Spirited Curator is Celebrated with Glorious Exhibition at UJ Art Gallery

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The Wildebeest and the swarm of African Migratory locusts by artist Hannelie Coetzee (see more info below)

It’s a rare honour when a curator is celebrated with an exhibition. DIANE DE BEER went to the launch and spoke to many involved in  this luminous exhibition:

 

 

During her two decades of curatorship at the University of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Annali Cabano-Dempsey has attempted to reach as far and wide as possible presenting a spectrum which would interest the public but also the students – one of the benefits of having an art gallery on a university campus is this potential audience which can be nurtured.

In acknowledging the dedication and passion Cabano-Dempsey has brought to the gallery, 21 Years of Curating the Cube (currently running until June 26) celebrates UJ’s continued role in supporting and embracing the diversity of art in South Africa.

The Keiskamma Guernica by members of the Keiskamma Art Project
The Keiskamma Guernica by members of the Keiskamma Art Project

 As the gallery’s 6th curator, Cabano-Dempsey has seen the gallery emerge as one of Johannesburg’s foremost art centres. The UJ Art Gallery (originally known as Rand Afrikaans University – RAU) opened in the 1960s and has since hosted numerous temporary exhibitions and acted as custodian of a large collection of artworks.

“My style of curatorship is collaborative.  I interact with artists on a regular basis before an exhibition, advise and shape a bit – and then I allow the artists to project their own voices.   I also hand over the reins to guest curators from time to time.  In the case of the 21 years exhibition, I felt too close to the artists, and called upon Johan Myburg to curate the show.  We worked through all the exhibitions of the past two decades and it was surprising that he found a golden thread of text, signs, signals, semiotics unveiling itself – something I never intentionally brought into my curatorship.”

Gordon Froud sculpture
Gordon Froud sculpture

In his opening address at the exhibition, artist Gordon Froud remarked on the amazing space designed by the architect, the late Jeremy Rose, which embraced and encouraged exciting exhibitions. He also praised Cabano-Dempsey for her detailed curation and the way she kept artists informed about specific exhibitions. They would know exactly how their work did, and who came to see it during the exhibition. “That’s rare,” he remarked.

He also spoke lyrically about her opening up the space to students and facilitating gallery training, for example, that would benefit them as artists in the future when they stepped into the real world. He described 21 Years of Curating the Cube as a meeting of old friends.

And fortunately for this remarkable sculptor, UJ also has an outdoor exhibition space which allows for large works to be displayed at their best (see picture).

Although she has been closely involved with a wide spectrum of artists forming part of the annual exhibition’s programmes for more than two decades, she chose to hand over the curatorship of 21 Years of Curating the Cube to respected arts writer and author Johan Myburg. They worked closely together in choosing the 38 works which was much more difficult than they expected, but the final decisions rested with him.

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Triple Goddess: Maiden, Mother and Crone: Artist Majak Bredell deconstructs issues of religion, women and the body and her works are strongly informed by the African continent and the Black Madonnas of Europe.

“My brief was to curate a show as a celebration of Annali’s 21 years at the UJ Gallery, something like paging through her ‘exhibition album’, so to speak. You can imagine the amount of shows, artists and individual artworks we are talking about,” explains Myburg.

That was the context he had to operate within and that formed the scope of the exhibition as well.

Panorama of Franschhoek by Titus Matiyane
Panorama of Franschhoek by Titus Matiyane

“I made a selection based on a thread I detected in a number of the exhibitions/works of the past 21 years – the thread being manifestations of messages or mark makings in the form of signals/codes/text – in its widest sense of communication.”

He offers an example as explanation: On entering the gallery the first salient piece of sculpture is Marco Cianfanelli’s text-based work, referencing the quote by Desmond Tutu that truth, knowledge and beauty will triumph. “Whatever you want to understand under ‘truth, knowledge and beauty’ is subjective, but the basis, I think, is that of triumph. The message will live on. And art as carrier of message will triumph,” he says.

“I think the tweet (Jan’s Last Tweet, a work by the genial Jan van der Merwe – pictured) is a poignant little amplification of this triumph.”

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The Last Tweet refers to technology (twitter), a method of disseminating very quickly whereby a message could be conveyed on a global scale, also enabling misuse of power.

Anyone familiar with Myburg’s work and processes will witness the thought he puts into this kind of effort. “My intention was to highlight this notion (of triumph) in a subtle way. Not in your face. Should the viewer miss it, so be it. There is, right at the back of the gallery, a clue to my curatorial thinking,” he says. (And for those who like puzzles, this is like a challenge in treasure hunt!)

The artists included are the ones that had a link with the gallery in the last 21 years (to start with) but then also the ones whose artworks comment on the named “thread”.

It includes existing work (as per UJ Collection) and work on loan, but also recent work, i.e. Hannelie Coetzee, Diane Victor, Michael Meyersfeld, Angus Taylor, Mark Swart.

