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

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

No better introduction of Willem Boshoff possible!

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

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

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

Willem Boshoff’s BLUE close-up of making process

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

Detail of Word Woes etching (2014)

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

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

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

City Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

 And it takes one poet to recognise and explain another.

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

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

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

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

Willem Boshoff Druid Walk Main Reef road (2010)

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

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

To book for tours email: bookings@javettup.art

KKNK INVITES ARTISTS TO COME OUT TO PLAY WITH DIRECTOR MARTHINUS BASSON IN THE LEAD

Like everyone else art festivals are trapped in a kind of no-man’s land. It’s a time to think on your feet and make use of all the skills lying dormant. DIANE DE BEER reports on the Klein Karoo Art Festival’s most recent brainwave – a director’s course with the brilliant Marthinus Basson at the helm:

The superb Koningin Lear starring the magnificent Antoinette Kellerman in the title role.

In this time of Covid it is up to artists and related organisations to be creative because no one else is going to do that for them.

And it is interesting to see in these dire circumstances how the innovations keep flowing. If anyone knows how to turn nothing into something, it is the artistic community.

A director’s course for aspirant as well as experienced directors is the latest project from the KKNK (Klein Karoo National Arts Festival).

Marthinus Basson in rehearsals of Koningin Lear

The first (of hopefully many) KKNK/NATi Studio project is a directing course to be presented by acclaimed veteran director Marthinus Basson (Tom Lanoye’s Koningin Lear, Mama Medea and Bloed en Rose and premieres of most of Reza de Wet’s work amongst others), someone who should excite both potential and established directors.

Two things come to mind immediately. Basson, who is passionate about teaching and one of the best in the business, has a wealth of knowledge to impart and what better time, when many of our stages are still closed for viable performances, to hone your skills, whether novice or practitioner.

Their aim (in conjunction with NATi ­ – the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief) is to add value to the arts as they unlock the potential of promising directors. “The main purpose is to create work for artists,” says Basson.

I was upset a few years back when the University of Stellenbosch’s drama department seemed to show a lack of insight when not doing everything in their power to hold on to this particular lecturer, but this is simply the best news. I can think of many who would benefit and add to their riches with this director’s insight and abundant creativity. It starts with his choice of text, the way he thinks about every production and his knowledge which has no equal.

Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Asem directed by Marthinus Basson.

The 9-month long course will guide participants through a number of texts from different genres and time periods. Basson will zoom in on interpretation, directing and design, concept development, performance challenges for actors and how directors can manage these.

“This director’s course is a wonderful opportunity for theatre makers to hone core skills and critical thought,” says Hugo Theart, artistic director of the KKNK. “And what a privilege to learn from one of this country’s most experienced directors. Not only is he one of our best directors, he is also regarded as one of the best mentors and teachers. It is a rare opportunity and an honour for the KKNK in combination with NATi to facilitate this season.”

Basson himself is nervously excited about the project. “It gives hope in a tough time for the performing arts and offers a welcome opportunity for theatre makers to gather regularly, inspire one another, study a few exceptional texts in depth, dream and think about them while also questioning – and hopefully add passion and fire to the neglected theatre community.”

Tinarie van Wyk Loots in Basson’s Koningkryk van die Diere

Something he is anticipating is gaining the insight of 12 new artists and to get to know 12 fellow artists during the lengthy course. “The first session will probably be taken up by a kind of meet-and-greet,” he says and then they will get stuck into reading the first text. “Everyone has to participate actively. Ideally a directing course should be a live event,” he says and he is determined that it will not be about him giving lectures. “Once everyone has read the text, ideas should determine what follows. People never feel the same about things,” and I suspect, that’s what gets this director going.

Cornelia Faasen, CEO of NATi, says Covid-19 has given them the time to reflect about the fault lines in some productions. “We have had the grace of time to see how to approach these challenges. It is good that the KKNK is tackling projects rather than productions because these are often too expensive to fail.”

She adds that she’s excited about the future of KKNK/NATi Studio projects – as she should be.

At the recent theatre/dance-driven Take-a-STAND dialogues, the desire and need for mentorship was a high priority for young and established artists. And we have a wealth of artists who can contribute with Basson leading the pack.

The course consists of two formal group sessions of between three and four hours twice a month and will be presented online on Sunday afternoons. Live sessions will only start if the impact of Covid-19 allows it

Basson’s children’s production Huppelkind
Picture: Retha Ferguson

The chosen texts will be read and discussed with Basson handing out tasks in preparation for the following session. Already he speaks enthusiastically about some of the selected works. He is, for example, looking at Bartho Smit’s Moeder Hanna in contrast to Friedrich Durrenmatt’s Die Besoek van die ou Dame. And starting out with an Afrikaans translation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream followed by Die Park by Botho Strauss which plays like the converse. Even explaining his choices already points to the value this course will have for any prospective participant.

With thorough feedback, they will sharpen their critical thinking and heighten their creative impulses. Basson will also be assisted by experienced set designers, writers, directors and actors. He has worked with the best which makes his selection an easy one.

The sessions will start at the end of the month on March 28 and those participating must attend every session.

Financial assistance is available and all candidates must be older than 18 and understand Afrikaans.

Two groups are participating. Twelve candidates will be selected as the core group and they should be involved in the theatre industry in some way. But to stretch the reach of the project, further candidates will be invited to listen in as observers. This is aimed at especially young

talent not necessarily involved in the industry professionally yet and could include drama students.

For more information and to apply for the season, go to kknk.co.za/kknk-nati-studio, or phone the KKNK-offices on 044 203 8600.

Get jumping, the closing date is this Friday (March 19) at noon.

BRASSERIE DE PARIS LED BY SARIE JOOSTE JORDAAN TAKE THEIR LEAVE – OR NOT YET

PICTURES: Hennie Fisher

When you are invited to the final meal at a favourite restaurant, there’s naturally some excitement about the event – but also a sadness because of all the memories. DIANE DE BEER predicts this might not be their swan song:

Especially in these Covid19 times, it’s been a tough environment for the restaurant industry. There is, however, one beacon of hope and that is the diners’ awareness about how much they miss restaurants when they’re not there.

Being human as we all are, we tend to take our luxuries for granted until someone takes them away. The place I’m talking about is Tshwane’s Brasserie de Paris, where proprietor Sarie Jooste Jordaan magically created a very special restaurant. It’s something she and architect husband Johan Jooste almost fell into when they were invited by patron-chef Christian du Bois to  become partners in his business.

