Hustles Explains the Creative Compass of an Architect and a Photographer with a Contemporary African Space

DIANE DE BEER

I am fascinated by the idea that the greatest architecture in the city has happened by accident

Thomas Chapman.

Hustles1

Hustles – Five Years Of Local Studio by architect Thomas Chapman with photographer Dave Southwood:

 

Because of the time I’m writing in, I couldn’t speak to the author(s) face to face, but really didn’t need to, because they state their purpose so clearly in the book Hustle – Five years of Local Studio by Thomas Chapman (Photographer: David Southwood).

The title, explains the architect Thomas Chapman, refers to the “opportunistic process of becoming local – of using design to solve urban problems amidst immense financial and time constraints – and throughout this process, trying to hustle an architectural product that is present, engaged, hopeful and ultimately, never boring”.

Knowing a few of their buildings but also having read this book, they can never be accused of that – boring! No sir!

Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre
Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre.

With this book then, Thomas wanted to capture the spirit of the five past years of his practice, which consisted entirely of projects that required hustling of some form or another to get the project done.

In the meantime, he states, while compiling the book, they have embarked on a new phase for the practice with “more trusting clients, (slightly) bigger project budgets and hence a greater refinement in design and construction.

He admits to it being tempting to include some of these projects to extract value from what was becoming a very expensive book, but he resolved to draw the line at 99 Juta, at the time their most recently completed project in Braamfontein, which he thought still captured the spirit of Local Studio as a start-up.

Their choice of photographer, David Southwood, a self-proclaimed human rights photographer, is someone whose pictures of their work made them change the way they saw and contextualised their work so that they started thinking differently about people in cities.

Urban landscapes
Urban landscapes

David recalls their first meeting in the book and quotes something he said on their drive: “I like photographing architecture, but I much prefer photographing scenes which embed the built form into the street and render the structure as a continuum of its context, if in fact they are at all connected. In fact the photos of architecture that I have done which I like the most obscure the structure almost entirely.” As it turned out, the architect and the photographer were a perfect match.

Urban landscapes
Urban landscapes

He remarked further on in this introduction: “The only way a practice can include as many street photographs as this in a monograph is if they are genuinely concerned with the street. Local Studio is obsessed with the street. The street is the immediate  material context in Johannesburg if you are building, where the urban fabric is rough and unkempt.”

Outreach Foundation Community Centre
Outreach Foundation Community Centre in Hillbrow.

Familiar with the following project, the Outreach Foundation in Hillbrow, because of the Hillbrow Theatre where Gerard Bester is involved, this is also one of the projects I want to focus on here.

Gerard explains in a piece about this complex that the theatre provides a space for inner-city children and youth. It serves the neighbourhood and after-school programmes are held. The theatre was there, but in 2009 they raised some money for a homework centre. After workshops and discussions were held with Thomas, what emerged was a building that now houses the computer centre, dance studio, boardroom and offices of the youth centre.

He explains further that though Hillbrow has negative connotations for outsiders, “I think the people that actually live in Hillbrow, have made it their own.”

Hillbrow Trauma Counselling Centre
Hillbrow Trauma Counselling Centre

Even though it is one of the city’s toughest neighbourhoods, he believes that we have to keep “engaging an exercise in imagining what Hillbrow can be, and not oppose that; to absolutely engage with the people that reside in the neighbourhood, and not gentrify it but to create meaningful, authentic change.”

Which is exactly what has been happening with the project he is engaged with – creating a safe space that is also open and accessible.

Hill Cafe
Hill Street Café

Pretty close by is (was) the Hill Street Café, a steel restaurant pavilion built as a temporary structure on the foundations of a demolished lunatic asylum in Jozi’s historical Old Fort (just above the Constitutional Court) which was designed to last 2 years but eventually stood for four.

I can remember doing an interview with Gerard there about the Hillbrow Theatre and it’s a pity that the structure, which was erected there specifically to commemorate the space where the Asylum stood, has been removed. It was a warm and embracing space with great coffee and I remember cool service.

