Johan Swart’s Hidden Pretoria Celebrates A Capital City With Hidden Treasures

Hidden PretoriaPictures: Alain Proust

Hidden Pretoria (published by Struik Lifestyle)

“Hidden Pretoria places the buildings of our capital city in the spotlight,” writes author Johan Swart, Lecturer and Curator Archive collections Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria.

 

 

The word Hidden in the title also suggests that much of what is showcased would not all be obvious to even Pretoria residents and for those visiting, would serve as an exciting guide to the many spectacular buildings in the city.

Even having worked in the city centre for most of my life, I was only vaguely familiar with a mosque right in the centre of the city which had through the years become hidden because of certain buildings that obscure it from the public eye.

But because of Swart’s architectural eye and non-Pretorian photographer Alain Proust’s specific and individualistic way of looking at and capturing buildings, the beauty or unusual features of even a familiar building emerge much more strongly.

Hidden Pta Page 72
A different view from the Palace of Justice eastern tower, with details of the entrance lobby roof visible in the foreground and the western tower behind. The old State Bank building is on Church Square is visible below.

“With the Hidden Pretoria project the publisher was looking to work with someone in the academic sphere. My focus area at the university is local (South African) architectural heritage which was a good fit with the project.

“ It also made sense for a Pretoria-based academic to take on this task, as a great amount of effort went into ‘location scouting’ and access arrangements for which I called in a number of favours within local architectural and conservation networks. I also have access to a number of archives and libraries that contain information about sites in Pretoria,” explained Swart.

He also had the difficult task of appeasing the highly critical academics among whom he finds himself, while ensuring that the book is accessible to a much wider audience at the same time. “I needed the book to be a responsible account of the architectural history of our city, something that could be prescribed to a student at our department, but also a book that these students would be able to lend to their family and friends as an enjoyable read.” And he certainly pulled that off.

It’s clear that he did extensive fieldwork before selecting buildings for inclusion in the book, and he says that only places that he had visited and where he saw (and felt) a deep quality of place were chosen.

Hidden Pta Page 67
Palace of Justice: The colonnaded entrance halls are flooded with natural light from leaded-glass skylights and clerestory windows.

The book serves as a reminder of what the city holds. “Architecturally, Pretoria’s buildings tell the story of a 19th Century republican outpost ignited by the politics of the British Empire, transformed through apartheid-era restructuring and evolving into a 21st century African metropolis,” writes Swart.

In the initial stages, the book posed many challenging questions. For example, which buildings are the most representative of Pretoria’s architectural legacy? What contribution can this publication make to the historical record? How can a broad audience be introduced to the city and its buildings?

His answers to these served a number of aims: Hidden Pretoria is both a momentary snapshot of spaces that might soon change or vanish, drawing attention to their incredible value and potential,  and a photographic documentation of the city, structured and written as an architectural survey. Diverse hidden spaces are exposed, he explains, and ultimately the range of buildings captures the collective spatial identity of the city.

The theme dictated that the book be curated as a journey of discovery revealing a series of surprising spaces in a manner not accessible to the majority of readers. This is enhanced by Proust’s particular eye for a picture.

He has collaborated with Struik Lifestyle for decades, so he was the obvious choice for the Hidden series of which Pretoria is the third city following Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Hidden Pta Page 14-15
Panoramic view over Church Square, the geographical and historical heart of Pretoria looking towards the north west from the roof of the Old Standard Bank building.

“But apart from that,” says Swart, “I also believe he is one of the best architectural photographers around, the style of his photographs are straightforward in terms of angles and perspective but incredibly good in terms of light, colour and focus etc.”

He was thrilled that Proust managed to get incredible quality and richness out of even the most elemental architectural moments. “He was at moments surprised with the quality of buildings and spaces in Pretoria and I believe the journey of discovery that we embarked on also enthused him to capture the best of Pretoria for a wider South African audience.”

Many of the spaces lie just beyond the surface of known facades, notes Swart. “Historical buildings such as the Palace of Justice and Old Standard Bank are well-known neoclassical edifices in full public view that hide beautifully articulated interior volumes.”

Hidden Pta Page 152-153
The auditorium of the Capitol Theatre described as one of Pretoria’s most unexpected interior spaces is enveloped in Renaissance-themed decor under an imitation sky ceiling. A parking area has replaced the ground floor seating.

Specifically to capture the intent of the book, the cover picture captures exactly that ethos. It is the most dramatic example of a hidden treasure behind a relatively nondescript facade right in the heart of the city.

The author also explains that some buildings are not only architecturally important but also worth exploring for the hidden objects. The works of artists like Alexis Preller and Walter Battiss, for example, remain locked in the abandoned TPA Building and like the mosque, some buildings are hidden because of their urban context.

For city dwellers themselves, some of the facades have disappeared simply because of familiarity and the interiors are quite breath-taking, yet we walk past them sometimes on a daily basis never having ventured inside.

Hidden Pta Page 174
The lower areas of Freedom Park with the continuity between the building and its surrounding landscape evident in this view.

One of Swart’s aims was to inspire a general awareness and appreciation of the architectural heritage of the city. All the selected buildings are of heritage value and their relevance in the present, can be measured according to a number of themes.

As an architect who works in academia himself, he argues most succinctly and with each building or site also details many facts that would be unknown to those of us who simply see an interesting or historical building – some which we might even in these past decades have turned our backs on.

He points out, for example, that the Dutch Reformed churches at Universiteitsoord and Burgerspark are of particular  architectural and historical interest because they’re illustrative of the Regionalist and Brutalist design approaches that prevailed in the 1960s. Both the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park have value as spaces of reflection and debate as they present as reference points for dialogue about identity and memory.

HP THE MARIEAMMAN TEMPLE: PRETORIA
The Mariamman Temple viewed from the Tamil Hall over the central core of the temple complex with arda mandapam to the left, and maha mandapan (pavillion) in the middle, and the gopuram (entrance portal) to the right.

Those who know and visit Marabastad for some extraordinary shopping and food or drive past on their way to the city centre, would have noticed the extraordinary Mariamman Temple, a place of gathering and an anchor point  for the identity of its faith community, says Swart, as he goes on to point out many more features of Pretoria’s unique architecture.

Some would argue about the choices, and others might miss some of their favourites, but no one could be critical about the way the city is showcased from both a public and private point of view.

Hidden Pta Page 170-172
The Voortrekker Monument is an impressive granite structure with Art Deco articulation and a variety of symbolic motifs.

I loved the few private homes chosen; the fact that the home and work space one of our best artists, Angus Taylor, is featured. Or that House Jooste (Pretorians will know it as Brasserie de Paris) is featured as a homage to Le Corbusier as well as for locals who have a taste for French cuisine and Brutalist architecture. And then there’s Ora Joubert’s Ivy Villa Studio which makes a specific architectural statement, which was also its intent. She has been critical of the mediocrity of design in too many of our suburbs and has taken great pleasure in breaking that mould.

Whichever way you want to use or look at this book – whether a resident of the city or a visitor – it has been beautifully crafted from the selection of buildings and places to show. Extraordinary photographs and informed research guide the traveller, and finally, all come together to present something which is much more than a coffee table book.

And a final word from the author: “Even as a Pretorian who knows the city rather well, I was once again surprised with the intriguing and beautiful places that are to be found in and around the city. It takes a good amount of effort to discover and explore our cities but the personal reward makes it worthwhile.