When he decided to leave, Jooste-Jordaan knew she had the perfect setup. Her husband’s father Karel Jooste had designed and built one of Pretoria’s iconic homes in Waterkloof and while some might argue it’s not the perfect home, it turned out to be the perfect dining venue.

And then they had something to live up to. Expectations were set but Jooste Jordaan had a few aces up her sleeve. Her niece Elze Roome was a trained chef, which made this the perfect solution – a match made in heaven.

That was 26 years ago and in the meantime and a lifetime in the world of a chef, Roome (with her brother as partner and many adventures in-between) has opened a Tashas in Times Square and you just have to experience the buzz to know that they have struck gold – or more likely, they know what they’re doing.

The team from Brasserie through the years and the reason for their success : from left Marlise Whelan, Ané Wait, Sarie Jooste Jordaan, Elze Roome and Loodt van Niekerk (behind)

“It all happened quite organically,” notes Roome, who has kept in touch with all the chefs who followed her at Brasserie about the celebratory final meal. Ané Wait (now from Buffelsfontein Beesboerdery in Greenlyn), Marlise Whelan (lecturer at Capitol Hotel School) and Loodt van Niekerk who pleaded to be head chef on the day because he hadn’t been one previously.

All of these  chefs have a classic slant and drawing up the menu was a full-on team effort. For example, Roome explains that Whelan had created the original apple tart but Wait had refined it. It was a no brainer that it would be the dessert on the day.

Reading through the menu, memories flooded back, as they had put together almost a prototype of everything Brasserie represented. Starting with an amuse bouche of blue cheese cream and figs as well as Springbok carpaccio, these were started with a celebratory welcoming sparkling wine on their amazing roof, which probably everyone there had probably experienced in some madcap dinner. Ours was an Easter affair and one of the best evenings I can remember with the stars all aligning for a spectacular event all those years back.

But that’s what Brasserie has always been. I can’t remember them ever not getting it right. As chef Hennie Fisher always says about them: “One of my personal most favourite elegant dining choices – a sophisticated mix of old world charm and modern flair. And never broke the bank!”

Following Covid protocols as they would, the restaurant again proved its many assets because of the way we were all protected and yet not without managing to create the fondly remembered Brasserie ambience.

I was blessed to be in the company of a chef and two wine connoisseurs, so I knew this was going to be special. Leaving the wine in their capable hands, the men u prompted them to kick off with a white wine (Lismore Viognier) followed by a red (Thelema Merlot 2017).

Once seated we were first presented with a smoked salmon rösti, a smart choice because of the combo and the distinct flavours. Just the right entrée to get you hungry and with what was to follow, we needed that.

A plump scallop, sharp green pea purée and bacon crisp richly finished the seafood side of the menu. Following these teasers, Brasserie got stuck into the serious stuff: meat. I knew when the Japanese Embassy a few years back invited me to lunch here, it was a huge nod of approval. They were especially guided by the quality of meat and I suspect, the no-nonsense approach to things and the stylish setting also appealed to their specific sensibilities.

The trio of meat dishes was led by duck breast and sauce bigarade (orange sauce), a classic combination, followed by lamb loin, basil oil and wild mushroom and completed with a beef fillet, potato crisps and Bearnaise. These were all melt-in-the-mouth

And if it sounds like a mouthful, that’s exactly what it was and still remains my best way of sampling food: a tasting menu. This one was obviously substantial but for those of us riffing on nostalgia, this gang of superb chefs all had a role in establishing this kitchen and to come together in this way, could not make a stronger statement.

Apple Tart

Finishing with the prettiest of apple tarts and mignardise with coffee, it was the perfect dining experience and especially savoured because of the people, the place and of course the times.

My hat off to the gracious Sarie Jooste Jordaan who had no plans to run a restaurant, but given the splendid setting and the right ingredients to make it work her way, in the end it was truly a grand affair.

I remember, part of the original idea was to stick to Du Bois’s menu guidelines and while settling in and finding their feet, they did exactly that. But having established the basic rules they could then start playing around, making it their own.

Patron Sarie Jooste Jordaan (right) and her niece Chef Elze Roome

And that they did with classic flair and flourish. These are peculiar times and I know this is a business that isn’t easy but I just have a feeling that this is not the last we hear from the indomitable Sarie. So I’m tipping my hat to all the chefs for a fantastic experience in the Jooste house – once again. But I’m holding my breath before saying final goodbyes…

And holding thumbs for the next chapter!

CHEF MAHDI SANATKARAN INTRODUCES HIS IRANIAN CULTURE AND CUISINE

It’s become a mission for chef Mahdi Sanatkaran to introduce people to the Iranian culture and cuisine through his glorious meals. DIANE DE BEER experiences one of these gourmet gatherings and chats to the chef:

Pictures: Hennie Fisher and Mahdi’s daughter Maryam.

Iranian chef Mahdi Sanatkaran busy cooking his kebabs

When Iranian born Mahdi Sanatkaran started working with the Iranian Embassy in Bahrain, he didn’t know that 2 and a half decades later he would be cooking Iranian cuisine for South Africans intent on promoting his culture and his cuisine.

The route was a meandering one as he moved with the embassy to Nigeria, where he was appointed as head chef. “I didn’t have any formal training but they gave me some classes at the Foreign Affairs guest house to get me up to speed,” he says.

At one of the embassy events a man asked to meet the chef because the food was so good, and as the general manager of the Hilton in Abuja, he invited Mahdi to join his kitchen to learn more about cooking. “He enjoyed my cooking and wanted to enhance my skills,” explains the amateur chef.

Never someone to miss an opportunity, he worked from 7am to 7pm at the embassy and then he would be off for a stint in the Hilton kitchens. It was his first formal chef’s training which he kept up for quite a few years.

After nine years as an embassy chef with a daughter who was born in Lagos now reaching school-going age, Mahdi and his wife Hamideh Najafi decided to move to Pretoria for suitable schooling. He had met a man who invited him to join him in a restaurant partnership but when they arrived here, he discovered the potential partner didn’t want to invest anymore.

He had a family to support and quickly Mahdi was working in construction, and off to Mauritius on a landscaping job. He was finally appointed as a cameraman, translator and interviewer at the local branch of the Iranian Television Bureau in Pretoria where he worked from 2008 until 2014. He travelled all over Africa interviewing many leaders and heads of state and when they closed the office, he turned to something familiar, food.

