Arts and Culture 2007-2015

12Apr

HALF ART: Thando Mama and the national anthem(s)

First appeared
Friday, 27 March 2015

 

The doors to GoetheOnMain (the Goethe-Institut’s experimental arts space at Arts on Main) were closed. While we waited for someone to open up, my daughter Hannah and I took a stroll down Fox Street to get a snack.

Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct is, of course, a controversial development. Urban regeneration or exclusive gentrification? The jury is still out. Yet, while the class dynamics of any bohemian bubble are problematic, and while Maboneng has been criticised for the “whiteness” of its modus operandi, the beautiful and good frequenting the eatery we found were (racially at least) a fairly diverse lot.

So I was blindsided when Hannah, all of age five, cheerfully informed me: “Dad, there are some places with only light-skinned waiters, and some places with only dark-skinned waiters.” 

20Mar

HALF ART: The Rhodes statue and public art

First appeared
Friday, 20 March 2015

 

Okay, full disclosure: I went to university in the quirky little city of Grahamstown. So when I hear or read the word “Rhodes”, my first association is alma mater and not greedy cruel racist colonialist bastard. That’s not to say I’m ignorant of the exploitation and oppression wreaked by Cecil John Rhodes in southern Africa. But, as Trudy Makhaya wrote in Business Day earlier this week, his name carries a twin legacy – there is “Rhodes the pillager” and there is “Rhodes the benefactor”.

There have, of course, been various campaigns for Rhodes University to change its nomenclature. As far as I am aware, there is no endowment forcing the University to keep the name, so those in defence of retaining it must offer either the standard claim that “history cannot and should not be effaced” or the argument that the institution’s brand has been severed from the historical figure. The latter is not entirely convincing when the University still has residences named after dubious characters like Leander Starr Jameson, but that’s a debate for another day.

20Mar

HALF ART: Pascual Tarazona and the Cape Town fires

First appeared
Friday, 13 March 2015

 

Pascual Tarazona has undertaken a curious artistic experiment. In order to conjure an appropriate painterly response to the music of Beethoven, and to the astonishing fact that the composer was deaf when he wrote his final symphonies, Tarazona blindfolded himself – painting by sound, with Beethoven playing in his ears, rather than by sight. The result is a series of canvases that are, as the title of his exhibition at the UJ Gallery has it, Images of Sound.

A restricted palette of blacks, whites and greys produces in most of the works a “greyscale” sombreness. Paradoxically, however, these images seem to be by turns heavy and brooding, then light and ethereal. This is arguably a visual “echo” of the shifting moods of Beethoven’s late compositions.

20Mar

HALF ART: Shoddy presidents and "Scenes of a Romantic Nature"

First appeared
Friday, 06 March 2015

 

When the motion of no confidence in Jacob Zuma was withdrawn from parliament this week – becoming instead a motion of no self-confidence from pseudo-party Agang SA – there were some audible sighs of disappointment from the opposition benches.

No doubt Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance had prepared another Shakespearean shame-on-you speech to add to the chorus of MPs berating the president. Like most South Africans I enjoy a bit of Zuma-bashing. But we all know how it would have played out: the wagons of the African National Congress would have assumed their traditional laager formation, leaving the motion dead in the water.

20Mar

HALF ART: Jonny Steinberg and "The Other Camera"

First appeared
Friday, 27 February 2015

 

Jonny Steinberg is coming home, and we are all quite excited about it.

That “we” represents various demographics: readers of this newspaper, to which Steinberg is a regular contributor; fans of his numerous and award-winning books; staff and students at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he will soon be joining the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER).

But over the last fortnight, after BuzzFeed published a piece by Steinberg titled “Why I’m Moving Back to South Africa”, another “we” has linked itself to him by sharing the article widely on social media. That “we” is constituted by informed, reflective, patriotic, guilty, angry, arrogant and somewhat angst-ridden white South Africans like me. 

23Feb

HALF ART: SONA and "Other People's Memories"

First appeared
Thursday, 19 February 2015

 

South African writers turning the state of the nation into text adopt the typical strategies: journalistic accounts of the facts, behind-the-scenes reportage, angry polemic. We blog, tweet, or post on Facebook. But surely there are other options?

What about a scathing satire? It’s not easy in this country. Would-be censors are a minor barrier; our judges endorse the rights of cartoonists and ventriloquists when presidents and popstars try to sue them. The real difficulty is that our public figures regularly lampoon themselves. As Baleka Mbete and Julius Malema have demonstrated recently, our politicians’ hypocrisy-inducing short memories and their ability to lie with straight faces tend to result in serious headlines that look satirical. 

23Feb

Column: measles, autism and perception

First appeared
Thursday, 12 February 2015

 

If you are the parent of a baby and are planning not to have your child vaccinated against measles and other preventable diseases – if you are worried about toxins and potential side-effects, or you have heard from a friend that the combined Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine has been linked to autism, or you have some kooky ethical/religious/political reservations – do the following.

Fill a bucket with ice and water. Stick your head in the bucket, and don’t lift it out until you change your mind. Seriously. Do it now, before your sense of entitlement contributes to a health risk your children will face along with their fellow citizens. 