“ I have a much more comprehensive and embodied understanding of our city after completing this project. It is also remarkable once we start understanding the incredible financial, architectural and social investment that was spent in the making of these special buildings, Pretoria really does have a ‘grand’ architectural legacy to take pride in and be inspired by.

“Another surprise is how wide the spectrum is along which the condition (state of conservation) of buildings can be placed, a surprising amount of heritage buildings in the city really is in almost pristine condition, where other sites are in complete and indefensible decay, perhaps this reflects something of the schizophrenic nature of South African society in general.”

Hopefully Hidden Pretoria will highlight the neglect of some of our hidden treasures, remind citizens of their architectural riches and enlighten visitors who might think the city only offers the Union Building with the monumental Mandela statue and the Voortrekker Monument. There is that but also so much more.

Yea Pretoria!

Rock Legends Patti Smith and David Bowie Offer more than the Perfect Escape

Books are a uniquely portable magic.
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

 

It’s a strange time when being at home alone (with family or perhaps a friend) can become quite demanding, but if you are privileged enough to have the luxury of viewing it as a time to take stock, catch up and get to all those things you love doing but never have time for, this will also be a time to read, read and read as much as you can. It is the perfect escape. This is the start of some suggestions by DIANE DE BEER in random fashion and as eclectic as reading can be for each individual. Hope you find some inspiration:

Book Yr of the Monkey

 

You have to know when tackling a Patti Smith book titled Year of the Monkey (Bloomsbury) to expect the unexpected.

Nothing about her life will be ordinary or familiar and a willingness to follow her on whatever journey she takes is a prerequisite to starting this equally melancholy and madcap journal.

Someone mentions that anything is possible, after all it is the Year of the Monkey, hence the title of the book which should be another loadstar to where these Smith meanderings might lead you.

It’s been a year of coping both with ageing (her 70th birthday looms) and dying, when her friend the producer, rock critic and manager Sandy Pearlman is hospitalised and yet another close friend and former partner, playwright Sam Shepard, is also deadly ill and needs her help to finish what will be his last book. (If you haven’t read her obituary of Shepard, it’s worth finding online.)

But first things first. Apart from these close encounters with friends and her own mortality, it’s also a helter-skelter time politically with elections in the air (and we all know how that ended) as well as Smith’s tendency to intertwine her different realities. You’d better be on your toes to keep track of her eclectic mind. Some might be fatalistic given her circumstances but others are quite fantastical as she starts communicating with an  inviting hotel sign with the name Dream Inn.

She doesn’t have everyday conversations and even loses a ride when she can’t stop talking even when warned she could only tag along if she didn’t say a word.

Whether you know and like her music or not, your enjoyment of the book depends on whether you fall in love with her eclectic lifestyle, her unusual way of making her way through life and perhaps, the age she’s at, which determines this somewhat fatalistic mood.

Along the way, she always has her camera on hand taking artistic shots of seemingly mundane features like an unmade bed in a nondescript hotel room, a writer’s shoes, a café in Lisbon and anything that catches her fancy or captures her mood.

This is not any ordinary diary but someone musing about a time in her life that finds her at particular crossroads because of circumstances beyond her control. We all know that place, but for someone with Smith’s particular capabilities, it takes what might be for many quite strange detours. It’s as if she allows the universe to dictate, as if finding it difficult to determine her own pathway right at this time.

We all know that feeling of drifting but few would actually take on the physical reality as well. Perhaps the end of a run of New Year concerts helped her along. Spent as she must have been, a time to unwind and throwing herself to the wind might make sense of a world that feels as if it is turning on her. The election of Trump also having some impact here. It is Patti Smith after all, how could it not!

If all this sounds dire because of the loneliness and a certain desolation, it is also a novel way of capturing your own feelings – especially in this time, making sense of a world that seems out of control and lending insight to others who might experience similar feelings without knowing how to get a different grip on life.

And in our present circumstances, this might be the escape some of us have been looking for. It is a writer who uses her imagination to inhabit a world she doesn’t understand – or even want to.

Book Bowie's BooksFor Bowie, one suspects, had he still been living, he would have dipped into one of the many books he loved, far beyond the 100 listed in Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes who Changed His Life by John O’Connel (with illustrations by Luis Paadin) published by Bloomsbury.

It’s a fascinating read, which tells you much more about Bowie while explaining the books. In the introduction that explains the writing of the book, O’Connel quotes a Sunday Times location report: “Bowie hates aircraft so he mostly travels across the States by train, carrying his mobile bibliothèque in special trunks which open out with all his books neatly displayed on shelves.”

This portable library sported 1 500 titles, more than enough so that he would never run out.

From March 2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition David Bowie Is travelled the world for the next 5 years. To coincide with the show’s first port of call, Ontario, the V&A issued the list on which this book is based, explains the author. It is the 100 books Bowie considered the most important and influential – not, note, his “Favourite books” as such – out of the 1 000s he had read during his life.

Bowie had through his life advertised his bookishness, according to O’Connel, not through interviews “but more obliquely in his work and in the range of masks he wore when he presented it to the public”.

We  learn, for example, that he didn’t do well at school – not through laziness it is surmised, or an inability to retain information, but rather, speculates the author, an impatience with formal education. He enjoyed teaching himself much rather than being taught by someone else.

He loved passing on the knowledge and passionately argued for a book he enjoyed to the extent that he started reviewing books for Barnes and Noble (book stores in the US).

One could also see the influence of different arts and genres in his work, in his songs, his presentations, even his album covers. That’s what makes this such a fascinating read for those who aren’t that familiar with his work

Bowie also liked playing games, says the author – hence the lists. “The V&A list is but one element of a game he enjoyed more than any other – curating his own mythology”.

One of the most incisive quotes in the introduction is something he said to Michael Parkinson during an interview: “I spent an awful lot of my life …actually looking for myself, understanding what I existed for and what made me happy in life and who exactly I was and what were the parts of myself that I was trying to hide from.”

O’Connel emphasises that the role reading played in  this quest cannot be underestimated.

It’s an extraordinary book and one that constantly surprises. The secret is in the way it has been written. With a 100 books to run through, O’Connel rarely gives more than two pages to a book in which he explains the author, who he is and what the book is about.

There’s also the significance to Bowie, a context in some way as well as insight not only into the book but also into Bowie himself.

It’s not necessarily one of those books about books that send you rushing off to read most of them. More importantly, it is about the man who read them and why he found them so significant.

Majak Bredell is an Artist with a Mission

Majak Bredell n1983 study
Majak Bredell – 1983 study

Majak Bredell is one of those artists whose exhibitions feel like an adventure you’re undertaking as she maps out the journey you’re embarking on. DIANE DE BEER tells some of her story:

 

Majak Bredell - Self portrait 1995 (002)
Majak Bredell – Self portrait 1995

Majak Bredell’s upcoming exhibition(s), MAJAK BREDELL: THE NEW YORK YEARS: 1981-2003, is a case in point. Not being someone who believes in keeping it simple, it is a curated collaboration between the Association of Arts Pretoria and the Pretoria Art Museum suggested by the association’s director Pieter van Heerden.

When you can, go big, is what Majak does well and because of the scope, she was thrilled about the collaboration.

The two part retrospective overview in the two galleries is accompanied by a full-colour catalogue that includes an essay by the curator, Prof. Elfriede Dreyer.

