Category: Visual Arts

Cape Town artist Francois Knoetze has created four wearable artworks including this one made of tins. Photo: CuePix/Ruan Scheepers

Francois Knoetze’s ingenious Cape Mongo is a searing exploration of contemporary South Africa, offering a punch to the emotional solar plexus. I left it teary-eyed.  Inside a hall tucked off Church Square – an area which most festivalgoers would otherwise have probably ignored – there are five sculptures made of trash (paper, plastic, metal and VHS tape).

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A work of art, a painting say, should not be dependent on its title in order for it to evoke a question or emotion. The naming of a painting, in this case a painting by Durbanite Themba Shibase, should not guide the viewer’s experience of the work, or, even worse, overshadow it. At best, a title is a low-key note, something that hints at the artist’s sensibility at the time of making the piece; it should not attach meaning to it.

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During South Africa’s “War of the Axe“, Charles Bell documented events through  drawings and sketches.  Although a precursor to war photography, these sketches are haphazard and non-sequential. 38 of the original 60 drawings formed part of the Battleground exhibition at the 2015 National Arts Festival.

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“My name is Ewok and I work with words. Today I am going to speak in circles,” is Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson’s introduction to the Sunday morning crowd who have come to his 2015 Think!Fest presentation, My Poem is a Public Space. He wears a black flat cap with a pen tucked behind his ear. “I am a spoken word hip-hop-flavoured activist.”

This means he is poet, a writer, a rapper, a graffiti artist, and an empowered individual who pours his passion for words and tags into making an impact in the world.

“Spoken word is about what words mean. But graffiti is about what a word says. Sometimes they can’t even be pronounced – most of the time they can’t even be read.” He points to the screen behind him, where an illegible graffiti tag illustrates his point. “This says Bam! Wham! I’m here! Whattup!”

Graffiti is often seen as vandalism, but it is not about splashing paint or trashing property. It’s not a culture of gangs or rebels, as the media often implies. Street art is not a means for marking territory. Rather, it is about challenging perceptions, conventions, and assumed authorities.

“I know it irritates some people,” says Ewok. “But you have to ask why – because the act of irritation, where we say ‘this is wrong’, stops people from seeing the bigger picture.”

In order to make people really see their surroundings, and look for ways to change them, Ewok maintains that there need to be spaces for free communication. This is why street art is not only important, but necessary for empowering people.

“Art asks questions – it challenges people and makes them uncomfortable. But as artists, we have to meet them half way because audiences don’t want to be challenged – they want to escape. So I love graffiti because it doesn’t ask to be looked at. Graffiti brings itself into your space.”

It is the art of communication in a world of loaded words and empty walls.

Sarah Rose de Villiers 
Cue student reporter

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In 2010, Monique Pelser’s father died of a rare motor neuron disease. A South African police officer during apartheid, Pelser’s father left behind objects, footage and documents that served as evidence of his life under apartheid. The exhibition highlights a forensic approach to understanding a man who Pelser knew as a good father but who arguably served as a part of the apartheid regime. Through analysing all this evidence, Pelser hopes to gain an understanding of trauma and the patriarchal figure of the father.

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Guy Thesen is chipping away at a new woodcut, chiselling elegant swirls into the board. A few people wander around his exhibition, pausing to read the captions. Thesen sits in the corner, beneath the open window as morning sunlight streams onto his shoulders.  

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Project manager of Fragile Histories Fugitive Lives, Les Cohn, helps to set up Keith Deitrich’s exhibition at the 2015 National Arts Festival.  This is the first stop of a countrywide exhibition.  (Photo: CuePix/ Amanda Horsfield)

“Human beings are very cruel,” says Keith Dietrich as he stands before his exhibition, Fragile Histories, Fugitive Lives. Behind Dietrich, a muted triptych titled Book Two recalls the atrocities and crimes of the colonial era with prints, folds, and pins. It’s beautiful. The middle frame shows a Muslim woman whose torso is dissected by a pinned paper rosette. Rays of printed text emit from the centre of the rosette, where a biological drawing of a heart is suspended in white space. The frames on either side of the figure contain identical origami rosettes and anatomical illustrations of the female and male genitals.

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History Will Break Your Heart Exhibition

Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner, Kemang Wa Lehulere showcases his exhibition History Will Break Your Heart at this years festival. The exhibition explores his artistic endeavours, as well as the works of other South African artists. For those that can’t make it up to the Monument Art Gallery, take a virtual tour of some of the exhibition.

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Cale Waddacor, a South African urban arts photographer and documentarian, is in town to discuss the role of urban art in public spaces in South Africa. (Photo:Abbey Hudson)

Graffiti isn’t just an outlet for delinquent youths who want to deface public spaces and get famous. This is what Cale Waddacor, one of the foremost urban documentarians in the country, told the audience attending the first day of Think!Fest.

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Simon Gush presents the reproduction of a red Mercedes Benz made for Nelson Mandela as part of his exhibition, Nine O’ Clock, at Fort Selwyn in Grahamstown on 3 July 2015, at the National Arts Festival. Simon Gush’s practice examines this subject of ‘work’. He has dealt with historical and contemporary questions of labour, looking at South African labour relations and Calvinist theory around labour and its ideology that links ‘work’ to being morally ‘good’. (Photo: CuePix/Mia van der Merwe).

The best thing about Simon Gush’s latest exhibition is that it’s not an overt attack on capitalism. Titled Nine O’Clock, this latest body of work is a reflection on labour and its changing meanings in contemporary South Africa.

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