Fullham Heights now
Fullham Heights which now houses Breezeblock Café and Whippet Cycle Company on the ground floor, Local Studio on the first floor and two residential units on the top floor.

The other building which I am familiar with is the one that also houses the brilliant Breezeblock Café in Brixton. Called Fullham Heights, Thomas notes that it is one of the first projects to demonstrate the principals and guidelines of the Johannesburg Corridors of Freedom policy. It looks to promote mixed-use development and residential densification in neighbourhoods adjacent to the recently completed BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) network.

He explains that the building is a conversion of an old corner shop, which had been a Chinese restaurant and subsequently rented by Local Studio as office space prior to its purchase for redevelopment.

Fullham Heights
The Local Studio offices, a part of Fullham Heights in Brixton.

Now the building houses the funky Café and Whippet Cycle Company on the ground floor, Local Studio on the first floor and two residential units on the top floor. The new structure contrasts with the original concrete facade and pavement colonnade, which were restored as part of the project.

These are simply two projects selected because I am familiar with them, but there is so much more to this book. One needs to see the full scope to understand the ethos. Even if the firm is bigger and reaching higher, I can hardly believe that with this kind of creative compass, their work doesn’t still remain in this kind of contemporary African city mind space.

Westbury Pedestrian Bridge and Park
Westbury Pedestrian Bridge and Park, an effort to influence the choice of architecture in the city.

And what would be even better would be to buy the book and do your own guided tours to discover a city you probably weren’t even aware exists.

 

To buy the book:

https://local-studio.myshopify.com/products/hustles-book

 

 

 

Lientjie Wessels Showcases Connections Between Food and Cultures in Geure

Cover and food pictures: Donna Lewis

Foodstyling: Hannes Koegelenberg

Anyone who knows artist/chef/stylist/entrepreneur Lientjie Wessels will remember her for her imagination and individuality. It is exactly those two elements that she exhibits so joyfully in her new recipe book titled Geure (flavours by Annake Müller Publishing). DIANE DE BEER spoke to the author:

As Lientjie tells it, she has for a long time been thinking of writing a cookery book. “My love of  strong flavours and tastes came to the fore when I participated in kykNET’s Kokkedoor 3,” she says. And those of us who know her were quite surprised by her participation. But no one more so than Lientjie herself. That’s just who she is.

The first time I bumped into the extraordinary imagination of the larger-than-life Lientjie was with her Brooklyn Mall shop Lemon Lounge. You knew immediately if this was your kind of place or not and if it was, you were hooked on the Lientjie sensibility and style, which is all her own and has a charm that is completely unique. Her food and her fine art are interlinked and -twined – similarly in this book, which makes this one such a feast for the eyes with the food further enhanced by her paintings.

Her spectacular flair and flights of imagination flourished during her years in magazine styling and also in her much-loved restaurant Li-bel in Sunnyside and later Albizia in Cullinan and for a while on a family farm in that neighbourhood.

There has always been something of a gypsy about Lientjie, the way she embraces life and everything it offers. For those of us who favoured her food tables, there was always the knowledge that it might all be gone tomorrow, but also that it would appear in some other form – as it always does.

That’s why this book, which encapsulates it all, is such a treasure – so if your Afrikaans language skills are on par, this is one worth checking out.

Because flavours, which were introduced to Lientjie by her mother (to whom the book is dedicated), have played such an important role in her food journey, this is the focus: vinegar, citrus, ginger, olives and olive oil, flowers, chilly and mustard, honey, saffron and vanilla, garlic, herbs, spices and salt, sumac and tamarind, nuts, sesame seeds and tahini.

Yum!

Lientjie and Robert.jpg
Soulmates: Lientjie Wessels and the late Robert Denton

She was helped by her late husband Robert (who sadly died suddenly last year) with the writing and, like with everything these two life travellers tackled, it is quirky and simply a joy to experience. Each chapter starts with a description of the flavour showcased and in many of them, Lientjie’s mother’s influence surfaces. “My first memories of vinegar,” she writes, “is absolutely the rows and rows of pickled onions that my mom made each year.”

