CAST: Michelle Botha, Dylan du Plessis, David Arnold Johnson, Didintle Khunou, Ilse Klink, Hlengiwe Lushaba Madlala, Carmen Pretorius, Brenda Radloff, Justin Swartz, Grant Towers, Ben Voss and the rest of the ensemble
THE BAND: Dale Ray Scheepers (musical director and arranger/keyboards), Silas Naicker (assistant musical director/ keyboard), Redgardt de Bruin (guitar) , Viwe Mkizwana (Bass), Keith Marishen (drums).
CHOREOGRAPHER: Nicol Sheraton
PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Andrew Timm
COSTUME DESIGNER Bronwen Lovegrove
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Johan Ferreira
SOUND DESIGNER: Adriaan van der Walt
RESIDENT DIRECTOR: Timothy le Roux
VENUE: The Mandela at Joburg Theatre
DATES: Until December 24
There’s a reason the panto is billed as Janice Honeyman’s Adventures …
She is the one with the pocketful of fairy dust, bags of laughter, and the knowledge to strike a balance that has the kids captivated and the adults engaged.
That’s quite something in a world where they have everything at their fingertips with iPads and iPhones.
But Honeyman won’t be phased by any of this. She simply goes next level. She has a design master (Timm) who also flies even higher than last year. He takes the audience into a wonderland unimaginable with state-of-the-art LED screens which seemingly have unlimited qualities to transform the stage constantly in front of your eyes.
The explosion of colour and artistry bedazzles you, but with typical Honeyman ingenuity, she doesn’t allow the beating heart of her production to be overwhelmed. When picking her cast, she makes sure that these are performers who command the stage and bring mountains of personality to the two or three characters everyone on stage inhabits.
And even after 20 plus pantos, some of my favourites were unrecognisable and the newbies are rehearsed to operate like seasoned pros.
From Radloff’s wicked queen to Pretorius’s and Khunou’s enchanting Princess Aurora and Snow White, to Du Plessis’s and Justin Swartz’s charmers Aladdin and Jack the Joller, we’re completely hooked from the start.
And don’t dismiss the Good Fairy (Madlala) with a voice that is as commanding as her presence, which is precisely what you want. There are truly no standouts, they all sparkle.
This is not simply one pantomime, it’s a big bunch of them, all rolled in one. To tie it all together, Honeyman has picked Good vs Evil as her theme and there’s more than enough of that going round at the moment to keep it prescient and present. She has her finger on every pulse.
It’s all in the detail. So while the enormity of the stunning costumes and travelling sets envelops you, it also allows you to take in those winks and nudges with a picture of an oh-so-famous person displayed as Employee of the Month, or a sign pointing to the Doek Nook or simply the complexity of the costumes that tell a story all their own.
It’s bright buttons and sparkly shoes, a bright kopdoek or a fancy fan as we trip our way through the abundance of adventures in this pantoland – all on a quest to preserve goodness and kindness ̶Honeyman’s credo.
While pantomimes were very much a feature of my end-of-year planning in the past, I haven’t been for a few years. And having seen 20 plus, a break was necessary. But this one is truly special.
One can always bank on Honeyman’s super powers, but this time she had double the expectations. Not only is the Joburg Theatre celebrating 60 years, this is also her and producer Bernard Jay’s 21st end-of-year celebratory collaboration.
Not many would keep it as fresh and manage to tick all the boxes all of the time. Of course she does!
Fo0r her it is all about finding the angle, which she did, having audiences lean forward into the show – and with the explosion of colour and talent on stage how could they not, but then right at the top of her list is a show with a beating heart.
Finding and exploring new wow factors and selecting a cast that will deliver with energy and enthusiasm are where Honeyman excels. It is her inner child, that constant twinkle in her eye that creates the magic and keeps pulling the audiences in.
We’re blessed in Gauteng that we don’t have to imagine the festive season without the Honeyman pantomime adventure.
You go girl!
And as an incentive, they have a special on Black Friday (this week). Buy tickets for any of the panto shows at a mere R100. That’s a steal!
This is the first verse of singer/songwriter sublime Koos du Plessis’s ode to Pretoria.
He frames his beloved city in a cloak of purple haze, which is how many of us identify the most colourful capital city.
But much controversy has surrounded this emblem of the city over the years and there are visions of fights for this particular tree and the replanting and upkeep of the city’s pride for those of us living here long enough.
Money talks, and the hordes of tourists who visit the city annually is proof enough for everyone who witnesses this influx that, at least for the moment, Jacarandas are allowed to flourish and bloom in all their splendour.
The four annual stages of the Jacaranda tree
Jacaranda trees were first imported from Rio de Janeiro by Baron von Ludwig of Cape Town in about 1830. A travelling nurseryman from Cape Town named Templemann brought two Jacaranda trees to Pretoria in 1888. He planted them in the garden he had laid out for Jacob Daniel (Japie) Celliers at Myrtle Lodge in Sunnyside, shortly after it was established as Pretoria’s second suburb.
In the 1890s Celliers secured a concession from President Paul Kruger to plant trees in Groenkloof for the Government of the Republic. James Clark, a wholesale and retail seedsman, florist and nursery, received the order to import seeds from Australia.
The story goes that among the consignment of eucalyptus seeds Clark imported for planting in Pretoria in 1898, a packet of Jacaranda seeds had found their way.
On 16 November 1906, the 51st anniversary of the founding of Pretoria, Clark presented 200 Jacaranda trees to the City Council as a birthday present to Pretoria. These trees were planted in Bosman street in Arcadia Park where the Pretoria Art Museum was established in 1864.
Frank Walton James was appointed as town engineer in 1909. He suggested the planting of Jacarandas in all the streets of the town to enhance the status of Pretoria as the proposed capital of the Union. When Jameson left the Council in 1920, fewer than 6 000 trees had been planted. By 1939, with the constant encouragement of Jameson, the number of trees had risen to 17 000.
Today there are approximately 40 000 Jacaranda trees in the streets of Pretoria.
And these facts were all handed to me in a letter by Jacaranda activist, architect Thomas Honiball, a man who has always battled and fought for the preservation of Pretoria as the beautiful city it is.
Some of us still remember the huge controversy about the west façade of Church Square, which was going to be demolished, but was finally left intact thanks to Honiball and a committee he had established with exactly this in mind. And the city proudly hails this part of its heritage today.
The aforementioned letter was written with a request to the Minister of Agriculture for the planting of Jacaranda trees in the city of Tshwane – and fortunately those battles were hard fought and won.
For Thomas, who lives in Nieu Muckleneuk with a spectacular view of Jacaranda blossoms when they are in full bloom, these trees hold and embrace the spirit of the city. He believes they were first planted to establish the character of a city that would be named the country’s capital – and thus it was.
“We have something that no other city boasts in such abundance,” he says. He also argues it is especially the city’s layout, the long streets, and the koppies, that allow for the spectacular showing of this tree Pretorians have claimed for themselves.
And he has many anecdotes to claim the city’s towering Jacaranda status. “I was told the story that Elon Musk’s grandfather when he flew over the city and saw the spectacle of the purple blooms was so overwhelmed, he emigrated here,” he says.
He also remembers as a young Free State lad paying his first visit to the city and sighting the purple spectacle, how it overwhelmed him. “It was just so pretty!”
