their own private ego, their own private silo, as we try and make meaning out of nothing for a night of absolute debauchery, madness, game playing and relationship thrashing.”

With her two leads in hand, it was time to turn her attention to the younger players. The chemistry between the couples as well as that between the younger and older couple, is what makes the play soar. That’s why, Alan and Robyn were both in attendance with the extensive auditions.

Post-covid, a lot of amazing young actors turned up  and much brilliance presented itself, but Sylvaine had to find the right match and chemistry. “It was also important to redefine the casting, to challenge Albee’s instructions, to challenge what an all-American couple looks like now, but it was finally determined by Berenice and Sanda, who are just exceptional together and have the most fantastic funny bones, and perfect chemistry.”

While it was written and produced as an all American play and Albee’s description of Nick is a blond, good-looking, all American boy,  the times determined those norms. “It’s a typical American look, but that’s changed 60 years down the line and about time,” says the director.

Sanda Shandu (Nick) and Berenice Barbier (Honey).

Once she had cast the production, she realised that hers would be a very new take on this play. And that’s the honest way to treat these classic productions – honour the writing yet adapt to the times.

As always, she did blind casting, but a very distinctive voice in her started asking questions. What would it look like, a Black man in the role of Nick? How will it be and what changes will occur in Albee’s writing that will hit home that haven’t hit home before in other productions all over the world?

And it came down to Berenice and Sanda who are just exceptional together. He isn’t new to the scene and people might recognise him from King Kong, but this is Berenice’s debut.

Sylvaine Strike pictured by Martin Kluge.

In the final analysis according to Strike, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf has hardly ever been done any other way than with two white couples and that’s missing out on numerous opportunities, because the text lends itself to how much and how little has changed in the US. And that especially is thrown into sharper focus.

She got together with her set designer Wolf Britz very early on to discuss what the template would be. She reminds me that she works with her set before anything else and both of them were completely in agreement that Albee’s words are enough and very little else is needed to support this particular story, this particular night in these people’s lives.

“So we haven’t gone with the clutter and the realism of an academic’s house. It is quite stark and very inviting in the sense that it is all in plush pink. But I actually don’t want to give too much away. It’s a perfect setting for things to go absolutely wrong and dark.

General chaos with the full cast.

“We basically have sofas and curtains and that’s to be used in ways that haven’t been used before, as usual,” she says with hints of Sylvaine secrecy and surprise.

To get the orchestration of this world, she’s using a world of ice and of liquor, tinkling of bottles and even more. And that, she says is just a tiny bit of it all, but it needs massive orchestration.

She chose to go with the American version of the play, because of the 60th celebration, and the cast underwent serious dialect coaching under Robyn, who is a prolific dialogue coach in Cape Town.

“They are speaking with an American accent, but that’s really all that lends from an American world, the rest is left to interpretation. Sando playing opposite Alan will resonate on a local level because there’s very much a boss and an underdog relationship that forms purely from the hierarchy that George imposes on Nick as a young academic new to the university and George having been there forever.

“And suddenly Albee’s words are revisited in a light that is really painful, very incisive and quite brutal. When George says to Nick, ‘I wish you wouldn’t say the word sir like that, you always call me sir with a little question mark at the end’, things like that suddenly resonate so much deeper. The words do all the work”

And, she notes, Nick has some amazing retorts back at George in which he claims the space and the future as the young man on the scene, so it speaks for itself, and speaks volumes.

Those in Gauteng might have missed the fact that Sylvaine has swapped her home in Joburg and moved to Cape Town.

Her son is starting university and it made a lot of sense for her to move, but she had been toying with it a long time since she was spending most of her working time there; making work, taking work or filming there.

“It meant I was away from the family more and more and more, longer days, longer months,” she says.

She also needed to be in a place that inspired her because she was battling to be in Johannesburg, to live there as an artist. “It had fuelled my fire for so long, but in the last five years, it’s been very hard.”

This is the change she needed, in the future she will continue to make work, collaborate with the festivals, The Baxter and this is her first play ever for Theatre on the Bay.

And good news for Gauteng, the Cape Town run is being followed by a season at the Pieter Toerien Theatre in Montecasino.

