Arts and Culture 2007-2015


Review: La Boheme

First appeared
Sunday, 25 April 2010


A few minutes before the auditorium lights dimmed for the opening night of Opera Africa’s La Bohème, a colleague and I had been discussing the parlous state of arts funding in South Africa.

Of course, it’s an old saw within the arts community that our theatre practitioners, musicians, dancers, writers and other artists don’t get the financial support they deserve. But in this 2010 FIFA World Cup year, in which million-rand sponsorship and investment sums are bandied around on a daily basis, the neglect of the arts seems all the more acute.


Review: Death of a Colonialist

First appeared
Friday, 16 April 2010


Never let it be said that there is a lack of variety on local stages. Within a few days, this reviewer has been both thrilled by the pulsating rhythms of Stomp (at Montecasino’s Teatro) and invigorated by the political and personal dynamics depicted in Death of a Colonialist (at the Market Theatre).

It’s tempting to suggest that these two performance spaces, either side of town, reflect the twin moods in what we are constantly told is our polarised – or is it simply bipolar? – nation. On the one hand, there is the feel-good internationalism of Stomp, matching the highly anticipated global spectacle of the FIFA 2010 Word Cup. On the other hand, there is the more sombre terrain covered by Death of a Colonialist, which would seem to suit the gloom felt by many in a ‘re-racialising’ South Africa.


The Fugard Theatre, Cape Town

First appeared
Thursday, 25 March 2010


It’s true that the arts can flourish under conditions of poverty. The stereotype of the starving artist living in a tiny garret is, however, a notion cherished only by the privileged (and perpetuated by productions like Rent, or films like Moulin Rouge).

The reality is that few artists – actors, musicians, visual artists, even writers – could survive, let alone create, without patronage. Sponsorship of the arts remains a fraught issue in countries like South Africa, where government funding is limited and big corporates tend to think of arts-related spending as a charitable donation rather than as an investment that will see returns.


Opera Africa: La Boheme preview

First appeared
Thursday, 25 February 2010


Sandra and Hein de Villiers believe so strongly in the importance of opera that they have been known to mortgage their own house to fund a production – not once, but twice.

Mrs de Villiers is the CEO of Opera Africa, the company that she started in 1994 “with the vision of fostering new audiences for opera that were previously excluded from enjoying this genre, and to promote talented young soloists and choristers”. Mr de Villiers has been Opera Africa’s Artistic Director since 1995; like his wife, he brought with him a distinguished track record from more than two decades in music education (as both teacher and administrator).


The aesthetics of mining

First appeared
Thursday, 18 February 2010


For better or worse, South African history over the last 120 years has been closely tied to the country’s mineral wealth – and, more specifically, to the extraction of that wealth by a combination of entrepreneurial energy and worker exploitation.

The mining industry has produced images that have become iconic: the hard-hatted miner operating by torchlight, the lift carrying workers thousands of meters underground, the gleaming gold bars that emerge from a furnace. Yet each of these is an ambiguous symbol, suggesting both a proud heritage of engineering feats and economic growth, and a shameful history linked to race- and class-based oppression.

The visual arts offer one way of exploring such ambiguities, as recent and current exhibitions by two South African artists demonstrate.


Art 2009: The Year in Review

First appeared
Tuesday, 01 December 2009


In 2009, a year during which South Africa acquired a new president, a bulky new cabinet and a raft of new policy documents that may or may not remedy an old set of socio-economic problems, art exhibitions in Johannesburg reflected continuity rather than change.

There was, of course, plenty of work by artists following the injunction to “make it new”; but there was also a curatorial tendency to look backwards, to recuperate or consolidate aspects of the country’s twentieth-century artistic legacy. For this reviewer, certainly, the year began and ended in retrospection.


A Spoof Full of Sugar

First appeared
Sunday, 13 December 2009


If I had a time machine, two people I’d want to put in the same room are Malcolm Terrey and Erasmus of Rotterdam. I think they’d have a lot to talk about.

Erasmus – a theologian and scholar, the most prominent Dutchman of the European Renaissance – is best known for his work, In Praise of Folly; Terrey, on the other hand, is associated with folly on stage (not only in the long running Jo’burg Follies series, but in farces, travesties, revues and light-hearted romps of all kinds).


Zulu Love Letter - the screenplay

First appeared
Thursday, 01 October 2009

Literati are inclined to pronounce, after watching a movie based on a novel or non-fiction work they have read, “The book was better than the film.” Of course, comparisons between genres are odious – and, moreover, the facile assumption that printed texts are more complex than visual or aural ‘texts’ is an inadequate formulation in societies where images and sounds have primacy over the written word.

There is, nevertheless, an obvious but important sense in which written text comes prior to an actor’s performance, to a camera recording and even to post-production tricks: almost all feature films have their origins in a script, or screenplay.


