Renata Coetzee Honoured with Relaunch of Feast from Nature and UP Food Feast

DR Renata Coetzee, a pioneer in research and awareness of the various food cultures in South Africa over five decades, passed away in Stellenbosch at the end of last month at the age of 88. DIANE DE BEER honours a woman, always a warrior, who attended the relaunch of her latest book only last month:

 

Through her lifetime of research and books, Renata Coetzee has built both national and international awareness of the culinary heritage of various cultural groups in South Africa. It is apt that her latest book, Food Culture of the First Humans on Planet Earth – A Feast From Nature, is currently being relaunched with a 2nd impression to bring it to the attention of a wider public.

One of these celebrations will be a dinner in Tshwane on Mandela Day to celebrate the impact of the culinary and cultural history of our first people on contemporary South African cuisine and another a launch presented at the Market Theatre the day before, July 17.

In collaboration with the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, the editor Truida Prekel and African Sun Media, the University of Pretoria Department of Consumer and Food Sciences will present a four-course dinner with recipes inspired by Coetzee’s decades of research on indigenous food cultures in celebration of her book.

Renata's porcupine skin braai
Renata’s porcupine skin braai

The menu which will honour her research is the following: Sundowner is a honeybush and aloe cooler; First course, Nature’s Salad consists of morogo puree, spekboom gel, pelargonium sand, lemon foam, pickled papkuil shoots, compressed aloe buds, and an array of flowers; Second Course, Forager’s Pride is a dune spinach soup with deep fried warthog biltong; Third course,  Rocky Waters, includes Tilapia, buttered ice leaf, sea fennel and oyster leaf puree and bokkoms dust ; main course, Exploring Burrows presents porcupine and waterblommetjies served with “ystervark-se-mielie”, roast uintjies, crickets rice and glace de viande; and thre meal is concluded on a sweet note with  a Sunset tea party  of buchu panna cotta served with pickled t’samma, rooibos and gooseberry syrup, arum lily crumble and acacia sweets.

Many will remember this remarkable woman as someone who was obsessed with and specifically studied our roots in many different forms with the food culture of different groups as her resource. Her aim was to promote “nutritional authentic cultural cuisine” which she believed could play a huge role in our growing tourist industry – and should do even more so in the future. Her major contribution is probably scientific, but she has always tried to engage ordinary people interested in food heritage with creative and stimulating documentation of various aspects of the South African – and particularly the Cape’s – culinary culture and lifestyles.

renata's veld food
Renata Coetzee’s veld food

Her most important books in this field include South African Culinary Tradition/Spys en Drank – the food and food habits at the Cape between 1652 and 1800, featuring influences of the Malay slaves, French, Dutch and German settlers (Struik, 1977) (Afrikaans and English both out of print); Funa – Food from Africa – the food and food habits of the different African ethnic groups (Butterworths, 1982) (which should be reprinted); Cost-conscious Creative Catering and recently KukumakrankaKhoiKhoin-Culture, customs and creative cooking which was a translation of the 2009 Afrikaans version dealing with food cultures in the early days; and this present relaunched book is based on research of 15 years which aimed to preserve the culinary heritage of the earliest humans and their descendants.

She always believed that she had to understand local foods to promote healthy nutrition. At one point in her career, she was catering for Anglo American Gold Mines providing 250 000 meals a day for five years with the accent on cultural preference. That is why she was always intrigued by the palates of especially the San and the Khoi people who presented the oldest DNA. She felt she was dealt this amazing hand which would just be silly to ignore.

By going back into the past, the way brains progressed and patterns developed, all of these, she argued, influenced the way people selected food. When the San and the Khoi people split, for example, their food choices developed differently. She realised that many of these choices were made for practical reasons. Some wouldn’t let go of traditions, but sometimes the changing environment determined new dining habits. The San, for example, became hunter gatherers and the Khoi turned to smaller animals while also learning more about the veld and the plant life around them. This was all determined by the way their lifestyles changed, something which still influences and determines our eating patterns and choices today.

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Foodies Renata Coetzee, Cass Abrahams and Topsi Venter celebrate in style

Because of the way she studied, researched and publicised her hard-earned knowledge through her writings and TV programmes, and formal training, she empowered thousands of women over the years, by training them in the finer skills of entertaining guests and tourists with her cultural cuisine.