And then the recipes follow and in this instance it stretches from pickled walnuts on toast with goat’s milk cheese and fast fridge pickle. Citrus is included in recipes of lemon mousse, lemon curd, soup with lamb shanks, rice and lemon, pork fillet with a lime sauce, fruit salad and more.

Lientjie’s food has always been rooted in South Africa but with a strong dose of Middle Eastern and Asian flavours. Her mother was her first and strongest influence and, according to Lientjie, started to cook because hér mother could not. “My grandmother taught me everything else, but  not about making food.”

Lientjie Gnocci
Spinach and ricotta gnocchi

From the first time we talked about food, she has talked about her boredom threshold, and she believes that her restaurant days were always doomed, because she couldn’t be bothered to make a dish more than three times. By then she had achieved everything she wanted. Also probably influenced by her mother, who had such an unusual palate and constantly introduced her family to new flavours and textures. “She always wanted to make something new,” notes Lientjie.

But of course, that’s also what made her dining experiences so unique and unusual. She has a very distinct signature and the menu would always be a surprise. Similarly she has achieved that individuality in this absorbing book.

The colours are vibrant and welcoming, the food – apart from being grouped according to flavour – is a lovely mix of starters, mains and desserts with sauces, snacks, breakfasts and more.

There’s never anything conventional or contrived about this artist. She is probably the last one I would have expected to appear on Kokkedoor and yet, in the end, it resulted in this fantastic book and when you listen to her, she also discovered a newfound confidence in her cooking during the show.

She also realised that she really likes food. Anyone who has had a restaurant will know that it must be one of the most challenging endeavours to attempt . She did it twice and then created a very niche way of dining. It was spectacular and appealed to a select and very loyal group of diners. Local chefs will tell you that South Africans are tough to feed and Pretoria, I have often been informed, is an especially  difficult market at best.

But some of my best experiences were either at a pavement table at Li-bel with Lientjie and Robert’s dogs lying around, drinking a coffee after a delicious meal and never feeling I had to rush anything; or checking in for a Sunday meal at Albizia with Robert, a storyteller extraordinaire, entertaining us with his fables of life on the fast side.

And then there’s Lientjie’s art. It has been incorporated into the book in simply the best way and introduces even more of the way her mind and creativity works. For her, when she makes food or paints, the same principles come into play. “I can taste things in my head,” she says. It’s all conceptual, exactly like her art. “It’s about balance, colour and texture.”

Lientjie Wessels1
Lientjie Wessels

 

Looking at the future, she wants to find a way to make people and cultures touch one another. “We have so many connections through food,” she explains.

And then she shares her delights in the best way she knows how – with her recipes and through her art.

 

 

For more detail on buying the book, contact Annake Müller Publishing: annakem@mweb.co.za. After lockdown they will be sending those books via courier.

It’s Time to Catch up with Some Extraordinary Performances both Local and International – all of them Universal

Kev Mike on beach
Cody Mountain as Kev and Joel Rosenblatt as Mike in Cut-Out Girls

These are tough times and yet for those of us privileged enough to stream and have other entertainment options like DStv, the options of how to pass the time with reading, movies, theatre, documentaries in-between work, are endless.

DIANE DE BEER reviews three of her current favourites:

We have to start with local and I was thrilled to see when Nicola Hanekom’s debut movie Cut-Out Girls appeared on Box-Office (currently at a mere R25 a movie).

Hanekom is one of our most exciting theatre director/writers who has recently also moved into television and now film, with this, her first feature film. In interviews she explains that she first wrote it as a play, specifically for young actors she was working with at the time.

The audience reaction  was so unexpected (it’s a story about date rape), that she decided it needed a wider audience, and in this instance a film. These are debut film roles for all the youngsters. That’s amazing! And they had to do crowdfunding to make it all happen.

Rape is such a scourge in this country that we are all duty bound to talk about it. Even with this pandemic, around the world, abuse is a huge problem because so many people cannot deal with this kind of pressure and violence is their own release.

And with the young, the world we live in now, it’s not that everyone has to live scared, but they have to live smart. We have to know the dangers out there and how to keep ourselves safe – women and especially young women, who don’t yet have their cynicism radars working fulltime, have to be vigilant.

