SYLVAINE STRIKE REIMAGINES KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN, A STORY SHE HOLDS DEAR

PICTURES: Fiona McPherson

Togetherness.

Returning to the theatre after such barren and isolated times with Kiss of the Spider Woman  ̶  to spark conversation is a great gift, Sylvaine Strike tells DIANE DE BEER. It has been a troubled ride for the proposed run of this play which was cancelled on the eve of their opening in June 2021 when the 3rd wave of Covid hit. But now they’re ready to go with a run at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre until March 26:

“It felt so terribly hard to abandon the work when we were closed down,”  says director Sylvaine Strike.

In full-blown artist mode she expands: “It felt deadly. Where does one put all the adrenalin, all the emotive impulses so necessary to tell this story in all its noble truth? My heart broke for my actors who were about to fly. Hibernation of the artistic soul has been one of the most challenging realities we have had to face as live performers,” she explains.

But now, just short of a year, they’re back again to hopefully complete a run. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a story she has always wanted to tell. “It is first and foremost, an inmate and delicate study of human behaviour. It is a testimony to our ability to escape our reality through the imagination, a triumph in the battle to defeat prejudice; it is a poem about learning to love all that one hates about oneself, all that one fears in the other; it is about accepting difference through tenderness.”

Embracing what is too often labelled as other has become crucial, urgent, she argues and she simply loved the humanity of the work.

Ironically she had been booked to direct Kiss at the Baxter in mid-2019, long before Covid became a reality. “I am often asked if I chose this piece because of the pandemic since it speaks of confinement, seeking escape though retelling of stories from the silver screen (think of what Netflix meant to us all during this confinement!) but ultimately it is also a play about isolation from society.

Mbulelo Grootboom and Wessel Pretorius in Kiss of the Spider Woman

“It is in fact Covid that helped me understand this piece on a cellular level, our human need for contact, for connection, for escapism, for understanding.”

Discussing her casting, she notes that our immediate assumption as South Africans, when we see a black Xhosa male (Mbulelo Grootboom) and white Afrikaans male (Wessel Pretorius) sharing a prison cell, is likely that this story will be about racial tension.

So to her mind, it seemed crucial to shatter this preconception and challenge viewers to engage with the piece on a very different level.

“As humans we are so quick to other in so many ways. Wessel and Mbulelo are both remarkably in touch with who they are as men, embracing both the positive and negative aspects of their masculine and feminine halves, and highlighting the necessity for Valentin and Molina’s story to be shared with all audiences, guarding in turn against prejudice, sexual preference or political ideology.

“Ultimately, this story is about survival, betrayal, regret and our need for connection. Whatever preconception audiences may have will gently be turned on its head,” she predicts.

“The playwright Manuel Puig had staggering courage for his time. I hope that we too have shown courage in this rendition, exactly 50 years after it was penned, it is very much a classic of gay literature  ̶  but we hope to contribute to it being seen as a great classic  ̶  eternally relevant to human nature.”

Fantasy at Play.

Design has always played a huge role in her productions and collaborating with Wolf Britz was a real treat.

“We both agreed that we needed to set it somewhere neutral,  that it could be a prison cell anywhere as the location of Buenos Aires Argentina is never referred to by the characters. This enabled us to build on the theme of imprisonment as a metaphor of the mind, while also being a very literal prison.

“We researched Argentinian prisons, and Wolf was inspired to thread colours, textures and the feel of the them into the fabric of the piece. I really wanted to get a sense of the cell being one of many, positioned above a cell and below another, with only wrought iron grids separating them. I wanted the characters to be lit from below and above too, through these grids,” she explains.

As with all her work, she wanted the actors to be rehearsing on the set – a very small restricted square, with an oppressively low ceiling above it- from as early as possible in the process. She knew that by the time they had mastered their space it would feel huge. And that is what happened.

She details thus: “Molina sets up home, plays housewife, remembers movies; Valentin reads, studies Marx, pines for his girlfriend while their lives intersect and become entangled on levels they never dreamed were possible.”

Lighting design also took on huge significance. “Light plays a huge part in confined spaces like prisons,” she notes. “Time is indicated through natural and synthetic light. Mannie Manim has evoked both perfectly with his wizardry,” she says.

The serious side of play.

In conclusion she stresses that gender politics are a necessary conversation in our times, more so than ever in societies that are seeking to be inclusive and illuminated.

“Returning to the theatre after such barren and isolated times with Kiss to spark conversation is a great gift, I believe. We cannot wait to share the sacred ritual of the collective experience with our audiences once again. This is our place of worship. It is here that it all makes sense.”

And as if this Kiss season isn’t enough, she will also be at The Baxter together with Andrew Buckland in the stage version of Ferine and Ferase titled Firefly from March 24 until April .

The play runs nightly from Mondays to Saturdays starting at 7.30pm; with matinées on Saturdays at 2.30pm.  Bookings at Webticket.

Those attending this year’s Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) from 29 March to 3 April, will also have the opportunity to catch the play there.

JM COETZEE’S LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL K IS A STORY THAT RESONATES

PICTURES: Fiona McPherson

Craig Leo and Carlo Daniels in Life and Times of Michael K

DIANE DE BEER

JM COETZEE’S LIFE AND TIMES OF MICHAEL K

ADAPTED AND DIRECTED by Lara Foot

CAST: Sandra Prinsloo, Andrew Buckland, Faniswa Yisa, Craig Leo, Roshina Ratnam, Carlo Daniels, Marty Kintu, Billy Langa and Nolufefe Ntshuntshe with the Handspring Puppet Company

CO-PRODUCTION: Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus (Germany) and Baxter Theatre

SET DESIGN: Patrick Curtis

LIGHTING DESIGN: Joshua Cutts

ORIGINAL MUSIC COMPOSITION: Kyle Shephard

DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND FILM: Fiona McPherson and Barrett de Kock

VIDEOGRAPHY AND EDITING: Yoav Dagan

PROJECTION DESIGN: Kirsti Cumming

COSTUMES: Phyllis Midlane

 SOUND DESIGN: Simon Kohler

VENUE: Baxter Theatre

DATES AND TIMES:  7pm nightly until 19 March with Saturday matinees at 2pm on 5, 12 and 19 March

Craig Leo, Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Carlo Daniels, Faniswa Yisa, Billy Langa in Life and Times of Michael K

It is quite astonishing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the backdrop on most minds, how the horror in JM Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K is amplified.

Written in 1983 in Coetzee’s sparse yet startling style, the story shines a powerful light on the life of a simple man, afflicted by a disfigurement, standing out without being someone, and being in the world not to engage, but rather flee from others.

That’s where he finds his freedom – in the wild, desolate landscape of a country that doesn’t want him and yet pursues him for crimes not committed or even imagined.

Both Michael K and his mother have lived honourable lives in service of others, he as a gardener and she as a domestic worker who lives under the stairs in an apartment block, like her son, unseen and unheard.

