Masterpieces from Matisse in South Africa

This year’s National Arts Festival may have come to an end but you can still get your art fix at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg. A large number of works by Henri Matisse will be on display for all to enjoy, thanks to support from the Embassy of France to South Africa. This is the first wide-ranging exhibition of Matisse’s work to be held in South Africa


The exhibition will be supplemented by an education programme, so that learners can appreciate the masterpieces as much as a connoisseur would. Wilhelm van Rensburg, curator of education for the exhibition, is a Research Fellow at the Visual Identities in Art & Design (VIAD) research centre in the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) at the University of Johannesburg. For a full understanding of how the exhibition programme will take place, you can listen to his Think!Fest presentation below.

It’s not enough to place colours, however beautiful, one beside the other; colours must also react on one another. Otherwise, you have cacophony. Jazz is rhythm and meaning. – Matisse

Henri Matisse: Rhythm and Meaning will be on display at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg from 13 July to 17 September 2016.

Public art is more than just another bright wall

Sven Christian, founder of ISM-SKISM

Sven Christian, founder of ISM-SKISM

Visitors to the small town of Clarens in the Free State, perhaps there for a quiet break or for the beer festival, often don’t notice the nearby township of Kgubetswana. This may change since Sven Christian and a team of artists set about painting over the town in October 2014. What begin as a once-off painting project has snowballed to the painting of houses, tuckshops and clothing stores to field fences, taverns and even a car. Continue reading

Spoken word poetry, graffiti and art as the act that activates the activism

Iain 'Ewok' Robinson

Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson

“When I was younger my parents told me I suffered from verbal diarrhoea,” says Iain EWOK Robinson. Now, the writer, poet, teacher, graffiti and street artist or as he defines it, a “spoken word flavoured hip-hop activist” works with words and a culture defined by expression. Continue reading

The little weak left arm – the pitfalls in South African arts development

Writer and poet, Andrew Miller shares his thoughts on the necessary skills required to develop as a South African artist.  He suggests that most artists tend to focus only on their strong points to the detriment of their overall development. He suggests, “focus on developing your weaknesses as a way to re-understand the process of making art…”

Debate: Shakespeare Now and Then

The panel discuss Shakespeare with Bailey's Macbeth looming overhead.

The panel discuss Shakespeare with Bailey’s Macbeth looming overhead.

‘Shakespeare’ is an encompassing and weighty word that needs no introduction, yet can all-too often conjure up stuffy images of men in collars and puffy-pants, seriously reciting soliloquies to a drowsy audience. Love it, despise it, or simply do not understand it, Shakespeare undeniably carries with it a complex context of imperialism and colonial baggage, especially here in Africa. Using the pretext of Chris Thurman’s new book, South African Essays on ‘Universal’ Shakespeare, a new light was shone on to the topic by the vibrant and contrasting works and characters of National Arts Festival veterans Brett Bailey and Fred Abrahamse.

The panel discussed the ‘doublet and hose’ traditional interpretations that have dominated the ‘then’ of the past years, and the adaptations that they themselves have created. Here in the ‘now’ and centuries after the texts were written, the ‘universal’ power of Shakespeare shines through. Like “pebbles polished by the waters of time” (Bailey), what remains is themes and character archetypes that everyone can relate to and identify with on some level.

While Bailey’s Macbeth uses the skeleton of the Shakespearean story to serve as “a little key to tell the story of what is going on in the Congo”, Abrahamse’s work has involved staying true to the verse speaking and iambic pentameter of the text to rejuvenate the words for the youth through the existing rhythm of Shakespeare. Abrahamse is clear however that he is “not a purist”, but within the role of a purveyor of stories strives to remain “faithful to the intention of the author” in his adaptations.

Bailey, when questioned on the artistic dichotomy of originality vs appropriation, said: “I am not anxious about it. They are archetypal hangers on which to hang the garments of the day.” The consensus was that when striving to express our own sense of being, any handle or springboard we can grab onto to aid in directing our creativity and message should be considered inspirational and used. To use Bailey’s metaphor, works such as that of Shakespeare may provide a bright light and aura of magnificence, but it is you as the artist that creates the shade that goes around the light – YOU create the colour and pattern that is cast onto the wall for all to see.