That’s not all he achieved in this city. He was also instrumental in the production of a book with the listing of buildings worth holding on to, often used by city planners to save specific buildings which form a part of the city’s heritage. It’s not something South Africa has always done well and we need these visual planners who understand the importance of cherishing the old while celebrating the new.
He is very aware that everything cannot be kept simply because its old. There’s a saying that if a city centre doesn’t change, keep up with the times, it will die.
Fortunately for Tshwane, we have citizens like Thomas Honiball in our midst who have the city’s interests at heart and understand the importance of the picture perfect visual that keeps us all mesmerised.
Because Ambassador Norio Maruyama arrived in this country almost at the same time as Covid19, he has had to keep his wits about him when trying to fulfil his mandate. Sometimes there was nothing to do because lockdown prohibited all gatherings, but with the lifting of restrictions, he came up with the idea of hosting small dinner parties rather than large gatherings.
This, of course, especially for those of us not part of the diplomatic scene, was a perfect solution and one that worked brilliantly. Sometimes at the large ambassadorial events, the diplomatic corps gather for dinner talk and other guests are left dangling somewhat.
Yet with these small dinners, not only can the food be more splashy, but – especially, as in this instance, when your host is both a foodie and a wine lover (one with excellent knowledge of local wine, to our excitement) – the dinner can also turn into a huge learning as well as extravagant sensual experience.
From the first dinner (which I wrote, about in previous posting), we knew that not only did we discover new delights when presented with their amazing cuisine, but – especially we also lost our heart to the host and his chefs, Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi.
Returning recently for a dinner, we both felt that because the chef was aware of our admiration for his food, he could relax and be more comfortable in what he presented us with. We are the kind of diners who like being surprised and discovering different levels of a cuisine we are getting to know. And with the excellent wine pairings, as well as detailed descriptions of each dish, it’s my favourite kind of meal. I’m getting nourishment of both the soul and senses – narrative and nurturing. What more could one possibly ask for?
And here some wine notes from wine connoisseur Hennie Fisher, who accompanied me on these dinners:
Often, people who love food also feverishly investigate and research beverages to enjoy along with their food. This includes wine, but also other drinks. In fact, the art of pairing food and wine seems to be an increasingly popular pastime. Ambassador Murayama, who loves wine, of course came to the right country to indulge his interest. One seldom visits someone’s house to be presented with wines from your own country that you know nothing about. You may not previously have drunk that exact wine, but at least, because you have close interaction with wine as an agri-product in South Africa, you generally know either the producer, farm, or estate where the wine originated. On different occasions, Ambassador Murayama brought out the big guns, local as well as international – one example is a sake from Ichinokura.
The ambassador was especially proud of a white wine made here in South Africa, by Stark Conde ‘Round Mountain’ Sauvignon Blanc, because the Japanese symbol for round mountain is the same as his surname, Maruyama. On another visit, we were served a barrel-selected Roussanne 2013 from Ken Forrester, which was probably one of the most exciting wines I ever had the pleasure to drink. A Storm Pinot Noir 2018 was also sublime. On yet another occasion we had a
Testalonga El Bandito Cortez, an orange wine by Elementis, followed by a Taaibosch 2018 Crescendo, and we ended the meal with some serious Japanese whiskies such as Hibiki Suntory, a 21-year-old whisky. We will miss the ambassador’s fine palate when he moves on to his next posting.
As on a previous occasion, we again started off with One Bite of Happiness, a title I love, and it’s exactly what you get. As pretty as a picture, the deep-fried tofu with yuzu was exquisite. This was followed by a Tataki of tuna which simply means the method (pounding in this instance) of preparation served on a dashi foam. You can’t fault the Japanese on fish – and that’s no exaggeration. Next was their delightfully inventive gooseberry salad, taking the place of the more traditional palate cleanser.
Duck yakatori style was the main and this was presented with great flair, to the guests’ absolute joy. And this being our first duck experience à la Japanese, it was quite splendid – and it had to be, not to disappoint after such a theatrical entrance.
Sweets started with an Amarula ice cream with the citrussy mikan and finally a work of art in the form of three sweet things: walnut, mochi (rice cake) and yokan (red bean paste).
Our appreciation was complete and we loved the way they paid homage to the host country with ingredients like the gooseberries and the Amarula.
For the second time in almost a month, we attended a Taste of Japan held annually at Wood and Fire in Brooklyn, as the guests of Ambassador Maruyama. This time Jun and Mutsumi stepped into the kitchen of the restaurant and with the help of yet another of my favourite chefs, Zane Figueiredo, produced an extraordinary tasting menu which was the perfect infusion of Japanese cuisine to satisfy both the novice and those of us who feel we have been introduced to their food by those who know and love it best.
The welcome snack of edamame beans with schichimi togarashi (a red pepper spice) is a staple on Japanese tables, familiar here but less frequently served. It’s a pity because it has that moreish quality which makes it difficult to stop and it’s healthy!
Okonomiyaki, another Japanese favourite and quite yummy, is a savoury pancake (almost pizza-like) and this was flavoured with green cabbage, beansprouts, kewpie (mayo), ginger, nori and otafuku sauce (close to our Wocestershire).
Noodles was next on the list with prawn served with a shiitake broth, assorted veggies and shiso (a mint herb) followed by a delicate arrangement of sashimi, including salmon, sea bass, and with a nod to the South Africans, Springbok carpaccio all with a dash of different Japanese condiments which just take it to another level.
Yakitori (either chicken or green beans with spring onion) was the last appetiser before the mains consisting of Katsu Curry, which included a choice of pork, chicken or aubergine with fukujinzuke (Japanese pickles) and short grain rice.
Most of the servings were small and with healthy food inherently part of Japanese cuisine, it was again a broad introduction to many Japanese ingredients and flavours in a meal that was delicately balanced and, as always, finished with a flourish of mochi and ice cream!
Publishing this following story about a Durban/Kwa-Zulu Natal visit a month before the horrifying insurrection was quite tricky. In fact it was going to appear a day before the riots – but fortunately didn’t. In the meantime we’ve all been holding our breath so I’m hoping and have checked the places mentioned and nothing has changed apart from the city (I am told) getting a clean-up around elections, so please, if you’re planning to holiday in that region in the coming festive months, have a blast.
And for those who don’t understand the heading: It’s very good at the sea, or some such!
DIANE DE BEER gives a few impressions:
When a friend decided to celebrate her 50th birthday on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast recently, five of us decided to travel to Durban for a few days prior to the celebrations to explore especially the art and the food in a city none of us knew at all.
Art and culinary adventures are passions for all of us and we had read enviously about the hot spots in both Durban and the coast and we were excited to go on this adventure.
Travelling down by car, our first stop was for lunch in the region of Van Reenen’s Pass where two of our companions had previously enjoyed some excellent meals. The road to Oaklands Country Manor with a name change to Oaklands Farm Stay turns off (for a few kilometres) at the little town of Van Reenen and is easily worth the detour.
Together with the handful of super siblings (four sisters and a brother I think) who are in charge, the setting and the farm itself is special. On the day we stopped which happened to be a Sunday, there was a polo match in progress but quite a few families were occupying the outside tables with spectacular views, ready for lunch.
The splendours of Oaklands Farm Stay.
The menu was perfect for travellers, simple but with enough variety to cover the spectrum.