“My intention was a show as ‘unintrusive’ as possible in order for the work to speak. My approach was less rather than more, since the works all have an inner strength. I did not want to tamper with that. Hence a quiet show.

Bohlale-bja-mathome by Colbert Mashile
Bohlale-bja-mathome by Colbert Mashile

“Favourites? All of them. Being able to work so closely with these gorgeous works is a privilege. And I realised how limited my understanding of these works were. Perhaps still superficial. But that is the beauty of art: You cannot see too much of a particular piece. There is always something that you miss.”

All of these elements can be found in this remarkable snapshot of South African art in a specific period of time.

Do yourself a favour. If you’ve never visited the gallery, that’s an added bonus.

 A last word from the curator who is being honoured: “The next decade of my art journey (or what is left of it) will focus on two things:  To make the gallery accessible to wider audiences.  It has been my mission over the past few years to break down the ivory tower, to create a more informal atmosphere and to invite a younger generation to interact with the gallery programme on an interdisciplinary level. And then to recognise established and revered artists, but to also bring in younger promising artists into the fold.  I found that collaborations with corporate partners, artists’ collectives and joint exhibitions (the established with the emerging) allow for this approach.”

 

 

  • 21 Years of Curating the Cube runs until  26 June 2019 at the UJ Art Gallery. FREE OF CHARGE. Open Times: Mon to Fri from 9am to 3.30pm. Address: University of Johannesburg, Corner of Kingsway Ave and University Rd, Auckland Park, Johannesburg

Phone011 559 4674

 

  • More info on Hannelie Coetzee’s featured artwork: She did a succession study of humanity’s relationship with nature. Locusts eat the same amount of grass per body weight as wildebeest. A swarm consumes as much of a crop as a fire does. Disclosure: This swarm was bred and studied by Wits Scientists in the 1960s. The current curator of the AP&ES Museum, James Harrison made it available to the artist to repurpose into an artwork

 

 

 

Two Young Art Activists, Herschelle Benjamin and Jeremeo Le Cordeur, Shine their Creative Light with Flair

Pictures: Jeremeo Le Cordeur

 

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Jeremeo Le Cordeur and Herschelle Benjamin

In a world where the arts are no longer a priority, two young art activists caught DIANE DE BEER’S eye in the way they were forging ahead and establishing their careers in a space which would nourish their own creativity but where they also wanted to promote that of others:

 

Two young Capetonians Herschelle Benjamin and Jeremeo Le Cordeur are proof that artists often don’t have a choice. Once those creative genes kick in, they have to listen.

Benjamin, an only child, when choosing a career knew that law would be a wiser bet, but he enrolled for that as well as a drama degree – just to make sure.

“After one week of depressing law lectures, knowing that I will fail because I had no real interest or passion for it and seeing all of my drama friends at the library or at the drama department living their dreams, I changed courses without consulting my parents.”

With bursaries for Stellenbosch University studies, when switching lanes he knew he had to succeed and show his parents that he would still be a star pupil.

Jeremeo Le Cordeur
Jeremeo Le Cordeur with his award from the Suidoosterfees

Independently, Jeremeo Le Cordeur who describes himself as a creative soul, is a performer, theatre-maker and arts photographer who graduated from City Varsity, a school of media and creative arts in 2008.

Since then he has been working the arts in any way he knew how. In 2009, he joined Fresh Theatre Company, a community theatre group specialising in musical theatre, where he performed in musicals such as, Life is Rock N Roll, Love in Cyberspace, and Pinocchio.

In the following year, he created Vulture Productions, a platform to support and create new work. Since then, he has been at the helm of many successful productions such as Pizza’s Here (2011), I Know How You Screamed Last Scary Movie (2011), and Risk for the 2012 and 2013 National Arts Fringe Festival in Grahamstown and in 2013, he directed a play at Artscape titled, February 14th, which received excellent reviews.

In 2014, he directed Tannie Dora Goes Bos, which was included as part of Artscape’s 8th Women’s Humanity Arts Festival. The following year he directed John, which explored the controversial world of sex workers, working alongside SWEAT (Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce).

In the meantime, in 2016, a photography project was introduced to Vulture Productions. It was aimed at showcasing the work of South African theatre practitioners through arts journalism. In 2018, he was selected to represent Artscape Theatre in an arts-residency program called EVS (European Volunteer Service), based in Liverpool in the UK – which led to the creation of Mama, with performances at The Unity Theatre, Woordfees and Artscape.

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Jeremeo Le Cordeur starring in his own production Dude, Wa’s My Bakkie? Picture: Warren Meyer

And this year, he wrote and performed in two mono-dramas and collaborated with directors Ian van der Westhuizen and Dan van der Ventel to present Jerry An Unconventional Hero and Dude, Wa’s My Bakkie? (A Double Feature). These productions performed at Alexander Bar, Woordfees Fringe and Suidoosterfees, where he was the recipient of the NATi (Nationale Afrikanse Teater-inisiatief) Rising Star award for his vibrant storytelling.

