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South African Art Times: June 08 Suppliment

South African Art Times: June 08 Suppliment

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The South African Art Times June Supplement
van der Schijff’s“strange connection”
Photo: Jacqui van Zyl
 
Page 2South African Art Times. June 2008
By Patrick BurnettIt’s late May in Cape Town andhe dark weather sweeping acrosshe city seems appropriate for he times: South Africa has justemerged from a month of wide-spread xenophobic violence thathas shocked the nation to its core,but playwright Mike van Graanis the clichéd ray of sunshine,showcasing a spark in his eyesand enthusiasm in his voice.Not that Van Graan in uncon-cerned about the crisis or blindo the artistic implications; he’s inhe middle of a week during whichhe has attended a meeting to talkabout the violence at the AfricaCentre, of which he is the newly-appointed executive director, andmentions a civil society rally heattended at St George’s Cathedralwhich was called to take a standagainst xenophobia.It’s obvious that for Van Graan thelatest angst to confront the countryis about far more than providingsubject matter for forthcomingplays, of which he has been a
prolic writer and producer in the
last few years, but goes to theheart of his mission at the AfricaCentre, an institution which aimsto create an international arts andcultural centre in Africa that willhighlight the continent’s visual andperforming arts.With this mission in mind, theissue of xenophobia - and howdifferent nationalities in Africa seeeach other and relate to eachother – clearly has major implica-tions for his new role.“It’s completely huge,” he saysabout the xenophobia issue,describing it as “completely andutterly fundamental”.Xenophobia, he states, is aboutthe notion of ‘Other’, about identity,about how people make senseof the world and who they arein terms of religion, history andvalues.“It has to do with people all livingwithin a kilometre from each other,but who are completely alienatedbecause they just don’t know eachother.”In this situation, ignorance makesit easy to see the other as aconvenient scapegoat – a targetto lash out at when threats arise,he says.“What really needs to happen islong-term and has to do with peo-ple going to school together, livingin the same communities together,spaces being created where peo-ple from different communities canget to know each other,” he says.For the artistic community, VanGraan argues that the relevance isthat while there is a philosophicalunderstanding of the concept of ‘Other’, “I’m not sure that we asartists have an understanding of it
sufciently to be able to do thingsother than have the odd benet
concert to somehow respond tothe symptom of something.”It seems as if Van Graan feelsthat a reaching out needs to takeplace. On the back of his experi-ence at the St George’s Cathedralmeeting, he throws out the idea of a “forgiveness tour” where artistswould get together and go toMozambique and Zimbabwe andsay “sorry and how ashamed weare and really how much help weneed”.“It’s not,” he says, “time for Africans to desert us but to bechallenging us. I think that’s a rolethat art can play.”Van Graan has long been involvedin the arts, both as a lobbyist and
activist and as a prolic playwright,
with plays such as Bafana Repub-lic, The General and Green ManFlashing acclaimed for their com-mentary about South African life.Bafana Repuplic, for example, hasbeen compared by one critic asthe equivalent of a Zapiro cartoonon stage.But his move to the Africa Centreseems to represent a gravitationto a continental vision. While theCentre’s website describes it innot-so-helpful terms as a “physicalentity and a philosophical proc-ess”, Van Graan expands this tomean a promotion, celebration anddocumentation of the art and herit-age of the African continent and
a nding of new markets both on
the continent and internationally.The Africa Centre, he says, is the“vehicle to help us to do that”.Van Graan sees this as an explo-ration of the relationship betweenart and audiences, citing theexample of how containers wereused in the Spier Contemporary, aproject of the Africa Centre, as partof an experimentation with space.“Do you only have art in a galleryand theatre in formal theatrespace? If that is the case thenby and large you exclude mostpeople,” he notes.On a continent where arts andculture is often not taken seriouslyby governments, where there isa lack of funding, where freedomof expression is sometimes seenas a threat, where there is a lackof disposable income and wheretalent gravitates to Eurocentriccentres, Van Graan admits that thechallenges are “staggering”.But the question of how to developan African presence in the globalmarket of creative goods andservices is something which he
denes as his attraction to the
Africa Centre.He does not believe that this newrole will constrict his writing.“They [the fans] really don’t haveto worry about that,” he says whenasked about managing a high
prole position while still nding