Also familiar with the Subway franchise, he was off to the US for training before opening in Menlyn, but he soon realised it was difficult to survive with such exorbitant rentals. Instead he hoped to find a more unique offering by changing to Iranian fast food in the form of kebabs, so popular in his home country.

He changed the name from Subway to Shiraz the Kebab House (a historical city in Iran), but still the venue was problematic. Neither I nor my foodie friends were aware that this Iranian cuisine was on offer in our city and just before Covid-19, which would have closed them anyway, he decided again to try new avenues.

Iranian saffron marinated kebabs

And this is how I finally had the chance to taste Persian food and discover more about its many hidden treasures. Of course with the country not fêted in the rest of the world, little is known about its food and this is what Mahdi finds especially challenging. He wants to change that with every meal he makes.

Together with an import business selling Iranian foodstuffs (tahini, dates, nuts with especially pistachio a favourite, saffron – Iran is the biggest producer, he says – rose water and other rose products and more), he also offers Iranian meals to groups. The idea is to present it at someone’s home. They will invite the (paying) guests, say approximately 20 people at approximately R450 per person, allow Mahdi, his wife and daughter to take over their kitchen for the day, while those attending will be served a very generous Iranian menu.

It’s ideal during this time because you will be in charge of the guest list and it can be hosted – preferably in our summer weather – outside, which will allow for social distancing.

Iranian food, explains Mahdi, covers a huge spectrum. “Every city and region has its own cuisine and culture that comes with it.”

As a starter he served barley soup, a favourite in his country. It’s very traditional and often served with a flat bread but on the day, he didn’t include that because the rest of the menu would prove too overwhelming – and it still was.

This was followed by a meze-type table which Mahdi describes as similar to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines with differences in spices and marinating sauces. Saffron is the star of almost all their dishes with sumac a runner-up, and you’re not easily going to go without aubergine popping up in one or two dishes.

It could be grilled eggplant served in paste form with yogurt and walnuts (called burani and similar to what we would know as baba ganoush) or even a pickled and stuffed version. Accompanying that is something quite close to what we would recognise as tzaziki, perhaps a bit thicker than we’re used to it, with herbs. A typical salad is a shirazi with chopped cucumber, tomato, red onion and mint. Part of the deal which he couldn’t find on the day is what he describes as an unripe grape juice very common in Iran. He knows he can source it here too but also found an alternative solution.

Stuffed and marinated olives with pomegranate paste and walnuts, all Iranian staples, a spinach and bulgur wheat salad and a potato croquettes add to the taste explosion. One has to be careful because there’s mains to come but all of this is so moreish and hard to resist. It’s familiar yet with an unexpected fresh take.

Iranian chicken kebabs on the fire

Many of us could easily have stopped eating at this point, completely replenished, but the mains and dessert were yet to come. Kebab, an Iranian specialty, was on the menu with two favourites, a saffron-marinated chicken kebab (jooje kebab) and a grounded lamb cholo kebab, which means it is served with a loose Basmati-type rice. When you get the family talking about Iranian rice, they are in full agreement that this is the best rice in the world. “The scent of it alone lingers,” says daughter Maryam, who is in her final year to qualify as an industrial engineer.

Another Iranian treasure is something called tahdig (translated as potato crust). Mahdi describes this simply as a knockout! When they cook rice, potatoes are put in the bottom of the pan to prevent the rice from burning and this crispy crust is brought to the table for the guests to pick at. “If we don’t serve it, guests will ask,” he says, comparing it to that special ingredient not to be missed!

Also something unusual and part of the meal is a rice cake (tahchin), which is exactly what it sounds like but it has a crust and is made in a square. Sometimes it has a chicken filling or I suspect a chef can play around.

An Iranian rice pudding

The meal concluded with a rice pudding, which is another version of something we’re quite familiar with but by that time, I didn’t even have the tiniest space.

One doesn’t think about the cuisines you don’t know and hardly hear about because of those available out there. But one of the many benefits post-1994 has been the introduction of so many flavours to the South African food scene.

Contact Mahdi (who comes as a package deal with his wife and daughter) if you’re interested in hosting an Iranian feast. You can discuss the menu and everything about the event according to your needs and wants. He doesn’t supply the drinks, and guests bring their own. But nothing can prepare you for something presented with such warmth and deliciousness.

For more detail or to discuss bookings, contact Mahdi on email: sanatkaran2001@yahoo.com or on Instagram: @persian_food_stop.

In A World That Feels Closed, Teksmark Breaks Down Barriers – As The Arts Should

PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

It was the fifth year of the Teksmark (text market) at the end of last month, something originating from Hugo Theart (artistic director: Kunste Onbeperk) and supported by Cornelia Faasen (CEO of the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater-inisiatief NATi) and Lara Foot (CEO and artistic director  of the Baxter Theatre Centre) – and not even Covid-19 was going to scupper their plans.  Going from strength to strength, this year’s crop of entries exceeded 120, a clear indication that people had time but also the talent to start writing. DIANE DE BEER reports:

Die Sondige Sewe by Niël Rademan
For many this was their first outing to the theatre post Covid-19 and Cape Town’s Baxter (the home of the Teksmark) made surer everyone complied with the rules.
Fortunately, huge crowds are not a necessary part of the deal as the three days pack in mainly the playwright and artists involved, a few producers and possible independent funders, as well as representatives of the different festivals.
A clutch of debut plays are selected for possible further development and short extracts are featured by selected directors and casts. Sometimes the playwright is involved but not always. The most exciting development these past few years has been the inclusion and thus expansion of entries from all the official languages. It has made a huge difference in a country too small to create pockets of the arts. We need the cross-pollination to grow and flourish.
We should all be pulling together but language has always been a stumbling block in the sense of who speaks and understands what and with not many (white folk) who can speak more than two of the 11 official languages.
Two of the comedies from the Suidoosterfees Nati Rising Star Project: Die Workshop by Fabian Rainers (left) and Al Dra ‘n Aap ‘n Goue Ring by Margo Kotzé

But if anyone is going to find a solution, this is the perfect platform and already this year there has been a much stronger push for collaborations. Sometimes a playwright would use three languages to tell a story. In another instance, a gang of playwrights got together to write a play almost in Robert Altman fashion where different sketches are pulled together to make a whole.