As a youngster, Benjamin’s mom would tell him that a “pencil should never be left untouched”. “I didn’t think I was the best artist or writer but was forced to become friends with pencils, pens, paper and books. They were always there. Through all the phases and changes, my relationship to words and language is one constant one that has helped me in some of the darkest times of my life,” he explains.

The writing became more frequent and across different mediums. “Poetry still remains my secret love, dramas entice and challenge me, journalism makes me feel I don’t know enough and that I want to know more… It’s not the medium or genre that resonates but the power or ability of words, the imagination and the truth always being at the forefront of it all.”

Completing his initial studies, he received an internship at Media24 as an arts journalist. He also won the international Elizabeth McLennan Scholarship for Theatre & Performance from the Scottish Universities’ International Summerschool in Edinburgh. “This year, I’m going back after being picked as the first student host/tutor from Africa to the summer school.”

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Herschelle Benjamin’s Slavenhuis 39 performed at the US Woordfees

Last year he won the Teksmark Writers Bursary, was also picked as one of Artscape’s New Voices and had a play produced and performed in the Arena Theatre under direction of Sandra Temmingh. Another play, In Slavenhuis 39, was also produced this year for the US Woordfees where it was well received and won the award for Best Upcoming Artist(s).

“I’ve written pieces for the Die Student on Netwerk24 and the new Vrye Weekblad. I am also working on my M degree. And I’m partnering on a few other projects for the future.”

Just a glance at their work and one can see these two artists were destined to meet. “We first met at Teksmark in 2017 and started working together,” explains Le Cordeur.

“He told me about his media production company, Vulture Productions, and that he needed a writer for the US Woordfees, because the company was invited as media. I was busy with my Honours degree and had time to help him during the festival. The rest is history…”

Herschelle
Herschelle Benjamin

“With Herschelle’s creative writing and my arts photography, we reported on many productions in Cape Town and at the Stellenbosch Woordfees. Our work was later recognized by Hugo Theart, artistic director of KKNK, who invited us to join Kritiek, a critical writing project to nurture new arts writers in 2018.”

This year they moved into the marketing departments at arts festivals. At the US Woordfees Benjamin ran the social media for the festival and at the KKNK, Vulture Productions were represented by the two of them as part of the social media marketing team.

“It’s all about building our industry, becoming well-rounded business-like artists and creating a career that span decades,” explains Benjamin.

Le Cordeur believes that Vulture Productions has shown the importance and value of support within the arts. “It’s provided opportunities for myself and so many others and it continues to have a significant impact on my own artistic development. I would love to have an exhibition of my photographs in the future,” he concludes.

As a performer, he’d like to sink his teeth into as many characters as he can, which is exactly why he collaborated with two directors to bring his own creations to life. He was rewarded richly for the effort. He will also be presenting three plays at the Free State arts festival from July 1 to 7.

Watching them operate at festivals is hectic, but these two youngsters understand that they have to grab every opportunity to make their way – especially in these early days. From reporting on and photographing the arts, to writing, performing and directing usually their own material, they have individually and collectively created a brand.

They deliver, are often over-used to a point of exhaustion because of the quality of their work, but this is their way of becoming fully fledged artists. Who says it’s easy? But if you’re Jeremeo Le Cordeur and Herschelle Benjamin, you have found a way. It’s hard work, but that’s how they keep those creative juices pumping – for themselves and their community.

For more information visit www.vulture-productions.com

Make Time for the Lives of Others: It Alternatively Shakes and Makes the World a Better Place for Everyone

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A heartbreaking scene from Capernaum

When filmmakers take issues of the day and shine a glaring light on them – smartly – it can shake your world in the best possible sense. DIANE DE BEER highlights two of the best:

Living in South Africa, we all know what it means to read about something and the horror of living it. For too long we lived in a country where it was a matter of law to keep things separate and in the dark. Evil needs to be shouted from the mountain tops.

Two films (one currently on circuit) currently making the rounds in cinemas and available out there to stream, tell stories that are as close to living it as is possible on screen.

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Nadine Labaki, the writer,director and actor.

The first is Capernaum, a film by Nadine Labaki, a Lebanese filmmaker whose previous two movies (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) were screened locally with this one, Oscar nominated, currently on circuit.

She truly believes in the power of cinema and her latest, Capernaum, which in this context means chaos, deals with refugees, people who are stateless and as she says, “become invisible.”

The story she picked to tell was specifically that of the children trapped in these lives.  “We’re talking about children not receiving their fundamental rights,” is how she describes it in an interview.

With a script in hand, she started to look for the actors and smartly turned to the very people whose stories she wanted to tell. And then she listened to their lives and adapted her screenplay to reflect their reality.