time to write, arguing that most of his time is spent producing and hewill now be able to hire someoneto produce, freeing him up to write.On the future of the Spier Contem-porary, expect a more pan-Africanfeel.While he says he has inheritedcommitments - such as the Spier Contemporary, which showcases100 of the best artworks fromaround South Africa - he wasbeginning to look for a greater di-rection from the rest of the Africancontinent.“For me it’s about are we doingthis work in other parts of the con-tinent, are we bringing artists fromelsewhere to collaborate with our artists in creating something, arewe enthusing our existing festivals
with reecting Africa?”
He is sensitive to fears that hisstrong performing arts backgroundwill lead to a lesser emphasis onvisual arts, but argues that whileperformance art might be his forte,he also has an arts lobbyist back-ground which is about “consulta-tion, working together democrati-cally and building partnerships”.
Van Graan is clearly lled with
optimism for the Africa Centre andalmost oozes a sense of mission.He has moved from the “euphoric”1992-1995 era where there wasthe “sense of having a chanceto create something with a newcountry, a new arts and culture dis-pensation” to “my most devastatedperiod” in 2000 when key artisticinstitutions closed and the visioncollapsed, to an “exciting” lastcouple of years where channel-ling activist energy into his workresulted in a productive creativeperiod.“Now it’s like a new exciting time,”he says, going on to talk abouthis mantra - that artists are calledto “dwell within this paradox of the pessimism of the intellect andoptimism of the will”.The intellect is able to analyse theenvironment and see “what a greatchallenge it is”, while optimism of the will is about wanting to changethings.This presents a choice either topursue an individualistic life or realise that as part of a collective,the future is related to a better lifenot only for the individual but alsofor the community.“...so that’s the basis on which Ilive,” he says. -- WCN
Mike van Graan: Chasing the continental vision
By Bianca BothmaIt’s with a great sense of loss thatArt for Humanity (AFH) reports theragic death of celebrated KZNartist, Gabisile Nkosi in the earlyhours of this morning, 27 May008.Born in 1974 in Umlazi, Durban
Gabisile had built a signicant
career as an artist in her short life.She received her BTech in FineArt from the Durban University of echnology in 2002. Thereafter Gabisile was based at the Caver-sham Centre for Artists and Writersin the KwaZulu-Natal Midlandsacilitating printmaking workshopswith well-known artists and localcommunities.Gabisile was involved with AFH for almost 10 years with her participa-ion in two of AFH’s print portfolioprojects.In 2000, Gabisile contributeda linocut, “Break the Silence”which discouraged the practice of polygamy in rural areas to AFH’s“Break the Silence” HIV/Aidsawareness print portfolio. In her artist statement, Gabisile empha-sized the important role art playsin advocating social issues, “If youwant to get a message across,it’s better to do a colourful visualrather than text. As an artist, I feelprivileged to play a role in HIV/Aidsawareness through the medium of visual art.”
Her print was then ighted on
billboards at taxi ranks and trainstations around the country as partof the billboard advocacy cam-paign and her participation in thisproject received a lot of attentionfrom radio stations and the localZulu communities as her workconfronted controversial issues.From this point, Gabisile’s career took off and her work has beenseen in several group and soloexhibitions in South Africa andabroad.She was particularly interested inthe therapeutic effects of art mak-ing and in 2005 she collaboratedwith Cape-Town based poet MavisSmallberg on AFH’s “Women for Children” print portfolio. Gabisilestrongly advocated women’s rightsin her linocut, “Sisterhood”. In her artist statement she gave a per-sonal account of her experiencesand inspiration:“As a female artist who haspersonally experienced domesticviolence, it is my privilege tocontribute to this campaign. Thisimage is about the power of sister-hood. It derives from a trauma thatmy son and I experienced in 1998,an abusive relationship which leftscars on both of our lives.Through the support of my meta-phorical sisters, I found joy andstrength. Instead of breaking under the pain, I decided to confront itas a challenge for a brighter future- for all children have the right to ahappy mother no matter how muchheavy baggage may weigh.This image stresses the impor-tance for domestic abuse victims
to engage in dialogue and to nd
relevant ways of dealing with thesesituations. The repeating armsrepresent the different spirits which
support me. The ying dresses
symbolise the many roles I play asa woman – as daughter, as mother and father to my son, as a leader in my community. All women andchildren deserve to celebrate life.”Gabisile also received art awardsand prizes, during and after her studies. Amongst many other col-lections her work is also includedin the permanent collection of theDurban Art Gallery, South Africa.AFH treasures the opportunity of having worked with Gabisile. Shemade such a powerful impact withher capacity as an artist and as aneducator in numerous communi-ties. Her passion, kindness andcommitment to helping othersthrough art inspired and touchedmany lives.We will miss you Gabi.Photo: Lungile LangaRead more at www.afh.org.za
 