When she falls ill, with war raging around them, she turns to her son to take her “home”, there where she was born and raised, where she believes she once found happiness. And so their harrowing journey begins.

Sandra Prinsloo, Faniswa Yisa, Craig Leo, Roshina Ratnam in Life and Times Of Micheal K

Because of where we find ourselves right now, and looking back through the history of these past 30 years, both nationally and internationally, Michael K’s story hasn’t changed. That’s why it is such a brilliant choice to herald what we are hoping beyond hope, might be better times.

There was a buzzy anticipation on opening night as people moved into the Baxter Theatre for the Lara Foot-adapted and -directed Life and Times of Michael K, a production cleverly staged with the Handspring Puppet Company in a multi-dimensional fashion including performance, film and music – all on a grand scale.

And with a magnificent set which constantly changes with moving as well as still images and lighting that astounds, we’re off into the story and running with the narrative from the start. It’s quite overwhelming as Michael K’s story is told from many different angles and voices with different landscapes as he goes on his long and winding journey. Visually it is spectacular and achieves a moving world that is both elaborate and evocative.

Telling the story, there’s an ensemble playing different characters; the physical Michael K, exquisitely crafted by the Handspring masters happily accompanied by his equally statured mother; the voices and puppeteers; as well as the film, which simply because of scale could be jarring at times rather than just slipping in and out of the narrative – yet all of these combined make it quite difficult to get to the beating heart of the story.

Nolufefe Ntshuntshe, Craig Leo, Carlo Daniels, Roshina Ratnam and Andrew Buckland in Life and Times of Michael K

As the name suggests, this is Michael K’s story. While the character himself can be seen as an insignificant man, that is the point and what Coetzee hopes to uncover in his desolate and desperately haunting tale of a man who is struggling to find and cling to his freedom. Gardening is what moves his world, something that adds rather than detracts from our physical place on this earth.

But even that is not good enough. Somehow it is twisted into an act of terrorism as he is accused of feeding a guerrilla army. He is simply never allowed to be.

Coetzee’s descriptive and detailed telling of Michael K’s battle to survive on this arid land, the way he works with the earth to both feed the soil and his soul, nourishing his freedom, his sole means of survival, doesn’t quite have the impact on stage as it does on the page. The exquisite existential rendering which won Coetzee such applause is somehow missed.

His is a harsh world in which there is mistrust all round. Who is Michael K? Even though he is described as someone who cannot organise a dart game, he is still seen as a threat by those who feel they are in command and have to lead the way.

No one can be left to their own devices. And it is this stranglehold, a man’s desperate struggle to hold on to his freedom, that disappears under the weight of the production, one where the true horror of being Michael K struggles to break through.

Foot has thrown all her energy and skill into this one and there are many memorable moments to witness and remember. It is a worthy production that captures the zeitgeist – a time of pandemics and panicked, power-driven presidents.

What you don’t get is the bewilderment of a man who has found himself in a world that prohibits him from finding his own way and making a life unaffected by those around him. The only way he knows how to breathe and survive.

Thát is the life and times of Michael K.

WRITING IS AUTHOR ERIKA MURRAY-THERON’S SOLACE WHEN MAKING SENSE OF HER LIFE

When Erika Murray-Theron started writing about her life following the Parkinson’s diagnosis of her husband Tom, she couldn’t predict that capturing her thoughts on paper would be her way of coping. Yet writing became her solace and eventually a book titled  Kom Ons Loop Weg (Protea Boekhuis), which she hopes might shed some light for others struggling with debilitating disease. She talks to DIANE DE BEER:

It says everything about author Erika Murray-Theron when she tells you with a twinkle in her eye: “In one year I turned 80, got married, had a knee replacement and launched this book.”

Published by  Protea Boekhuis, the front cover also explains that this is her and her first husband’s journey with Parkinson’s disease.

It all started in 2001 when Erika’s husband Tom was diagnosed. Initially once they were fully immersed in the illness and coping with its progression, Erika started a file on her computer but it was simply meant for her eyes. As someone who had always kept a diary on her life (until her family with five children took over), she knew she needed somewhere she could gather her thoughts and make sense of all the changes they were confronted with on a daily basis.

From the beginning, the onslaught on what had been their life was quite overwhelming, but as one does in these circumstances, you deal and cope. When Tom’s mind was still unaffected, they could make decisions together but eventually, Erika really had to take charge and, as so often with his particular diagnosis, she had to  handle everything with great care when dealing with Tom.

Part of Parkinson’s symptoms can be fears of abandonment, and reality for the couple soon became a very individual experience.

The book deals mostly with the last three years of Tom’s life, which because of the degeneration, were also the most difficult. For Erika it wasn’t just the decisions about where and when to move, how to physically manage their lives, but also to bear such constant and intimate knowledge of Tom’s decline.

Theirs had been a fulfilling marriage and what she was witnessing was the dismantling and slow disintegration of both the physical and intellectual beings of her life partner. And with that comes the loss, which is a slow and debilitating process for both, the one suffering and the carer.

This wasn’t a time to think, she had to do. But she is a writer and from as young as five, she would tell herself stories and end sentences with “she said!”, as though writing a story. “I don’t know where that came from,” explains Erika, and even though she started writing books at a relatively late stage, storytelling has always been a part of her being.

Writing is how she makes sense of things and, during Tom’s illness, it helped her make sense of her feelings and her understanding of what was happening.

She hates being viewed as a victim or as someone who wallows in misery, and given what she had to deal with, not languishing in those emotional places is tough. But with Tom the priority, she managed with the help of her children and friends to cope.

That’s where and why the book became important. Once she caught her breath following her husband’s death in 2014, she knew she had to revisit these last years of their life together – that as well as nurture the memories of happier and easier times.

Erika Murray-Theron.

She had been caught unawares by the deep loss she felt with Tom’s passing away, especially following the struggles of the last years. That also meant that she hadn’t yet mourned the loss even though it had been such a part of her life even before his death. “I knew I had to deal with all of that,” she explains. Now she had time to step back, return to her notes to gather her thoughts of what their life had been.

When she started thinking about writing a book, she was driven by the feeling that her experience could benefit others.

But this also meant more exposure, the one aspect of being an author that doesn’t appeal to Erika. “I am a very accessible person but I don’t like being out there,” is how she explains it.

But telling this story she believed she had to be truthful and honest about their lives, especially the last years that were so tough. It also meant that she had to discuss  this opening up so publicly with her children.

They are a tightknit family, some more private than others, and this was her and Tom’s story and where she was going to concentrate. And even though the book is extraordinary and something Erika doesn’t regret, the publicity surrounding it has been difficult for her. “Many people only see my plight rather than the extraordinary journey,” she says.

What she has done with telling her story, one that no one really wishes on anyone, is to show the resilience of human beings. How we stand up and get going when life is unexpectedly tough. For her it was about finding the meaning and making sense of it as she was gathering her notes and her thoughts to finish the book.