Capernaum Poster

Most important in this equation is Syrian refugee child actor Zain Al Rafeea as Zain El Hajj, a 12-year- old living in the slums of Beirut. In yet another interview the director explained that in real life he is that age, but because of their lives, the children are all smaller because of malnutrition. (He and his family have since moved to Sweden where he is going to school for the first time.)

It’s a world of pain but those living there are simply trying to survive. When landing up in prison simply because he’s fighting for others in his life, a 12-year-old boy sues his parents for neglect. “Being born,” is how he says it.

If you want to see what survival looks like, this is it. It is done with compassion but without shying away from the harsh realities that many people – in this instance children – find themselves in. The number of refugees in the world at this specific time is horrifying with many countries and world leaders fighting to keep them from safety – that is, their countries.

The film reflects the lives of the children who had to flee Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, Honduras, and the list goes on and keeps expanding daily.

“I need proof you’re a human being?” A sentence that might not be familiar to any of us, but in this world you need papers to say who you are and where you belong. Without them, as the director says, you become invisible.

And when one child is left caring for another because the mother has gone missing, your heart breaks. Even towards the young in that harshest of worlds, having nothing isn’t enough to change anything. Survival means exactly that, a drop of water, a crust of bread and no one to turn to because everyone is hustling – some more cunningly than others.

The ingenuity of children who have to look after themselves is astonishing. A car-wash, for example, will clean both bodies and clothes. When feeding a baby ice because there’s nothing else, he says: “Seriously, isn’t this better than a shawarma  sandwich?” And your heart shatters as it should because we all need to understand the lives of others.

And the parents? Can you judge them? Have you walked in their shoes? They believe that more children is their way out.

But when one child dies, another is born and the young son tells his mother, “My heart aches”.

This 12-year-old is tired of those who can’t care for their children. “That kid in your belly will be just like me,” he tells his mother.

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Reinaldo Marcus Green, director of Monsters and Men

In a similar vein, Monsters and Men deals with the scourge of African American men dying at the hands of police, publicly and visibly, yet nothing happens to change the situation. We from afar watch in horror.

But here are some answers as the movie follows the rise of tensions in the neighbourhood and how it affects the bystanders, one of whom filmed the scene as it unfolds – something that often happens.

It is the dilemma of the innocent, how to react and what to do. How to be a man when you’re living among monsters. That’s the story director Reinaldo Marcus Green tells with such honesty and clarity. There’s no way you don’t get this one.

When a black policeman asks his white female colleague how often she has been stopped that year, her response is that she drives too well not understanding the nuanced question. “I have been stopped six times,” he says, “and it’s only June.” That sentence captures his life and that of every black man living in America (and of course elsewhere). Skin has always mattered, no matter where you live – even in Africa.

But how does he go about his life and building a career when his chosen calling is policing in a force where he is regarded as the monster. To share his insights on the officer who was fast to draw his gun, means the end of his career, his livelihood and his “normal” family life that we all expect when we live in a certain way. But not here.

Monsters And Men DVD Cover

The young man who captures the event on his phone finds himself compelled to send it and his life turns into the nightmare he knew it would.

And then there’s the young sport star on the verge of making the big league – a new life not only for himself but also for his long-suffering father. How are you expected to make these life decisions about doing the right thing in a world that won’t take even your best word? Not even being caught on camera will seal the fate of those who go around terrorising African American men because they can.

What both these films do so majestically yet with illuminating simplicity is take you for a walk in the other’s shoes.

These stories need to be told and to be seen so that we all understand how the world works and what is at stake with every choice we make.

 

Choices Choices Choices: Entertainment In Style – Out On The Town Or At Home

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Cinema in style at Cine Prestige The Grove

There’s a world of entertainment out there for you to tap into whatever your interests. DIANE DE BEER explores some of the options and the way it stretches your mind:

 

 

If your movie-going days seem to have dwindled, The Grove Ster-Kinekor recently launched its revamped Cine Prestige theatre with a screening of action thriller John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum – and all of Cine Prestige’s signature comfort.

If you are one of those people who are reluctant to leave the comfort of their home because cinemas have become rowdy places with cell phone interruptions and blinding screen lights that detract from the experience, then this might be a way to entice you back.

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Cocktails at Cine Prestige

It reminded me of business or first class flying with seats that move and change into comfortable sofas with you and your partner sweetly ensconced into your own private space.

The experience also includes a cosy private lounge, and a full bar offering with a range of drinks from wine, beer, cocktails, and hot drinks.

You are no longer reliant on popcorn and coke, although those are also available for those die-hard movie memories. Guests can also enjoy gourmet snack platters, and a selection of desserts, all served in the comfort of a fully reclining leather seat. It’s a great way of watching a movie.

All of this comes at a price, naturally (R161 a ticket without refreshments) but assuming you want to watch movies on a big screen in extreme comfort, this certainly is that.