It’s just easier to mix and match on every level when this kind of collaboration becomes the norm and for audiences the variety is huge. As much as everyone has their favourite artists, there’s nothing as exciting as a much larger pool to choose from and to witness.
This is a time to move forward and not back. Once the barriers came down, there was an explosion on our stages of new talent. The diversity is to our benefit locally and we could lead the way internationally. This is the way to enrich and enlighten minds by experiencing one another’s stories and the way stories are told.
Covid-19 has been a nightmare for everyone, but if anything has been a certainty in these uncertain times, it is that artists will find inspiration and show us many different ways to move forward.
When one of our top and most prolific playwrights Mike van Graan, for example, collaborates with the likes of Wessel Pretorius and Malika Ndlovu sparks are going to fly. There were six playwrights in all, none of whom had met before when they arrived at the Teksmark.
They had been commissioned by Lara Foot to attempt this way of telling a storie(s) with Van Graan as the one who had to pull everything together with some kind of through-line. They had weekly digital meetings but this was the first time they saw an extract from the work.
The Valley of the Shadow by Qondiswa James, Tankiso Mamabolo, Tiisetso Mashifane, Malika Ndlovu, Wessel Pretorius and Mike van Graan.
The thing I found interesting having read the play, The Valley of the Shadow, without knowing who the writer(s) was – was that I didn’t detect that it was a team effort. Because of the different characters (and that was a clever way to do this kind of collaboration) each story had a specific voice which meant that the writing could organically change from scene to scene.
Playwright Kanye Viljoen’s text was in Afrikaans, English and Xhosa, as she dipped into a Karoo tale familiar to many – a mermaid somewhere in the Meiringspoort environs. It’s a magical South African story with roots in the past (meaning different things to different people in the group) but set in our present and how we can tell stories.
Kanya Viljoen’s multi-lingual Grot
She wanted to uses different languages as would happen in a South African context. Even when you don’t understand everything, it doesn’t land strangely on the ear because it rings true. I have watched many bi-lingual plays at The Market in the past where English was used to tell the story and isiXhosa or isiZulu perhaps to capture more of the culture through the language.
Do you miss out when you don’t understand something? Of course, but perhaps finally in this technological advanced  time, there’s a solution other than just sticking to a universal language – in the South African context, English.
People playing in their own language and those listening is something to experience – still not common in this country. Hopefully, as this kind of writing happens more frequently, someone will find an imaginative fix.
Another language case in point was iNau and ander drama by Jolyn Philips, who brings the lives of three women, Bientang, Narina and Lydia, to share a very particular story of which this particular unfolding makes a strong statement of this time – and more than anything it is about time.
To capture these silenced voices for those who have never been without voice, she sat down after the performance (in which she also participated) and described the toughness of allowing the drama to unfold. It needs to be part of the performance because it explains so much for those who need to hear. It’s a powerful performance and can be described as life-changing without any dramatics.

There was much to praise in all the other selected Teksmark plays including themes of dysfunctional families playing out by using mercy killings (assisted dying) at the heart of the story in Mike van Graan’s What We Wish For; Covid Moons, Clare Stopford’s response to being trapped in a high-security block of flats in Cape Town during the first Level 5  lockdown (the play opens on Friday 20 November and that night is sold out but tickets are available for all other performances from 17-21 November. Book online now at https://artstown.co.za/) and what she achieves is innovative and refreshing; Niël Rademan’s contemporary cabaret Die Sondige Sewe managed to revive a tired and now neglected genre with smart writing and snappy performances with a simplistic execution which benefits the script.

What We Wish For by Mike van Graan

The other magnificent move was the inclusion of a series of plays which formed part of the Suidoosterfees Nati Rising Star Project. As the name implies, these are young playwrights who attended a writing school in the Eastern Cape led by Abduragman Adams through the Jakes Gerwel Foundation.

They dovetailed smartly with the Teksmark and addressed issues such as bullying and sexual predators on the one hand, while on the other there were two delightful comedies; the issue-driven farcical Al Dra ‘n Aap ‘n Goue Ring and Die Workshop, with playwright  Fabian Rainers finding a tongue- in-cheek way to tackle universal issues.

As in previous years, the playwrights keep moving the goalposts for the following year’s  crop – and this time it feels as if a closed world allowed everyone to break down all existing barriers!

Viva the arts!

 

 

 

Changing Lanes, Hilary Prendini Toffoli Turns to Italy and Food for Debut Novel

 

With Covid19 hastening the demise of print media (in this country but also across the world) as we know it, journalist Hilary Prendini Toffoli knew she had to reinvent herself – and she has, in most intriguing fashion. DIANE DE BEER chats to the veteran journalist about her first novel Loves & Miracles of Pistola (Penguin):

“I worked on Pistola on and off for several years when I was a journalist, but it was only when the media industry was really crumbling that I decided to reinvent myself and complete the novel,” explains Hilary Prendini Toffoli (Penguin).

Yet it is something that started even before her journalism career. She had her first short story published in what was then The Cape Argus when she was about 20, a BA student at UCT. Later she joined The Argus and became the company’s first female sub-editor.

Then she moved to Joburg and ran the Star Woman with Sue Grant Marshall (another journalist turned author) doing the Woman’s Page.

Where I became hooked on her writing was during her time as  a journalist for Style (remember them?) from 1983 to 2006 covering everything “from social and political satire and profiles (21 eligible bachelors in one story), to features about high profile local murders and rapes, as well as writing edgy short stories.”

Then she went freelance doing features and columns for a wide variety of publications including Noseweek, Insig, Financial Mail, City Press, Business Day, House&Leisure etc.

For her the move from journalism wasn’t difficult. “Over the years I’d written a few terrible unpublished novels, both here and overseas in my twenties, living in Spain, France, England and Japan, trying to find myself, that old cliché enacted out by a lot of us those days.”

What also came into play were all these interesting characters she’s interviewed over the years which gave her a helluva lot of material. “I think much of it went into the subconscious, to come spilling out when I write. So the process of writing fiction is not for me a case of ‘Open a vein and bleed’ as someone once described it. My MO is more on the lines of what Stephen King says. ‘Put interesting characters in interesting situations and see what happens.’”

She does however make it sound easier than it is. Not all journalists have books in them even though it is also about writing, it is something completely different. Yet those familiar with her work will not be surprised. Hilary’s interviews were special. She had an acerbic eye but was never unkind – funny yes, and capturing the zeitgeist of her time, absolutely. And she never took life – or herself – too seriously.

She is right when she notes in our correspondence that Love & Miracles of Pistola came at the right time. “In these tricky Covid times the book’s nostalgic flavour has given a lift to readers. Plus they love the food angle because they’re all cooking more than ever before. And they love Pistola because he had his own battles and survived,” she reports.