She contacted the editor of her last book at Protea Publishers, Kristèl de Weerd, and gave her the notes which she had already sorted into some kind of order. Writing and the process is something Erika enjoys and especially the final reworking and editing. “I can sit for hours adjusting one paragraph,” she confesses.

That is why the book is such a revelation. When keeping notes, Erika is someone who has depth and detail in the palm of her hand. The title KOM ONS LOOP WEG (loosely translated as Let’s run away) comes from a moment in time when Tom said to her quite unexpectedly and lucidly: “I miss you … I hunger for you… Let’s run away…”

Gideon and Erika

And still her story isn’t completed and if there are any tears to be shed, perhaps this happy note will do it.

Following Tom’s death, a close friend of theirs, Gideon, also lost his wife. He turned to Erika for some help with things he had to sort through – and, she says, she immediately knew that this friendship was going to develop into something different and deeper. Today she is taking a timeout from writing and the newly-weds are making the best of their time together.

For those of us looking on, it feels as if they were blessed with a special gift.

THE TENTH SILWERSKERM FILM FESTIVAL IS ALL ABOUT CELEBRATING THE LOVE FOR LOCAL MOVIES

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Silwerskerm Film Festival, kykNET has released the names of a slate of local films lined up for a brand-new hybrid format between 23 and 26 March 2022.

Pictures of features apart from previous winner Poppie Nongena are all part of this year’s competition.

Stiekyt deals with an actor who performs at a drag club and is discovered by his wife.
https://youtu.be/GsCs1vo5_Ns

Since all the events on the main programme will take place simultaneously at the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay and the Silwerskerm Film Festival website, movie lovers from across the country can now sign up to enjoy the festival from the comfort of their homes. (See details below and check for details on the movies on the Silwerskerm website: https://silwerskermfees.co.za/)

Included are nine local feature films in competition for the festival’s prestigious awards and 17 short films produced with the financial support of kykNET and the festival.

Besides these exciting films, guests and those attending virtually will also have access to Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, industry discussions and some existing local films that have received limited releases in the past two years.

DIANE DE BEER chats to Ricky Human (centre), programme director who together with its founder Karen Meiring (right) and director M-Net channels Jan du Plessis (left), has been with the Silwerskerm Film Festival from the start:

In 2010 the kykNET Silwerskerm Film Festival started as a dream to establish a local film festival and a vision to create a platform for their own storytellers to showcase their work to each other, to develop young filmmakers and to discover new voices in the local film industry.

“We often look back fondly at how the festival started with only one feature film, ‘n Saak van Geloof and an exciting short film competition,” notes Ricky Human, programming director.  

https://youtu.be/hOICLDW-I80

“We believed that we could establish a festival incubator program for passionate young filmmakers to develop their own stories with the guidance and the financial support needed to start their careers in the local film industry.”

“Ten years later, some of the most passionate and brightest young filmmakers have emerged through the ranks of the short film competition and more than 160 short films and a variety of feature-length films with the funding and support from kykNET and M-Net Movies were launched. Young talent from 10 years ago are now established producers, directors and scriptwriters,” she says proudly.

In this time, the festival has also become a successful networking event and continuous exposure to key role players in the industry, from new to established, as well as veteran filmmakers has led to a revival in the local film industry with a focus to increase the level of production.

It further had the effect that authentic South African films set in the Cape flats, different cultures and new story idea planted at this festival is leading a wave of transformation in the Afrikaans film industry with new audience growth and more job opportunities.

The occult is centre stage in Gaia which tells the story of two off-the-grid men who come to a forester’s aid.

https://youtu.be/Q9HYegwSw1s

 As the festival developed in the latter years, and with the 10th anniversary in mind, a big focus became a renewed festival to not only harness all the elements that made it successful, but to expand the programme to be more inclusive of a variety of film genres. This would include public participation and growing the networking and film market element to sustain growth for the next 10 years.

 “We launched an on-line app last year, new competition categories for script writing and digitally produced content. We also welcomed international guest speakers who are experts in their field to share their industry knowledge,” she expanded. They also have big dreams of international collaborations.

 https://youtu.be/r-4WmEoxD8Q

In most international markets its mostly the big blockbusters and large scale independent films that are able to secure a standard theatrical release in cinemas. Distributors and cinema owners worldwide negotiate a film’s release based on potential box office results versus the cost to releasing the film in cinemas.

It has always been a risqué platform with no real guarantees on box office returns, and with many new entertainment options for audiences worldwide, it is a harsh reality that most filmmakers need to take on board when releasing their films in cinemas.

 And then Covid also moved into the mix with the future still uncertain. The motion picture industry, which relied on cinema attendances came to a halt.

Yet the Silwerskerm Film Festival has boosted the local film and television industry and there are many success stories. The short film and Silwerkerm alumni list is growing on an annual basis

Scenes from the extraordinary Poppie Nongena

Probably the most successful has been former stage director Christiaan Olwagen who directed Poppie Nongena, winner for Best Film, Best Script, Best Director and Best Ensemble Cast at the last live event at the 2019 festival.

In 2013, he made his debut with the short film Toevlug which won Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Short Film and landed him a 3-picture deal with M-Net Movies.

His first feature film in 2016, Johnny Is Nie Dood Nie scooped seven awards at Silwerskerm Film Festival including Best Director and Best Film. In 2018, Kanarie won five awards including Best Film and Best Director and went on to be a local and international LGBTQ sensation.

Racheltjie de Beer which won Best Production Design and Best Actor awards in 2019 was written, directed and co-produced by Matthys Boshoff, who made his debut with the short film Vlees van my Vlees which won Best Director and Best Short Film in 2016.

Beurtkrag tells the story of the darkness to be found and explored in relationships.

https://youtu.be/7cp9WqmNgi4

In 2015, Stian Smith won Best Script for the short film, Beurtkrag which was adapted for stage by Jozua Malherbe and features in the main competition this year as a full-length feature film.

Similarly another short film entry for the 2014 competition, Vuil Wasgoed led to Bouwer Bosch forming his own production company and producing the feature-length film version, whilst the writer Bennie Fourie contributed to popular television series Sterlopers and Hotel. Fourie and his fellow writer Stian Smith also won SAFTAs for their work in the local industry.

Another fabulous success story is that of Gambit Films, the production house which entered the short film, Nommer 37 with director, writer, producer Nosipho Dumisa winning the 2014 Best Director and Best Script awards.

They received further funding from M-Net Movies and Dumisa followed with the full-length feature version to critical acclaim locally and internationally.

When money comes into play families can be split apart as is shown in Down So Long.

Through networks created, inexperienced producers also meet their veteran counterparts, and in this instance, with the support and guidance of Homebrew Films, the Gambit creative team also became involved in other television projects for kykNET an kykNET& kie.

This lead to the development of the popular Suidooster soap, for which they formed Atlantic studio. This studio has subsequently created numerous jobs and opportunities for the Western Cape film community.

And the accolades run on and on.