Looking back at her life, when Majak emigrated to New York in 1981 with her husband and two young children, she embarked on a journey that would lead her “from the confines of a traditional marriage on to the riches this world-city had to offer a searching artist.”

Majak Bredell Gesture Drawings
Gesture drawings

The works on show at both the venues cover a period of 22 years that follow the trajectory of the artist’s initial confrontations with issues of belonging and dis-belonging as the chasm between her mother country and her adopted home were mediated in both image and poetry. Several artist’s books with images and bilingual poems resulted from this.

majak poetry
A page from Mother Passage which has been framed for the exhibition.

The Association’s showcase is an introduction together with a book titled Mother Passage, which includes 20 etchings and 20 bilingual poems, all of which she had framed so that it can be viewed in a particular way in the gallery.

The Pretoria Art Gallery covers similar themes and it was helpful to have a curator like Prof Dreyer who could pull things together. “There are so many works,” says Majak, “we could only use half of all the actual pieces.”

She also has a slideshow of all her workbooks and sketches and she was still crossing fingers (at the time of our chat) that she could achieve it technically – so that it could run on a loop. “It’s been put together in no particular order, no narrative, so that people can start watching at any point,” she says and it will take 33 minutes. Nothing is left to chance. She also has text cards throughout her exhibition to guide the viewer. “I’m covering a big arc,” she acknowledges.

This is an artist who very early on in her career knew that she didn’t want to use her art to make a living. “My lifeline couldn’t be diluted,” she says earnestly. She wanted no compromises. Instead she made a living as a graphic artist, something which has also stood her in good stead because she can self-publish her amazing catalogue for example.

Majak Bredell - Study for mother passage (002)
Majak Bredell – Study for Mother Passage

Bredell states in that catalogue accompanying the exhibitions:

“Through art-making I quarreled with the legacy and unyielding demands of the patriarchal Calvinism that shaped my childhood in the 1950s South Africa. This journey, accompanied by Jungian therapy and much reading, eventually led me to a gender shift in the image of the sacred, culminating in my resurrection of ancient notions of the great mother, goddess, the sacred female.

“In this process, I imagined an embodied reflection of those parts of being that had been marginalized or rejected by western monotheism’s misogyny and its casting of the sexual female body into the abyss of so-called original sin. During my sojourn in that great city, art-making remained my passion despite limited exhibition opportunities.

“Longing  for my mother country and the loss of a South African identity eventually precipitated my return to South Africa after a hiatus of almost 23 years.  By which time my identity had shifted to include my New York identity that I wore like a second skin — a double identity I wear to this day.”

Majak Bredell 1998 Arc of Life
1998 Arc of Life

Since her return to South Africa, the themes developed in New York were further elaborated and exhibited:  2009: Alter Images: The Black Madonna & Sisters; 2013: Roll Call: a vindication of the lives and bodies that were destroyed during the centuries-long European witch persecutions; 2016: Codex Magdalene+: towards a new iconography and re-imaging the mythology and legends of Mary Magdalene; and her current works in progress, Earth/Body, that explore dialogues between the human body and the body of the earth.

And underlying all of her work is her quest to emphasise why the gender of God has done such damage to women’s bodies and a sense of self. “I was highly influenced by the writing of the spiritual feminists,” and she rattles off a slew of names as well as the website www.feminismandreligion.com for anyone interested.

Do yourself a favour. Set aside a day, or perhaps two mornings or afternoons to break it up. Visit both exhibitions and do them thoroughly. It will be like reading an extraordinary book by a remarkable woman sharing her soulful story.

 

majak4
A favourite dress – layers of being. Graphite and charcoal on Arches cover paper

Details of the Pretoria exhibitions:

1: — an introduction to the work
Opening:  Friday 6 March 2020 at 7pm

THE ASSOCIATION OF ARTS PRETORIA
173 Mackie Street
Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria

Opening speaker: Dr Avitha Sooful

Walkabout by the artist:  Wednesday 11 March 2020 at 12 noon

Closing:  Wednesday 25 March 2020 at 3pm

 

2: — the comprehensive exhibition
Opening:  Saturday 14 March 2020 at 11 am

THE PRETORIA ART MUSEUM
cnr Francis Baard and Wessels Streets
Arcadia Park, Pretoria

Opening speaker: Prof. Elfriede Dreyer

Walkabout by the artist:  Tuesday 24 March 2020 at 11 am.

Closing:  Sunday 14 June 2020

Bredell’s book, SACRED SCARS, will be introduced at the Association of Arts Pretoria at both the opening and at the walkabout.  The artist researched and compiled images that represent humankind’s embodied relationship to the sacred female in art and artefacts dating from pre-history to the early modern period.

Hard Hitting Message Movies at European Film Festival at SK Cinema Nouveau in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town

Les Miserables Still 1
A shot from the opening scenes of Les Miserables setting the scene of young protesters.

The European Film Festival is strongly issue-driven this year which takes us into the eye of the storm of what people are struggling with around the world: from immigration to homelessness, the scourge of survival at any cost and even ageing with the baby boomers all hitting their final stride. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

While we’re complaining about the heat, a film like Rosie reminds you about lives battling with real problems.

Rosie 7I9A0004
Short solace in the back of a car in Rosie

This Irish family of six, Rosie, her husband John Paul and four kids, three of them still only tots, are out house hunting. The thing is, they’re only searching for the night, every night, and because it’s such a struggle to find one room a night before the kids go back to school, there’s no time to look for anything more permanent.

While her husband is at work at a restaurant, a tough slog, the kids are dropped off at school and Rosie can get to phoning the hotels for a family room for the night – with one toddler in tow. “I never knew there were so many hotels in Dublin,” she tells her brother-in-law who is trying to tell her that they can’t look after the family dog any longer, one of the few emotional lifts they have left with which to give the kids a bit of joy.

Rosie 7I9A0457_1
Capturing a moment of happiness in the sorrow of Rosie.

It’s heart wrenching as the family is left destitute and yet there’s a warmth amongst the adult couple as they try holding it together for the children who are struggling with these dire circumstances. Life is tough enough without any of these circumstances added to the daily burdens. Keep that in mind as you think of the unemployment numbers in this country and the people who are represented by those numbers.

It’s brilliantly made, and even if bleak, it’s a story of our time and has to be told. And we have to pay attention.

If you’re thinking Les Misérables the musical, think again. It reminded of a recent television interview by a young Limpopo student leader who was speaking in protest at a fellow student’s murder, which included rape and 52 stabbings with a knife. Her anger was palpable as she told of students reporting rape to their local police station only to be told, it was their boyfriend.

With a similar disregard for young lives, the police, who claim to have worked this particular banlieue for 10 years, are looking for a lion cub that was stolen from the circus. One kid in particular is targeted and in a scuffle with the youngsters who are becoming quite menacing, one of the policemen fires his gun and harms this particular boy.

Les Miserables Still 3 (8)
Five young lads from Les Miserables

The rest of the film is about trying to destroy the footage shot of this incident but also trying to keep the young wounded warrior from actually dying and bringing the incident to light in a way the police don’t want it spotlighted.

This is a time when the voiceless in different areas of life are starting to speak up and they’re doing it loudly. The one gives the other courage perhaps, but even more likely is the disgust experienced by different groupings in society at the complete disregard for their lives. They have finally hit urgency levels which needs addressing.