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Fight or flight in John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Personally, I realise that I’m not the target audience of the John Wick franchise which we were invited to see yet fortunately this was my first experience of this particular Keanu Reeves strongman, which meant there was an element of novelty involved.

But not for too long. These films are simply a series of flight and fight scenes in various guises, with little happening in-between.

Their next offering, Longshot, is a love story that tracks the life of a free-spirited journalist who keeps running into trouble. Played by Seth Rogen, Fred unexpectedly charms Charlotte (Charlize Theron), who is smart, sophisticated and sassy. The combo of the silly and the serious should be fun and our girl is always someone to watch.

This will be followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which won’t be diarised, and Rocket Man, which is described as an epic musical fantasy which makes sense if you’re told it is based on the unfiltered story of Elton John’s breakthrough years. It nevertheless is not an unauthorised version, Sir Elton was a big part of the process.

Cine Prestige, it seems, is about a fun experience rather than movies that might seriously engage your mind, but we need these escapist adventures as well. And seeing the whole adventure as a bit of a fantasy, the movie itself might just as well fall in that genre too.

But while on the subject of entertainment and keeping up with the latest out there in a way that’s easy – and perhaps not putting you out of pocket, I was recently watching a Christiane Amanpour programme on CNN. This is one of the few that cover politics but also the arts with authors, filmmakers, directors and the like all making an appearance. (Check it out on CNN, currently at 7pm on weeknights and again repeated at 5am in the morning. She keeps you in touch.)

But this particular segment featured two extraordinary women who are both tasked with introducing us to a new world fast emerging out there.

Radhika Jones
Radhika Jones

The first was Radhika Jones, the first mixed race editor of the pop culture magazine Vanity Fair, which immediately impacts their cover and story choices to reflect the world we live in – all of it – not just from a certain vantage. She makes some brave decisions for the future of the magazine, and this is where you get to play around for a while. She recently opened up the Vanity Fair archives, free of charge for now.

Vanity Fair archive
From the Vanity Fair archives

That means you can sit endlessly scrolling through issues from the beginning of time depending on your interest. Vanity Fair has always been a magazine that homes in on the zeitgeist which is what makes it of interest internationally.

As Jones explained to Amanpour, her cover choices weren’t really the result of who she is but rather of what is happening in the world around us, with the success for example of Black Panther and Get Out and she wants to capture the spirit of the times. To allow readers into this world through the archives is a treat. Go and have a look. Just make sure that you are in the archives, not the magazine itself which is limited to four articles a month, of Vanity Fair and then have fun with your reading choices.

 

And on that note, if you have a Netflix account, don’t miss the Rachel Lears documentary Knock Down The House. It looks at the primary campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin, four Democrats endorsed by Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress (the names say it all) who ran for Congress in last year’s US midterm elections.

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The four women competing in the Midterm Elections

It premiered at Sundance 2019 in January, was voted an audience favourite and was bought by Netflix for the most money ever paid for a documentary.

These women were running together on a grassroots level and what the filmmaker wanted to explore was power now and what it looked like, how representatives and money converge and what happens when people who don’t have the money, are brought into the process. Because of the large amounts of money required to run, usually only certain kinds of people can access the process, but this is changing with Ocasio-Cortez and her particular brand (and charisma)  turned into hot currency with the current crop of Democratic Presidential hopefuls whenever they have a stage.

She was the only one elected and has already challenged the status quo in a country where a largely white male Alabama senate recently passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the US deciding about the rights of women and their bodies, “the only thing men cannot control,” argues Gloria Steinem.

All of the above are “entertainment” options in our new world of access, streaming and many other avenues that keep popping up.

It’s time to play and stretch the mind – and that’s the best way.

Author Vincent Pienaar is Riding the Wave with his Own Special Tsunami

BK Too many tsunamis

Author Vincent Pienaar is experiencing his own tsunami with his latest book Too Many Tsunamis – a tale of love, light. He tells DIANE DE BEER why:

 

With a book titled Too Many Tsunamis – a tale of love, light, and incidental humour (Penguin Books) and an opening sentence that deals with suicide – more the dilemma of being or not being – author Vincent Pienaar’s latest book is hard to resist.

And if you don’t know who this journalist/writer is, he gives some clues with a dedication that includes names like Gabriel García Márquez, Etienne Leroux, Damon Runyon, Eugène Marais, Virginia Woolf, Elmore Leonard, Akira Kurosawa, Lennon-McCartney and Harrison for the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night… and more.

All of these are hints of what’s to come. And it’s joyous. “When I wrote Too Many Tsunamis, I deliberately decided to write an amusing story that didn’t explore the standard ‘troubled country’ story lines. I set out to write a story that was only incidentally set in South Africa. I love it when people tell me things like ‘this doesn’t feel like a typical South African story’. While I don’t want to speculate what a ‘typical’ South African story is, I happily admit that I wanted to write (let’s call it) a universal story. I’m fascinated by the way storytelling has changed (catering for a faster world) and I absolutely love the challenge of telling my story at breakneck speed.”