For the future, they are hoping to embrace a fully inclusive festival with more and more expansive opportunities for film and documentary makers. Viva la movies! We all stand to gain and benefit as our local stories are told by people who lived them.

The registration fee for the virtual festival and four days of premium local movie entertainment – is R190 and will be donated to the Tribuo Fund, which was created to assist entertainers suffering a loss of income due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To register for the virtual festival, go to the Silwerskerm Film Festival website – silwerskermfees.co.za

HENNIE FISHER IS A CHEF WHO PAINTS EXQUISITE PICTURES WHILE CREATING SPECIAL CUISINE

Meringue magic.

In times of Covid things have been tough for everyone, but some had no options, they had to make plans. DIANE DE BEER speaks to (her friend) Dr Hennie Fisher, chef and lecturer at University of Pretoria about food and the innovative ways he got working to get the students cooking when the world was in lockdown. But also exploring the way he celebrates his own creativity in this world:

PICTURES: AB Heyns and Hennie Fisher

Hennie Fisher paints pictures with fruit.

Thinking about food, chef Hennie Fisher can’t remember a time that he wasn’t fascinated by it. He didn’t come from a family particularly interested in food, with the result, that food nostalgia has little meaning for him.

And yet, once he moved into the food realm himself, he never stopped experimenting – to the delight of those of us who are part of some of these kitchen creations. He believes culture rather than history is what drives him.

That’s what gives us the measure of things. If, for example, you are doing a korma recipe and it wasn’t part of your upbringing, you don’t have anything to measure it against. But in that instance, because there was no way he was strictly sticking to the food he was familiar with, he developed his senses.

Cake sculpting in progress.

That’s what the modern consumer does, he says. And, more than anything, he loves cooking off the cuff. Something I witnessed again, when we spent a week at the coast where he could let his hair down and cook for appreciative people who love to eat – no pressure. It was a time to relax, with sea air and food to make everyone happy.

The previous year we had gone mad foraging, but this year the pickings were scarce and we did less of that with Fisher relying on the produce we had all brought to the table.

For me, more than anything, it is exciting to witness how the mind of a chef works, what he comes up with and how food enchants when it is well made and the simplicity celebrated.

Floral fantasy.

One of his favourite things to do is baking, especially magnificent cakes which are decorated in a way that’s difficult to absorb. When I think of cake decorating in the past and what happens in that field today when you have a real master at work, it’s astonishing. There’s nothing more beautiful than watching an artist at work and being able to witness what he comes up with.

Like anything in the creative world, when you give artists free rein, is when they have most fun. Working within guidelines is fine, but preferably give them the freedom to play.

Genius at work.

On a trip that we did together to Turkey, six of us stayed together in an apartment block where we cooked on and off when we didn’t go out for a meal.

Watching Hennie put all of this together was quite something. In the middle of a cooking stint, he would dash outside to a pavement quite close by, where he had spotted some herbs growing wild. That would just be the final touch to another taste sensation – and it might have been something as simple as a roasted chicken which he then turned into something extraordinary.

Hennie’s food feasts.

In the meantime, his real work is as a lecturer at the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria. This is where the real challenge began a few years back with the start of Covid. Their’s is a practical degree and while there isn’t really any replacement for a hands-on food demo with the students doing their own cooking, Hennie had long been thinking about creating a digital library which would be on hand for students to access when necessary.

Now was the time and, when he thought about it, digital demos were the only alternative, but one which would also have long-term advantages. The idea that face-to-face teaching was suddenly impossible was daunting, because there simply was no other option. Working with students you can see where they stumble and you also get to know one another on a deeper level. But this was the challenge.

It meant hard work, as did the new Zoom lectures all of which required a different work process and a deep dive to establish the best way forward in this interrupted and episodic lifestyle we all entered and are still engaged in.

It’s all about setting a base and establishing videos that would be the best version of what was possible. This was as much a learning process for the lecturer as it would be for the students and, having sat in at some of those sessions, the work that goes into the cooking sessions, in preparation and then the actual filming, is quite something.

What appealed to him was the learning process, which is continuous. Even though he had lost the possibility to learn from the students, which was always there when they were cooking together, new skills were suddenly surfacing in this novel way of teaching he suddenly had to establish. Yet, everything, unfortunately comes at a price.

Students at work and play.

He already knew that much of his teaching in the past came about when he watched the students cooking. “It’s about seeing them do it,” he explains. Think of yourself doing something in a kitchen and suddenly being stumped by a particular method  ̶  should it first cool down or should you immediately go ahead with the process, for example. Cooking is like that and by example and repetition, is how you learn.

“Cooking is complex,” says Hennie, and that is something all of us can concede. He does encourage those interested in the food industry to go ahead, however. “There are so many different opportunities,” he says , and both the conditions and the pay have improved over time and trickled down.

A selection of paw paw recipes developed by Chef Fisher for an ongoing project.

With the advent of social media, it is also much easier for people to reinvent themselves, and he feels, the work is much more satisfying than it might have been in the past. If  you think of all the  imaginative developments in the food world, the mind boggles.

With someone like Hennie, who seems to have food and the way to present it as part of his DNA, I can only smile at the future and the many meals created in that brilliant mind that will make my heart sing.

BROTHERS IN ARMS AT JOBURG’S MARKET THEATRE

Katlego Chale and Nhlakanipho Manqele in Brothers Size.

Photographer: Lungelo Mbulwana

DIANE DE BEER

DIANE DE BEER

THE BROTHERS SIZE by Tarell Alvin McCraney

Director: James Ngcobo

Cast: Katlego Chale, Nhlakanipho Manqele and Marlo Minnaar

Lighting Designer: Simon King

Set and Props Designer: Nadya Cohen

Costume Designer: Nthabiseng Makone

Sound Designer: Mandla Mkaba

Choreographer: Lulu Mlangeni

VENUE: Mannie Mannim at the Market Theatre

For the past few years artistic director of the Market James Ngcobo has been exploring especially themes of brotherhood when selecting their Black History Month production – and 2022 is no different.

This time he has opted for a revival of The Brothers Size by award winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney for a limited season until February 28 . It was first presented here with an American cast and Ngcobo was keen to try his own hand with local actors because of the universal theme and the excellence of the play.

And last time, he explains, it was a week run only with not too many theatregoers able to attend.

He is also excited because he is working with three actors he has never worked with before. “It’s been a hands-on and collaborative effort,” he notes and he was thrilled by their response to the play.

, Nhlakanipho Manqele

It’s the story of two brothers, one of whom has been incarcerated and just returned to normal life. Ogun Size played by Nhlakanipho Manqele is named after the spirit of iron and labour. Oshoosi Size, played by Katlego Chale, is the younger brother named after the spirit of the forest and a wanderer.

Elegba, played by Cape Town actor Marlo Minnaar, who arrives as a friend of the brothers who comes to stir the pot and provoke additional discord between the them, is named after the spirit of chaos and the god of the crossroad.