It’s gritty, hard-hitting but these stories need to be told and taken seriously. What makes this one so incisive is the fact that this debut director, Ladj Ly, and many of the cast are telling the story of their suburb. They know these streets and these people. It is their lives.

It deservedly won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, received the Best International Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival in July, and has been selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Film for the 2020 Oscars. It will be distributed locally by Videovision next year.

The_Vice_Of_Hope7
Delivering the innocents in Vice of Hope.

In similar fashion, the aptly named Vice of Hope hones in on the women, both heroes and villains, who live on the edges of the towns surrounding Naples.

It deals with poverty, African immigration, human trafficking and the surrogacy business that follows as a result. It’s almost impossible to escape this nightmarish life as the young girls have babies who are then sold on the market before the cycle repeats itself again and again.

Those not making babies are pulled in to keep the others in line and, life being what it is on the edge of these waters, it doesn’t take long for them to fall into the same trap.

Like so many of the other films, it’s a bleak picture of what it takes to survive but it also shows the strength of those who are determined to survive and hold the hands of others to drag them out of these dastardly circumstances.

The_Vice_Of_Hope5
Protagonist Maria with her only faithful friend.

Life deals different cards to different communities, which is why phrases like first world problems are much darker than they may seem. Most of the time, survival means choosing between life and death, with neither choice being an easy one.

We live in a world where the problems seem insurmountable and we think we would do better to simply turn away. But in today’s world, that’s not an option any longer as filmmakers not only stories of fantasy, but also show us the real world in all its horror.

We need to know.

painandglory
Antonio Almodovar as Salvador in Pain and Glory

Who can resist a Pedro Almodóvar movie and with his latest Pain and Glory, described by many as his finest in many years, it’s a rare treat. The ageing director hitting his 70s is in a reflective mood as he casts a wary eye towards the future while looking back with lingering love at especially life with his mother, always a force in his films.

With two of his favourite actors, Antonio Banderas as Salvador, the weary director who is more at ease doing nothing and obsessing about his ailing body and mind, and the exquisite Penelope Cruz playing his adored mother, a time he reflects on when he was still a young boy, this is Almodóvar baring his soul – even if it isn’t, strictly speaking, all his life.

Penelope Cruz in Pain and Glory
Penelope Cruz in Pain and Glory.

There’s enough to tempt you into thinking so, which adds to the oft melodramatic meanderings of a director who feels he still has enough to say and yet, has neither the energy nor the spirit to do so.

But even as he seems to step out of his life, he finds a way to make his own mindful meanderings cinematic in a blast of colour that all those passionate about Pedro’s artistic bent will appreciate.

It’s like poetry as he walks you through the different moods with people of his past and present, all of them impacted by his artistic talent and the way he told his stories and lived his life. Even when someone’s life looks like something to be desired, that’s never true. We are all trying to navigate the best we can, with all our neuroses and passions, the best life we can possibly live.

This one predictably has been earmarked as Spain’s 2020 Oscar nomination and watch out for a few general nominations as well.

See http://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ for detailed synopses, trailers and links to the screening schedule and ticket bookings.

 

 

Movies Make the World Go Round

Pain and Glory 11
Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s 21st film, Pain and Glory, described as his best in years.

Movies screened locally don’t seem to be what they used to be, but perhaps we’re just spoilt for choice with better television and streaming possibilities. DIANE DE BEER spotlights an exceptional European Film Festival:

For those who miss the Almodóvars, haven’t seen the latest Gavin Hood, Official Secret, and simply want to get a handle on some of the issues truly rocking the world today, a ten-day feast of award-winning films are up for grabs as the European Film Festival celebrates its 6th edition in South Africa.

The festival will be held simultaneously at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town from Friday November 29 to December 8.

Issues seem to be the driving force and it is fascinating to see how an overwhelming crisis like refugees is being dealt with by filmmakers, for example.

Representing Austria, Styx tells the story of the transformation of a woman sailor when she becomes the only person to come to the aid of a group of refugees shipwrecked on the high seas.

She is in fact on her way to fulfilling a longtime dream to sail alone to Ascension Island to experience a Darwinian experiment of natural plant and animal life.

Things don’t go as expected and she is  caught in a refugee crisis as she finds herself in the proximity of a boat with 100 people about to drown.

Naturally she would save them but the odds on a yacht made for one is certain death, for herself included. The next best thing is of course to alert the authorities or boats in the vicinity to the crisis.

It’s hair-raising stuff but beautifully crafted as it captures the crisis of one caring individual who hopes to make a difference – but on a larger scale, it also encapsulates the world we live in right now.

The carefully curated festival is packed with Oscar-nominated and multi-award-winning films from twelve countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

System Crasher is Germany’s choice for next year’s Oscars. It is a debut film for the director and the title refers to a child who breaks all the rules. Benni (a fantastic performance by Helena Zengel) is an angelic-looking nine-year-old who swings wildly from an innocent waif to a violent wild child that has everyone around her perplexed and unable to reach her.

It is the story of one child so  severely traumatised by rejection that anything sets her off in a way that not only harms herself but also those around her. It’s tough to watch yet beautifully told and acted, not giving any easy solutions yet pointing to the dangers of neglect and how that can impact not only the life of one child but a whole community.

COLD WAR zimna_wojna_fotosy207
Director’s muse Joanna Kulig (with Tomasz Koz blurred and to the side) in Cold War Picture: Zimna Wojna

Cold War, a passionate love story between a music director and a young singer, is perhaps an antidote  to some of the harsh yet compelling issues some of the other films represent. But as the title suggests, this is no walk in  the park – perhaps a doomed love affair (or not) exquisitely presented.

After all, Pawel Pawlikowski’s extraordinary black and white masterpiece (following the success of Ida, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2015) grabbed the Best Director prize at Cannes before earning three Oscar nominations at the Academy Awards in 2019, and another five European Film Awards before that.

This is a couple who struggle to stay together but simply can’t leave one another alone. It is the director’s love letter to his parents, a love affair that was less enchanting to be a part of, and he has cast two astonishing actors, Joanna Kulig (also starring in Ida) and Tomasz Kot to star in this personal tale.

The highly awarded Girl, from Flanders in Belgium, tells the story of 15-year-old Lara who dreams of becoming a ballerina. More importantly, this is a transgender story with Lara who was born into the body of a boy, undergoing treatment in preparation for gender reassignment surgery. Her ambitions are heady taking into consideration everything she has to deal with.

Added to that, she is being raised by her father with a four-year-old brother who falls mostly under her care. The film illustrates some of the tough challenges she faces with a changing body and in addition, one that hasn’t been built for the challenges of being a ballerina.

There has been some controversy about the film because neither the director, writer or actor are transgender, which has been criticised. I think this is going to be a personal decision, but for me, the film took pains to be informative, to show the tough transition for Lara and usually, because of the people around her.

Her choices make it difficult because while her doctor advises her not to focus on her body during this part of the transition, more than anything that’s what dancers do and have to do. They are surrounded by mirrors and beautiful bodies all day long. Even though she is living in a time where transgender is more accepted, that doesn’t do diminish the deliberate daily cruelty by others.

This is not a world where the “other” is accepted. Why should transgender be different? As if it isn’t tough enough. But that’s who we are as a society and that won’t change soon.

Push - LeilaniFarhaSM
The Swedish documentary about housing with Lehani Farha.

