Tracing heritage and legacies and looking back to our roots are themes that come up strongly on the programme at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this year as 20 years of democracy in South Africa come into focus.
In 1993 then-President Nelson Mandela called on the arts community to “look at the ways in which this torn country can be reconstructed in part through the rich threads of culture”. South Africa’s artists responded loud and clear – and the Festival this year reflects on the creation of a nation and the celebration of nation-building through the arts.
Artist, Jenna Burchell, who comes to the Festival for the first time, tempts the audiences to talk about home, and what home means to them in her exhibition HOMING. Burchell explains, “I have worked with hundreds of strands of copper wire strung hung from the ceiling where each strand becomes a touch-sensitive instrument which when touched yields sounds that remind one of home. My intention is to beckon the audience/viewer to interact with the work and allow them to hear barking dogs and sounds and encourage them to talk about what home means to them in the context of diaspora.”
“My vision was to create an opportunity which moved diverse people to interact and exchange stories, embracing the differences and similarities that unite us. I sourced unique soundscapes from the surrounds of Grahamstown to create this hand-built interactive environment intending it to be an accessible and exciting meeting of contemporary art, sound and live interactive participation,” Burchell said.
From exhibition visuals to theatre set somewhere in Africa, multi-award- winning Lara Foot (Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre in 1996) presents FISHERS OF HOPE. Foot teams up with researchers Nina Swart and Masai warrior Miyere Miyandazi to bring to life this African tale of hope, choices and upliftment. The dynamic cast is led by Standard Bank Young Artist, Mncedisi Shabangu (winner for theatre in 2004). Acclaimed for her productions of Tshepang, Karoo Moose, Woyzeck and Solomon and Marion, Foot returns to her signature style through magical realism, physical theatre, textured imagery and a richly entwined soundscape and score with authentic African music.
“I was inspired by the documentary Darwin’s Nightmare – as a cast we examined the prospects of hope and livelihood within the African continent. This capacity of hope remains at the heart of all the relationships building the drama that unfolds throughout the production. Subtitled Taweret, after the protective ancient mythological Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility, the play is layered with metaphors as it delves into the social and environmental effects on a family and community in a fishing village”, says Foot.
CARGO: PRECIOUS is a unique collaboration between four Standard Bank Young Artists. Directed by Sylvaine Strike (theatre 2006) and choreographed by PJ Sabbagha (dance 2005), the piece is an imagined account of the ocean crossing undertaken by Saartjie Baartman and features Fana Tshabalala (dance 2013) with music by Concord Nkabinde (jazz 2006). Referring to the themes of ‘homecoming’ and African legacies Strike recalls,” After two centuries Saartjie Baartman’s remains were returned to her country of birth. The horrific stories of scientific experiments remain basically unanswered but what is undoubted, is that she was stared at, stripped, painted, worshipped and ridiculed.”
Focusing on the plight of African women is Ugandan-based writer/actress Kemiyondo Coutinho’s who features a stirring new play, KAWUNA… YOU’RE IT! Courtinho embarked on an investigation into why Ugandan women have the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world. She exposes the stories behind the statistics and provides a deeper understanding of the factors surrounding HIV. With HIV spreading across all levels of the social hierarchy and African women being at the bottom of the social ladder, Courtinho intends to give voice to the silenced women affected by this disease. Kawuna … You’re It! was performed at The Sky Festival at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and was also chosen to be part of the New York Global Spotlight Reading with Hybrid Works.
Challenge your intellect at Think!Fest where Adam Habib’s SOUTH AFRICA’S SUSPENDED REVOLUTION: HOPES AND PROSPECTS engages with the country’s transition into democracy and its prospects for inclusive development. In WHAT IS IT TO BE A SOUTH AFRICAN CITIZEN Dr Habib, anthropologist Dr Joy Owen and Prof Laurence Piper discuss the complications and challenges of being a South African citizen. The discussion will be chaired by Think!Fest curator Prof Anthea Garman.
Include the kids too, with ILIFA – THE INHERITANCE, an interactive show for the whole family which celebrates the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s constitutional democracy and South Africa’s triumphant liberation.
Stuart Palmer, script writer and director is quoted as saying, “I was inspired by all the anniversaries being celebrated at the Festival this year. The 40th anniversary of the National Arts Festival and the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s constitutional democracy and have incorporated dance, song, physical theatre and interactive storytelling to unite these themes that appeal to all ages”. These take place on the Drostdy Lawns and are free.
Lionel Newton brings STRATEGY OF GREY, a carefully crafted piece set in a small Karoo town where two post struggle individuals find themselves connected by a thread that goes intricately deeper than they could ever imagine. “I found myself reflecting on relationships of our tragic past and cast Tau Maserumule and Robyn McHarry in these challenging roles”, Newton added.
SQUARING THE CIRCLE is an exhibition curated and produced by the Apartheid Museum in association with the National Arts Festival. It is a challenging collection of how the arts have played a crucial role in shaping the socio political landscape of the country over the last 20 years of its democracy and over 4 decades of the National Arts Festival’s history.
Tony Lankester, the Festival’s CEO commented “This exhibition is a reflection of the creative and cultural expression of this country and how the arts assists in celebrating diversity and social cohesion. It is critical to our underlying theme of The Creation a Nation” he said.
Highlighting the importance of celebrating our legacy and heritage through visual arts is future – past, a series of murals and installations that beckons the audience to ‘look’ at the arts through a window pane. It pays homage to four decades of the Festival, acknowledging visual artists, theatre makers and musicians from the Eastern Cape. To mark South Africa’s 20 years of democracy, the Wall of Remembrance pays respect to past political leaders born in the Eastern Cape.
The National Arts Festival in association with Mehlo-Maya commissioned future-past as a public artwork to show how the arts and the Festival play a role in the Creation of a Nation.
The rich creative heritage of the Festival’s host province will be demonstrated in the EASTERN CAPE PROVINCIAL HANDMADE COLLECTION and the EAST CAPE VISUAL ARTS EXHIBITION, brought to you in association with the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture.
Author: Fiona Gordon
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