Hilary in her kitchen

The characters of Pistola and his grandfather Nonno Mario first popped into her mind during the long stretches of an Eastern Cape road trip. “I’d wanted to write about the life of my husband Emilio who grew up in a post-war Northern Italian village in the fertile Po Valley with pigs as big as small Fiats, and where people have survived in spite of the battles that have raged for centuries over these maize and rice fields. This was a way to do it.”

But for local readers especially, it’s more than just looking back. It’s also the diversity of our  people – always a South African strength – that captures the reader’s imagination. We’re all lovers of Italian food (and that isn’t an exaggeration), and this is a story which gives us insight into some  of the roots of all that glorious Italian food … today still.

Hilary explains: “At first the story revolved around food and its importance in this place where the daily greeting is “So have you had a good meal?” Then I remembered the piece I’d written for Style magazine on the young Italians brought to South Africa in the fifties as train stewards by the Nationalist Government. I’d got great anecdotes from several who were still here running restaurants.

Hilary and her husband Emilio
Picture: Alex Moss

“So I put Pistola into this story and it really worked. I could show that repressive political era through the eyes of these naive young foreigners, most of them in their teens, with Pistola going to places like Sophiatown and the Malay Quarter. For an Italian village boy, South Africa’s increasingly racist laws were a challenge, but also a journey of self-discovery – Pistola’s miracles.”

And she says it herself: “What makes the story particularly interesting for South Africans is the fact that many of those Italians then stayed on and opened restaurants all over the country, introducing Italian cuisine to people whose only knowledge of Italian food was Heinz spaghetti on toast. Places like La Perla in Sea Point gave South Africans not only great pastas and pizzas but also a taste of Italy’s extraordinary range of culinary masterpieces.”

We can all agree when she says that it was the beginning of a love affair with Italy.

What is also evident is that her husband, Emilio, being a great cook, played no small role. At one stage he had a deli in Oranjezicht, and he made most of the takeaway foods. Lasagne, ravioli, cannelloni, gnocchi, parmigiana di melanzane, minestrone, osso buco, chicken cacciatore, pesto Genovese, and tubs of sauce – arrabbiata, amatriciana, napolitana. “Clients loved to come and talk to him about their Italian holidays. It was then I began to realise how South Africans love Italy. Not only the food. Also the art, the music and the picturesque towns and villages with their fountains, piazzas and romantic Roman ruins.”

Personally, she has no Italian blood. “My first encounter with Italians and their culture was on the Lloyd Triestino ships that used to sail between Venice and Cape Town in the sixties. Far cheaper than airflight In those days. Those two-week trips were heaven. Great food and music, and good-looking officers!

“I’m a WASP, born and brought up in Cape Town. My mother Constance Young was a prolific journalist for the old Outspan magazine. She also wrote short stories that won prizes on the radio. So for me writing has been a lifelong obsession. Especially fiction.”

Author Hilary Prendini Toffoli

The book has also been a family affair in other ways. “I was lucky to have my daughter Caterina, a graphic designer with Yuppiechef, do the vibrant cover. 

“Meanwhile I so enjoyed writing Pistola I’ve just finished the second in my Italian trilogy. Not a sequel to Pistola but the story of another young Italian migrant, Furio, an opera-singing romantic with a broken heart and a volcanic core, who finds himself working on the farm of a great white hunter in Kenya at the time of the Mau Mau. Challenging stuff he has to find ways to deal with.”

And that’s done in Hilary’s typical Sjournalist style! While still in the throes of doing publicity for her first, she has already completed the second – and I would not put it past her to be already working on the third.

So start where it matters, and get onto this first one. It’s a great read, informative, and captures a country and its people in a particular time.

Innovative Charl du Plessis Trio Play With Our Imaginations In Times of Stress

With a new album, in hand, it’s time for the Charl du Plessis Trio to launch their latest musical feast titled Imagine, apt for our times when the world has been turned upside down. But music will always be there to stimulate the imagination, Charl du Plessis tells DIANE DE BEER:

Because he works fanatically on so many different levels, it’s surprising to hear musician Charl du Plessis say that his jazz trio hasn’t released a CD for two years. He is someone who fast-tracks everything.

But this one wouldn’t have happened at this time either if they hadn’t been approached to record with Swiss speaker company as part of their Stenheim Acoustic Sessions which give artists the chance to record original tracks in unusual places and in exceptional acoustic conditions. “We were fortunate to record this project with their world-class acoustic treatment to ensure the most organic and powerful listening experience,” explains Charl about the sessions recorded at the Espace Consonance in Saxon, Switzerland.

These days with music recordings so problematic, no one is going to disregard this kind of invitation, but what really excited the trio was the quality inherent in the full process. Stenheim’s quality products are the guarantee of a superb recording in a state-of-the-art studio.

Charl du Plessis Trio

This is the first recording by the Charl Du Plessis Trio in its new format, following the departure of the former drummer for China. Peter Auret, one of Gauteng’s most sought-after jazz drummers, joins original members Charl on piano and Werner Spies on bass.

“It’s been invigorating,” says Charl, who with this album wanted to include tracks that share their respect for the original score which has always been their strong suit – a crossover between jazz and the classics, with Charl a master in both genres.

And he emphasises that with Peter joining their team, imaginative moves have been flourishing. One needs change every once in a while and when it is as positively organic as this one was, it can also be hugely beneficial. “We all work together extremely well,” adds Charl.

It also helps that Peter is an award-winning recording engineer and producer with his own studio while Werner adds techno buff to his skills. Charl, always someone who keeps adding yet another string to his bow (see Episode 2 of Toegang on kykNET), also recently added piano tuner to his repertoire. “One often battles to find someone at specific times,” he says and as the owner of two Steinways (being a Steinway musician), he can now do his own when required.

Peter Auret on drums

They say you have to know the rules before you can bend and  break them. That truly applies here and you will hear that immediately as you start listening to their music which seems to have taken on a world in trouble while offering an easy escape – for just a while.

Their music reflects their passion. These are musicians who travel the world with their special brand of music, something that translates well and appeals to both jazz and classical audiences – and that isn’t always a given. Think of the way classical or jazz music has sometimes been dumbed down for a more general audience. This is not that.