Salads either garden or chicken, toasted sarmies with chips, beef burger and chips, game pie or tagliatelle with garlic, chilli, anchovies, capers, broccoli and parmesan were the options. Our table covered the full menu and while the rest of the team started with a special cocktail, as the dedicated driver, I went for the homemade ice cold kombucha-style mixer, which was spot on.
The food was delicious, (I shared the game pie and the tagliatelle with the birthday girl because we both were undecided), but so was the atmosphere, the company and the hosts. We will be back whenever we travel this way.
We had ample sustenance for the rest of the journey which isn’t an easy one with all the trucks making their way to the coast. The bill without the lunch drinks was R250 per person (coffees included) which was a really good deal.
Durban was a huge surprise, great fun but not exactly what we expected. We took into account that we were there just before a strict lockdown and as we arrived the province was struggling with high covid numbers.
The splendours of the Phansi Museum.
On the art side we had two excursions: the one was the truly mind-blowing Phansi Museum (with on the side the exquisitely stocked African Art Centre if you’re in the need for some serious local craft shopping) and the other the Kwazulu-Natal Society of the Arts with a vibrant indoor/and out coffee bar/deli attached which was buzzing when we arrived.
The Phansi Museum will blow your mind. The breadth and scope of the collection is simply overwhelming and one wonders why this isn’t duplicated in every city in this country. There’s hardly a more accessible way to introduce the depth of the different cultures in South Africa. And I would travel all the way to the coast if only for a visit to this world-class museum.
Taking a guided tour with the embracing and embraceable guide, it’s amazing to discover the wealth and cultural riches of our people. Even if you are aware of the diversity out there, to see it all gathered together is magnificent. And there’s much to admire and much to learn, a truly heavenly experience.
This was followed by the Society of Arts also in the vicinity but unfortunately they were setting up for their next exhibition, which was a development project. We were, however, enchanted that in spite of the lack of any art happening at that precise moment, the café was packed. That is good news and I want to appeal to all the large art institutions around the country, in Pretoria in particular (The Pretoria Art Museum, The Javett and Association of Arts particularly on my mind), to find a way to serve at least good coffee with some refreshments. It’s a way of drawing people in whether for an exhibition or simply to gather for some bonhomie.
This particular space is enchanting, and you could see that the refreshments and food were as good and it has to have that stamp of approval. Nothing could be more welcoming and it makes perfect business sense if you get it right. They also have a fun museum shop and anyone traveling to world museums, will know how important those are. Our art venues have to find ways to appeal to visitors. Once there, they will hopefully be captivated by the art.
We popped into one independent gallery just off the well-known Florida Road, but they were also busy setting up and apart from these three, that, according to what we discovered and were told, was it.
On the food side it was also hit and miss. Our first stop was a breakfast/coffee shop which came highly recommended in an online paper and sadly was a huge let down. When writers go all out with their praise that might not be warranted, you are then reluctant to follow their advice. With only a few days at our disposal, we didn’t want any more disappointments.
Fortunately we also had some pointers from friends and locals and we started with what for me was a real find and a must if you go to the city. Glenwood Bakery and its pumping pavement area is an instant comfort. These are locals and you can see this is their regular haunt.
Our visit explained why. Starting with the bill, breakfast with two cappuccinos each, cost R100 per person, which was quite extraordinary considering the quality of the food. Bread and pastries is a big thing at the Bakery and our choices were as varied as our taste – from my mushroom and egg affair which was perfect in size, produce and preparation to bagels with various toppings, and even sweet delights with flavours like hazelnut and apricot which had to be set aside because things were flying off the shelves. We were told probably to preserve freshness, only a very specific amount of baked goodies are prepared each day, so once they’re gone, that’s it.
After our previous flop, this was at the other end of the cuisine spectrum and one to keep in mind if you need a failsafe option. It’s guaranteed!
Of course we had to do Indian and the name we had was Palki, which a few sources had recommended. On our last night we wanted to do take-out and as there were restrictions anyway, it worked out well.
Our cuisine connoisseurs made the choices and we had a mixed bag, which in this style relates to a food feast. Again it is the option to go for when you have such a diverse group of diners, all foodies but with different tastes. But it also allows you to be adventurous in some of your choices and to add new dishes to the group’s repertoire. This time round, it was the not to be missed paratha and dhal makhani, both of which should be part of any Indian meal. Added were a paneer driven dish, a chicken curry and a brinjal pakora. And for the solo diner who is reluctant to be too daring, there’s always a Lamb Curry mince.
And that’s how we even drag the less adventurous along who eventually cannot resist and grow their palate. Palki is not cheap, but it’s quality with great flavours – which is what we were told.
In between we hung out in the popular Florida Road, kept missing the Patisserie du Maroc which is French flair with Moroccan inspiration, but we had a Monday and public holiday squeezed into our stay, both not good for certain businesses. We caught up on lots of good coffee and artisanal ice cream (a delicious rum ‘n raisin flavour) and even managed to squeeze in some samoosas at the Indian market.
Which is where we spent the rest of the time; a variety of markets on and around Warwick Junction. Outside of lockdown, there are tours available and probably one of these can be fun to do as the different types of markets within the bigger precinct will be showcased.
The colourful area in and around the city markets.
We didn’t have the luxury of a tour guide, but old hands, we easily found our way around the colourful markets, which range from typical Indian and African fare to the ubiquitous Chinese goods which seem to have invaded all local markets.
Getting goods during these difficult times are also problematic and without the foreign buying power, these markets also seem quite depressed. We nevertheless had a great time just walking around, checking the scene (in between a confluence of railway tracks and a graveyard with some interesting gravestones) and seeing how the city centre functions.
From there it was a brisk walk to the Durban City Hall, Post Office and some other majestic buildings including a beautifully preserved Norman Eaton building from a bygone era but many of them still in use today. Sadly the back stairs of the post office was a sight to behold and those who are responsible for cleaning, cannot point fingers at the state of the rest of the city centre if this is the example.
And that was the sad thing about this very vibrant and embracing city centre. With its wide avenues leading to the sea front, it should be a tourist mecca with the markets and beautiful buildings included in this space. But the neglect is horrifying and typical of so many South African cities as white business moves out, it appears owners of the buildings also stop caring.
Also disturbing was the fact that we were the only white people in the area on both days we were there. Just the traffic and the double parking and navigating was like an hilarious movie. It just seems such a pity that a space this vibrant if spruced up and embraced by a much wider community – could become a real tourist mecca.
We had a blast and were welcomed everywhere we went but my heart bled for those who had to spend their lives day in and day out under these sometimes horrific circumstances while hardly a kilometre away, the Durban seafront is a completely different matter.
Personally I suspect its all about money but there’s bags full to be made if the city centre was given a touch of love and care – not gentrified – just a look that a buzzing city centre deserves. It already has all the basics!
We concluded our Durban trip with a breakfast at the promenade at Circus Circus. We were told they serve great coffee and the breakfasts are hale and hearty. It was good to witness the Durban community in all its splendour with joggers, cyclists, rickshaws and hawkers all part of the parade.
From there our trip became a celebration as we moved to a little touch of heaven called the Shangrila Beach House (in Bazley), a self-catering house, cottage and chalet (depending on the amount of people) with the best sea view, its own access to the beach first crossing a working railway line, and an exquisite garden designed by indigenous landscape gardener and botanist Elsa Pooley.
The bliss of Shangrila.