Again stepping into a completely different world, Push is a Swedish-made documentary that is all about the world we live in today and harrowing is the best way to describe it. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

It follows Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, as she travels the globe, trying to understand who’s being pushed out of cities and why. What she discovers is how global finance is fuelling the worldwide housing crisis while making cities unaffordable to live in: “There’s a huge difference between housing as a commodity and gold as a commodity. Gold is not a human right, housing is.”

And that truly says it all. But what she finds is that the largest real estate equity firm in the world, Blackstone, is behind many of the disastrous housing projects she is investigating. “It’s like a world where you are fishing for fools,” is how the dilemma of taking advantage of the powerless is described by a participant.

What has happened in this past decade is that housing, especially for the poor, has been viewed as a commodity rather than a home. Sweden, for example, which has always been viewed as having housing systems to be proud of, falls in the same trap because someone is making money. Sound familiar? It’s not that one wants to wallow in someone else’s misery, but it does help to understand what is happening in the rest of the world. We’re not the only citizens who found ourselves living in a fool’s paradise. Check it out, it’s compulsive viewing.

These five above are the only ones I have personally watched but there are quite a few I will be adding to my viewing list:

The_Vice_Of_Hope2
Young and old women are the heroes, villains and victims in The Vice of Hope

*Les Misérables, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and then picked up Best International Feature Film at the Durban International Film Festival in July, is inspired by the Paris riots of 2005. Witnessed first-hand by director Ladj Ly, the film revolves around three members of an anti-crime brigade who are overrun while trying to make an arrest.  It has been selected as the French entry for the Best Foreign Film for the 2020 Oscars.

*Set against a housing crisis in Dublin, the Irish film Rosie is a riveting account of a remarkable woman trying to protect her loved ones and maintain their dignity when they lose their home.

*Women are the heroes, villains and victims in The Vice of Hope, a social drama about poverty, African immigration, human trafficking and the surrogacy business in towns around Naples (Italy).

*One would be silly to miss Oscar-winner Pedro Almodóvar’s 21st film described as his best in years. Pain and Glory won two awards at Cannes 2019 and features two of his favourite stars -Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz – in this semi-autobiographical narrative that tells of a series of re-encounters experienced by a film director in physical decline, and his need to recover meaning and hope. Pain and Glory is Spain’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards.

00407-Official Secrets-Photo Nick Wall.RAF
Keira Knightly in Official Secrets.  Picture: Nick Wall

*The UK’s participant in this year’s festival is Official Secrets, directed by South African Gavin Hood, who won an Oscar with Tsotsi  in 2005. Based on true events, Official Secrets tells the story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist who leaks a memo in which the US enlists Britain’s help in collecting compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favour of an invasion of Iraq.

See http://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ for detailed synopses, trailers and links to the screening schedule and ticket bookings.

The Storytelling Wisdom and Wit as well as Visual Imagination of a Trio of Artists

PG snakes,cactusi
Xerophyte landscape with alarmist magpies by Piet Grobler

When book illustrator Piet Grobler was planning his next exhibition, the issues dominating his head space turned into the title of the show, White lies and inconvenient truths. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look:

First Piet Grobler invited two fellow artists, Marinda du Toit and Corné Joubert, with similar storytelling abilities, to join him at the Tina Skukan Gallery from Sunday November 17 at 11.30am until December 14.

“In times of immediate mass communication, the collective tools of white lies and unspeakable truths seem to protect existing establishments, ridiculous assumptions and ideas and positions of power,” he writes in the invitation to the exhibition, which consists of Joubert’s ceramic objects, Du Toit’s sculptured characters and his own two-dimensional illustrations, all with a playful yet ironic view on this inconvenient truth.

“An interest in language and text, a preference for spontaneous drawing, seemingly nonsensical marks, discarded found objects, chance and happy accidents become the shared characteristic of this collection of visual narratives,” he notes. All of the work is held together by humour even when the messages have serious impact.

He derives his inspiration from from folk art, humour, travel, nature, human nature and stories of all kinds. “I have tried, in honour of the truths and the untruths, to simply play when I made my illustrations for this exhibition.”

Talking about his processes, drawings and paintings were done without excessive planning, thought or contemplation and the leftovers and snippets from other more calculated projects supplied him with the materials to make his unique worlds and tell his stories.

“Chance and happy accidents were used and then, I have to confess, fine-tuned and manipulated in order to tell stories that I hope will be funny or moving or interesting takes on truths.”

“I have always loved using idioms and metaphors in my titles for my characters,” says Du Toit, emphasizing in the process a layered meaning in the material, posture and title thereof.  “The concept is timeless, lies and truths have been (unfortunately) forever part of breathing and being, since religion, politics, people grouping, intolerance within every individual , etc. I just went ahead and made them,” says the artist completely in sync with the concept.

She enjoys being pushed out of her comfort zone, which can happen with the suggestions of others. “It can make you explore things that are not necessarily or naturally part of your reference.

“My work is mostly intuitive. Once I have established the concept, lived with it in my mind for a while and did some research if needed, I start looking at objects connected to the idea and it flows from there,” she further explains.

“I like to comment on issues, and current issues, whether subtly, with humour or directly. I want the viewer to ask questions, shy away, be embarrassed, explore further interpretation.”

She agrees with Grobler that we need to laugh at ourselves. “What always amazes me, is when a joke is derived from a tragic or shocking incident, how we find healing in the macabre by joking about it. I do clowning where the innocence (uninformed/childlike behaviour) of the clown is also a wonderful tool to address and comment on sensitive issues and taboo topics.”

She works with found objects, discarded, or items that are not useful in their primary function any longer. “My characters comment on any pressing issue, or any (assumed) mundane issue, being part of our daily lives as human,” falling neatly into the title of the exhibition.

Corne Joubert
Ceramic storytelling by Corné Joubert

Joubert, who worked for this one mainly in ceramics, found the theoretical disparity in the title pushed her to explore ideas on the lies we tell and on how lies and truth in general impact her life, environment and relationships. Who decides what is true and fair and how many people must agree on something to make it true?, she asks.

“By looking at history, we know millions of people can be wrong. Inconvenient truths are often tempered by white lies and so the boundaries between truth and lies dissolve, sometimes due to good intentions.”

She work in multiple media. “Images, characters, groups and surface treatments in my work all refer to reactions to my larger world of relationships, occurrences, stories and observations. There is usually a satirical suggestion to my responses. I am a writer and subsequently narrative, text and symbols form a part of my visual language.”

PG .Zombiecat
Piet Grobler’s Still life with Zombie Cat, Killer Bird and potted garden

It makes sense to group these three artists together even if they work in different media and  different genres. Their visual language is a collective one with a playful yet sharply satirical edge that might appear quite harmless, sometimes even childlike.

Their work elicits a wry smile and while it appears not to take life too seriously, what they’re saying with their work, dispels that myth.

With this specific title, the subversive nature of their art is allowed to flourish in a very specific way. This is a world turned upside down both climatically and in the way some people have chosen to inhabit their space in a particular time of madness and mayhem.

This trio have found a gentler yet no less effective way of making their point in almost sly fashion.

Send in the clowns. It’s time to laugh.

The exhibition will be opened by Johan Myburg, poet and art critic, on Sunday at 11.30 am. There will be a preview of the exhibition on Saturday from 9.30 am to 4 pm and a WALKABOUT presented by Piet Grobler on Saturday November 23 at 10.30 am. The exhibition closes on December 14.