This latest version of this unique collector’s book on original food cultures, A Feast From Nature (R650 is a combination of the many decades of her knowledge as a nutritionist and food culture expert with multidisciplinary research of over 15 years – bringing together aspects of archaeology, palaeontology, botany, genetics, history, languages and culture in a unique way. While scientifically sound, it is also beautifully illustrated and a true collector’s piece.

In 2015 she self-published the book, through Penstock Publishing. The first print-run of 500 copies was soon sold out – mostly to friends, family and fans. The book was reprinted shortly before her death to make her unique work available to a wider audience. Academics, researchers and food experts can also benefit and build further on her research.

According to Prekel, “Communities will benefit from further work to build understanding among various cultures and on the history of our ‘First Peoples’. Indigenous plants with culinary and agricultural potential can be further developed for food production.”

Renata en Johan by S-Delta

“Her research included interviews with many elderly Khoi-Khoin women and men in various regions, about the details of their food sources and uses. A special feature in the book is that wherever possible, the Khoi and Afrikaans names of plants and animals are given, with English and scientific names. About 250 fine photographs and over 80 illustrations of edible indigenous plants – as well as maps and Khoi traditions – make the book a journey of discovery, bringing to life the linkages between evolution and culinary history over millennia.

“The book also offers valuable lessons in terms of the nutritional value of many indigenous foods, food security and sustainability. The DST/NRF Centre of Excellence: Food Security, hosted by UWC and the University of Pretoria, has supported the reprint of the book. They, together with the Agricultural Research Council, intend doing further research on indigenous food products identified in Coetzee’s extensive work on the various food cultures in South Africa.”

Her legacy will be legendary especially as it impacts on all of our lives, not only now – but especially in the future.

The book can be ordered from orders@africansunmedia.co.za or online at http://www.sun-e-shop.co.za

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  • The book will be relaunched on July 17 with speakers Prof Himla Soodyall, 50:50 presenter Bertus Louw and Prof Julian May on Tuesday 17 July at 6pm at the Market Photo Workshop Auditorium, Market Theatre. Contact: zamab@markettheatre.co.za.
  • The four-course dinner will be held at EAT@UP, Old Agricultural Building 2.9.1, University of Pretoria, Hatfield Campus. For more info contact kyla.balcou@gmail.com Tickets are R300 per person.

 

June is Youth Month as Young Artists Tell their Stories and Share their Worlds through Art at the Pretoria Art Museum

Pictures: Mmutle Arthur Kgokong

 

June is Youth Month and DIANE DE BEER discovers the Pretoria Art Museum is celebrating that in style:

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Genesis II’Xhibition 2018 artists from left to right Asma Rahman, Bruce Bowale, Lerato Lodi, Phoka Nyokong, Kutlwano Monyai, Shimane Seemise (Curator), Mbhoni Khosa and Lesedi Ledwaba

 

Arriving at a walkabout of the Pretoria Art Museum’s Genesis II’Xhibition (on until July 1) on a Saturday morning I am intent on discovering a few things. Everyone living in Pretoria and interested in the art scene will know that the museum is not as lively as it once was, but they will also have to concede that there are many events and exhibitions happening that aren’t well attended.

This was exactly what happened at an exciting exhibition walkabout on Saturday morning. It features work by a group of young Educational Assistants at the Pretoria Art Museum. They are responsible for conducting guided tours and occasionally facilitate art-making workshops as part of the museum’s education and development.

This exhibition is the second installment since it was first implemented in 2003, when the first group of volunteers unconventionally proposed to the art museum to have their own exhibition as a benefit for giving of their time to the museum. The name Genesis was picked to signify the endless possibilities for the participating artists at the outset of their careers. And hopefully it will happen more regularly in future.

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Nicola Grobler with her art intervention backpack, challenging the young art students to explore and investigate their world.

But I digress, Mmutle Arthur Kgokong, the cultural officer: education and development who hosted the event had cleverly combined another exhibition currently on at the museum by inviting one of the participants to do a live art intervention. Not only did that make the other participants aware of the exhibition but it also introduced the students to yet another avenue in which to practice their art.

In the Public Domain: shifting boundaries between the private and the public, is an exhibition by lecturers at the University of Pretoria that runs until June 24 with a walkabout at 11am on Saturday June 23.  It’s worth popping in if you’re around in Tshwane.

The exhibition deals with the notion of shifting boundaries as thematic interpretation as a stimulus for debate, as this exhibition accesses individual artists’ interpretations of contemporary society.