Gabisile Nkosi
 1974 - 2008
Obituary
Mike van Graan, the new director of The Africa Centre
 
South African Art Times. June 2008 Page 3
Anita FunkeJohann van der Schijff, SouthAfrican artist and senior lecturer athe Michaelis School of Art at theUniversity of Cape Town (UCT),has come home from the recentDak’Art Biennale in Senegal withwo awards -- and a sense of surprise at South Africa’s isolationrom the rest of the continent.According to a press release fromhe Bell-Roberts Gallery, the Bien-nale, which took place between 8and 14 May, is the 8th of its kind,and the largest in Africa.Van der Schijff was among artistsrom 17 African countries andhe diaspora who were choseno participate in an exhibition of contemporary African art.“It was a big thing just to take partin it,” said Van der Schijff, whencontacted. “That I was selected bya committee of Africans is a greathonour for me.”During the opening ceremony, hewas awarded two prizes in theEuropean Union Award, whichincluded a cash prize and promo-tion of his work by the EU, and theZuloga Corporation Award. Thislikewise comprised of a cash prize,and the opportunity to participatein an exhibition of African Art inBeijing as part of the 2008 OlympicGames.“I heard my name announced ina French accent and I didn’t evenknow what it meant because Icouldn’t understand what theywere saying,” said Van der Schijff.Only later did he learn that hehad won two prizes. “It was mad,slightly out of control...like a bal-loon going down!”He said he had returned with an“overall feeling” that South Africawas still “incredibly isolated” fromthe rest of Africa.Despite the fact that the Biennalewas the largest of its kind in Africa,there was very little South Africanmedia coverage, something Vander Schijff said he found “verystrange”.By contrast, the rest of Africawas far less “inward looking” and“global in their outlook”.“Maybe people don’t think it’simportant,” said Van der Schijff,but he added: “I think we aremaking a strategic mistake...If youlook through all the chaos, I thinkthere’s major potential.”Van der Schijff said he found thathe had a “strange connection”with Nigerians in particular anddeveloped a “strong interest” intheir art.The loudness of Nigerian interac-tions, as well as their strong senseof self, reminded him of his ownupbringing.“It feels like Afrikaans peoplearound the braai a little bit – it’sstrange!”Also, South African art wasconceptually linked with the rest of African representation by a sharedpolitical consciousness.“I think that’s a big thing tyingAfrican art together, that politicalconsciousness underlying thework.”Van der Schijff’s own pieces at theexhibition, ‘Punch Bag’, ‘HangingBall’, and ‘Pear Ball 2’, a set of in-teractive sculptures which speak toeach other and represent the sameidea, likewise carry a conscious-ness of a violent society.“The viewer can actually punchthe work,” said Van der Schijff,thus demonstrating the “underlyingsense of aggression or violence”latent in the human psyche.The sculptures thus speak of “South African society and theworld we live in”.But they are also “toys or play-things, or gym equipment – theycan be what you want them to be”.The heavy political drive whichthreads through Van der Schijff’ssculptures and much of Africanart, is the result of “living in anincredibly aggressive, violentenvironment”.But then, as shown by the Dak’ArtBiennale, “when you get a situa-tion like that, innovation is going tocome out”.
Looking through the chaos:
 
Johann van der Schijff wins at Dak’Art Biennale
((Top) Pear Ball. (above and right) Johann’s ‘Punch Bag”, far right - Johann receiving the European Union Award, which included a cash prize and promotion of his work by the EU.

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