And I haven’t got to the best yet, a mass of friendly dogs and the most wondrous wrap-around stoep. Self-catering with a chef (á la Dr Hennie Fisher) in our midst was bliss and apart from an excursion to Botha House (now a guest house with spectacular views), which was built for the former prime minister Louis Botha by his friend Sir Frank Reynolds, we pretty much stayed put in our imagined home away from home.
Two last suggestions on the way back, was a fuel stop just off Pinetown called the Polo Pony Convenience Centre (571 Kassier Road, Assagay) with a Woolworths food store with the best takeout sandwiches and coffee.
A little further up the road, again at Van Reenen’s Pass (this time on the left hand side of the road on the way to Jozi), there’s the perfect lunch stop at The Little Church Tea Garden which serves food made by the local farming community.
We opted for pies followed by scones and coffee as well as browsing through their well-stocked shelves for some last-minute pressies if needed. There’s also a chance to visit the little church and while having lunch, the views are spectacular. Again, it’s the perfect stop before hitting the road back home.
When traveling internationally, we wouldn’t think twice about going into an art gallery in a village you might be passing through, but locally – not so much. Harrie Siertsema and his team have made sure that both Richmond in the Karoo and Mpumalanga’s Graskop should stop you in your tracks. DIANE DE BEER takes a closer look and loses her heart:
“Living with art” is a phrase invented for art connoisseur and instigator of the Modern Art Projects South Africa (MAPSA) Harrie Siertsema, which is mainly found in the small Karoo town Richmond and Graskop with two extraordinary galleries.
That’s right, not many when driving through or rather passing by on their way to either Cape Town or in the other direction, Johannesburg or pass through Graskop, would consider it possible to visit what many consider world class galleries.
But that’s exactly what Harrie and curator/artist Abrie Fourie have established with financial assistance from Harrie’s longtime partner Willem van Bergen with art possibilities growing and evolving at some speed..
It all began with Harrie buying what he thought was a single house in the small Karoo town, only to discover at closer inspection that it was much more – almost an entire block. While peeping through a window of the house he was interested in, someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked for work. The deal was done.
When you arrive in Richmond, this same George Williams will welcome you to MAPSA or for a stayover at their guesthouse.
With the purchase, Harrie’s many hours of play as a youngster- when this former architect was measuring not only every room in his childhood home but also the furniture – kicked in.
But not only that, he can remember buying his first artwork at the age of 15 with money he earned working at a local stationery shop. “I still have it,” he says as I sit admiring the amazing art I can see over his shoulder in his city home, a constantly growing extension of that first purchase.
This is a man with a straightforward passion, but one he has followed without fail while on the way, not only supporting established artists, but also discovering up-and-coming artists at shows, SASOL New Signatures and Absa L’Atelier.
He describes his particular art bent as close to the Italian Arte Povera (poor art) movement that emerged in in the late 60s. “It wasn’t as if I knew of them at the time, it simply must have been a part of the zeitgeist,” he believes. His interest is recycled and rescued art rather than the corporate kind and when you look at the names like Jan van der Merwe, Gordon Froud, Jeremy Wafer, Sam Nhlengethwa, Willem Boshoff, Robert Hodgins, Cecile Heystek, Diane Victor, Claudette Schreuders, Sandile Zulu, Seretse Moletsane and Strijdom van der Merwe (a who’s who of local artists and the list goes on).
The narratives grow and there is a multitude of South African stories being told by a diversity of local voices magically reverberating in places that will hopefully capture a much larger audience – of both local and international travellers.
Since its inception in 2005, MAPSA’s activities have included exhibitions in various venues in South Africa (Cullinan, Dullstroom, Graskop, Pretoria, Aardklop, Potchefstroom and Richmond) determined by Harrie’s many other business interests.
Like in Richmond where an old supermarket packed with broken pinball machines was turned into a spacious art gallery, Harrie was having a pancake at a small café in Graskop when before he knew it, he was the owner of a pancake joint with two burners. Many years later it has been turned into a flourishing business with Harrie’s Pancakes thriving in Graskop, Cullinan, Dullstroom and in Pretoria with a Delagoa Arts and Crafts alongside.
Further expansion in Graskop also includes a hotel where it really all began and where some of his favourite artists were asked to decorate the rooms, which allow visitors the delight of sleeping in a space filled with not only the individual artist’s art, but also a real sense of the artist. A gallery similar to that in Richmond also features in this Mpumalanga town with space that artists can usually just dream of.
There’s always something happening in their art world. MAPSA has commissioned site-specific installations and published limited edition monographs while artist’s residencies, workshops and retreats are ongoing at different properties in Richmond.
They constantly engage with the community and well as dealing with the challenges facing contemporary artists. They are determined to make a difference and to contribute to change and development whenever possible. Collaboration is something they encourage and nurture and with Harrie and Abrie a dynamic duo backed by the rest of the team, including the logistic genius, executive manager Morné Ramsay, they are constantly at work to provide creative opportunities to artists from around the country as well as Richmond inhabitants.
For people tackling the N1 in any direction, Richmond is the perfect stop for a stayover. The first time I did this with family and friends, finding ourselves the next morning with mugs of coffee still in pyjamas in a gallery with spectacular art – in the middle of the Karoo – was simply magical and unexpected. And still feels unreal and something to be cherished with every stopover.
That’s what art can do for you. It keeps on giving in the most imaginative fashion and when you have someone like Harrie with the team he has surrounded himself with as he would, you know that you have to keep an eye on what they come up with next.
On site in Richmond for example, they also have an extraordinary Bookbinding Project overseen by artist Mongezi Mcombo, an Artist Proof Studio alumni, who also produces his own work on the premises, OpenLab, a biennial project where artists can explore site-based public interventions, an interdisciplinary laboratory, the yearly Land Art Project for art students of the University of the Free State under the guidance of Professor Willem Boshoff (how can you resist with the never-ending vistas of the Karoo) and an informal Clay Brick Making Collaboration. And this sentence should really be open-ended because they are constantly coming up with yet another collaboration or creative venture that adds to MAPSA’s art experience.
Staying over is an option, but not everyone wants to take such a specific break when on the road. In that instance, Richmond is the perfect turn-off for a well-deserved artistic break. Pick up a MAPSA art walk map from the gallery, which will point you in the right direction to include their magnificent contemporary art collection. Also discover Willem Boshoff’s dictionary Word Woes (which as the title suggests works in different ways when read in either Afrikaans and English) as well as work by Strijdom van der Merwe, Johan Moolman, Gordon Froud and Abrie Fourie in the connected Sculpture Garden.
Included in this space is also the previously mentioned bookbinding project and Ella Ziegler’s Does The Ground Feel Tears?, a text-based work using handmade alphabet bricks, a MAPSA collaboration with local brickmaker Trevor Snyders.
Sculptor Guy du Toit has added his version of Two Thousand and Ten Reasons to Live in a Small Town, a public art project facilitated by VANSA and funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, which has many different goals incorporated in a single project.
The latest in the MAPSA series is Richard John Forbes’s Black Room (see more detailed story following in this space) which will blow your mind and give you a sense of experiencing art in a very distinct and visceral manner.
Add to that MAPSA’s fruit and veg garden, Hoggie Viljoen’s indigenous garden as well as Shane de Lange’s text-based work The Fence and Hannelie Coetzee’s Tokkas, Londa and Oom Samuel engraved on a plastered wall.