I had asked him about what I perceived as a breakaway from his usual style and while he confessed to not having a particular style, “I do believe this is the style I want to retain. It really works for me.” It did for me too.

The story is fast-paced which, as he explains above, was the idea but there’s a filmic element to the storytelling that makes everyone on the page come alive.

“If Bert truly wants to commit suicide he certainly finds a number of reasons why he simply can’t do it right now. He is always working on a magnificent bestseller, but it is never identified – and whether it exists or not is for the reader to decide. He lives in a fantasy world, where he talks to his conscience – or Conscience the character – who does not necessarily like or support him.

“His mother – or Mother – spends a lot of time getting him a job or a woman and if the gods allow it, both.

“My favourite character is Light, an unkempt young woman who appears to be deliberately slovenly, slow, and certainly deliberately overweight. The character development (and I really enjoy this) comes from Light – and what a gem she turns out to be! Mother, Bert, Light and Conscience are the main protagonists I suppose, but I have populated the book with many minor characters who are all quirky in their own right. (Boring people really are boring, aren’t they?)

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Author/journalist Vincent Pienaar.

“The story, although not a mystery or anything like that, has a number of reveals that I hope induces the occasional minor gasp.

“It’s a style that is balanced (as you say) on a knife’s edge a little and might not have worked. To maintain the right balance is quite something.”

Following this Pienaar monologue, as the interviewer, I have to make a confession. It was unfair to ask a journalist to tell us about his book, because if like Pienaar, you’ve just invented this incidental magical tale, your response will have the same effect – in essence writing the interview. Apologies though, but in this instance, no one can talk about his book better than the author.

Talking about the style, he immediately used a musical metaphor and the names he drops into his book and the conversation explain why.

“I have developed a style with surprises. I enjoy the ‘duel’ with the reader to offer something unexpected every now and then, to keep the reader just a little off balance (and interested). I have, over the years, developed an aversion for ‘dead words. I don’t want to write them, and I don’t want to read them. (With this my mentors Jo-Anne Richards and Richard Benyon helped me to weed them out and slaughter them.) I like the idea of what you call the ‘knife edge’ because it is an indication that the action propels this story.” Which it certainly does.

“I applied a different rhythm to different sections. It’s deliberate and it is an attempt to make it easy for the reader to remain interested.

“A late (erudite) friend said the difference between jazz and blues is that jazz is performed for the enjoyment of the musicians themselves and blues is performed for the satisfaction of the audience. There is often that part in a jazz piece where the audience sits patiently and reverently while the musician is ‘performing his art’. I, too, don’t mind sitting quietly waiting for solos to end. But when I write, I write the blues. I work at making my writing for the benefit of the reader and not the writer.”

He’s achieved all that and more. Perhaps there no longer is a typical South African novel although we all know what he means when living in a country where reality has for most of our lives felt like fiction. How could writers not go there?

But Pienaar wanted to write something different and he achieved that with aplomb.

“A movie? I wish! I know that I write scenes instead of chapters. If I have helped the reader to forget about the words and to see the images, I’m very happy. I wanted to write a book that would make people smile. Believe me, the style was deliberate and no coincidence.”

How could it not be? When (not if) you read the book, you will discover what that means. It’s like slipping into a world of merry-go-rounds, slightly crazy, yet delightfully so. And it keeps you smiling even when there are the occasional sad undertones.

Elaborating about his own reading preferences even if he lists some in his dedication in the book, he comes up with the following:

“In my pursuit of universal writing, I have drifted further and further into the arms of the classics. I read, with admiration, works by Virginia Woolf and sections of Anthony Powell and the short novels of John Steinbeck. I have read and re-read two short novels, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (not the terrible movie) and The Great Gatsby. They both have great plots and subplots and no dead words. I ponder why they are so great. I read Hunter S Thompson as a study in breathing fire. Would he write: ‘The car drove off at high speed.’? Fuck no! He might possibly write: ‘Tyres howled and smoke billowed as the car shot from the sidewalk into the fast lane.’ Yeah!

“I watch a lot of movies and very often the classics. I think His Girl Friday (from 1941!) has the best dialogue I have ever seen. Some Like it Hot is a study in timing. The Lion in Winter has acerbic dialogue that needs to be watched in two-minute sections. (O’Toole to Hepburn: ‘Will you give me a moment’s peace, woman?!’ Hepburn: ‘I can give you eternal peace. Now there’s a thought.’)”

With Pienaar doing most of the talking, hopefully he has said enough to get you reading – and you should. Apart from the battered-feeling Bert who has written a brilliant suicide note but can’t quite get to the brilliant suicide, it’s a deliciously discordant romantic romp with much more than the haphazard Bert, although he is the perfect anti-hero in today’s world, that seldomly has you smiling for the right reasons.