And what Nicola Grobler did with the young students is introduce her on-going art intervention by bringing a backpack of discoveries in which she piqued the curiosity, with art also a part of the presentation, but more importantly a way of looking at the animal world without making the usual assumptions. And of course, wider implications.

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A life in art

But then it was back to the young artists and their work. It is impressive to witness the creativity of the TUT art students (and this is just a small section) and their participation in the art world. All of them are aware that this is not the easiest route to follow for a career, but some are doing extra educational studies which will allow them to combine their art with education, while others are already lecturing while finishing their 4th year and yet others are looking at an academic future. All of them are determined to keep at practising their art.

I was again struck by the way that art tells our stories and how we understand and get to know other people when we take the time to experience their storytelling whether on stage or in paintings. How would I have known about this young painter who grew up in a rural area who read himself silly as a youngster and thus started using scripts as part of his paintings? It doesn’t always mean something, but it certainly tells stories as he goes back to his childhood friends and family for inspiration.

Another of the young painters lives in the city centre and sometimes must push himself to attend class because his inspiration is where he lives. He currently uses water gathering as the focus of his work but also incorporates something he calls found scripts/words which he relates to found objects, but these are pamphlets on abortion or Mr Price sales slips, all which start having a conversation with the viewer.

And then there’s an artist who proudly speaks of the techniques he applies to his township etchings. This is provocative work and points to an artist who is someone to watch in the future, but there are quite a few of those in the room. Serious art collectors will know that this is where you catch them – when they’re starting out. Not only is this when you can afford the work but it is also a wonderful way to follow an artist you admire from the start of his career.

Has the Pretoria Art Museum changed these past few decades? Of course, it has. Which public museum or institution is not battling with funding and they can only do as much as their allotted moneys allow. I am also aware that many will be raising their eyebrows that the park has turned into a public space. Cars are being washed on the parking lot in front of the museum and in one corner of the museum grounds, a lively soccer match is being played.

Could it be tidier and more pristine? Perhaps? But I also liked the fact that this very public museum was being surrounded by real life – people earning a living and others taking a break by playing. Now all we have to figure out is how to get those using the public square into the museum. Mmutle Arthur Kgokong was surprised when I mentioned that the perception was that not much was happening. But he had to concede, the real issue was to get art lovers both present and potential to visit the exhibitions and events on offer.

In the meantime, the students and the lecturers are all out there showing their work. Take the time, it will enrich your life.

  • Pretoria Art Museum, Francis Baard and Wessels Streets, Arcadia, Pretoria.

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm

40 Years On, The Black Consciousness Reader Commemorates Steve Biko’s Murder: It’s Time

Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.
― Mark Twain

 

DIANE DE BEER

BC reader

 

 

The Black Consciousness Reader written and compiled by Baldwin Ndaba, Therese Owen, Masego Panyane, Rabbie Serumula and Janet Smith with photography and videography by Paballo Thekiso (Jacana):

 

 

 

 

This one truly caught me unawares. At first glance, I thought it was more than anything else an academic presentation and one I would dip into simply to write something about it.

But as I started with the topics that interested me,  like the arts and women, for example, I was completely drawn into a story about our country that I lived through and thus knew something about. But there was so much that I didn’t know or needed reminding about or simply had to be informed about by someone who had the facts.

Because of the world we live in now, one that is much more inclusive of all the people who are part of this country, many more players are familiar to me, which they wouldn’t have been in the past. We are also looking at events and people through a different prism as we look back as well as focussing on where we are right now. The stories are new and fascinating and further enhance and colour the intricate quilt that is South Africa.

Steve Biko is probably the name most South Africans associate with the Black Consciousness Movement in this country and much of what we knew and read at the time has been overtaken by his horrific death. We need to be reminded time and again about our heroes, often living all too short lives because of our violent past, but we also need to review their lives and why they were viewed with such fear by the Apartheid order.

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The Biko Series photographed by Paul Stopforth: Clockwise: Biko’s arm; Biko’s Hand; Biko’s Legs; Biko’s Feet; Biko’s Foot

There is a current revival of Black Consciousness in our country as political and student movements reconfigure the continued struggle for socio-economic revolution with this ideology at the forefront. It is also finding solidarity with similar movements around the world (the Fallists for example with #BlackLivesMatter from the US).