Pointing to the names, Ngcobo liked the fact that the playwright used Yoruba names, which in typical African fashion, give some of the character of each of the men.

Together the two brothers and a friend start the conversation about prison and the rest develops from there.

For those who don’t recognise the playwright’s name, he was also involved with the film Moonlight’s script, which received so much Oscar buzz and awards a few years ago.

If you saw the film, you would have recognised the sensitivity with which the story was told. It was also refreshing at the time that this was a Black voice telling their own stories. It has fortunately become more commonplace now with the Black Lives Matter movement which adds a much more personal dimension to these stories.

It is set in Louisiana which, according to Ngcobo, is also the prison capital of the world  ̶  not a title that many world cities want to claim. Especially in the past decade, much has become more public about the imprisonment of especially Black men with the numbers suggesting that not many of them escape this horrific punishment. This plays a huge role in this particular story.

 As they start their conversation it is clear that the younger brother feels a certain entitlement because he has just left prison and is perhaps in need of some pampering from his perfect older bro.

There’s also a friend who is obviously not the influence needed in the vulnerable convict’s life at that exact time.

With all our knowledge about the African American male and his precarious position in American life, one cannot but experience the play through that prism. It’s like navigating a slippery ledge throughout.

As the older and wiser brother, Manqele is the one who holds all the cards. His character is the one who opens his heart and allows the story to shine through in full colour. The strength of both his words and his action leads the way, with Minnaar’s cool cat someone who could lead those with less backbone astray. And his slippery Elegba is in it only for himself. What happens to those around him is only a concern when it affects him and his wellbeing.

Magical moves.

The younger Size is perhaps the most difficult role to play. He needs to generate some sympathy from the audience to get them engaged. But because Chale starts on such a climatic note, he has nowhere to go as the play builds towards a climax. From start to finish his bravado never lets up to allow for some compassion.

Yet his sensitive moves in a few passages throughout show a side of the actor which could have been harnessed more effectively throughout.

This is a play that relies heavily on performance, and a wrong step upsets the rhythm. We don’t want to see any of the work as we step into the story.

The music and the visuals could also have more impact if they land at exactly the right time with precision.

Nonetheless, it is a courageous play to stage, with more than enough to grapple with  ̶ including the performances.

McCraney is regarded as one of the most talented and significant writers in the US. He is the Chair, and Professor in the Practice of Playwriting at the Yale School of Drama; and is the Yale Repertory Theatre Playwright-in-Residence. He is also a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects Theater Company in Miami, a member of Chicago’s highly regarded Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble, and 2016’s  Moonlight is based on his own work In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. With his co-writer, director Barry Jenkins, they received the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Age Recommendation:16 (L)            

Season: until Sunday 28 February 2022

Venue: Mannie Manim at the Market

Performance times:     Tuesday – Saturday @7pm and Sunday @3.15 pm.

LOVESICK IS THE MAGIC WORD THAT GOT HIS MIND WANDERING FOR HIS LATEST SHOW, LOVESICK TIM

The fun of a Nataniël interview is always the unexpected.

PICTURES: NICOLAAS SWART

THE fun of a Nataniël interview is always the unexpected. DIANE DE BEER shares some of the fairy dust he always has in his pocket:

Being the journalist, one would expect that I would come up with some surprises when doing yet another interview, especially as we have had to do so many through the years.

But Nataniël is so entertaining – whether on stage in a packed hall or with an audience of one – it never occurs to me.

Of course, I always forget about the masses of creativity coursing through his veins, and his ability to turn anything into a moment of magic – both for himself and those he has to entertain.

So this time, when discussing the time and place to chat about his latest show, he suggested we dress up and meet in one of his wardrobes where he stores only a fraction of his costumes and accessories from decades gone by.

It’s an apartment now packed with Nataniël costumes and other valuable mementoes from his unimaginably busy life.

Always in the mood for play, I selected one of my brightest outfits, sent through the colour scheme so that he could clash or subtly enhance the picture we were planning to produce from this working meeting – not party mind you, even if you see tea and cakes!

It’s a new time for an artist who has been producing his life on and off stage, mostly very publicly but with a private side that is fiercely guarded.

As for many around the globe, his world was flung into orbit with the pandemic and everything that came tumbling down around our well-ordered lives.

Nataniël with one of his many detailed costumes I covet!

Especially as he marches to what many might see as the latter stages of his career, there had to be a quick turnaround to adjust expectations and to reset future plans from those that had become improbable.

Re-ordering and remaking his world started with scaling down, which meant, amongst other things, cleaning up both his personal space and, as is his wont, also the greater planet out there.

Nataniël has been stripping his life for quite some time, but now there is an urgency which doesn’t allow for single-purpose plastic̶ –  ̶̶ or over-used costumes for that matter.

Repurpose and recycle is what drives him today and as far as he goes, he spreads the message. None of his disciples would dare venture on a shopping trip without their personal shopping bags and everyone who watches his lifestyle programmes on kykNET will be aware that this is someone who as much as he loves food, has also trained his body and mind into a healthy way of being – to his and the planet’s benefit.

With his costumes sorted for the moment, in a place that allows for all the right conditions, he visits this apartment high up (“so that no insects can get to them”) making new plans. For the future, he dreams about a fashion museum and a setup that allows for art installations.

“We don’t have a culture that cares for the past,” he muses, but what he wants to display is the artistry of true technicians trained in fields that are hardly nurtured anymore and might disappear in the future.

And when I start looking through the costumes, most of them still trigger memories of past shows. At the same time, their details are overwhelming and were rarely seen from the auditorium. And still, not a sequin or button was left out because it was all part of the bigger picture.

For Nataniël it is about the inspirational, the way he has been dressed by designers as kings, disciples and prophets for example, always in period in a manner that isn’t visible in today’s world.

Some of these costumes can be reshaped and modelled into something different and new because, as someone who in the past was passionate about shopping, discovering new delights (usually to dish out to friends), what kept him enthralled was the creativity and novelty that he could find in many unique and treasured Aladdin’s Caves.

This type of lifestyle was anathema to the Covid era and Nataniël, true to type, also shifted in his head and discovered his own way of dressing his world. Once he started scratching around and asking his designer (for example) what he had been doing with all the left-over fabric of past seasons and found they were all carefully stored, he discovered endless drawers and rooms in his own house filled with every type of fabric and accessory he could hope for.

He was also driven by the lack of travel, as well as the fact that distribution hassles meant the sudden halt of novelty items. He knew he would simply have to create his own and he could do this in a sustainable way. No more buying needlessly. The motto driving him is to use imagination and innovation, something which has always been his loadstar.

His  latest stage creation, LOVESICK TIM, will be presented at Pretoria’s ATTERBURY THEATRE from 11 to 14 February 2022. Four nights only, ending on Valentine’s Day and sadly it has already been booked out. (But check the latest dates still available below).