If all of this sounds quite hectic, this is just a taster and not even half of it. But it can all be explored in your own time. I would simply start with the gallery, have a wander through the sculpture garden and then see how much more is possible or keep the rest for the trip back or whenever you pass through Richmond again.
It can easily turn into a lifelong and life-enhancing discovery.
The latest addition to Richmond’s surprisingly bustling art scene is BLACK ROOM recently established by sculptor Richard John Forbes who opened the door during the town’s annual book festival in the last week of October. DIANE DE BEER speaks to the artist:
What you find in Black Room, is a collection of his work of the last 15 years.
It’s all still a project in flux and one that flourished due to synchronicity, believes the artist. When standing quietly and motionless just after entering the Black Room, what you discover is that this is a place where the artist, his work and the space found one another, and the winner is the viewer.
It all happened when Richard was in transit between Joburg and George where he was moving – and lives now – and the work was waiting to be moved from the north to the south. By the grace of how these things happen, Harrie Siertsema of Modern Art Projects South Africa (MAPSA) had a space looking for transformation, loved the work and Forbes’ ethos, and voila!
While Richard, always the philosophical one, doesn’t believe in luck but rather coincidence, he knows that what has been happening these past few months with his work – and the future to come – is meant to be.
He works predominantly with large sculptures, quite a limiting niche to occupy, because it is art that is bought mainly by serious collectors and institutions. Synchronicity plays an especially large role because of the way he works and produces, and when you walk into Black Room it makes sense with it all coming together.
He feels there’s a kind of providence about this specific exhibition and space, with Richmond on one of the main tributaries in the country (N1). It is meant to be seen and it seems the stars have aligned.
As an artist, he has often been told that his work is unpredictable. To my mind, with Richard being an artist, that’s a compliment. But, as with most things in life, people want you to keep producing the thing that perhaps made the biggest impact. That’s just not who he is. From start to finish he is about change and movement. Even the individual pieces move.
He has also changed mediums. He started out as a painter, one who loved colour. Since he turned to sculpting, he prefers to stay with the colour (or lack thereof) of the material he is working with.
The word that has been used to describe what he does is ‘erratic’ and yet, there’s no sign of that in Black Room, which has brought many of his big pieces together enabling a conversation. “When I put them all together, there was a flow with the different pieces communicating with one another,” he says. “It was so exciting and I really hope that many people get to experience this.”
And if I could do anything to help and encourage, this is it. Being in Black Room with the artist is a privilege. While these creative individuals are often reluctant to speak too much about their work, Forbes explains that his partner, Kate has encouraged exactly that. She believes that it can only enhance the work if the artist shares something about the process.
“I always felt that I had spoken my words in art, but she has taught me that I need to express myself,” he explains and in the process perhaps accessing the work more easily for the viewer.
As such, because he is seldomly around, he has introduced quite a few aids to help viewers to engage with his work. One of these was to invite a 10-year-old niece (living in the UK) to read his poem that’s a kind of introduction to the exhibition and now can be listened to instead of just being read. And there’s more, which should allow passers-by to access the art easily.
With this work all gathered together, he introduces different themes and layers. As the viewer standing in this dark room with light intruding as much as you wish, there seems to be a kind of silence before the storm – something which permeates the work, one piece even representing a tornado with everything else seeming to flow from that. “I feel there’s a bit of a storm in the room and it is important for me to have governance over that storm,” he says.
He adds that there are things in the universe that leave us in awe or that scare us and hopefully some of what you experience in the room filled with Forbes’ art is a pathway to navigate some of those feelings.
“People who have visited this work told me that at first they felt fear or confusion, a feeling of lostness,” he says, but he doesn’t want to elaborate more because it is something that people need to experience individually. And as is often the case, it’s all about who you are and what you discover that determines the experience. “The artist is a filter for the world and what filters out is his experience.”
Personally I felt an immediate emotional connection to the space – quite turbulent. But then everything went very still …
What we then do with what we see and understand will be different for everyone. And that is what Richard enjoys, seeing how people experience his work and the effect it has on them. Just being in his presence, his excitement about the work is extraordinary. It’s what creatives do. They make something, put their feelings on display and allow you to do with it what you will.
Another unexpected bonus of Richard’s Richmond experiment is not working in isolation. Being an artist in a studio can be a lonely occupation but once you start collaborating with others, it becomes a community. This is exactly what he found while working on the installation in Black Room.
Once he started talking to Harrie and they discovered similar obsessions with the tone (or lack thereof) of black, his journey took on new twists and turns – hence Black Room. Apart from the sculptures, it’s also black that keeps evolving and that keeps Richard engaged and playing. “Black became more and more significant in my work,” he says as he experiments with all kinds of ways to create a specific tone, a different dramatic effect. It is his curiosity about materiality that drives this particular experimentation, like when he works in paper pulp or burns charcoal, all of which imbues his work with energy.
With this current exhibition, Richard’s dream, which was sent into the universe, has come true. “All I want is a curator that allows me to be the expansive person I’m meant to be,” he says.
And in stepped Harrie Siertsema … and his team including curator Abrie Fourie, executive manager Morné Ramsay and the list goes on.
And we, the viewers, benefit from an experience that’s all heart.
On two recent trips to Japan, the first a holiday, followed by work, DIANE DE BEER experienced the visionary and versatile food of Japan and hopes any South Africans visiting during the 2019 Rugby World this month, next year’s Olympics or simply holiday, will be intrigued and inspired:
Making ramen noodles in shopfront
When the Japanese take you out to lunch, it is stepping up your cuisine kudos and when it’s dinner, it moves up yet another notch.
A furniture representative from the Philippines, Nicolaas de Lange from Designs Ligna who was visiting on a training exercise to acquire furniture from Asahikawa’s Conde House, questioned the uniqueness of Japanese craftmanship in comparison with the rest of the world and determined that it was their search for perfection that was so impressive. “They don’t do anything without reason, a sense of purpose,” he said.
In his latest gardening series on Japan, garden guru Monty Don has similar sentiments: “The Japanese have a unique culture. I’m struck by how deliberate everything is. Nothing is done by accident and everything has relevant points that you have to know about to fully appreciate. The meticulous attention to detail is as evident in their gardens as their sushi.”
“True,” said Japanese-born South African television presenter and entrepreneur Lalla Hirayama, when talking about food. “Nothing is done without purpose,” she explains as she points to the finely shredded daikon served with the sashimi. “It works against any bacteria that might be present in raw fish.”
That of course is also true in the presentation often linked to colour and precision. Everything is delicate and detailed never detracting from the textures or the flavours. Visually the presentation is as detailed as the preparation.
And like with so many Asian cuisines, the diversity is extraordinary. Whether you are going for everyday meals or something smarter, the approach is similar.
On my most recent press trip to explore Hokkaido, three meals specifically impressed and were very different to what we had enjoyed and savoured while on an earlier holiday.
The first two were restaurants in Asahikawa. Tenkin was our lunch option and the meal was dominated by raw fish and a hotpot with a steaming broth and rice on the side. Shabu-shabu (as hotpot dining is known) is a traditional Japanese way of eating and most often they have thin slices of raw beef which is dipped in a sesame-paste or soy-sauce with citrus. Tenkin’s hotpot however is uni-shabu, which is the more unique sea urchin shabu which is rare and thus more expensive.