But the authors believe there’s still not enough known about the history of Black Consciousness in South Africa and having read the book and discovered how much I didn’t know, I can underline that belief fully.

The book was published in the year of the 40th anniversary of Biko’s murder which is already a startling fact. So much time has passed so quickly? The book is described as an essential collection of history, culture, philosophy and meaning through the voices, art, religion, writing, music, politics, solidarity and dreams of some of those who developed it in order to finally bring revolution to South Africa.

And with the backdrop of what we have just been living through this past decade, it is  so important to take cognisance and to know about our past, the dedication and determination, and the sacrifices people make to find and further solutions of the best way for South Africans to live as a people. If we don’t investigate and interrogate our past, how can we find a way to move more effortlessly and with some equality into the future?

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Clockwise: General-secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Malusi Mpumlwana. Pictured by Paballo Thekiso. He was a founding member together with his wife Thoko of the Black Consciousness Movement; Activist/artist Omar Badsha (Photo Media 24); Dikgang Moseneke and his wife Khabonina after he was admitted as attorney in 1978. (Gallo Images/Avusa)

“The decision to do the book came out of a group of us wanting to commemorate the 40th year after Steve Biko’s murder by examining the philosophy that underpinned his life. Not only that, Black Consciousness was the philosophy that was deemed so dangerous by the apartheid state that it had to be cut off at the knees and disabled.

“And, to some extent, this might also have suited the liberation movement in exile, predominantly the ANC, which was somewhat threatened by the rise of BC. The ANC, as we know more and more today, was not a supreme revolutionary movement catering to the rise of the black majority in every frame of South African life. It was an often-compromised, divided organisation containing some individuals driving their own interests.

“Its ideology was a bit messy and confused and it didn’t have this kind of fundamental philosophy even if the Freedom Charter was invoked. So, Biko’s death fascinated us from that perspective too.

“What was Black Consciousness that it was such a threat? Why did it – and has it continued – to grow around the world in different ways to the point that today, a movie like Black Panther can have a massive opening even as it celebrates the dominance, power and excellence of black life.

“We wanted to try and be an additional set of voices in the ever-expanding archive of blackness – not for the sake of it, but to really attempt to make a proper contribution,” writes Janet Smith, one of the contributors.

Although Biko is a strong and arguably the most recognisable figure in BC history, they also document many other significant Black Consciousness personalities and write about Robert Sobukwe, for example, who introduced a new style of leadership.

“True leadership demands complete subjugation of self, absolute honesty, integrity and uprightness of character, courage and fearlessness, above all a consuming love for one’s people.” How relevant does that sentence sound at this time, given what we have been through as a country and a people this last decade?

The book also points out that he refused to compromise the birth right of his people – land repossession. That was then…

Those two sentences reverberate in our current political landscape and point to everything that has been missing and what went wrong. It also captures in essence why this kind of book is so important and why it becomes much more than an academic treatise.

It held my attention throughout; I was fascinated with the people and the movement, felt I understood so much more about our past and what is currently happening, especially with young people who seem driven by the status quo, the adults speaking rather than taking action.

As as with so many movements around the world, it’s time.

Mike van Graan – A Warrior for the Arts

Mike van Graan

By Diane de Beer

 

This has been a good year for cultural activist and playwright Mike van Graan.

Not only has he won the 2018 Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture, a biannual international award recognising those who foster dialogue, understanding and peace in conflict areas, but was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Pretoria.

The opening lines of his address at the university ceremony continues his interrogation of the cultural landscape: “This is my first graduation ceremony.  I was part of the apartheid-must-fall generation.  To attend the University of Cape Town – a “white” university – I was required to apply for a permit from the Department of Coloured Affairs.

“In terms of the separate-and-unequal policies of the time, it was deemed that people of my classification would attend the University of the Western Cape.  To qualify for a permit to UCT, I had to do a subject not offered at UWC.  My permit subject was … drama.

“ By the time of my application, I had never been to a formal theatre; the state-subsidised Nico Malan Theatre in Cape Town where I lived, was boycotted first because it started as a whites-only facility and restrictions were placed on racially mixed casts, and then when it received a permit to allow people other than those classified white, as audience members, this was deemed an affront to those who self-identified as “black”.

“Similarly, many in my generation boycotted our graduation ceremonies; while we were obliged to apply for permits to obtain what we considered to be better education offered at institutions like UCT at that time, we viewed graduation ceremonies as symbolic inductions into an essentially unjust system.