Tina Skukan Gallery
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am to 5pm
Saturday, 9am to 4pm
Closed on Sundays and Mondays
6 Koedoeberg Road, Faerie Glen, Pretoria
Tel: 012 991 1733 or 083 235 3899
rex@tinaskukangallery.co.za
www.tinaskukangallery.co.za

Artists Kutlwano Monyai and Mbhoni Khosa in Tandem at Pretoria Art Museum

20191029_122743_HDR~2
Mbhoni Khosa (left, artwork right) and co-art-conspirator Kutlwano Monyai (right, artwork left)

From April this year, TUT art graduates, Kutlwano Monyai and Mbhoni Khosa, have been working on a body of work that takes the ideas encountered in The Genesis II’ Xhibition, further. DIANE DE BEER catches them at their latest exhibition, Kopanong Art Studio Residency Programme 2019:

 

 

Both, Kutlwano Monyai and Mbhoni Khosa, went through the Pretoria Art Museum education and development programme having been involved with guided tours at the Museum and the facilitation of art-making workshops for visiting groups as education assistants. This qualified them for the Genesis exhibition which was held at the Museum in June last year.

Following this, they were given yet another opportunity to further develop as artists. As part of a group of six artists, they competed for an art residency and were nominated as winners by an independent selection panel to work for four months in the Kopanong Art Studio (from April until July this year) in the Pretoria Art Museum.

They were selected because their work impressed the panel as it showed “a wide breadth of content and an adeptness with the art media in which they specialise”.

20191029_123522_HDR
A collaborative work: Ghost in the hut.

Because part of the exhibition was going to be collaborative, Monyai and Khosa had an advantage because they had studied together (earning their degrees at TUT last year) and had through their work as educational assistants also become close friends. There would be no barriers even if the process would be a new one.

The envisaged body of work consists of 26 artworks with the two artists contributing ten art works each and six collaborative works. While Khosa’s graphics expand the narrative of Xitsonga traditional beliefs and practices, Monyai plays with the interpretation of dreams through her mixed media artwork with interconnected mapmaking. They were mentored by Thabang Monoa, Connie Leteane and the Culture Officer at the Museum, Mmutle Kgokong.

20191029_123717_HDR
Releasing bitterness by Kutlwano Monyai.

Already as a young child, Monyai became interested in dreams sparked by her own vivid night-time experiences. Because her mother had similar tendencies, they often talked about their interpretations and growing up, it became part of the artist’s life.

It was natural that her art would be influenced by this way of understanding her world. “I interpret my dreams influenced by tradition and cultural background,” she notes. She remembers nightmares as a child, which her mother would translate as myths and stories, in comforting fashion.

20191029_123557_HDR
Excessive anxiety by Kutlwano Monyai.

And that became her way of telling her own stories on canvas – interpreting her dreams through mapping and meditation. Her method of making art also plays into the final result because she allows the mapping and her way of throwing paint to determine where and how she meanders her art route.

And apart from layering ideas, she is doing similar things with her different techniques. “I am mapping my own work with spirituality,” she says and with titles like Releasing Bitterness and Excessive Anxiety, it is clear that these are very personal works and that Monyai is working through her own history in quite extraordinary fashion as she holds onto dreams, listens to the stories they tell and then has her own interpretation – and healing process. And she’s happy with every piece, taking a leap into the unknown.

20191029_123740_HDR
A dance brings happiness to one’s heart by Mbhoni Khosa.

Khosa works quite differently, but he also reaches into his cultural heritage to find inspiration. As a Tsonga his life has been influenced by the neglect of his home city Giyani, former capital of the Gazankulu homeland, but now part of Limpopo. He believes that because they are in  the minority as a group, much of the infrastructure was moved post-apartheid.

From having very rich lives, his people, he feels, have been left with nothing and daily life has become a struggle. Yet, he is consoled by who they are as a people and wants to celebrate their happiness in spite of hardships.

“I needed to release my anger,” is how he expresses his starting point when making art. His methods are varied as he uses printmaking, scratching, drawing in stark colours to “define what is left” of their world.

20191029_123618_HDR
A friend is someone you share a path with by Mbhoni Khosa.

What emerges and what he captures are his people’s joy in life, the way they celebrate and come together, their traditions and culture, all of which he loves. “For me it is a healing process,” he says in gentle tones.

In similar fashion, his titles, including A dance brings happiness to one’s heart and A friend is someone you share a path with express what he is dealing with and where his focus lies.

Collaborating opened a new world for both artists. While they might be dealing with similar topics, they do this very differently yet found a way to blend their art with both finding their signature expressed in the final product.

20191029_122930_HDR
A collaborative work titled Reaching Out

“Our methods are very different,” says Monyai. “My process is very slow while Khosa is fast.” She was also slightly anxious about working together as she has always made art in isolation. But the two know one another well, fed off each other rather than feel alienated and the collaborative works tell their individual stories – in tandem.

Another learning curve was a lack of funding and how to resolve that. While the space was provided and mentorship included, they had to bring their own materials and look after themselves during the residency. In in the process, explains Khosa, he also learnt to budget for art materials which are hugely expensive. They though the full experience was something that offered huge experience for their future art journey.

20191029_122835_HDR~2
Artist in cahoots Mbhoni Khosa and Kutlwano Monyai.

While Monyai is dreaming about future solo exhibitions, she plans to tackle the competitive art world next, while Khosa wants to study further and earn his stripes as an art teacher. “I want to give back,” he says. But he will keep making art.

From November 16, more of their art will form part of the group exhibition at Banele Khoza’s Braamfontein studio and gallery BKhz. To feature in two exhibitions simultaneously, for two so young, is extraordinary.

Listening to these two inspirational artists, their very exciting yet brief career path, it’s clear that they grab every opportunity, do the hard work, and sweep splendidly through doors flung open.

And then they tell visual stories that make your heart sing.

 

 

 

Kopanong Art Studio Residency Programme 2019 is on show in the Henry Preiss Hall of the Pretoria Art Museum on Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 4pm, with guided tours arranged by appointment. The exhibition will be on show until Sunday, February 2 2020.

 

Artist Banele Khoza Pushes Boundaries in Makeshift Pretoria Art Museum Studio

20191026_121536_HDR
Banele Khoza busy with model Lehlonolo Kwape.

Depending on the timing of your visit to the latest Banele Khoza exhibition, 9 – 5. Do artists need structure?, you will be having a unique perspective. DIANE DE BEER speaks to the multi-faceted artist:

“It’s about the process and that’s messy,” says the 25-year-old Banele Khoza whose exhibition is being hosted by the Pretoria Art Museum and the Alliance Française of Pretoria. It also serves as part of Khoza’s prize for winning the 2017 Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award which included a three-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris (partly sponsored by the Alliance Française and the French Institute in South Africa).

It’s an annual art competition presented by Absa and the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), focused on artists aged between 21 and 35.

Structure is a word that features strongly in Khoza’s mind at the moment (also pointing to the title of the exhibition) and he is hoping to discover with this present process how it fits into his creative process. At the same time, he is encouraging everyone to share in the journey as he works on many different pieces that have to be completed.

To create 9 – 5, Khoza is hoping to find out what will happen when he structures his creative endeavours to the normalised nine to five schedule for the six weeks of the exhibition which runs until December 7.

20191029_125258_HDR
A studio in a museum.