And because he is guided not by the obvious, the name of the show was determined by his passion for the word “lovesick”. “I have always had problems with love songs because the lyrics are so awful!” but with lovesick, he thought it would allow him a certain latitude. “I will feature love songs from the earliest of times to the very latest of trends, the jazz of the 40s, the crooners of the 50s, the freedom of the 60s, the heartbreak of the 70s and the never-ending evolution of love and chaos in pop culture,” he says.

He searched for songs containing the much-loved word, but also wrote a love song himself and discovered some music that boasts a narrative rather than a repetition of silly love lyrics.

As always ,the stories will steal the thunder because Nataniël has a way of meandering in magic and melancholy which few others can achieve.

He will be accompanied by Charl du Plessis (piano), Werner Spies (bass) and Peter Auret (drums).

Costumes are by Floris Louw, with the added flourish that they will be ‘green’, repurposed and recharged from carefully stored fabrics and vintage collections. They have been declared a feast for the eye, but made with a reworked responsibility.

Tea for two with much magic and merriment.

LOVESICK TIM

11 – 14 Feb 2022

Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria

www.seatme.co.za

Sold out

LOVESICK TIM

17 – 19 February 2022

Drostdy Theatre, Stellenbosch

Computicket

Bookings open

LOVESICK TIM

Atterbury Theatre, Pretoria

23 – 25 June 2022

www.seatme.co.za

Bookings open

These seats fly, don’t wait and be sorry.

TEKSMARK ENCOURAGES AND CELEBRATES ESTABLISHED AND EMERGING VOICES ON STAGE

It was time for the annual Teksmark presented by the Klein Karoo Arts Festival (KKNK) with the support of the Nasionale Afrikaanse Teater Inisiatief (NATI) and The Baxter, almost as 2021 was bowing out. DIANE DE BEER reviews:

PICTURES: Nardus Engelbrecht

A scene from Jane Mpholo’s The Dawn.

It’s one of my favourite events because of the voices that emerge and the insights gained about what some theatre makers (established and emerging) are thinking at this time.

And at this time has more meaning than in any time because of the state of the world – on many different levels. We’re now fully emerged in a pandemic that doesn’t want to leave and the way this has impacted those who want to tell stories or find writing therapeutic (or whatever drives particular playwrights) is fascinating.

It is also the diversity of the participants, not only in age and gender but also in race or cultural group – all of which have an impact on the stories they tell.

Teksmark is an initiative started by the artistic director of the KKNK, Hugo Theart, because he wanted to encourage new writers to feed the festivals of the future. But as the event became more and more established, everyone agreed that they had to expand with the the inclusion of  all the official languages. This has made a huge difference which throws up many different issues, with language, claiming stories and diversity all part of the mix.

As I wrote last year, a clutch of debut plays are selected for possible further development and short extracts are featured by selected directors and casts.

For me the impact was felt in a quiet confidence that emerged strongly this year. It was as if young voices (especially of black and brown writers) have claimed their stories. As one of the participants remarked before presenting her play, in the past, it was as if they were explaining themselves to white people.

This time she wanted to write on blackness. That’s a huge shift in a country with our past, and everyone benefits. The more people show their truth, the more understanding and empathy is fostered, one of the strengths of theatre and storytelling.

Staahn Uit die Water Uit by mercy Kannemeyer (left) and Semels by Miandra Hayward.

A good example of this was two plays on domestic workers. The one came from a white perspective (Semels) which has been the more traditional route in the past and the other (Staan Uit die Water Uit) tells a story of a domestic worker who dies in a car accident together with her white employer, which results in the return of the coloured daughter who wants to collect all her mother’s belongings.

All these voices have legitimacy, but it is time to hear the authenticity of the voices of the previously disadvantaged as they share their point of view about their lives – not as seen through the eyes and lives of others. And that’s the difference.

The other growth element that has become part of the annual Teksmark is that many different playwriting endeavours are included, enriching the overall experience and encouraging the different disciplines to reach out to one another – to learn and grow.

Part of this is a series of plays from the Suidoosterfees Nati Rising Star Project. These are young playwrights who attended a writing school in the Eastern Cape led by Abduragman Adams through the Jakes Gerwel Foundation.

 The Stellenbosch University Drama Department Première Atelier is another participant with the Woordfees initiative Theatre Writing Laboratory which offered writers an income with the aim of providing better-quality new performance-ready texts adding further depth, with two of their texts in the final selection.

The project has also been expanded with Teksmark Oudtshoorn, specifically focussed on delivering stories from the region and providing a platform for storytellers and writers from the town. An international sister project called Tekstmarkt also came to life bringing writers from South Africa and the Netherlands together to develop stories for international audiences.

Sleeping with the Enemy by Lwanda Sindhaphi.

Navigating this world that is still taking shape as the shackles of apartheid are loosened but not yet cast away, one of the returning playwrights, Lwanda Sindhaphi, presented us with dilemmas that are specific to those who were forced to live in specified spaces in the past. Perhaps the title, Sleeping with the Enemy, gives a hint of things to come but many different issues are at play.

From the obvious sleeping with the enemy when moving out of the township to the different stances towards this apartheid-designated living space, it’s always fascinating to walk in the other’s shoes  ̶  especially when lives are both physically and mentally so far removed, as is often the case here.

Sindhaphi writes about himself and his people as he highlights stories that many of us would never have thought of or experienced. Theatre is such an amazing space to navigate these kinds of stories – for those who share them as well as for those who discover new ways of looking at life and our fellow countrymen.

Stephren Saayman’s Dankie, Maar Nee Dankie.

In similar vein, Stephren Saayman’s Dankie, Maar Nee Dankie approaches coloured stereotypes from an hysterical vantage point as he has three middle-class families entering a competition to select three perfect coloured representative families for the perfect rainbow nation. This should already have you giggling and gasping as he subtly shows up the audacity of those telling the stories of others and in the process turning to stereotypes.

Nipped in the Butt by Nisa Smit (left) and What Happens in Russia… by Michaela Weir (right)

Two young playwrights, Michaela Weir (What Happens in Russia) and Nisa Smit (Nipped in the Butt), had as much fun with their smart words on stage as when discussing their work. They both underlined the strength of spirited plays with a youthfulness that is wise, witty and wonderful.

Wessel Pretorius (left) and Wilhelm van der Walt (right) in Philip Theron’s Die Kontemporêre Kunskomplot.

A personal favourite was the brilliant and insightful work by Philip Theron, who previously worked in film rather than on stage. His text, Die Kontemporêre Kunskomplot was as inspired as his casting and direction with the state of play between Wessel Pretorius and Wilhelm van der Walt pure joy to watch. It was comic timing to cherish and something that should be recreated for the future.

Other pieces ranged from an unusual portrait of Beyers Naudé (Oom Bey, My Pa by Henque Heymans) in conversation with the former activist’s daughter, to a searing interplay (in Blood Bonds by Vuyokazi Ngemntu) between Steven Biko and the 12 year old African American Timor Rice who was shot by a policeman because he was carrying a toy gun, to two community driven pieces, Jane Mpholo’s The Dawn, which explores gender-based violence, arguably the biggest scourge in our country, in innovative and powerful fashion and Heloine Armstrong’s Maanskyn en Dorings, which investigates the impact of mental health problems and how it affects individuals.