Mike van Graan3

“We live in different times.  And yet, we are no less shaped as individuals by the context in which we live, and we are no less graduating into a society wracked by deep inequality.

“As a playwright, I seek to interrogate contemporary moral questions we encounter in a society in transition.”

More than anything the above should explain to those not familiar with this provocative playwright’s work (including Green Man Flashing, Some Mothers’ Sons and Brothers in Blood) why he is celebrated by the university.

Van Graan, whose plays have often been performed in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and around the country as well as internationally – most recently State Fracture at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) and Green Man Flashing at Sandton’s Theatre on the Square – is described as a “courageous and provocative advocate not only for local theatre, but also for the broader field of cultural heritage in general,” by Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities.

“His plays interrogate South Africa’s socio-political conditions and he locates these explorations in a deeply human context to create layered and emotionally evocative plays. His plays are testimony to a critical and political consciousness that both demonstrates and encourages engaged, critical citizenship in and through the theatre,” the citation reads in part.

“I am deeply conscious that while I am able to write and produce these plays, in a society in which more than half the population lives below the poverty line, with official unemployment at 26%, many of my fellow citizens will be unable to access these plays, and not enjoy their fundamental right “to participate in the cultural life of the community and enjoy the arts” as affirmed in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“In such a divided society, with its inheritance of division, whose stories are told?  Whose values and interests are served by theatre?  Whose standards are used to evaluate theatre?  Who acts, who directs, who designs the lighting, the costumes, the sets?

“It is not enough simply to write and produce within the system, within the structures as they exist; it is necessary simultaneously to work for systemic and structural changes within the theatre sector itself, and within our broader society that shapes both the theatre industry and the opportunities afforded our citizenry, always working towards a more just, more humane order,” he concludes.

That is who Mike van Graan is. At a time when the number of journalists, arts journalists in particular, often at the bottom of the rung in news structures, was curtailed, covering arts and culture in a broader and more in-depth context became impossible.

Van Graan, who has always had much on his mind stepped in with regular newsletters The Cultural Weapon, writing about the state of the arts in general and more particular, in this country, where the arts played such a huge role in the struggle. He was determined to participate, to make his voice heard on as many platforms as possible and was often a lone voice, much maligned.

Awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree from the UP Faculty of Humanities on April 23 and currently in Sweden where he will be awarded the 2018 Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture  prize (previously awarded to Antjie Krog and John Kani and worth R1-million), it could not happen to a more dedicated cultural warrior.

May his fight always be as persistent.

Mike van Graan2

* Mike van Graan is the president of the African Cultural Policy Network and an associate professor of drama at the University of Cape Town. Professionally, he works as a consultant in the arts and culture arena, while also serving on UNESCO’s technical facility for the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Creatively, he works as a playwright and has written 30 plays to date, most of which interrogate the post-apartheid condition.

  • Green Man Flashing will also have a run at this year’s National Arts Festival as well as the Hilton Festival in KwaZulu-Natal.

Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking With Dorothy Ann Gould and Mark Graham Wilson

Pictures: Lungelo Mbulwana

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Dorothy Ann Gould as Joan Didion

It took someone the quality of writer Joan Didion to get actor Dorothy Ann Gould and director Mark Graham Wilson together for a stage production following their much-acclaimed Hello and Goodbye with her husband Michael Maxwell, a decade ago. They speak to DIANE DE BEER about The Year of Magical Thinking that opens on March 9 and runs until April 1 at The Market’s Barney Simon Theatre in Joburg:

 

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Thus begins the American writer Joan Didion’s haunting memoir of the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The unexpected event ended a partnership of 40 years in a second, just days after their only child, Quintana, had fallen dangerously ill and slipped into a coma.

During Didion’s New York promotion of the recently published memoir, Quintana became seriously ill again. Following massive brain surgery, she died. She was 39.

Following these catastrophic events, it was the famed director David Hare who asked Didion to change her memoir into a play and six months after her second tragedy, the death of her daughter, she began working on the play. This time she was dealing with both the death of her partner and her daughter – a double tragedy.

Both director and actor knew this was the play that would embolden their stage partnership. It is said that The Year of Magical Thinking is a journey through that most universal experience of human pain: bereavement. And while it is frequently harrowing, it is also often amusing and, ultimately has been described as an expression of the power love has to give life meaning. All of that describes the remarkable writer Joan Didion and that is what struck both Graham Wilson and Gould.