The plan is to avoid taking anything home by working in the studio he has re-created on site in the North Gallery of the Pretoria Art Museum. “I want to find out if I would hate it (working this publicly), I want to see if the frustration will translate into my body of work,” explains Khoza.

Even before the official opening when he was setting up the studio which is part of the process and which will be on-going throughout probably changing and growing daily, he was finding it difficult not to keep working beyond the scheduled time. But all of this is an experiment and for this entrepreneurial youngster, it’s excitement on the eve of the exhibition about to unfold.

He is thrilled that the Museum went along with this wild idea of his and that they’re really allowing him to unravel the process, one he isn’t entirely sure of, in his own way. “I know they would have liked more of a studio by the opening, but for me, that’s all part of how this should go,” he says. He is also pleased that his music can be played as part of the show. “It’s about what we listen to and what we get up to,” while creating art.

For Banele, the structure isn’t about doing the work, it’s about taking time-out. “I’ve always been afraid of rest,” he says. “It’s always seemed counterproductive in a world that encourages and praises constant output.” He also knows that while his working hours might pile up, the work isn’t always effective.

That has always been part of his being – output. As someone who describes himself as an entrepreneur, curator, former lecturer and the gallery director of the open studio and gallery space, BKhz in Braamfontein, he dabbles with dexterity in many different mediums. His phone is part of his drawing pad and he always carries a number of notebooks in which he constantly jots down memories, thoughts and most recently, also poetry.

Words have always been part of his process but even more so now. “I am reading a lot of poetry,” he explains. While in residency in Paris he realised that the true benefit was everything he was exposed to – people and different spaces. In that way his art is in constant flux – something that is part of his being.

In the corner of the gallery, he has his desk scattered with notebooks but also reading material. The bookcase that frames the picture also reveals his reading interests.

And now, being this public, is about interrupting his usual process – both for himself and the viewer. Everything he does is being done with intent. The process might be new for the artist but he is attacking it with vigour and expectation. It’s about sharing something that’s private. “Usually people only engage with the finished product as if the process is seamless.”

He hopes to reveal the imperfections, the struggle of making art while reflecting on his life and where he plans to go next. Not that this prolific artist needs any more avenues. In his young career, he has done more than many attempt in a lifetime – much of it publicly. What is extraordinary about this public approach to his work, is Khosa’s shy demeanour while all the time pushing himself to engage. He does this not only in real life but also on social media. He is a millennial who plays the game to perfection.

His art is difficult to describe because he is constantly changing from fine multiplied line drawings to dreamlike figures, usually solo, he says, but these also change in character and intent as he finds new places to explore and new techniques to decipher and develop.

20191029_124959_HDR
Clearing his head and his desktop.

That has always been the excitement about his work. While there is a signature style easily recognised, if you are a collector of his work, the versatility is extraordinary – and he is only 25. That’s also why the present process is such a brave one. Not even the artist knows where this will take him.

In the meantime, the two artists in the gallery next to his makeshift studio have been invited to exhibit their work together with a whole group of trained Educational Assistants from the Pretoria Art Museum in his Braamfontein gallery BKhz. “One of my goals is to encourage and promote emerging artists,” he says fully aware of how helping hands were part of his personal journey. That exhibition will be opened on Saturday morning, November 16.

Speaking to him three days into the exhibition, he is having fun. “When it is quiet, it is a time to be still, something I need,” he says as I catch him on his computer. It’s about dreaming and dabbling in a space that allows him to do just that. “People are still a bit hesitant but as I start working more intently, I think they will engage,” he says.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what is going to emerge at the conclusion. Watch this space…

 

In the meantime…

website:    bkhz   banelekhoza 

instagram: bkhz   banelekhoza

The Arts Not Always Recognised In The Way It Should Be Counts at Aardklop 2019

Aardklop 2019 made great inroads under difficult economic and social circumstances with women stealing the show on many of the stages writes DIANE DE BEER;

 

One of the problems that Afrikaans festivals battle with is inclusivity. It is less problematic in the Cape (Woordfees and Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees) because Afrikaans is a language spoken by different groups.

Less so in a place like Potchefstroom where English would be the spoken language common to most of the people. But that doesn’t mean trying to embrace the different communities should not be attempted.

You want a whole town to celebrate and share in the advantages of any arts festival. The arts have often been used as inspiration in this country – good times and bad – and can be used as a common language.

20190928_122143_HDR
Organsier and jewellery maker Seitebaleng Legoale with poet Tlholeho Lekena celebrating their award

This year inroads were made with an art tour (for the second year in succession) to the local township Ikageng. Catching a specially designated shuttle, the Maboneng Township Experience, is the start of an inspired journey.

Founding director Siphiwe Ngwenya who instigated these art tours in Alex, Langa and Joburg previously, was also instrumental in the Ikageng initiative now being run by Seitebaleng Constance Legoale who has started specifically in one designated street where sometimes it is the house of the artist, other times, art is exhibited in specific homes. She believes this is just the beginning.

20190928_112737_HDR
Poet Tlholeho Lekena in action.

With Carien Brits from the ATKV’s language department as part of the experience, she kickstarts the tour on the shuttle with a talk on language, that spoken most widely in Ikageng (Sesotho) and the culture those making the journey will experience in the township where we are greeted by a local poet Tlholeho Lekena. He does a great introductory poem titled Grey, promoting the absence of white and black while rather focussing on a combination of the two – in essence an absence of colour.

20190928_120419_HDR
An anguished rape lament

From the different kinds of art, photographs, live poetry and writing put up on the wall raging about rape to the colourful grandmothers who are often the backbone of their self-made families, it is yet another small step to change township into town with none of the often-self-imposed barriers.

They were rewarded with an Aardklop award for ground-breaking work and hopefully the venture will go from strength to strength.

On the stages, it was the time of especially three women: Sandra Prinsloo, Antoinette Kellermann and Cintaine Schutte. Naturally there was more, but festivals always produce something extraordinary that stands out for different reasons.

Here it was about performance in three very different productions, yet each one with its own challenges and each one very specific to the production.

Sandra Prinsloo
Sandra Prinsloo Picture: Eye Poetry Photography

Prinsloo stars as Susan Nell in Kamphoer (on at The Baxter in Cape Town until October 26) , a piece that on paper looks tough to transpose to stage. But with the phenomenal Prinsloo working for the first time with insightful director Lara Foot (the production is currently playing at The Baxter in Cape Town), they workshopped the text with scriptwriter Cecilia du Toit, and produced something powerful for especially this time.

It’s a story of violent abuse during a time of war, someone whose rape earned her the damning title of camp whore, a woman left for dead at the side of the road, and finally, after many detours and gentle helping hands from concerned strangers, a chance at retribution.

For Prinsloo and Foot, the X factor was bringing this extraordinary woman to life. It’s not just about what happened to her, but how she experienced her life, something she had no control over. It is the way Nell (Prinsloo) takes you through her life, removes her skin layer for layer as she is violated and tries to rebuild and find a way to regain a measure of what could become a life once again.

It is the way she shares her story, the fragility of what becomes her existence, reaching a hand to help others but never escaping the trauma of her past that has such emotional impact even when she has lost that part of herself – she believes, forever.

If anyone wonders about rape, the lasting effects and the different ways it impacts individual victims, Nell’s story unleashes the horror in a way that removes any questions as it takes you to the core of what this defenceless woman had to endure.