Debate: 40 years of theatre in South Africa

Dr Megan Lewis and Dr Samuel Ravengai continue the conversation with attendants after the discussion.

Dr Megan Lewis and Dr Samuel Ravengai (with Albie Sachs) continue the conversation with attendants after the discussion.

The four panellists had their work cut out for them covering the transformative and explosive past 40 years of South African theatre. Marcia Blumberg of York University, Canada, focused on the impact of the TRC on SA theatre. A fast-paced recap of the TRC reminded us how it was the first commission of its kind and that “there was no map.” Blumberg recalled the memorable quote of Albie Sachs: “Judges don’t cry. Tutu cried.” Though the TRC was walking through uncharted ground, it has served to become a model for the rest of the world and planted the seed for other such commissions.

She singled out Ubu and the Truth Commission as a powerful enactment of the TRC. First performed here in Grahamstown at the 1997 National Arts Festival, with William Kentridge being one of the past 30 years’ talented Sasol winners, it is a treat to have the play again at this year’s festival. She reminded us how people walked out of initial performances, so strong was the reaction to a play which refused to idealise the TRC, shattering the ideal of unrealistic perfection people wanted to see from the TRC. The play is once again being performed this year and is sure to meet expectations with the masterful puppetry and moving verbatim testimonies. Blumberg singled out the works of Yale Faber, Craig Higginson and Phillip Miller, recognising the importance and power of art and theatrical enactments to contribute to a healing nation, regardless how volatile the political situation may be.

This was furthered by Heike Gehring (Rhodes University), speaking of the special power of physical theatre in transcending the boundaries and many language barriers which divide us – not just here in South Africa but across the world. Physical theatre has thus allowed for the rehearsal space to become a “laboratory” – a place of experimentation and discovery where the body is acknowledged as ones primary means of communication. The space provided is hence one in which diversity and individuality are celebrated, and the resultant interpretations and performance styles are as varied as the individuals creating them. She highlighted the masterful physical theatre work of Gary Gordon and Andrew Buckland, which uniquely articulate and communicate our concerns in the here and now in a different and accessible way.

Megan Lewis (University of Massachusetts, USA) provided a broad-spectrum view of the National Arts Festival and the function it serves as an “umbilicus” of the arts on a global scale, as many shows travel from here to other festivals around the world. Athol Fugard was singled out as an exceptional South African writer who has an enormous influence and audience in America. Lewis stirred the patriarchal pot on this 4th of July, pointing out how it is far easier for Americans to see South Africa’s racism through Fugard’s plays than acknowledge it in their own society. Lewis got the brain ticking, questioning whose responsibility is it to convey the subtleties of a culture when performing in another country and challenging the stereotypical kind of performances that tend to sell to and be enjoyed by the overseas market and encouraged the need to see the “other” perspective, the “person of colour’s perspective” from South African theatre.

Samuel Ravengai (University of the Witwatersrand) noted the difficulty in this however, partially due to a paranoia and stigma that authentically South African theatre means gumboot dancing, drumming, naked girls and unintelligible shouts disrupting the refined traditions of Shakespeare and classic theatre. Because of decisions made during Apartheid, only 1 of South Africa’s 50 theatres is located in a ‘black area’, namely Soweto, thus the vast majority of the population does not have access or exposure to forms of ‘traditional’ theatre. This highlights the potential and importance of the medium of physical theatre, which allows the transcendence of language barriers. In our country of 11 official languages, the benefits and potential of this is spectacular. The debate continues around South African physical theatre and what it is. Perhaps for now it must remain distinctly elusive. As Ravengai noted, it is “easier to create distinctly South African music than distinctly South African theatre.”

Arts important in education

Picture credit:

Veteran Eastern Cape actor and the grandfather of South Africa theatre, Dr John Kani, delivered a lecture about the role of the arts in South African education in the 2013 Think!Fest lecture series. He said that there were no art schools in South Africa that can teach learners art from primary school to high school. He said that there was a need for the creation of spaces where citizens can debate issues that relate to democracy.

Click the link to listen to his lecture: John Kani