Tenkin lunch of comfort deluxe
Much sought-after Tenkin broth Picture: Kanae Omote
We were also told, once we were finished with the raw fish, dipping it into the hotpot, we should take the leftover rice and add it to the broth. This was apparently a specialty of the restaurant. It’s comfort food deluxe because it tastes like the best chowder ever. With Japanese rice always of such superb quality, one could just wallow in the deliciousness when combined with the sea-urchin broth.
But so was the rest of the meal. Because the sashimi was simply dipped – once, twice and a third time – to give it a hot edge and because of the freshness and quality, it was melt-in-the-mouth.
The dinner at Koizushi’s was described as a traditional tasting menu. Some dishes, it was explained, were western in style, to make it easier for guests but naturally, it was the Japanese cuisine that we all found most intriguing.
The appetizer included a cigar kelp roll, a pretty yet peculiar persimmon and butter square and some edible salted sea cabbage; followed by a crab and tofu combo; sashimi comprising the best sweet shrimp, salmon, scallop and tuna; tasty grilled red rockfish; roast duck with orange sauce which I suspect is what they thought would please the visitors, but beautifully prepared; tempura (shrimp, Japonica and shishito green pepper) which is in a different class with the batter light as air; soba (buckwheat) noodles with herring; and finally sushi with medium fatty tuna, yellowtail and salmon roe.
Japanese food at this level is incredible because of the freshness and quality of the fish and the overall superiority of the produce. Hokkaido produces much of its own food, market themselves as a food island and it shows. The meal was overwhelming in quantity and quality and a fabulous treat.
The following day we were off on another food adventure in the coastal town Otaru at the Canal Restaurant. They view this as quite a Western-type meal and when a group of Japanese girlfriends go out for a celebratory meal, they will often pick one of these companionable BBQ restaurants.
The picture perhaps tells the story best. When we arrived at the communal-type tables, there were trays packed with fresh fish next to what looked something like a hotplate on which the seafood could be cooked. Plenty of cooked sweet snow crab legs were also invitingly displayed with scissors handy for you to get going immediately.
As if that wasn’t enough, many food stations were included in the large dining space and here you could help yourself to anything from noodles in all shapes and sizes, salad ingredients, vegetables like the moreish edamame beans and meat including lamb which is very popular in a Hokkaido barbeque. It is referred to as Genghis Kahn and as the story goes, it is because of a belief that Mongolian people often eat lamb/mutton.
How anyone could turn away from the spectacular seafood available and done to order as you are in charge, is a mystery, the rest could simply be ignored. Usually though you will have to choose between either the seafood or the Mongolian BBQ. We had a choice of both.
All these meals mentioned above fall in a price range from R400 to a R1000 and most of these were special menus designed for the group. Setting out on your own cuisine adventure, can be a much cheaper and no less delicious affair as we did on our earlier visit.
Okonomiyaki, the savoury pancakes cooked on a flat grill
We wanted to eat with the Japanese people and that’s not a tough ask because of their many different meal options; from ramen, the popular broth and noodle dish which has many different variations including a rich, burnt version, to okonomiyaki, the savoury pancakes cooked on a flat grill and described as a meal of left-overs as vegetables make up the bulk of the batter. All together it is then cooked to your taste at the table.
Dumplings in many different shapes and sizes
Dumplings very similar to what we get here, known as gyoza, are most often filled with ground meat and veg. It is wrapped in a thin dough and ingredients most commonly consist of ground pork, chives, green onion, cabbage, ginger and garlic with soya and sesame oil. But again, there are many different variations as chefs and diners experiment.
Feel like some meat? Yakitori is a good choice as these mini skewers which in earlier days would have been made exclusively from chicken, now include pork, beef and fish and then dipped in a teriyaki sauce. It is viewed as fast food and most often served with beer or sake and in a bar-type setup.
Similarly, tempura, something the rest of the world is familiar with, is a fast-fried snack, but in Japan, the batter is something else. The popular ingredients are seafood or vegetables served with soy and ginger sauce.
You can’t visit Japan without eating sushi and sashimi often, as they are the undisputed masters. It’s the quality of the fish, the availability of tuna and yellowtail for example, but also the precision and the presentation of their sushi. All masterfully made by specialists in front of your eyes. Nothing like Japanese theatre!
And if sushi ain’t your thing, try Japan’s most popular snack, onigiri, more familiar to us as rice balls. “Sushi isn’t my favourite, but I can easily live on rice balls,” was a familiar refrain from one of our party.
Sushi aside, the thing with rice balls is that it is cheap, easily available at every convenience store or at every station, and painless to eat. It can be seen as the poor man’s sushi as it uses similar ingredients: the filling is chicken, vegetables, fish or pork, and then wrapped in seaweed with a few other flavours tossed in. It’s easy to get hold of, freshly made each day, and like everything in Japan, the quality is excellent, while you hardly notice the price.
Most of these meals would cost you little more than R100 a shot and the rice ball less than R20 each.
Matcha (Green Tea) ice cream
You will always bump into the latest trend when traveling. The first time it was matcha (green tea) and we discovered these in Kit Kats, ice cream, both commercial and artisanal, as well as the best of all, one of those old-fashioned ice lollies.
As all new things in Japan, hotter than hot, were commercial packet chips combined with chocolate and while that might not sound appealing, think of the combo of salted caramel for example. Another sweet deluxe item is mochi, made of a short grain japonica glutinous rice.
With all this cuisine swirling around, we have hardly scratched the surface, and that’s the real adventure.
*Following an earlier holiday in that country last October, Diane de Beer was the guest of JETRO, (the Japan External Trade Organization, a non-profit parastatal under the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry of Japan), for a brief spell at the beginning of February to their northernmost main island Hokkaido.
A shorter version of this story was first published in the Sunday Times Lifestyle (food section) on September 15.
If you are ever looking for the perfect getaway, Halfaampieskraal is heaven.
In their latest book Halfaampieskraal The Way we Live, the first quote reads “The perfect place to do nothing at all.”and it captures the farm which opens its arms to guests so generously and completely.
Turning off from the N2 at Caledon and driving in the Stanford direction, it is a part of the rolling wheat fields of the beautiful Overberg. It is still very much a working farm and when paging through The Way We Live, I was reminded of a friend’s 50th birthday celebrated there a few years back.
It’s all about the place and its people, the way you become part of the farmstead while luxuriating on recliners under huge trees with homemade cocktails and unusual snacks while farm animals come and peek at the latest arrivals.
The rooms which are just behind the main house are drop-dead gorgeous and quite unique in the way they have been designed. This is obviously someone’s passion and it shines through.
Owner Jan-Georg Solms (with partner Cobus Geldenhuys) describes it as “curation of my favourite things – and lots of them”. He explains that with this being the family farm, he also inherited much of what is featured and he and partner have an annual breakaway to Greece where he often picked up objects, he lost his heart to. “I have an eye for pieces that can be fashioned differently and given a second life.”
But he has stopped chasing new purchases and prefers appreciating beautiful objects in other homes and buildings rather than a personal desire to own even more. The rooms are done subtly but with a luxurious tint. “The idea is that you have to feel comfortable, as if you know the room intimately.” Included are heavy linen gowns, beds that are slightly larger and higher than the norm with down duvets stuffed with the feathers of their own geese, but in European weight.