Pienaar brilliantly manages that.

To top it all, his book has just been picked for the 2019 Longlist of the Sunday Times Literary Awards’ Barry Ronge Fiction Prize.

 

 

Women Capture their Stories with Needle and Thread

Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust
Bertha Rengae, Group coordinator of Group 3 of the women of the Mapula Embroidery Trust

A fundraiser for a group of Rwandan embroiderers is being held at the end of the month in Pretoria following in the footsthe establishment of a unique embroidery and empowerment project in the Winterveld:

 

DIANE DE BEER

 

A remarkable story has emerged from one of South Africa’s most dire areas, the Winterveld, where a group of women were trained in the early ‘90s by members of the Soroptimist International Pretoria Club for an income-generating, empowerment project.

The Sisters of Mercy provided a classroom and an embroidery project for the women of Mapula which started initially with 14 women, evolving through the years and growing to include 150 women, guided and supported by experienced individuals.

In a unique storytelling fashion, with needle and thread, these women have been sharing their stories over the past 26 years. And it is often these personal remembrances capturing our past from a unique vantage point that has captured the imagination internationally. Over the years, the high levels of technical and visual artistry with social and historical commentary have resulted in recognised works of art.

Their ideas are generated from lived realities, local magazines, newspapers, internet and television. Artists in the project draw the images while others translate them into brightly embroidered wall hangings, cushion covers, place-mats and bags, all represented in Mapula Embroideries.

Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld
Women from the Mapula Embroidery Trust in the Winterveld

These have been exhibited widely, both in South Africa but also internationally, all over the USA and Europe. Mapula embroideries and artists feature in more than 12 art publications and they have won several awards.

Women in the Mapula Group won the FNB Vita Craft Now Gold award for example; an order for 52 items for the Oprah Winfrey Academy for Girls was executed; and many different art museums across the world feature their work and celebrate the Mapula women and they are included in many private collections.

A well-researched book Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld by Prof Brenda Schmahmann was published in 2006 by David Krut Publishing.

The project now consists of three groups: two groups are situated in the Winterveld, North West of Pretoria, and one in Hammanskraal. The production of the goods is managed by the embroiderers themselves and since 2016, the Mapula Embroidery Trust with NPO status was established.

One of the members, Pinky Resenga testifies that the project saved her from a life of drinking and living on the streets. “With the income I could extend my mother’s house. After helping her I hope to build my own four rooms for myself and my children.”

The income generated through the Mapula embroidery project has assisted women over the years to clothe, feed and educate their children. Today, 28 years later, the Mapula Embroidery Project with its strong foundations is well established.

Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project
Women from the Kibeho Embroidery project

A few years ago, after visiting the Mapula Project, Netty Butera, the wife of the Rwandan High Commissioner to SA (after visiting the Mapula Project), approached the Soroptimists who initiated Mapula to start a similar project in her country with the initial training of 12 women.

Again it was to add value and the possibility of a regular income to extremely vulnerable women in the south of Rwanda at a place called Kibeho, close to the Burundi border. It is regarded as a holy place because in 1981 it is believed the Virgin Mary appeared to some teenagers. It marked the rise of the remote Kibeho to a spiritual hub on the global arena. Many pilgrims visit annually and if the women instead of begging could generate an income from the sale of an embroidery project, it would improve their self-esteem and offer their children a different future.

Following much planning, three women, Rosina Maepa and Dorah Hlongwane from the Mapula Embroidery Project and Janetje van der Merwe from Soroptimist International Pretoria left for Rwanda with suitcases packed with embroidery cotton, fabric, a brand-new sewing machine, two steam irons, needles and scissors – all to get the project started in a new country.

Local contacts, liaisons as well as facilitators were arranged to keep the process flowing and in the past few years, another training trip for a further 19 women was included which brings the total number of women who are part of the project to 31. Marketing of the products is still a huge problem and something they hope to improve dramatically so that those involved benefit to the maximum.

Rwandan embroideries
Rwandan embroideries

With this as the focus, a fundraising afternoon of socialising and sharing will be held at the residence of the Rwandan High Commissioner in Pretoria on March 31. It will start with the best Rwandan coffee and tea, followed by an opportunity to buy some of the unique Holy Land Kibeho Embroideries, listen to an introduction of Rwanda and an illustrated talk on the empowerment of women in that area through the embroidery project.

A Rwandan dinner with South African wines will be served after the presentation giving those attending the chance to experience another African cuisine. Tickets for the event are R200 per person and bookings can be made at 083 447 7909/082 903 1178/073 564 8215.

South Africa is a country that makes it easy for individuals to reach out. Some wonder if their efforts make a difference, but when one witnesses a project like Mapula and how the lives of people are changed – even across borders – it shows how even a little assistance can go a long way.