How much can one person take? That’s the question Gould asked herself when reading the memoir. “We all cope differently,” she acknowledges but we all encounter these kinds of tragedies at some point in our lives.

It is the way Didion thinks, the way she escapes, the way she writes that makes this such a harrowing yet healing experience and just thinking about Gould and Graham Wilson tackling this depth of feeling is exciting. Watching them work, the detail and thought that goes into every breath, the way they battle one another to get to the truth, is extraordinary and the stuff theatre is made of.

“It’s the scale of the mountain of loss that’s daunting,” says Gould as she wonders about Didion’s husband’s death who she believes just “let go of the fence,” because he couldn’t cope with the sadness of his daughter’s coma. “Some people do that, and I think he told Joan that he was going, he warned her. But she wasn’t listening.” Gould was also affected by the ordinary circumstances in which tragedy occurs hence the opening stanzas of this marvelous text.

“She goes on a big journey with this lament but because she’s deprecating and wry, it is bearable to witness,” is how Gould explains it. She talks for example about the games Didion plays with her mind to cope, something we will all recognize.

How often do we not wish for a different outcome when we go to sleep and hoping for comfort when we wake up? “Joan wills things to turn around, believes she can shift reality with her strong will,” says Gould. We all recognise those games we play with the universe.

For Graham Wilson, one of the joys of the text is the perfection. “There’s not a word you want to cut, not a word out of place,” he says. Gould at the time we were speaking was still worried about remembering her words because we are speaking solo performance and 62 pages of monologue.

But we’re also dealing with someone who knows how to work through tough situations. She started memorizing the text earlier than she would have normally because she knew how important it was to get this one to a point where she didn’t even have to think about what she was saying.

It’s all in the text. The tension is held in what is being said, notes Graham Wilson, and as importantly being left unsaid. That was why every word is so important. “It isn’t a conventional play,” he acknowledges, but that is why this pairing is so valuable. Both these artists are risk takers, daring with their art and pushing the boundaries. Gould feels safe with Graham Wilson because they have worked successfully together before and that allows her to step beyond her comfort zone – to the benefit of audiences.

For Graham Wilson returning to stage after many years in the television world of soapies where he has been in the writing side because of family commitments and financial stability, this project is terrifying – but in the best sense of the word. “It’s such an exposed world,” he says of the stage. And he regards himself as very private. He likes being out of sight, but working in live theatre changes that.

To watch these two experienced artists work, delve into the work, manage every movement, every thought, how something should be placed, when she should turn and how to connect with her audience, is quite something. It’s an exciting and beautiful play written by a woman who has an extraordinary ability to express her deepest feelings in a most unusual fashion.

Gould in her own way has all those qualities on a different level and that’s why this is such a heavenly match. With Graham Wilson as her guide, her star gazer, the two of them will make theatre magic. All the ingredients are there – and this is not above expectation.

“I have to channel her energy of thought,” says Gould about the process.

This is only the second day of rehearsal and already they’re grappling with meaning and movement – the words flowing as if they come from the actress herself.

And she takes flight.

 

 

Sylvaine Strike and Jenine Collocott – Homage to Inspired and Inspiring Artists

DIANE DE BEER

Artists are the people I love writing about most.

They’re creative, think out of the box, live to entertain and make people smile, think, dream, cry and much more – all at the same time.  They teach, learn, tell stories, show us how to view the world differently, how to admire and accept or simply entertain to take us away from a harsh world – if only for a moment.

Talking to two remarkable women artists recently, I was reminded of the privilege to be given access to their work but also to the magic they achieve through blood, sweat and tears. And in the artistic world, especially at this moment in time, stage is probably bottom of the rung. Not for those of us who love theatre but for the multitudes who haven’t discovered it yet.

Jenine Collocott
Jenine Collocott

Jenine Collocott, artist extraordinaire and director, most recently formed a new theatre company Contagious with actors James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett as well as long-time Fringe producers Simon and Helen Cooper with the aim of “producing independent fringe theatre that brings the creative freedom, simplicity and energy of the festival circuit to mainstream audiences” – so wherever you are in South Africa, watch out for them on their current rounds with their much loved The Snow Goose.