I remember Redi Thlabi in her book Endings and Beginnings writing about being scared when walking to school at the age of 11, highlighting the parallel universes we live in. Nevertheless, we’re all vulnerable and what Hanekom’s exposé uncovers so smartly, are the monsters within.

It is sometimes the boy next door, the tennis star, the popular personality at school who feels entitled. Because danger is something we live with in this world, we sometimes forget when we have to be on our guard. And this is the aspect Hanekom spotlights.

Being both writer and director and informed by an intimate knowledge of the cast, she could work smartly with a small budget. You certainly don’t feel short-changed and the performances are beautifully balanced.

It’s a film of our time, speaks to both young and old and extends the reach of one of our most innovative artists.

Harriet starring Cynthia Erivo
Harriet starring a powerful Cynthia Erivo

Another film I was keen to see, is also part of the Box-Office collection. Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in Harriet, the woman who not only escapes from slavery herself, but also freed many slaves as part of the underground railroad, a perilous freedom endeavour of that time.

At some point, Harriet says people should not be owned by other people, a sentence that is so obvious yet so ignored – even today – still. That’s why these stories are so important. This is also the time when the people affected (still today) by these abominations are the ones telling the stories. That makes a huge difference in both tone and authenticity.

And for this one specifically, Cynthia Erivo’s performance is epic. She was rewarded with the ONLY Oscar nomination for an actor of colour and also for the best original song, which she both co-wrote and performed. She’s a remarkable talent both as actor and singer. She has a strength of character and a powerful presence, which served the character well and her voice has a quality that stops you in your tracks.

Her rewards have been well deserved and this following huge controversy because she was a British actor playing an American character – but she proved them wrong and hopefully people were big enough to concede and witness her prowess.

The story is a great one but there are problems with the way the story was told – just clumsy and sometimes with too little subtlety and sensitivity. One would think it is a story that almost tells itself especially with Erivo as your talisman.

But it remains a story worthy of your time and money.

NT Doon Mackichan (Feste) Tamsin Greig (Malvolia). Picture Marc Brenner
Doon Mackichan (Feste) and Tamsin Greig (Malvolia). Picture Marc Brenner

Last on the list is the latest NT Live streaming of 12th Night with Tamsin Greig as the main attraction. But she says herself, this is an ensemble cast as anyone familiar with this Shakespeare comedy will recognise. And while this is a matter of confusingly mistaken and hidden identity throughout, with director Simon Godwin’s gender-fluid production, you really have to keep your wits about you.

Greig is cast as Malvolio (or in this case Malvolia) and hers is the performance on which the play hangs. Not only is the gender switch in these times fun to watch and navigate but with a play that is a dialogue between order and disorder, puritanism and revelry, and finally, control and fear with terror the driver of control, another contemporary evil.

That is how the director viewed it says Greig in an interview which is useful to watch (even with a few spoilers) before getting into the play itself. It’s also part of the NT Live stable on YouTube and easy to find.

We have had our own innovative 12th Night (a Clare Stopford production in 1998 with amongst others Langley Kirkwood, Isadora Verwey, David Dennis and Bo Peterson) and it is a play that lends itself to interpretation as you heighten both the comic and tragic effects at will.

NT Phoebe Fox as Olivia second from the right. Picture Marc Brenner
Phoebe Fox as Olivia second from the right with her entourage. Picture Marc Brenner

This being a first class British cast with some exceptional performances, a set that enhances the fast flow of the story, some excellent songs with a brilliant burlesque interlude stuck in between, Shakespeare can hardly be more contemporary. Just check a striking ensemble stepping out in their 21st Century ubiquitous veils.

It’s sassy and smart with as much laughter as there’s food for thought in a time when gender fluidity and identity could not be more centre stage. It’s exactly where we are now as Shakespeare in his constantly shows us: the more it changes, the more it stays the same.

Catch it on NT Live on YouTube until Thursday at 8pm when Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch follows. Don’t miss that either.

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.