The rooms are stocked with excellent coffee, buttermilk rusks and fresh fruit. Mosquito nets stand alert in season and bathrooms are oversized, all with open showers (wet rooms), some including baths and others, outside showers. Flowers fill all the rooms and the main house stoep, if you can tear yourself away from your room, is a favourite gathering spot to enjoy either sunrise or sunset.
The main house which also has some rooms but is also the gathering place is a jumble of well-organised themes “which allows guests to peek around and lose themselves in flavours and textures of bygone eras”. The rooms have names like Plantation Room, Reading Room Officer’s Mess, Red Dining Room (with a 53-year-old post office wall-to-wall red carpet from his parents’ time) and Empty Room (filled with objects…) which gives you an idea of the feel and style of this quite extraordinary vintage farmstead.
And with all this chic comfort, in addition, there’s the extraordinary delicious factor of the food. “We keep files of all our guests (with 60% of them being returns) and the menus we’ve served, not to repeat ourselves,” he responds when I ask him about our weekend meals. Many of the guests order some favourite from the previous menu though.
Their chef Marlette Scheltema has been with them for some time and has chef training, but she easily adapted to their style of cooking: simple food, generous, but not an overly loaded plate. “We draw a picture every time of what the plate will look like once the guests have dished up, when planning menus.
“Most food is served table/family buffet. We use what we have locally, simply because we want food less travelled. Marlette now does almost all the cooking, and I get to taste everything!”
Our menu was as follows:
Friday casual evening with spanakopitas, lemon and tzatziki for starters, paella on the fire for mains, and a simple lemon-pudding;
Breakfast Saturday was the three cheese breakfast soufflé-tart, boerewors and the most amazing Turkish cucumber;
Caramelized onions with branches of bay leaves
Canopies of toffee tomatoes
Saturday evening, the night of the celebration, started with canopies of toffee tomatoes and salmon-rolls. Starters: field- and porcini-mushroom soufflés, baked in cream and pecorino. Mains: home grown leg of mutton, cooked at 110 deg C for 9 hours, served with a green-oil-gremolata dressing. The sides included caramelized onions with branches of bay leaves; Potato Ann, upright butternut, courgette strips and small beetroots. Desert was an old fashioned croquembouche, with the crème patisserie flavoured with frangelico and decorated with pistachio brittle. Served with tiny liqueur milk shake shooters – and quite spectacular to suit the occasion.
For those still standing, breakfast Sunday was the house standard Brekko-pan – a big pan, with small pork bangers, bacon, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, dried oregano and a bit of cream, baked slowly, with halved hard-boiled eggs added in the end. This was served with traditional vetkoek and jam. All breakfasts start with a fruit platter with their six-spice syrup and double cream yogurt and their own honey, freshly squeezed orange juice and extra strong coffee.
What you have is pretty much a breakaway weekend of fine farm dining in style with as much rest in-between as possible although the area offers much opportunity for exploring if you wish.
But first have a look in their latest coffee table book packed with the most beautiful pictures and recipes from the farm which will give you a chance to see for yourself if this is your idea of paradise – at a cost that isn’t prohibitive. Check their website for more information.
*You can buy Halfaampieskraal The Way we Live at www.kraal.biz also Wordsworth, Love books in Mellville and Exclusive Books. It won the South African Gourmand World Bookbooks award (category: Hotels)
Many South Africans will be travelling to Japan as the host country of this year’s Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. Following a holiday in Japan in October last year, DIANE DE BEER was invited on a return trip to Hokkaido, the most northern main island. She loses her heart and gives her impressions:
What I probably love most about travelling in Japan is that it is foreign and familiar at the same time.
It’s immediately clear that the Japanese have a different culture, they speak a different language and use a writing system that many foreigners can’t read and yet, there’s a familiarity that’s unmistakable and comfortable.
While you might think that you could lose your way in such a strange land, there’s much that you know and recognise, to keep you in a very happy place.
What should have had me worried when I was invited by JETRO (the Japan External Trade Organization, a non-profit parastatal under the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry of Japan) for a brief visit to their most northern main island, Hokkaido, in February, was the weather.
At the back of my mind I could hear someone saying when we were planning our holiday last October that February wasn’t a good time to go as it was the coldest month in that neck of the woods. And a further notice from the hosts about the climate in Asahikawa/Sapporo, the two cities we were visiting, should have been ample warning.
The average ranged at about -6.5 deg with the minimum touching -12. Suitable clothing was suggested as one of the reasons we were traveling all this way at this specific time was for the annual Japanese snow festivals celebrated all over Hokkaido but specifically in these two cities.
Snow hasn’t really been part of my vocabulary but the spectacle of a world clad in white, the texture like powder, the fact that snow isn’t wet until it melts, a cold that leaves you breathless, all of that is part of an other-wordly experience.
The snow festival itself in both cities is about (gigantic in some instances) snow and ice sculptures depicting scenes or characters from Star Wars, which seems to be a popular theme, or anything Disney and some of Japan’s favourite mascots like Hello Kitty.
The festivals ran from February 6 to 11 (it changes annually but not by much) and both cities attract well over a million people from the rest of the country as well as foreign visitors. The area offers fantastic skiing in close proximity to both cities, ice skating, sledding and snow rafting, as well as the wondrous winter canvas with a landscape completely covered in snow.
We had a few bus rides from one city to the next and watching what seems like a silent world go by is stunning. As a child of Africa, I certainly don’t want to live in that extreme weather – we were in Sapporo on the coldest day in history – but I can appreciate the spectacle.
Hokkaido is a fascinating island because, amongst other things, it seems to be the food basket of Japan. It has nearly one-fourth of Japan’s arable land and is a leader in the production of many agricultural products. Different coastal areas are also rich sources of seafood ranging from shrimp to salmon, sea urchin and scallops, sweet snow crab and tuna. The variety is awesome and reflected in the restaurants.
We had spectacular meals ranging from sushi/sashimi to a seafood barbeque; a traditional tasting menu and a unique sea-urchin shabu (hotpot) with the broth mixed with leftover rice the perfect comfort food; buffet breakfasts in hotels, an adventure all its own; the odd ramen and gyozo (dumplings) – and then I haven’t even mentioned the meat. How can one, with the abundance of seafood, unlike anywhere else in the world? Every meal had a scallop or two tucked in somewhere.
The originality and quirkiness of their designs
Light fitiings for great effect
Hokkaido also boast a sizeable timber industry, hence their focus during a part of our visit on furniture factories. An entry into this world was slightly puzzling as they don’t export to Africa but I was intrigued by the work ethics and the employer/employee relationship. It also proved the familiar adage that the Japanese are constantly striving for perfection. There’s a reason for everything and its all about the final results.
One specific factory we were taken to for a specialised visit was Takumi Kohgei with the owner, Yoshihiko Kuwabara, sharing his particular philosophy, which he says is what Hokkaido is all about. Most of these factories and this one in particular are not big concerns and perhaps that is why the attention and care heaped on the workers is so impressive.
From the design of this particular factory, which looks more like a high-tech home, to the humidity and temperature control on the factory floor – with some of the workers not even wearing the ubiquitous mask because the dust from the wood was immediately removed by huge extractor pipes, the whole concern is impressive with the end results, the furniture, quite unique.