She’s currently rehearsing for a clowning show for the annual Oudtshoorn-based Klein Karoo National Arts Festival at the end of March (29 until April 4). Even though she trained for this specifically in Italy, it is her biggest venture in clowning with a cast of seven, most of whom she hasn’t worked with before and most of whom haven’t done any clowning before, even though you can see why they were picked.

Included are actors Jemma Kahn, Roberto Pombo and actor/producer De Klerk Oelofse who got the whole thing off the ground as the producer.

Speaking to a terrified Collocott is what got me excited. Even though what she was doing was mammoth, she was as excited as fearful in what can be said was a healthy balance.

Not only did she have to take her cast through what could be a painstaking process of becoming a clown, once there and only then, could they start to workshop the performance. Fortunately, she is working with a bunch of actors who know how to create their own work and with her as the gentle yet guiding teacher, the results will be something awesome to witness whether they pull it off or not.

“I’ve never seen anyone be as caring with a cast as Jenine was throughout this challenging process and she didn’t know us. I will never forget it,” says Oelofse who is on a mission to develop a skill set that is as broad as it is empowering.

They are at play in full swing as I write and few shows at this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival excite me more than this novel attempt at a family show with something completely different. Titled Babbelagtig (which means something like chatterbox-ing) the idea was also fuelled by Oelofse’s response to the recent Slava Snow Show.

As with most things Collocott tackles, it’s innovative, imaginative and invigorating. Can it go wrong? Of course, but that’s how artists grow their craft – by pushing those boundaries and taking leaps not of faith but of grandeur and bravery because they’ve worked their way towards this.

Sylvaine Strike
Sylvaine Strike Photohraphed by Suzy Bernstein

No one works harder and with more precision than Sylvaine Strike, director extraordinaire, who has built a reputation for her unique work which is remarkable in its individuality. And she’s constantly changing like a chameleon the work she chooses – and then she makes it her own. It’s her particular Strike style that can be adapted to work with any play she selects in a way that’s quite astonishing.

From her standout The Travellers and Coupe in which she also played, the recently revived Black and Blue in which she recast  Atandwa Kani opposite herself to the two Molière plays The Miser followed by Tartuffe and now making a U-turn with Sam Shepard’s The Curse of the Starving Class, the road she travels allows her fans to jog along with excitement.

What will she do next and how is she going to approach this? Casting on its own is an art as she turns to Andrew Buckland for the extraordinary Tobacco and the Harmful Effects Thereoff and then adds extra bang with the exceptional Toni Morkel.

Gerard Bester, Brian Webber, Daniel Buckland and now Neil McCarthy have all taken on a special Strike hew when working with her. It’s as if her visual acuity allows her to use these actors, formidable as they usually are, in a completely new light.

With Buckland in Tobacco for example, she didn’t simply apply his amazing mime and clowning skills, she allowed the actor in him to flourish with accents of his many skills popping up to accentuate certain points she wanted to make.

If you watch her work, she plunges to a depth with detail that is quite exhausting but triumphs in the final production. Nothing escapes her eye which is both a visual and a visceral one and with her current Shepard production, she used music to tap out the rhythms for the actors to give their characters grounding.

“Shepard can be quite messy and chaotic,” she says, but in that is where you find the meaning and the magic of his message.

It is both what she brings and the way she does it that has netted her such a strong following. They know whatever she does, it will have intent and innovation. From the visual spectacle to the quirky casting, nothing is done without juggling many different balls to find the exact formation for this specific production.

That’s why a Strike show will sweep you off your feet – and then it lingers and plays with your mind.

Visual activist Zanele Muholi pays forward the South African way

DIANE DE BEER

Zanele_Muholi_David_Goldblatt_Embassy_France
Photographers in arms David Goldblatt and Zanele Muholi.

It’s a night to remember when the Ambassador of France to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud, (amidst loud ululating and excitement) honours a South African artist, in this instance visual activist Zanele Muholi, who was awarded the insignia of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters) in Pretoria earlier this week.

Muholi is an internationally acclaimed South African photographer whose work is embedded with advocacy on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. As if this award wasn’t honour enough, for those of us gathered the night transformed into something extraordinary, something very South African given our past.

It’s not as though Muholi has had an easy pathway to recognition, but listening to her tell the story of her difficult route to this current recognition, one realises it is the destiny of special artists, that they will find a way.