That’s just some of  the diversity and delights of the annual Teksmark, which grows and expands each year and excites everyone who participates and attends. It’s an artistic injection in a time when everyone is scrambling to keep the industry alive and even if many think this is impossible, it’s the only way to keep moving – one step at a time.

And for the arts and storytelling that has always been enough. Or as the Non Executive Chair of the KKNK, Crispin Sonn, said in his opening remarks: What we need is resilience and tenacity.

It was seen here in abundance.

MAGICIAN MARTHINUS BASSON PASSES ON HIS DIRECTING SKILLS TO FUTURE STORYTELLERS

When I first read the press release on the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival’s (KKNK) plans to present a theatre director’s course digitally with the support of the National Afrikaans Theatre Initiative (NATi) with acclaimed director/mentor/lecturer/designer Marthinus Basson presenting, I knew this was one where I wanted to be a fly on the wall. And this is how it played out …

DIANE DE BEER

With no aspirations as a director, I was keen to witness and write about this unique, almost year-long process which aimed to challenge and stretch theatre makers, those already in the profession and those who wish to learn. It was all about offering opportunities in the theatre world so hard hit by the pandemic yet looking at a future with hope and expectation as well as huge encouragement.

There was no doubt that for anyone attending, this was the chance of a lifetime. Just the reach of this director, one of the best in the business, and to add to his many directing accolades, a true love of teaching, which isn’t always a given. He has knowledge in abundance and a generous desire to pass it on.

Genius director and mentor, Marthinus Basson

And as I expected, that was exactly what I experienced class after class. As a theatre writer and someone who has spent many years watching theatre productions, this was a chance to dig deep and experience the process from start to finish. I was also  keen to see how this would work digitally, as Basson was very clear from the start that all this was new to him as well. He wasn’t sure whether the participants could benefit without working on stage (or in a room) – where he still hopes to fit in some real time with these students, when the future allows.

But even Basson has conceded that in many instances everyone gained in this novel process and there are certain instances that surprised everyone. Because live theatre wasn’t an option, once a few texts had been read and discussed by the group under the guidance of the mentor, the participants were given the task to take small sections from different plays, which they then had to stage – digitally.

This is where the fun and the creativity began. Not only were they now expected to use their directing instincts, but they also had to apply it in a way that was a learning curve for everyone. A few with film experience in the group had prior knowledge to help them navigate, but in most instances their imagination was expected to kick in.

I was reminded of a theatre practitioner who had experience of working here and internationally, who noted that because we have never had money for the arts, imagination plays a much bigger role – and often to the advantage of the production. It’s also not as if these artists were suddenly in a position of not having money to work with.

That has always been the case. In this instance, Covid was just another stumbling block. Watching them apply their instincts to tell stories digitally was quite something. From the start they used every trick in the book, some more successfully than others, but failure wasn’t an option. There’s also the credo in theatre that if you don’t fail sometimes, you’re not pushing the boundaries.

A selection of the most recent Basson productions

Following the screening of each session, everyone was given a chance to comment with Basson having the last word. His educational spirit is something to witness. He’s easy with both good and bad because either way, the participant can learn and grow and that’s the point of the exercise. This was a safe space to take chances and to discover what works, how to change things and how to work with space, players and words.

Listening to Basson speak about the way he approaches any new play was insightful. He advised the burgeoning directors to start by reading the play. “How do I understand the text?” That was the first question. “You must read a script like a detective.”

And then he gave guidelines and pointers to explain how they should break it down and start making notes for the planned production. You have to map the process from beginning to end which, as the conductor, helps you to know exactly what is going to happen every step of  the way.

He would make statements like: “The accent isn’t important, the meaning is what counts.” Always the text, always the story, and for those of us watching, if the director cannot get you engaged with the story, there’s no point at all. Once you have unlocked the text for the audience, they will be on board. It’s the big question about communicating to your audience, that’s why the text is what leads all the time.

“Never under-estimate your audience. But don’t confuse them, stimulate them.” That’s why they’re there – to experience, not to struggle.

And with every point he makes,  he also expands the mind as he skips off into a story about a memorable book, film, opera, theatre production, to illustrate a point. Knowledge is what informs everything he does.

If these fledgling students got only the grasp of this great man’s mind and how he never stops learning and searching for new productions that inspire – even starting with a couture clothes line for dolls to teach himself some rudimentary sewing techniques which could be applied to costumes in the future.

That’s what you do when money is an issue. You add as many skill sets as possible and you do this whenever you find the time. Artists will know, that theirs is a calling, not a career. If passion isn’t involved, chances are you won’t stay the course.

Something that has always impressed me about Basson’s productions is the casting. And he explains: “I want people who will feed one another. Casting can make or break a production. Clever direction helps the audience,” he explains. And that includes casting.

He points out that directors have a toy box in their hands to play with and how they apply that is where the work starts. Every decision has to make sense, be logical.

And even in these times with money even more absent than usual, keep dreaming. Never stop. The fact that you can’t get there does not mean that you have to stop trying. If you think of some of the productions you have seen at festivals and with how little they have achieved so much, that alone should inspire.

In another insight, he underlines that if you don’t put in the work, you won’t get the results. If aspiring directors only hold on to that, they have already grasped the essence of the things that matter in life.

I could go on and on … and the fortunate and willing participants who were present all the time would have mined this opportunity for all its worth. They will also have the future support of this genius director, who will never give up on artists who need his help.

This was such a clever concept and will reap benefits. Here’s hoping that it can have a future in some kind of form … thanks to KKNK and NATi.

SASOL NEW SIGNATURES 2021 CELEBRATES ARTISTS WHO STAND UP FOR WHAT THEY BELIEVE

Only after I engaged with the winner and runner-up statements following the award ceremony of the Sasol New Signatures 2021, did I realise what stood out most in this second pandemic year was that many of the winning works – especially these two winning pieces – were equally issue-driven and creatively excellent.

What seemed to inspire many of the artists was their engagement with particular issues and ideas that are important to them. 

DIANE DE BEER

New Signatures winner Andrea du Plessis with her winning work Paloceae Lupantozoa

For example, the winner, Andrea du Plessis, is especially inspired by the natural world at a time when heated discussions about climate change are dominating universally. It’s as if someone has flicked the switch and the world’s leaders are taking it seriously for the first time.

And part of this awareness is the result of not only the young but also the artists around the world who are using their creative voices to focus on this particular narrative. As the winner, Du Plessis walks away with a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2022. 

The runner-up, Dalli Weyers, describes himself as an artist/activist and his manifesto has been activated to draw attention to the gross inequality (and everything which follows that) in the world today. He won R25 000.