The Woman in Black

First appeared
Sunday, 06 December 2009


Usually I hate it when people try to scare me with tales of haunted houses and evil spirits. I’d like to claim that this is because – as an ardent rationalist – I refuse to buy into ghost stories. There’s already plenty to be scared about in our day-to-day lives (crime, reckless driving and the mortal consequences of government incompetence) without having recourse to supernatural terrors.

Yet, if I’m honest, my dislike actually stems from the fact that I’m easily frightened. When listening to macabre camp fire stories or watching B-grade horror movies, I get the willies like a little boy, crawl into a ball on my chair and cling to my wife’s arm with clammy hands.


Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows

First appeared
Saturday, 07 November 2009


Nowadays, we tend to take synthesis for granted. While racial and cultural conflicts persist, post-apartheid South Africa has seen a gradual dissolving of binaries such as ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘African’ and ‘western’. For a long time, however, these were fixed categories; those who successfully negotiated them were few and far between.

There was a particular generation of white English-speaking South Africans to whom this presented an acute dilemma. Born into an already-segregated nation in the early decades of the twentieth century, they joined the ‘mother country’ Britain and her allies in fighting a war against fascism, only to see the entrenchment of fascist principles in South African law in the years following 1948.


Joburg, Public Art and the BRT

First appeared
Saturday, 31 October 2009


There are many facets to the Joburg aesthetic. There’s the ‘minedumps and highways’ cliché that out-of-towners hold so dear when they deride SA’s biggest city. There’s the capitalist/consumerist synthesis expressed in corporate palaces, coffee shops and couture boutiques. There’s the leafy suburban street, complete with high walls and grassy pavements.

Driving along the roads of this heavily-treed metropolis and listening to the mild inanities of afternoon talk radio has its own particular appeal. But after hearing yet another show in which the host bemoans the lack of village cricket in Parkhurst, solicits ice-cream recipes, promotes the delights of Jacaranda blossom viewing from the Westcliff Hotel or panders in some other way to the petit- and haute-bourgeois ambitions of Gauteng’s denizens, one begins to think: surely there are other (more interesting) ways of representing Johannesburg, of exploring its multiple contradictions, of experiencing the city?


Artspace Gallery's Mentorship Programme

First appeared
Saturday, 17 October 2009


Wilma Cruise didn’t want to be a mentor. When Teresa Lizamore, owner and curator of Artspace, invited her to participate in the gallery’s mentorship programme, Cruise was adamant: “I said to Teresa, ‘I don’t want to teach skills, to nursemaid anybody or to struggle with fundamentals’.”

Fortunately for Cruise, the young artist she was paired with, Louis Olivier, didn’t need to be taught. Instead, she found herself taken aback by “the array of Louis’ sculptural and painting skills. It’s a thing of beauty to watch him cutting, grinding and manipulating material. He has an instinctive understanding of ‘how things work’.”


Painted Narratives from India

First appeared
Saturday, 26 September 2009

Walter Benjamin famously insisted that the age of mechanical reproduction, in which works of art can be reproduced and widely distributed, has removed the “aura” of authenticity that is associated with original and unique artworks – a sacred association dating back to their use in religious and spiritual practices. As a result, Benjamin argued, art can no longer be based on ritual but must be firmly entrenched in the realm of politics.

Visitors to “Painted Narratives from India: Preserving History Through the Art of Story-Telling” might well expect to have this trend reinforced, if not because of the relentless politicisation of South African art (which we bring to bear on artworks from elsewhere in the world), then because it would seem safe to assume that the items on display must be reproductions. How, after all, can the murals of grand temple complexes and musty caves be displayed halfway across the world – except through pale imitation?


Braam Kruger: A Retrospective

First appeared
Saturday, 19 September 2009

Braam Kruger was a man of many parts: artist, restaurateur, TV personality, writer, general dissident and latter-day Lothario.

He applied great energy to the art of living and was well-known for his skill as a raconteur, his peremptory comments about many of his fellow artists, his curious dress sense and other quirks – such that his personality (or the persona he cultivated) often overshadowed his substantial artistic output. After his death last year, friends and former colleagues decided to rectify this imbalance by putting together a retrospective exhibition.


Joburg and the Arts in Africa

First appeared
Saturday, 19 September 2009


They’re odd creatures, teenagers; or, rather, they have an odd effect. Adult patrons at theatres, concert halls and other terribly sophisticated arts venues feel anxious shivers down their spines when a group of adolescents walk in – an anxiety confirmed by loud whispers during the overture and aggravated by sporadic giggles.

Every now and again, however, the tables are turned and adults find themselves in the minority. This happened to me at the Joburg Theatre last week, when I attended a matinee performance of the SA Ballet Theatre’s Giselle staged primarily for school pupils – an event forming part of Johannesburg’s Arts Alive Festival. In that context, a strange alchemy occurred: I heard in the whispers an enthusiastic engagement with the production (“Who is she?”; “What’s that one doing?”; “Look at his costume!”), while the giggles were signs of delight at the spectacle onstage and bemusement at the unwritten codes that dictate when it is appropriate to applaud. 

Latest from Arts & Culture