None of this would have come across without the unique text, the choice staging and direction and Prinsloo’s towering presence as Nell.

She gives a performance of such devastating delicacy that the aftershock is shattering.

Cintaine Schutte
Cintaine Schutte

In the translated Tien Duisend Ton (which I originally saw in English), and here directed by Nico Scheepers with Cintaine Schutte and Albert Pretorius, the two lovers trying to make sense of their lives, Schutte’s desire for a child with Pretorius slightly dubious, what really matters is the performances.

And while Pretorius does what needs to be done, it is a blossoming Schutte’s performance that has you holding your breath throughout.

It happens at breakneck speed, almost in manic monologue fashion with Schutte’s inflection, her body language, the speed with which she reacts and charges her performance with emotional heft, that has you gasping.

Keep up and don’t lose her as she races off at a speed that’s sometimes exhausting yet always exhilarating. It’s contemporary, young and dealing with issues that many – young and older – struggle with on a daily basis, if they’re blessed to have that kind of luxury which this couple obviously have.

Schutte has been someone to watch from the start but this past year has obviously been her time and perhaps a new confidence is starting to emerge and colour her performances. No longer the new kid on the block and with a series of roles in her repertoire, the range, which is expansive for someone so young, she seems to have a newfound fire which is mesmerising.

And there’s so much more to come.

Koningin Lear in storm
Antoinette Kellermann     Picture: Hans van der Veen

 

Then there’s also the grand dame of classical theatre Antoinette Kellermann as Elizabeth Lear in charge and in command of the luminous translation of Tom Lanoye’s Koningin Lear by Antjie Krog (on at The Baxter in Cape Town from November 7 to 16) . With the support of a tremendous, choice cast, she inhabits a woman whose power is waning on a business and personal level.

As the story goes, she decides to pass her wealth on to her heirs, but they have to declare undying love before the inheritance can be owned. And that’s when the fun begins.

It’s also the arc she is expected to play, the transformation from start to finish as she first emerges as the powerful matriarch at the top of her game. And yet, from the beginning, there are some unnerving hitches which Kellermann exposes with subtlety because of the crescendo she is aiming for at the end.

With this performance of extremes, she has the mammoth task of getting to grips with a text which drives all of her actions. But Kellerman, being the artist she is, takes on the challenge and triumphs magnificently.

Because of the ambition of the playwright, all the elements had to work together sweetly – and they do. That’s what makes this such a majestic experience.

And these are but a few of the elements and people that made the 2019 Aardklop swing – under difficult economic circumstances – proving once again that the arts do so much more than simply entertain – even as it pulls that off too.

Nataniël Makes the Earth Move in When Giants Waltz – 12 Monumental Concerts

nats giants3
The stars from When Giants Waltz

DIANE DE BEER

WHEN GIANTS WALTZ – 12 MONUMENTAL CONCERTS  

Artist/writer/composer: Nataniël 

Musicians: Charl du Plessis (keyboards), Juan Oosthuizen (guitar), Brendan Ross (keyboards, saxophone and vocals), Werner Spies (bass), Peter Auret (drums)

Vocals: Dihan Slabbert and Nicolaas Swart

Costumes: Floris Louw

Venue: Theatre of Marcellus, Emperors Palace

Dates: Until October 27; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm12 concerts only; 90 minutes long; no interval; no cellphones, sandals or shorts; no children under 15

 

No matter how little or how well you know this artist’s work, he surprises you.

How does he do it? I watched in wonderment and awe while experiencing the thrill of a performance that epitomises the excitement of live theatre – and it happens year after year.

It’s like a surprise party. Before the time he has much to say about what won’t be part of the concert, for example, the absence of a set, no more choreography, music that’s not accessible, no overarching story – he doesn’t speak much about what will be part of the show.

That’s Nataniël, someone who works imaginatively and creatively to catch his audience off guard, to always bring something new, not only with message as he moves with the times, but also with his evocative stage craft.

Nats giants4
Creative costumes are part of the storytelling.

Following a hiatus last year after more than a decade of annual shows at this theatre, he’s back with a vengeance in a way specifically structured to catch you unawares. The costumes are bigger and even grander in conception than before with many gigantic garments filling the giant-themed landscape.

They are heart stopping, from a different era, in royal fabric and often bright colours, with the result that many are clamouring for an exhibition of his stage couture. The finer detail is difficult to catch from an auditorium.

There’s a costume in front of a backdrop which mirrors the fabric, lamps drop from the sky and moonscapes create a lunar atmosphere, a brilliant blast of red with a sign dropping from the heavens with the word blue – in fact colour plays a huge part as his storytelling both tickles and tortures as he is wont to do. There’s always a sting in many of his tales.

Then the performance and the show, the substance and the visuals, the stories and the songs with musicians of stature who all contribute to the overall artistry, take over.

From the entrance with Nataniël tripping onto stage draped in creature couture which immediately puts you in an imaginary place, this genius storyteller takes you a-wandering in his world of merriment intertwined with melancholy.

nats giants 2
Nataniël in full flow

The language, the images he conjures up with his characters and the lives they lead, the way everything unfolds and the music which drifts between blues, jazz and a few pop classics – some original, others re-arranged – all come together sweetly.

Backed by three sassy vocalists or sometimes performing with only the sounds of a lone guitar as accompaniment, Nataniël has through the years found the music that works best for his voice and which accommodate and remark and elaborate on his stories. Sometimes he might google the saddest jazz song in the world (for example), which he then sings and when he can’t find anything for a particular story, he simply writes one.

He has never had a hit, he says only half-forlornly, but he shines when performing live, relaxed in his own skin, crooning with musos who know his style and get into the swing and rhythm (as well as a constant change of costumes for the band too) of his particular vibe. Everyone shines.

The show is presented in a series of montages, almost like paging through an album. The costumes and props do the visual fantasy and the stories fill in the details. These leave you giggling and gasping in turn as as he dips into the often hysterical lives of a woman who has arranged her life to accommodate the elephant in the room, another with blue ribbons whose knitting finds no conclusion and yet another whose names are constantly switched until she owns her identity.

He bookends the show with the history of giants and their place in the world and in conclusion, confronts those who feel larger than life with unchecked power, who believe they are mightier than the law and trample those they regard as lesser human beings and easy to destroy.

nats giant4
Nataniël in song

In each tale, once the laughter dies down, and just before the next song, the sadness of all the hilarity at what is sometimes the horrors we all encounter in normal living, hits you full on. But, with perfect timing, just before you succumb, a stunning new costume, or a song fills the empty space and we move on.

This is an artist who has perfected his craft. None of the normal rules applies. He has used a director on occasion but not for the last decade. He writes all his own scripts, guides his designer in the costumes he hopes to see, plans the lighting which sometimes only show the costumes in full light as the last note rises and designs the stage and anything he needs to accomplish a mood for a story and a song.

It’s transcendent what he achieves and in-between, he tours the platteland with shows and speaking dates, does cooking shows and TV series, and has just published his first book that didn’t first play on stage – in both Afrikaans and English.

It’s his imagination – unchecked – that never lets him down as he draws a world with his visually rich stories (in both English and Afrikaans) while entertaining in a manner few can achieve year in and year out.

When giants waltz, Nataniël says, the earth moves, which may be true. He doesn’t have to rely on size or stature, he gets everything moving with his gigantic creativity and imagination.

That’s the artist he is and it’s joyous to experience this kind of quality.