It is a clever combination of their past and a modern sensibility with possibly a nod to the ‘50s, and their interior accessories are extraordinary. Forty crafts people dedicate themselves to making detailed furniture from indigenous wood and the machines are used only as support.
Visiting Hokkaido in autumn/winter or spring/summer makes a huge difference. These would be completely different holidays – each with their specific attractions. Before I left on the trip, someone sent me a link to Sapporo and there were some amazing art spots to visit, but I realised when there, that these weren’t possible in winter. One was a fantastic sculpture park by artist Isamu Noguchi in Sopporo, as well as a cemetery by the amazing architect Ando Tadao which includes a pool of water and a pathway that leads up to a circular structure accessed via a tunnel. He is famous for his entrances to his buildings and this one with a circular structure with 15 000 lavender plants along the roof, certainly seems worth a return visit.
So are the hiking trails and the natural wonders of this particular island, which was hit by a devastating earthquake only last year. They are desperate to revive their tourism but when you see what they have to offer, it’s not a tough ask.
We had an onsen (hot spring) in our Asahikawa hotel and each night it was an astonishing way to recover all the energy the weather had tapped during the day. The island is especially famous for its range of outdoor onsens, which would also deliver on the complete experience of the Japanese ritual so popular amongst its people.
From participating in meals at the local ramen shop to sharing an onsen, it’s a way to get to know the Japanese people, which in itself is special. In today’s fast life and daily grind, especially in Japan where they struggle with an overdeveloped work ethic, mixing with the people when they find time to relax is your best chance for social interaction.
Having been to the country twice in the past five months, what has become clear is that you need that first trip to discover what you want to do and see in this complex yet completely fascinating country. So if you are off on your first trip, do as much preparation as possible. Find out as much as you can about everything you want to do before you go. It will all contribute to an incredible journey.
* Diane de Beer was invited by JETRO, (the Japan External Trade Organization, a non-profit parastatal under the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry of Japan), for a brief spell at the beginning of February to their northernmost main island Hokkaido.
In the next two years, Japan will be highlighted on the travel itinerary as they host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games. Travelling that far it’s worth checking into some of their magnificence.
DIANE DE BEER
If your travels are driven and dominated by art and architecture, Japan’s art islands seem designed specially for your desires – and then they deliver so much more.
Hearing about them the first time, they sounded magical, almost unreal – islands filled with art – which I couldn’t believe I had never heard about.
Only once you journey there, the fantasy and fun of it all materialises majestically. The island landscape that’s the backdrop for this art-inspired world often determines the art you will be viewing in what should be an extended trip – as many days as you possibly can pack in.
Google was my first port of call when starting my research. And coming back following the visit, returning to that information, much of it only makes sense once you’ve been.
When your research says that you need at least three days, even that isn’t quite enough, but it will be worth your while. Some 3 000 islands are dotted in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, which separates Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, three of the four main islands of Japan. Three of these – Naoshimo, Teshima and Inujima – form the main part of what is described as Japan’s art islands but there are more and they’re multiplying as islanders understand what it can mean for the future of a particular island.
This unique art project began in 1987, when a businessman, Soichiro Fukutake, the chairman of Fukutake Publishing (now known as the Benesse Holdings, Inc.), bought the south side of Naoshima. He then enlisted Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design his dream and most of the architecture you visit on this main island, all the established museums (and the hotels) are the work of Ando. If you haven’t heard of him before, you will appreciate his architecture once you witness his work. He has also designed, for example, a museum to form part of the cultural precinct planned for Abu Dhabi with the Louvre the first finished project.
One of the strongest visual pleasures of Naoshima is that it is one architect and his unique architectural vision that determines the impact. He sets the tone, not only of the museums on the main island, but also of the art.
When you embark at your port of call, it’s all sea, sky and islands with boats of all sizes as far as the eye can see. And once on the ferry, the landscape, dominated by shades of blue, is completely enveloping and an inviting sign of the excitement that awaits. As you enter the port at Naoshima, one of the famous dotted pumpkins, this one in bright red, of one of Japan’s most prolific artists, Yayoi Kusama, is the first thing that greets you. You know you have arrived.
First it’s on a bus (or a bicycle, motored for the hilly countryside) and you’re off to see either the mainstay of the island, the Benesse Museum complex which is furthest from the port, or, on the way there, the Art House project which includes the architect’s own house with his architectural plans explaining his art island mission and his design ethos. We started off there, but it would probably have made more sense once we had seen all his buildings even if they speak with great clarity for themselves.
Six other buildings have been used to create special artworks which include anything from an artist playing with light in almost fairground fashion with extraordinary results, an outside shrine with a spellbinding glass stairway, to a mesmerising pool of darkness, which takes viewers on a specific journey.
Even though I would leave the Ando house till later, the rest of the project is a great introduction, playful and out of the box, while giving individual artists and their unique voice a chance to shine. This is where one could probably also find accommodation (but more about this later).
Then it’s on to the three major museums as well as the outdoor sculptures on the main Benusse site. It’s a fusion of architecture and nature with the island and the surrounding backdrop the perfect setting for Fukutake’s expansive dreams. Importantly, the Ando environment-sensitive designs are part of the landscape as he plays with light and hidden delights in a way that fashions and informs his designs.
His buildings are all different yet have a similar sensibility. His building blocks are concrete with natural light the premiere design feature to show the art in a way never seen. This is especially true of Monet’s Water Lilies, which are given a fresh perspective.
From the detail of the floors in the passages and specific rooms and even the toilets (or, as some would say, especially the toilets!), every detail is put out there, full tilt. The Chichu Art Museum, for example, is built like a bunker, all underground, but with shafts of light encouraged and enticed to play with the space and the art.
The art includes many familiar names but there’s much to discover and learn, for example, the Lee Ufan Museum is dedicated to this octogenarian Korean artist quite spectacularly. And in especially the Chichu and the Lee Ufan museums, there are only a few rooms with minimal art displayed in a fashion that grabs both your attention and your soul. You are gifted time to appreciate each piece and to absorb the impact. It’s the the best way to view art.
The outside sculptures have similar impact. Pieces speak to one another unexpectedly, and others simply because of their placement, sometimes like driftwood on a beach, have a special charm. Because of these outside pieces and the museums which are in walking distance, you engage with nature as much as with the art and the day strikes a particularly balanced note without you even trying.
Outside sculpture on the island
Something for all ages
We were there for two days, thinking we could do three islands, but in the end, only managed the one. It was one of the most unusual art excursions of my life and one I could easily repeat – often. But it takes careful planning, thoughtfulness about where you want to stay, on or off the islands with the ferry which is a joyous ride but takes time depending on the port you choose. Probably the best, if you can afford it, is the Benesse Hotel on Naoshima Island which is part of the museum complex and allows you to see the art in a way that is completely deluxe – early in the morning and late at night.
You can travel from either Tokyo or Kyoto to Okyama and then one of the ports, either Uno or Takashima, both of which have ferries that travel to and from the three islands daily.
Take note though that it isn’t as easy as jumping on and off a ferry as they’re scheduled very specifically and it’s tough to squeeze in more than one island on a day. If you make the train journey as we did from Kyoto (two hours), once passing through Okyama to Takamatsu, you’re traveling surrounded by the sea – seemingly everywhere – over expansive bridges and this is the beginning of the discovery of the breathtaking backdrop for the next few days.
It’s a fairy tale journey for art and nature lovers.