THE RELEVANCE OF ART THROUGH STORYTELLING

The best thing about the arts is that it is all about storytelling of some kind. Whether you are looking forward or reaching into the past, those who are the blessed recipients of the work whether on stage or hanging in an art gallery, will learn something that will have relevance in their own lives. DIANE DE BEER takes a look at current exhibitions at the Pretoria Art Museum:

Mondli Augustine Mbhele with his winning work for the 2022 Sasol New Signatures.

Full-time artist Mondli Mbhele (28) from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal has done exactly that, tell stories, and in the process has been announced as the winner of the 2022 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition.

Mbhele won the grand title for his work titled Iphasi nesiphesheli, which is part of a bigger series titled Umlando uyaziphinda. This is an isiZulu phrase, meaning “history repeats itself”. And don’t we all know that.

The series of mixed-media works is inspired by various iconic events from South Africa’s history.  In his winning work, Mbhele explores the dynamics of protests in contemporary South Africa. Yet before one even gets to the story, it is the colour and the clothes that captures your attention.

Mondli explains that this artwork was inspired by Sharpeville’s 21 March 1960 Anti-pass law event and the 2020 Covid19 events/laws regarding vaccination cards and face masks. “I saw that both of these share the same ideas in terms of accessibility.

“I use fabric collage as my medium of expression, because I am inspired by how fabric can be used in creating garments for different groups and ages of people, and I also realised similarities that fabric shares with our daily life events in the perspective of covering our bodies and busting or elevating our confidence to be able to face a new day. And also as a symbol of recognition or direction for example uniforms, like doctors, police, cleaners etc.

Mondli Mbhele’s Iphasi nesiphesheli, the winning work.

“In my work, I also use offcuts that I collect from fashion designers around Durban. While collecting these, I realised that fabrics have a gradation of value, worth and qualities. But when those offcuts of fabric are thrown away, they share the same state of being vulnerable. I recycle those offcuts and create a new dialogue that will get a chance to be appreciated and have a sense of their own purpose and voice rather than being thrown away.”

The brightly coloured collage is a snapshot of an ominous moment in a protest wherein a person is lying lifeless on the ground, yet no one seems alarmed. And therein lies the tale.

Mbhele walks away with a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2023. 

Sasol has been the proud sponsor of the New Signatures competition for 32 years, which was established by the Association of Arts Pretoria in the late 1960’s and it is glorious that this time around we can once again, if we’re lucky and live in the city or close by, see the full extravagance and exuberance of this national competition.

From left: Malik Mali (Cape Town), Linde Kriel (Bloemfontein), Omolemo Rammile (Bloemfontein), Rohini Amratlal (Durban), Mondli Mbhele (Durban), Herman Pretorius (Pretoria) and Andrea Walters (Durban)

“For emerging artists, the challenge remains the same: breaking into a very competitive, ever-evolving field. Sasol is honoured to play a role in providing opportunities for emerging artists to showcase their work.  This year we had an unprecedented number of entries, which reinforces the need for a platform such as this. It also highlights the depth of talent and creativity across South African society,” said Elton Fortuin, Sasol Vice President: Group Communications and Brand Management.

Pfunzo Sidogi, Chairperson of the Sasol New Signatures Competition, said: “This year, we received over 1 000 entries from the seven regional judging rounds, the highest number of submissions in the competition’s long history. We were particularly encouraged by the increased number of entries received from artists who did not attain formal university art education. This speaks volumes of the creative energy and passion to produce art that exists in all quarters of the country, and it is critical that we provide platforms for this creativity to be seen and celebrated”.

I was also pleasantly surprised for example that the country as whole seemed to be represented and wish the exhibition could travel more widely – or even digitally.

Runner up Omolemo Rammile’s Mére célibataire (single mom).

Omolemo Rammile from Bloemfontein was crowned runner-up and awarded R25 000 for her work entitled Mére célibataire (single mom), which pays tribute to her mother and acknowledges the personal sacrifices she makes on a daily basis as a sole provider and breadwinner for her twin daughters. Bread is universally considered a staple food source. The artist uses embossed bread tags to symbolise the ‘daily bread’ her mother buys to feed her family. The multiple imprints of the bread tag on the paper are akin to the lasting impact and inner mark that the mother’s love has left on the artist and her family.

And again, staying with the storytelling, the two winning works would both resonate with especially South Africans because the stories although with universal merit, is also particularly (and poignantly) from home ground.