No one can be happy with the absence of humanity seen everywhere we turn. Often those in power are all about greed while ignoring the people they were elected to serve. It’s as if there is a lack of understanding of why they were given the power. But more and more people are standing up for what they believe is right – and at the forefront are the artists.

For this year’s winner, it was her fourth attempt at entering the prestigious competition and, with her work being selected for the first time, she grabbed a win.

But then, Du Plessis’s narrative about her life and her art points to determination and drive. Not only could she not finish her fine arts course at the University of Pretoria because of financial problems but she also suffered from clinical depression.

Andrea du Plessis’s winning work Paloceae Lupantozoa

For seven years after dropping out, she had very little interest in making art. Yet during this time she decided to travel to the UK where she worked for four years and also enrolled for a course in art therapy which slowly pulled her back into making art.

She returned to South Africa in 2010 (to Pretoria, where she was born and spent most of her formative years) and later enrolled for a degree in Multimedia Digital Visual Art at Unisa.

In 2015, she moved to Cape Town where she works from her studio as a freelance designer, illustrator and multimedia artist.

Describing her winning work, she says Paloceae Lupantozoa is part of a body of work called Supernature. “It was created in 2020 as part of my final year work for Unisa. It is a personal response to being in lockdown, which triggered a deep questioning and exploration of our complex relationship with nature in an augmented age, and how our access to the natural world has changed over the centuries.

“The work aims to create a link between art historical representations of nature (18th century, Romantic landscape painting) and contemporary representations of nature (new media such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence).The work is multi-faceted but, in short, I wanted to work with the notion of the sublime (experienced through nature and technology) and interconnectedness (in both the natural world and digital media).”

It’s a complex work that has to be experienced in real life to fully understand what she’s playing with. It’s also a response to the pandemic and lockdown, which had a huge impact on her and her work. “I’m privileged to have had a little garden to hang out in during lockdown and this really became a sanctuary as I began noticing all the insects and birds going about their day.”

While she was uncomfortable because of the isolation of lockdown, she also views the time as a “necessary metamorphosis” for which she is now grateful. “My research also involved biomimicry and I was reminded of the fact that nature is the ultimate engineer. As a ‘superior species’ we have so much more to learn and discover. We don’t exist on this planet in isolation. Everything is interconnected. That is the message I want to bring through my work.”


She describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist because she enjoys working with a very wide range of traditional (painting, sculpture, drawing) and new media (videoart, augmented reality and AI-generated art).

“I find it difficult to choose and specialise in only one medium. I need variety, and each medium carries its own meaning conceptually. My process is usually very layered and I like to combine several types of media into something new.” 

Thinking ahead with her eye on next year’s solo exhibition as part of her prize, she is researching flower anatomy, metaphysics and virtual reality. “Hopefully 2022 will offer new possibilities to produce and exhibit my work,” she said before knowing she was the winner.

Well, it certainly will, and for her solo exhibition she envisions something immersive, meditative and surreal. In the world she creates with her art, that certainly predicts something extraordinary and exciting!

For the runner-up, Dalli Weyers, it was also a long and winding road – this was his third attempt. 

And viewing the work, his voice was the one I was intrigued to explore. He explains best: “To date, my professional career can be characterised by a tension between my creative impulses and my commitment to social justice and progressive activism. I’ve consistently looked to find ways in which to bring these seemingly disparate elements together and to further my appreciation of, and to make concrete, the role and contributions creative voices and my own creativity can make to society.

“In the words of James Baldwin, I am at this point in my artistic journey because I believe ‘… the role of the artist (activist) is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see’.”

Influenced, encouraged and supported by friends, this activist/artist “rails against the crass individualism that has come to define so much of our politics over the last few decades and the concomitant loss of community of intent, purpose and inclusion. 

“My politics appreciates the need for commonality to be found and fostered in order to rally progressive causes. The piece I created serves to start a dialogue around a clear set of principles that a community of creative voices needs to articulate in order to chart a course to a more just and equal society.”

Working during the pandemic by using unconventional materials readily available at home, his art practice under lockdown resembled a cottage industry. His intent was also to attempt to avoid an idealised, romanticised picture of scarcity and of individual, privileged domestic idyll. 

“My anxieties often manifest in visions of apocalyptic doom. This work is in response to a world that was already on fire prior to the pandemic and to which the pandemic has simply been fuel to fire.”

The use of plastic bags can be traced back to previous works in ceramics where the relative fragility of ceramics was highlighted through the use of various plastics to bind cracked and broken ceramic pieces.

 “I’m weary of using mediums in my work that on their own do not convey a sense of the moment we find ourselves in. In my mind, ubiquitous plastic bags stitched together, fragile and in a way impermanent (they disintegrate but do not decompose), are illustrative of the real world and the social conditions we live in that are a product of history and our intent in this moment.”

In these crazy and troubled times, Weyers is determined to make his voice heard. He believes his work has impact because it touches on the notion of the art of innovation both in the cultural sphere and in the broader society. “I believe my use of plastic bags as  the sole medium is innovative and that it is furthered because the plastic is enlisted to embroider.” Again it is a work that has to be seen, and the manifesto read slowly to let the message seep in, and then look at the work and the way it was made.

And for me, that is really what these two winning works capture – innovation in a time of lockdown, which was both challenging and seemingly a great source of inspiration and innovation.

Hot Conversations by Patrick Rulore, 2019’s winner and this forms part of his Stage 4 Moments series.

The Sasol New Signatures Art Competition exhibition, featuring the work of the 2021 winners and finalists is currently underway at the Pretoria Art Museum until 9 January 2022.  A total of 123 works in a multitude of mediums can be viewed – from traditional painting and drawing to mixed media works, sculpture, installation pieces and video.

The 5 Merit winners were:

Nico Athene (Cape Town)

Cultivating our Unbecoming:  with Gabrielle Youngleson and Johno Mellish (2021)

Diasec

Michèle Deeks (Pretoria)

Pandemic

Mixed media

Sibaninzi Dlatu (Umtata)

A story of resiliency

Fired clay (bisque)

Eugene Mthobisi Hlophe (Durban)

The new crazy normal

Photography

Monica Klopper (Pretoria)

Choice

Shed snake skin and epoxy

Each Merit Award winner received a R10 000 cash prize.

Alongside the exhibition, the 2019 winner, Patrick Rulore’s solo exhibition, Stage 4 moments is also on show. His exhibition captures typical moments in many South African households during load shedding. The series explores human connections against the backdrop of an ephemeral world of light and shadow.

Pretoria Art Museum
Corner Francis Baard and Wessels Street
Arcadia Park
Arcadia


Tel:  012 358 6750
Email:  artmuseum@tshwane.gov.za

Museum Hours
Tuesday to Sundays:  10am to 5pm.
Closed on Mondays and public holidays

Both exhibitions can also be viewed virtually on the Sasol New Signatures website.  This virtual 3D platform gives you high definition 360 degrees access to all the artworks from wherever you are.