For Muholi, it was through her mentor, acclaimed photographer David Goldblatt (who incidentally has also received the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres). She knew about him through the Market Photo Workshop, her other home, which he had founded. Muholi simply turned up at his doorstep one day and announced that he was to be her mentor. ”Usually they find you,” she said. But that was not her way. She knew that he was her man and would be the one to guide her.

That’s how their long journey began and how David and his wife Lily took her in, gave her food and care when she needed it and sponsored her international studies. She pointed to “this old white man” and explained how she got to know that “not all white people are racist!” They have obviously lost touch because, reading through the lines, Muholi didn’t want them to know that she needed money – again. It had been enough.

She didn’t know whether the Goldblatts would attend this special night for her, but of course, he is the mentor, she the protégé and as someone who spotted her talent from the beginning, he will surely never let go.

For many South Africans in the room, it was yet another of those stories that confirmed this country’s unique stance to experience humanity.

Ambassador Farnaud_Zanele_Muholi_Embassy_of_France 02
Ambassador Farnaud honours Zanele Muholi.

The Order of Arts and Letters, established in 1957 by the French Minister of Culture, rewards those who, through their ongoing engagement and creativity, have helped develop the arts and literature in France and throughout the world.

In rewarding Muholi, Ambassador Farnaud explained that France is proud to stand beside those who fight for the rights to be free and equal, whoever they are and wherever they are.

“Your courage is a lesson to all those who are blind to injustices and who forget that the battle against ignorance and hate is never won, but needs to be fought every hour of every day. Through your work, you have given black lesbian and transgender communities here and overseas a new visibility. Marginalization and discrimination take many forms, but one of the most pernicious is the denial that a problem exists. Your efforts to raise the subject of LGBTI rights challenge prejudice and complacency everywhere. You shine a light where there is shadow; your work creates a space where there was none,” he said explaining their desire to honour her thus.

He noted that she preferred to be recognized as a “visual activist” rather than an artist but argued that she was both. Born in 1972, she grew up in Umlazi, a township in Durban. In the early ’90s, as the apartheid system ended and South Africa transitioned to democracy, she moved to Johannesburg and earned a living as a hair stylist, then through her 20s took on human resources jobs.

“You found your vocation when you attended the Market Photo Workshop, founded by David Goldblatt. In 2004 you celebrated your first solo exhibition Visual Sexuality: Only Half the Picture held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.”

The ambassdador explained that even before her photographic journeys into black female sexualities and genders in Africa she was working as a human rights activist. “In 2002, you co-founded the Forum for Empowerment of Women (FEW), an organization dedicated to providing a safe space for black lesbians. You then spent more than three years researching and documenting hate crimes in order to bring the reality of ‘corrective rape’ assault, HIV and murders of black lesbians to public attention. In 2009 you founded Inkanyiso, a forum that deals with visual arts, activism, media and advocacy.”

Because of her activism, she has earned a global reputation and a long list of awards from institutions around the world. Muholi’s work is now included in major collections including those of MoMa in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and in many other art institutions in France, most recently in Arles.

Even more impressively, she continues to organize and run photography workshops for young women in various townships. “The gap between the provisions of the progressive constitution of South Africa and the failure to defend the LGBTI community from targeted violence is a constant and powerful theme,” he concluded.

With the formalities out of the way, Maholi was celebrated gloriously by praise singer Annalise Stuurman and drag artist Odidi Mfenyana and blessed by pastors Zungu and Royo concluding a memorable night of a young South African honoured.

If want to see Muholi’s latest work, The Market Photo Workshop is currently hosting Faces and Phases 11, a special project by Photo Workshop Alumnus Zanele Muholi that celebrates the 11th anniversary of her acclaimed portrait series documenting black lesbian and transgender individuals from South Africa and beyond.

She describes the project that started in 2006, as an awareness of “the lack of documentation of her community, and its absence from visual history”, driving her to embark on her series of black and white portraits. Since taking her first image of Busi Sigasa at Constitution Hill, she has captured more than 250 portraits, and is now producing follow-up images of her participants as they go through various phases in their lives.

Zanele Muholi image taken by Sipho Gongxela
Zanele Muholi with Faces and Phases 11.  Picture: Sipho Gongxela

 

Faces and Phases 11 can be viewed at the Market Photo Workshop, 138 Lilian Ngoyi St (old Bree St), Newtown, Johannesburg from Monday – Saturday: 9am – 5pm; Sunday: 10am – 4pm until February 28 2018.