It’s about combining and infusing all their multiple influences but in a way that is smart, honours the original music and delivers a sound that is both fresh and refreshing. Included in the lineup, which should have you smiling, is Mozart’s Magic Flute, Beethoven’s Für Elise, Ode to Joy and the Adagio cantabile from Sonata Pathetique, Bizet’s Seguidilla from Carmen, Verdi’s Va Pensiero from Nabucco and to conclude, John Lennon’s Imagine!

Werner Spies on bass

They’ve been at it for 12 years and in that time while not stagnating, they know what works and how to keep it challenging. They wouldn’t have had this recording if that weren’t the case. This is a difficult area to make your name – and a living. You have to deliver for it to work and they do.

They have won major music awards including a Fiësta, two SAMA awards and a Ghoema for Best Instrumental Album. They frequently perform in Europe and Asia as well as at major music festivals in South Africa. Highlights include Grachtenfestival – the Netherlands, Musikdorf Ernen – Switzerland, and Standard Bank Joy of Jazz – Johannesburg as well as most recently digitally as part of the National Arts Festival platform. 

This launch of their new album Imagine will be held at the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria on November 1 at 3pm. Tickets can be booked at iTickets. It’s all about familiar music with “daring textures, exciting rhythms and lush harmonic landscapes” which come together in their unconventional arrangements.

Charl on keyboards

And if you’ve never attended one of their shows, this is an ideal time to sit back (in controlled circumstances) with music that will be a balm for your soul.

The trio is constantly evolving in their quest to explore uncharted musical terrains in an imaginative manner and, like the title suggests, this is not borrowing from the extraordinary John Lennon but rather paying homage.

That’s the kind of music they make and I easily recommend. For those who cannot attend the concert (and I predict there will be more around the country as things start opening up in the new year), get the album. It’s one to cherish.

For more information visit www.charlduplessis.com

Charl du Plessis Trio with Peter Auret (drums) Charl (centre) and Werner Spies (bass)

NATANIЁL – A MAN ON THE MOVE

Nataniel ToegangMany can argue about who suffered (s) most with the appearance of Covid 19 but few will disagree that artists, who make a living by performing to a live audience, have been hit hard. Even the world’s top concert halls are struggling with no end in sight. One of our most prolific artists, Nataniël, tells DIANE DE BEER how he tries to navigate his career during the pandemic:

 

 With NANTES KOOKBOEK finishing this week, Nataniël’s latest series, TOEGANG, starts the following week – but getting that done, as everything else during Covid, was no easy task.

“The series originally planned will hopefully be done next year,” explains the artist. “The concept was a logical follow-up to the series shot in Nantes, to be filmed on the original le Roux farm just outside Kuilsriver.”

Things kept changing but because of lockdown and the necessary protocol, Nataniël  had to do some quick thinking when he realised they had to shoot where they all lived. And that was Pretoria.

“The concept came from being alone in my house for months and realising how simply I actually live and how simple my meals were,” he says. For him, delicious food, made in just one pan, became the limit for for washing-up activities. That sorted the food for the series.

He also realised how many gorgeous buildings in the city would be deserted because of the pandemic, buildings he always wanted to spend time in, but not with the crowds that would usually be there. “So I took my pan and a very small crew and went there.”

Speaking about these lightning-fast changes and the way the series had to be shot, he admitted it suited his way of working. It actually meant a spike in his already high-powered creativity levels. “I loved it. We could do what we wanted, all these fantastic spaces gave us the opportunity to create beautiful scenes, film very dramatic visuals and work without disturbances. KykNET let me be, nobody looked over my shoulder and all the strict rules made me feel safe. I had a tough time with the make-up part, because somebody had to touch me, but I bit my lip and got through it.”

Those who have interviewed Nataniël  will know that getting info about an upcoming programme or concert is like pulling teeth. Not the gist of it, but the detail. He is a man who lives for surprises. When you sit down to watch a programme or enjoy a show, he believes the less you know the better. “I tell nobody about the places we went to, that will be revealed in every episode.”

“Tragically there are no surprises on TV since Oprah left, everything is blurted out for marketing, so there is nothing to look forward to.”

But he reluctantly admits that they work according to themes, every episode has an inspired menu for which he got his ideas from the locations, history, plus his life in isolation. (“Apart from going back on stage now, I am still in lockdown, because I love it. And I will wear the mask for the rest of my life, I look fantastic and it is much cheaper than Botox.”)

nataniel oils2

He also introduces artists who made things for the programmes, including artworks, ceramics, fabrics, prints, jewellery and, of course, some surprises. 

And another secret he allows to slip … Very often a local magazine series get an original theme tune, but there rest comes from a library of canned music. “This time I had the opportunity to write and produce a full soundtrack and be in the studio for all the sessions. (With a mask and bottles of sanitiser!) That was a great experience and fantastic to work with all the musicians after months without performing a single note.”

Shooting locally for the first time in some time following a revamp of the Nantes series, was quite strange. “The European visuals are very filmic, there’s a castle or a cathedral or a museum everywhere you turn and you need to do very little to make a scene beautiful. Also finding props here was a challenge as (at the time) many shops were still closed and nothing new had come into the country for months,” always a Nataniël requirement. He hates introducing and showing things people know.

Looking ahead, Covid has given Nataniël  time to think and make some decisions. “First of all I want to dress more wildly. I realised I am still scared of what people think, but the virus took that away.

Nataniel in full colour
Nataniël in full colour

“I will also stop dumbing down musically because of my fears that the audience will not like complicated or eccentric or sophisticated or unfamiliar songs. At the Woordfees in March I performed a very modern cover song with a very abrupt ending and there was absolute silence afterwards. Then I realised nobody in the audience has heard that song yet, although it was a worldwide hit. So I stopped singing it. During isolation I decided, to hell with that, that song will be back in the new show. Life is too short to compromise.”

It’s about time!

Nataniel gesels

Now he needs to get back on stage which, not surprisingly is what he misses most. “I start with GESELS, my lifestyle talk series, every Saturday in October at the Atterbury Theatre (in Pretoria) starting this coming Saturday. Bookings on iTickets.

“Then in November Charl du Plessis and I will finally do our gala concert to celebrate working together for 20 years.” TWINTIG, the gala Concert with Charl, Sunday November 15 at 3pm in the  Atterbury Theatre. Bookings on iTickets. “In December I will stage a new production, as always.” Bookings will also be on iTickets.

He has also launched the LIVE LIKE N collection of healthy cooking oils which can be ordered at https://liveliken.com/. And a new book (a collection of short stories) will be available in October. 