 

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie On Histories Of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the keynote speaker at an event hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as part of the “Remembrance period” to mark five years since Madiba’s passing. She explored how histories have shaped the imagination of the future. This was followed by a conversation with Dr. Sebabatso Manoeli and Neo Muyanga on the role of memory and importance of remembering:

 

Chimamanda and Graca
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Graca Machel © Nelson Mandela Foundation

Diane de Beer

 

There was envy, said Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Johannesburg on Thursday night, where she was the keynote speaker at the Nelson Mandela Tribute night hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as part of the centenary Living the Legend celebrations. “We wanted a Nigerian Nelson Mandela!”

Fresh from her talk with former First Lady and author Michele Obama, who reinforced the Nelson Mandela legacy when she told Adichie that Nelson Mandela made Barack Obama possible, she switched between the inaccuracies of history and memory, turned to women who need to fight back and also dwelled on being African and the pride that had to be reclaimed.

“But I don’t trust this Rainbow Nation thing,” she said to loud cheers from her predominantly young audience. “I am fiercely Pan African. My visceral sense of protection is high. We haven’t talked it through,” she said, pointing out that we cannot just forget the past as is so often suggested.

Can the process of remembering be scrubbed clean? “They might suppress it but always it will be there,” she warned. “It is important to acknowledge that the process will be messy and long and most of all, that kindness is necessary.”

Returning to Nelson Mandela time and again as was her brief, who and what he represented, speaking about memory and history, she shared that even though he was South African, the world claimed him. “He sparked a belief in what was possible,” she said.

Chimamanda
An ecstatic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie © Nelson Mandela Foundation

Speaking in a country where heroes are ditched easily, and the memories distorted, she explained that as a storyteller she couldn’t trade in perfection. “Where does absolute perfection exist? Memory, she pointed out was often about how the present configured the past, something that features strongly in our world today. “To avoid the truths we do not like is to avoid grappling with complexity,” she says. “Progress is a journey which doesn’t run in a straight line but in zigzag.”

“I think humanising him, acknowledging that he wasn’t perfect, isn’t denigrating him. When we do that, we realise that there’s a lot that we ourselves can do.”

“It’s about pushing against this idea that perfection is required. The idea of people being heroic is not that they are perfect, it’s that they have done one thing that is remarkable”

That’s it absolutely. Often with history, the facts are there, but the citizens, those who lived it, know it is not the truth. That’s where storytelling becomes the driving force says the storyteller. That’s where the truth often lies. “If human beings were perfect stories wouldn’t exist because our imperfections create the stories we tell.”

Who defines the accepted norm? “It’s about owning who you are and knowing that who you are is enough.” In stories she learnt about the loss of dignity, to be human, is to be valued, she affirmed. “We need to push back against the idea that there is a way that things should be.”

“Our history was invented for us. It’s time for us to reclaim it. I went to a very good school in Nigeria, but I knew very little about Nigerian history. I knew a lot more about the kings and queens of England.”

Changing tack but sticking to her theme of humanity, she said that with our high rates of sexual violence, South Africa needs to grapple with gender stereotypes, but we need to focus on the perpetrators, the boys. It’s no longer good enough to tell the girls to be careful.  “It is time to raise boys differently,” she says. “A woman’s body belongs to her and to her alone. We must insist that men go through a process of learning. Women must be accepted and respected as full human beings – from the boardrooms to the busses.”

As we focus on boys rather than on girls, we could start by saying “Mandela wouldn’t do that!” And switching to fighting talk she insisted that women should never feel shame or guilt because they were a victim of crime.

She also touched on South Africans and their many languages. Traveling from the airport, her driver confessed that he spoke nine languages. “South Africa is in many ways an inspiration to many parts of the African continent,” said Adichie, as she pointed to their confidence and their command of African languages.

“We should own who we are and know that it is enough.”

Chimamanda and guests
Facilitator Cathy Mohlahlana, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Neo Muyanga and Dr Sebabatso Mano. © Nelson Mandela Foundation

She was then joined on stage by historian Dr Sebabatso Manoeli and activist, composer and musician Neo Muyanga. Discussing how people could reclaim their history, Dr Manoeli suggested that Europe should be regarded as irrelevant, an idea that Adichie immediately adopted.

“We also need to read against the grain,” noted Muyanga, suggesting that’s how to find history on the margins. “We need to explore alternative narratives as we move away from fact to truth.”

Given the final word by journalist Cathy Mohlahlana, who facilitated the discussion on the importance of memory, Adichie encouraged everyone not just to talk about the wrongs of the current historical narrative, but to find a way to do something – anything – even something tiny.

That’s the way forward.

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.

Renata Verjaa r 2
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

feast of nature1

  • 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:

generation artists
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.

Generation6
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.

generation 4 pics
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.

IMG-20180224-WA0008
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?

IMG-20180224-WA0011
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.