The 5 Merit award winners are:

Rohini Amratlal (Durban)

Merit award winner: Durban’s Rohini Amratlal’s Unveiling the archive.
Epoxy resin, wood, ‘Icansi’ (grass mat)

Epoxy resin, wood, ‘Icansi’ (grass mat)

Merit award winner: Bloemfontein’s Linde Kriel’s (Rest)Room.

Copperplate etching

Merit award winner: Upington’s Malik Mani’s From the concrete grew a rose.

Pencil on Arches paper

Merit award winner: Instructures by Herman Pretorius, Pretoria.

Archival prints & computer installation

Andrea Walters (Durban) #OverMyDeadBody 1#OverMyDeadBody 4

Sunlight soap & Perspex and Hospital gurney, embroidered shroud & speaker

Each Merit Award winner received a R10 000 cash prize.

“The judges at both the regional and final judging round were inspired and impressed by the diversity of narratives and boldness in artistic vision evident in some of the submissions, added Sidogi. While he paid tribute to the judges, the biggest acknowledgement went to every artist who entered the competition this year. “Your creativity, passion, and commitment to artmaking are priceless. The incredible turnout of entrants bodes well for the current and future vitality of art in South Africa. Onwards with the spirit of creativity. All sectors of South Africa are desperate for it.”.

Those who didn’t see the winning work of last year’s new Signature winner, will be able to view Supernature: Simulacra, the solo exhibition by the multidisciplinary artist Andrea du Plessis. This exhibitionis a deepening of her research into the sublime experience and the complex relationship with nature in an age marked by technological augmentation and simulation.      

Her work is quite extraordinary and pictures as with many other artworks, don’t do justice. It’s an extension of the Supernature series, she began in 2020; the work features an exploration of emerging technologies in combination with traditional oil painting to create interactive, immersive realms as well as an encyclopaedia of hybrid lifeforms. The artist hopes to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider our interconnectivity with the natural world and examines the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.

The solo exhibition and the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition exhibition runs until  2 October 2022.  All the finalists are included in the competition catalogue which can also be sourced online. The full exhibition is also available to view virtually on the website.

https://www.sasolsignatures.co.za/.co.za/

The fantastic work of last year’s winner Andrea du Plessis.

Her work is quite extraordinary and pictures as with many other artworks, don’t do justice. It’s an extension of the Supernature series, she began in 2020; the work features an exploration of emerging technologies in combination with traditional oil painting to create interactive, immersive realms as well as an encyclopaedia of hybrid lifeforms. The artist hopes to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider our interconnectivity with the natural world and examines the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.

From the beginning of September until 30 October 2022, an exhibition titled Fired Up! – Celebrating Southern African Glass Art showcases glass art and design in a myriad of creative interpretations at the Pretoria Art Museum.

Fired Up! will be complemented by a day of glass-blowing demonstrations at the Tshwane University of Technology Faculty of Arts and Design Campus from 26 to 29 September 2022 from 9am to 4pm, as well as a symposium on Saturday, 1 October 2022.

Those who didn’t see the winning work of last year’s new Signature winner, will be able to view Supernature: Simulacra, the solo exhibition by the multidisciplinary artist Andrea du Plessis. This exhibition is a deepening of her research into the sublime experience and the complex relationship with nature in an age marked by technological augmentation and simulation.      

The United Nations has declared 2022 as the International Year of Glass. A multitude of international events are planned throughout this special year, and several local institutions have been hard at work to ensure that Southern Africa is featured on this prestigious global calendar.

Several speakers from artists, academics and the industry will discuss the theme, Glass and its Future in an African Context. Attendees of this symposium will also enjoy live glass-blowing demonstrations at the Tshwane University of Technology Glass Studio.

Also check them on Instagram @southern_african_glass or email them at yog2022.southafrica@gmail.com for more information.

https://www.sasolsignatures.co.za/

WHEN CREATIVES GET TALKING ABOUT THEIR WORK, IT CAN OPEN NEW WAYS TO NAVIGATE

As part of Karoo Klassique earlier in August, two Herzog prize-winners, Ingrid Winterbach (Voorouer. Pelgrim. Berg.) and Johan Myburg (Narreskip) chatted about their latest work. DIANE DE BEER reports on two informative conversations on creativity:

As a double Herzog Prize winner, a new novel by author Ingrid Winterbach is always a celebration. But it’s not only the accolades of course, it is the writing that gets people talking.