Nataniël has been working on his blog called SmallCoronation.com, which was quietly released recently. “It is all about simple food in beautiful settings, creating atmosphere. I see it as sharing my personal archive with others with all the food coming from dinners at my house.

“There’s no interaction and talking nonsense with people I do not know, just an online magazine to be looked at with a cup of tea when somebody needs a break. No strange ingredients, no modern techniques, just fun, ideas and hopefully inspiration.

“It will be launched with the TOEGANG series next Monday at 8.30pm on kykNET and the English version of all the recipes will also be available on the blog.”

And if you were wondering  in anticipation about the next memoir…

Nataniel boek

That will have to wait says the author. “Too many of the characters are still alive. And LOOK AT ME (KYK NA MY) still needs to get the attention it deserves. Everything stopped when I had to stop performing and touring.”

But for the moment, the new normal kicks into action and Nataniël in full colour steps into the spotlight with even more than his usual fanfare.

I’ll be watching for those outlandish costumes and outfits as well as the music he really loves to sing … whether they like it or not!

TOEGANG starts on Monday October 5 at 8.30pm on DStv’s kykNET.

Precious Lives Interrupted Yet Never Silenced in Stories Sensitively Shared

DIANE DE BEER

These three books all deal with children who have lost their mothers and how that influenced their lives:

BK girl

 

 

 

The Girl with the Louding Voice

  by Abi Daré (Sceptre):

“I tell you true, the day I stop school and the day my mama was dead is the worst day of my life.”

And that sentence explains  what is to follow in the 14-year-old Adunni’s life. Her mother is the one who paid both to keep her at school and the exorbitant rent for their house.

But since her death, Adunni has become a valuable commodity. In fact, her life amounts to four goats, two bags of rice, some chicken and a new TV, as she is sold as the third wife to an old man. With a dedication to the author’s mother (the first female professor of taxation in Nigeria) and someone who promoted the importance of education and sacrificed so much that her daughter could get the best of it; and a prologue that points to Nigeria as the 6th largest crude oil exporter in the world (and with a GDP of $568.5 billion, the richest country in Africa, yet with 100 million people who live in poverty surviving on less that a $1 a day) that’s who this story deals with, one of the many young girls who become the sole provider for their family, not by choice but because they don’t have any.

Whatever your level of interaction with the rest of Africa, we have all heard of the plight of the Boko Haram girls who were abducted. Some will never be returned to their families, while those who do are often rejected, with the children forced upon them by their vicious captors.

Think about those 16 year-old girls kidnapped by the marauding monsters only to be blamed on their return at a time when being a teenager should be your only worry. It’s the kind of book that hopefully opens new worlds and reminds you how lucky we are to have the luxury of only discovering this kind of terror in a book.

I loved the story and the writing. It’s a unique voice, as so many from Africa are.

 

bk crawdads

 

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens (Corsair)

Kya was only six when her mother walked out on the family. In the following few weeks, an older brother and two sisters also drifted off and Kaya was left with her favourite brother Jodie and her drinking dad.

Jodie didn’t last that long and neither did her father, only a few more years. By the time she approached her teens, without any schooling, neither writing nor reading, she was on her own living in their shack in the marsh on the edge of Barkley Cove.

Not only had this young girl been deserted by her entire family, the town also rejected her and she had no one to turn to. Dumped on by everyone who saw her as the Marsh Girl, she was laughed out of school, her only resource the marsh and its embracing flora and fauna that taught her about life.

It reads like a modern-day folktale, almost too far-fetched to hold on to and yet, we all know the Kyas of the world, those living on the edge, some who manage to get ahead in spite of the struggle and the way the world has turned its back on them.

The author Delia Owens has three internationally best-selling non-fiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari, and this is her debut novel, which is probably why it has such an almost naive yet wondrously unique voice.

It’s beautifully written and takes you to another world as Kya tries to face a world that keeps turning its back on her.

bk dutch

 

 

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury)

From the time that Danny and Maeve’s mother leaves home – and this time doesn’t come back – their lives are about longing, which is very closely linked to the Dutch House.

“Like swallows, like salmon, we were helpless captives of our migratory patterns. We pretended that what we had lost was the house, not our mother, not our father.”

And thereby hangs the tale in a fascinating story that is viewed from many different perspectives, all of this packaged with a delicious caricature of the evil stepmother at the centre. But this isn’t her story.

Patchett is a familiar name but this is the first of her novels I have read and from the first page just loved the writing. It’s clean yet charming, shows an insight that is uncanny and hitches your heart to the characters whose lives have been thrown into a storm that is beyond their means and abilities to deal with – yet they do.

Because the brother and his older sister are dealing with the same trauma, it’s also intriguing to see how they deal with their loss, abandonment and sheer misery of what they have to come to terms  with in their upended circumstances.

It has to do with age and gender, how a mother’s absence plays into their lives and how they deal with these emotions – whether it is anger or longing that lingers most strongly. The older daughter might find it difficult to resist clinging to old feelings because there are clear memories to return to time and again, while the younger brother might be more broody and resentful about a mother leaving her children still so young.

Yet it is these close family ties that are tied up and thrown about in different scenarios to see how they play out.

And in the end, although all three the books hold a certain longing from those who have lost what is one of their most impactful relationships, it is also the different voices, the way the authors tell their stories and their writing, that is finally quite extraordinary in all three.

I will certainly want to read more by Patchett who has quite a resumé, but am also hopeful that the other two writers will keep writing following these brilliant debut attempts.

The First Klein Karoo National Arts Festival Virtual Gallery Is Visual Feast

DIANE DE BEER

KKNKBarbara Wildenboer in die 3D Virtuele Galery 2
Festival Artist Barbara Wildenboer in the 3D Virtual Gallery 2

The arts have been reeling from Covid19 from the word go especially as it all began locally right at the start of the festival season when many artists earn the bulk of their bread and butter money.

It’s been a frantic scramble for artists to find a way to function in this new world and as many of us realise, this (which we don’t yet understand in its fullest) is the new normal. Awful phrase, but we might as well get used to it because it is what it is and even though Donald Trump is trying his best to ignore the many dying from the virus, the whole world has had to reinvent and find a way to start functioning again.

In the arts, it has been fascinating to watch because this is what artists do – they reinvent themselves – but for some like visual artists, it is perhaps an easier process. They’re not quite as dependent on live audiences in close proximity as actors and musicians for example.

With this in mind, the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) was quick to react.

Their festival, which would have been held at the end of March, like all those following, had to be cancelled and they are still scratching their heads about how to proceed in the future.

