Theatre inspired by words

“What we have seen in the festival this week, is words that have inspired, conspired, interrogated, critiqued, analysed and reflected and I could add a lot more to that,” says Ismail Mahomed, Artistic Director of the National Arts Festival.

“Artists have always found inspiration somewhere,” says Mahomed. South Africa has a history of producing dynamic and empathetic works particularly during times of oppression and suffering.  The struggle brings people together and provokes stories portraying the indomitable human spirit.

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The authors of My Johannesburg

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Will the 1820 Settler’s Monument be renamed?

The recent #RhodesMustFall campaign provoked vital conversations about the colonial heritage of the country.  Understandably, the monuments and artworks representing colonial history created a sense of unease among the students, which was emphasised by the institutional racism of the university. Brenda Schmahmann discusses the impact of these monuments, their naming and the particular changes underway for the 1820 Settler’s Monument in Grahamstown. Schmahmann is the South African Research Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture at the University of Johannesburg. Continue reading

Fields Of Green for all

“At the end of Matric in 2004 I took a trip to Europe and during that trip I visited Amsterdam,” says attorney Paul-Michael Keichel. “Not only did I smoke some very high-grade cannabis and enjoy it, I found myself in a very functional society in which people go about their business [and] the sky doesn’t fall.”

Keichel and the “Dagga Couple” are challenging the laws that prohibit the use of cannabis. But a new tie and shiny shoes worn by Keichel are not enough to convince the Constitutional Court to change a law criminalising a potentially harmful substance. The first step in challenging prohibition is to prove that the risks associated with cannabis are not actually true, and the second step involves proving that the prohibition of cannabis does not succeed in minimising these alleged risks. Keichel does this by debunking the myths around the following areas.

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South African histories recontextualised

Our ancestry, heritage and the traditions passed down to us from previous generations
have a huge impact on how our identities are formed. “Our understanding of knowledge is very much contextualised by our own culture, so living in that western culture, we tend to give priority to the discoveries of our own culture and tend to forget or even change stuff,” says anthropologist Janet Hayward.

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In her PhD research, Hayward traces the lineage of clans across the Eastern Cape and how they were affected by European and Asian shipwrecks around the Wild Coast. Understanding origins of clans can provide a greater understanding of ourselves and how we interact with people different to ourselves. “[This research] gives us a glimpse of a different kind of South African reality,” says Hayward. “Cultural contexts shape knowledge [and a] shared history [can] become more important than [a] shared race.” Continue reading

Fear and the Foreigner

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Paula Slier, Deprose Muchena, Jayne Morgan (chair), Ray Hartle and Naveed Anjum (not pictured) provoked a stimulating conversation about contemporary migration.

“He’s a man in his early 60s, he has twelve children and we were standing in the camp and in the distance we could actually see his home in Syria. And in the middle of the interview he suddenly burst out crying…  and he then said, ‘I would rather die on the Mediterranean with my dignity intact, than continue to live here as a second class citizen, as a refugee in Lebanon,” relates Russia Today journalist, Paula Slier about a refugee interviewed in Lebanon.

When the global migration crisis is discussed, it is analysed from an economic or socio-political perspective. Are countries potentially risking their own citizens lives? Are they stable enough to host foreign nationals? These questions detract from the realities of the situation; fellow human beings are fleeing their homes which have descended into chaos in order to fight for their lives. Continue reading

The universality of human suffering

History offers mankind many things. It’s not only the opportunity to critically reflect on the mistakes of the past, but also to remember and empathise with people just like ourselves.

“My story is not unique, there are so many stories like this and most of them will never be told,” says journalist Paula Slier, about her documentary 119 Lives Unlived which explores the lives of the Slier family who were killed at Auschwitz during World War II.

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Women on the Fringes

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Lara Bye and Warona Seane, following their discussion of women in theatre.

The focus of the National Arts Festival this year may be on celebrating women, but the everyday reality of women in theatre is that of being marginalised and overlooked by its overtly patriarchal structure.

While there is an increasing number of women in powerful positions in the theatre industry, there is still room for transformation, particularly across mainstream platforms.  Women remain on the fringes, existing in the alternative spaces which have been established solely by their passion, talent and tenacity. Continue reading