Voorouer. Pelgrim. Berg. (NB Publishers), her latest novel was the book under discussion and she was in conversation with book editor Elna van der Merwe. The fact that the one had written and the other was so familiar with the content, turned this into something extraordinary – and, for the prospective reader, an indication of whether this was something for them or not. That is what book discussions should do – not only explain or dissect the book but also encourage those listening to read.

Talking about the writing process, Winterbach was quick to note that if she had to wait for inspiration, she wouldn’t have been as prolific. As most writers would attest, it’s a hard daily grind of writing, re-writing and refining, and her latest book deals with family history and, at the other end of the spectrum, online dating to bring some light relief.

She and artist husband Andries Gouws have separate studios where they work every morning and where she writes. Afternoons might be spent painting. She chats delightfully about the writing process. Having written more than a dozen books (as well as others under the pseudonym Lettie Viljoen), she finds herself revisiting old themes. “But now I approach them differently,” she says, the implication being that she’s older and wiser.

Elna van der Merwe and Ingrid Winterbach.

Even if her books are viewed as challenging, when writing, she doesn’t think about the readers. Writing is enough of a challenge and her plots are never straightforward.  She knows it would be easier to simply have a plot that’s marching towards a final conclusion, but that’s never been the way she tells stories. “That doesn’t interest me at all,” she says as she illustrates her penchant for a “sombre story with manic pace”.

When asked about the way she uses language and introduces English slang, she’s quick to note that she doesn’t know anyone under 50 who speaks pure Afrikaans. It would sound unnatural in today’s world, she believes, if she should write in that pure sense. The only character who does speak Afrikaans without any deviations in this particular book is a character called Gysbert, who is slightly mad.

And that is how she defines her characters, by playing with their dialogue. “The fact that he speaks in the way he does, is part of his aberration.”

Writing for her is a time she searches for something new, something that challenges her. Just as she doesn’t want to read the same book over and over again, the same instincts kick in when writing.

For her it is about writing brilliantly. As Van der Merwe pointed out, Ingrid would be bored with a mediocre novel – either reading or writing. It was fascinating listening to these two specialists in their craft talk about both writing and reading.

Poet Johan Myburg with author Ingrid Winterbach

Winterbach later sat down to speak to fellow Herzog prize winner, poet Johan Myburg, about his latest poetry book, Narreskip (Protea Books, see https://bit.ly/3bjfs9b) and with these two writers working in different genres, they shared their mutual admiration.

To listen to the novelist discuss her impressions of a master poet was extremely special. She started by describing Narreskip as fresh and astonishing, written with outrage, but never shrill, always controlled.

Both of them admitted that they would like to swap genres once in a while, but that it wouldn’t be possible, hence the admiration.

Winterbach explained the differences as poets (carrying) everything with them, while for a novelist when writing, it’s like going on a camping trip when writing a book.

Both were equally intrigued with the other’s process and because they understand writing, the process was also diligently discussed.

Asked about when to rhyme and when not, Myburg responded that the poem is the one that demands. “It also has to do with the look of a poem on a page,” he explained. Who would have thought?

As someone who uses a lot of references and not many that ordinary readers would recognise, Winterbach gave a handy guide of how to approach each of the Myburg poems. She obviously had huge fun reading and noted that it was a massive learning exercise for her. That’s just the way Myburg writes and because his areas of speciality are so wide-ranging, he can dip into quite obscure places.

Being an art critic is particularly handy as he reaches into the past to look at the present. Pointing to the famous Yeats line from his poem The Second Coming:

 And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last…

This is where his poetry took her.

Two special writers.

She would first read the poem and then start analysing and checking possible references. It meant that not only was she more informed after reading the poems, she understood and thus enjoyed them more – and only then can the reader truly wallow in the wealth of riches provided by the poet.

And speaking about language, she was delighted to read that even when dabbling in the 15th and 16th centuries, he could tongue-in-cheek have a scribe writing a blog! Or when writing about muti murders, he would reference the Goya sketches Disasters of War and not giving these particular poems titles, it was as if the journalist stepped forward and reported what he had witnessed.

Both these two talks emphasized the importance of book launches and also the fun. If you match the right people, not only will prospective readers gain insight, but they will also have a much better understanding of the author as well as the writing process and in some instances, how to approach a specific poetry collection or novel. I felt blessed.