KKNK Barbara Wildenboer in die 3D Virtuele Galery
Barbara Wildenboer in the 3D Virtual Gallery

But what became pretty obvious fairly soon was that they could create a virtual art gallery of the 11 exhibitions which were on their way to Oudtshoorn just as the festival was closed down.

“We are extremely excited to launch the first Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) Virtual Gallery, where art enthusiasts from all over the world will now have the opportunity to engage with the festival’s visual arts exhibitions,” explained Hugo Theart, Artistic Director of the KKNK.

Theart says the festival has built a reputation for its extraordinary visual arts exhibitions over two decades and this year has encouraged them to take the virtual leap. “Although the cancelation of the 2020 festival due to the current Covid-19 pandemic remains a great disappointment, we are excited about this new digital experience”, he says.

And that’s exactly the thing. In this new world artists have to get creative and find new ways to do their work.

KKNK Usha Seejarim Nesting installation SMAC Gallery Photo Credit Zivani Matangi (002)
Usha Seejarim Nesting installation SMAC Gallery. Photo: Zivani Matangi.

As chance and luck should have it, their brand-new visual arts curator, Dineke van der Walt, is young and probably grew up in a digital world. She was excited about the possibilities of this virtual gallery and says that in the future it can only get better. What it does is allow an international as well as local audience to visit this year’s art contribution with the theme Down to Earth.

KKNK Maryna Cotton and Sarel van Staden, MeerKat, Exhibition Karoo Stories
Maryna Cotton and Sarel van Staden, MeerKat, Exhibition: Karoo Stories

According to Van der Walt, art can be viewed and bought directly in the Virtual Gallery. “Festivalgoers, art enthusiasts and collectors now have the opportunity to roam the digital halls of our visual arts programme, viewing the splendour of 11 exhibitions without the crowds. The offering includes works from 45 artists and more than 200 artworks”, she explains.

And she’s not exaggerating. Even though the exhibitions weren’t created with the digital space in mind, the curator and artists have been extremely creative, finding a unique way to show the work in a way that works specifically with each individual exhibition.

KKNK Sbongiseni Khulu The Creation of Famine Exhibition Another Kind of Blue Curator Amé Bell David Krut Projects (002)
Sbongiseni Khulu: The Creation of Famine Exhibition: Another Kind of Blue; Curator Amé Bell, David Krut Projects

Running through the different exhibitions, Van der Walt points to a few talented young curators, including Amé Bell, Tammy Langtry, Tlotlo Lobelo and Suen Muller. “Artists include Usha Seejarim, Lisl Barry, Manyaku Mashilo, Strijdom van der Merwe, Heidi Fourie, Linda Ballen, Zhi Zulu, Olivia Botha, Ronél de Jager, JP Hanekom, Keneilwe Mokoena, Maryna Cotton, Sarel van Staden, Owen Claassen, Vincent Osemwegie and Nanette Ranger – as well as a collaborative exhibition between Jenna Burchell, Jaco van Schalkwyk and Wayne Matthews”, she says.

She notes that artworks by three young artists from Oudtshoorn are also presented by the Absa Gallery. Colin Meyer, Zietske Saaiman and Earlyn Cloud.

KKNK Barbara Wildenboer, Festival Artist Portrait with Pareidolia series
Barbara Wildenboer, Festival Artist Portrait with Pareidolia series

“A highlight of this project is a remarkable retrospective of this year’s festival artist, Barbara Wildenboer,” Van der Walt explains.

“Translating exhibitions which were planned for very specific brick and mortar spaces to the digital sphere proved to be specifically challenging,” she notes. A particular struggle was to find the best way to showcase installations as well as an interactive “sound painting”. “Due to the immersive and interactive qualities of these works, they are designed to be experienced by bodies in spaces,” she says.

“I also wanted to make sure the virtual rooms didn’t feel too empty and therefore thought it best to make as much information as possible available around the artworks and the exhibitions. The inclusion of the audio walkabouts also really helped to add voices to the spaces and give visitors accessible information delivered by the respective curator or artist. I enjoyed adding these different voices talking about their exhibitions in their own words – it helps add personality to each exhibition.

“I’m very interested in utilising curatorial strategies to effectively engage audiences and throughout the process tried to keep in mind how visitors might move in the space, and what could be included to facilitate a pleasant experience in the virtual gallery. I realised that different visitors might prefer different modes of viewing work online, and subsequently tried to include more than one way to access the work.”

And this is what I find particularly fascinating. Often at festivals, we don’t have an abundance of time to go through the different galleries and I find myself limited in the viewing experience because I haven’t done enough of homework.

KKNK Jenna Burchell, Sound portrait - Wayne Matthews in F Minor, Exhibition - A Land I Name Yesterday, Barnard Gallery
Jenna Burchell, Sound portrait – Wayne Matthews in F Minor, Exhibition – A Land I Name Yesterday, Barnard Gallery

Van der Walt has gone out of her way to make sure the exhibitions become alive with a fount of information to dip into.

She has also included a visitor’s book in an attempt to help put faces (“or rather names”) to the visitors, as a way to allow exhibitors and artists a form of interaction with their viewing audience.

“I enjoyed confronting my preconceived ideas of what curatorial strategies should and could be and considering what form presenting exhibitions might take when it solely exists digitally.

“It’s been a wonderful learning curve for me, especially working on creative ways to attract visitors and create a new exhibition experience. Because I don’t believe virtual exhibitions should merely try to imitate brick and mortar exhibitions, it can be a unique curatorial method.”

KKNK Ronél de Jager In a quiet corner of the room Exhibition Vanishing Act Curator Suen Muller (002)
Ronél de Jager: In a quiet corner of the room; Exhibition: Vanishing Act; Curator Suen Muller

This is hugely exciting. The live experience can never be replaced by the digital world. It is important to play with the different strengths – not try to imitate, which is exactly what Van der Walt did.

She also pointed out that this had to happen after the fact. With this experience and (perhaps) in future doing both, the digital is simply going to go from strength to strength and enlarge rather than diminish future audiences.

“This initiative creates an important platform to visual artists to sell their work and generate an income from works that were created for the KKNK this year,” Theart says.

He adds that this will be the first of many exhibitions. “We believe this will become another KKNK institution which will add more value to our supporters and add more opportunities for visual artists in future.”

The first ever full scale KKNK Virtual Gallery is open at www.kknk.co.za  and can be viewed until 22 July 2020.

It’s truly a spectacular experience.