08Feb

Column: landscapes and human beings

First appeared
Thursday, 05 February 2015

 

It is commonly assumed that landscape painting is an apolitical art form. In a basic sense, this is accurate: our idea of what constitutes politics comes indirectly from the Greek word polis, which refers both to urban space and to the people who occupy it, neither of which are typically incorporated into the panoramas associated with traditional landscape painting.

Artists need not, however, represent a subject directly in order to comment on it. The absence of human figures from a work of art can be as effective as their presence in provoking the viewer to reflect on what is rather unhelpfully called “the human condition”.

08Feb

Column: Repurposing Shakespeare and cement

First appeared
Thursday, 29 January 2015

 

In my day-job I am paid to teach and write about Shakespeare – a vocational interest that, in a South African context, comes with various anxieties. What are the political implications of “doing Shakespeare”? Can his work be made relevant? To what constructive social uses can it be put?

So I was intrigued to hear about Johannesburg Awakening Minds (JAM), a theatre group facilitated by veteran actress Dorothy Ann Gould. One thing that makes JAM distinct – a feature that must be mentioned, although it could become a sentimental tagline – is that its members are homeless. The other is that their repertoire consists entirely of Shakespeare.

24Jan

Column: What will last?

First appeared
Thursday, 22 January 2015

 

How long before Zelda la Grange’s tweets become consigned to the virtual trash can that stores all online debates, spats and arguments? A week? Two weeks?

Nonetheless, from now on, whenever La Grange’s tale is told, it will not be the simplistic “Madiba saved me from racism” narrative presented in her memoir Good Morning, Mr Mandela. Journalists and opinionistas who mention her will note her role as Nelson Mandela’s right-hand woman but will add, parenthetically, that she caused a stir with some ill-considered complaints about white people not being made to feel welcome in South Africa.

24Jan

Column: The Benediction of Shade

First appeared
Thursday, 15 January 2015

 

The kids are back at school and you’re back at the office. The roads are busy again and, after being lashed by storms in December, look worse than they did last year – more potholes, more broken traffic lights. The electricity grid is under strain once more; load shedding is imminent.

The local and global media machinery has been cranked into gear. The first “big story” has broken – Charlie Hebdo, the event that launched a thousand opinion pieces – and some familiar words have returned to the spotlight: Boko Haram, Chris Gayle, Jacob Zuma, Gwede Mantashe, Helen Zille, Julius Malema, Baleka Mbete. The American awards season is reaching its peak, resulting in a flurry of fatuous celebrity coverage.

Welcome to 2015. 

24Jan

Column: Cape Town hip and Kendell Geers

First appeared
Thursday, 08 January 2015

 

If you're a hip Capetonian – I hesitate to write “Cape Town hipster”, as that would explicitly betray my prejudice – there are various ways to spend a sunny Saturday. Traditional leisure options like cricket at Newlands, a wine farm picnic or a visit to the beach are, however, almost passé; if you really want to share your credentials with the beautiful and good, then you can’t do better than the Woodstock strip.

Your starting point must be the Old Biscuit Mill, the self-styled “little village” where “talented people” can enjoy organic food markets, designer stores and the like. Setting aside inconvenient debates about the pros and cons of gentrification and selective urban regeneration, you can follow Albert Road for a few not-so-stylish, not-so-wealthy, not-so-healthy blocks and have lunch at Bread Café or drinks at the Fat Cactus in the trendy Foundry development.

24Jan

Column: Carry on Kentridge

First appeared
Thursday, 18 December 2014

 

Everyone knows the “Six Degrees of Separation” rule – or, rather, theory, which posits that any two human beings can be connected by a chain of five or fewer mutual acquaintances. The concept has been around since the 1920s but has reached an apogee of sorts in our age of virtual social networks. Actually, Facebook and Twitter have almost rendered it mundane.

Manifestations of the Small World phenomenon abound. The standard pop cultural reference is still Kevin Bacon, although hundreds of novels and movies make the same point. We all have our own formulations. I have Thurman’s Triple Laws of William Kentridge:

12Dec

Column: Jenny Crwys-Williams and "After the Storm"

First appeared
Thursday, 11 December 2014

 

This Friday marks the end of an era in South African radio broadcasting. It also marks a new stage in my love-hate relationship with Jenny Crwys-Williams.

The redoubtable talk show host will be handing over her daily afternoon slot on 702m to Sam Cowen – although, the station has been quick to assure listeners, she will be keeping the book show that has been a key component of her on-air career.

When the impending change was announced in October, I said something trite along the lines of “Oh, that’s a pity”. My wife, overhearing this comment, was quick to accuse me of hypocrisy. “Why so sentimental? You’re always complaining about Jenny!” she railed. 

12Dec

Column: Prophets, Artists and "Green Screen"

First appeared
Thursday, 04 December 2014

 

Artists are often viewed as secular prophet-figures. Of course, this is a somewhat tautological construction – a prophet’s insight need not be divinely inspired, nor should prophecy be understood only as a supernatural exercise in prognostication.

Augury, “predicting” the future, requires reading signs and extrapolating; the best prophets are those who make keen observations about past and present behaviour. Prophets can warn us, critique us, cajole us. But their insights should also be taken with a pinch of salt, because often enough they are simply wrong. The idea of the artist-as-prophet is thus a potentially useful one.

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