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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

NAF, GRAHAMSTOWN, JULY 2 (article first published : 2008-07-4)

There was a strong wind today and this meant that all the National Arts Festival pennants surrounding the Monument were fluttering madly. High above this formidable-looking building and etched against the clear blue sky, streamed the tails of the colourful kites sold by a kite maker who positions himself in the Monument car park. Back in town, I had time to look at the exhibitions in the Albany History Museum.

Main highlight for me was Andrew Verster’s Past/Present exhibition curated by Carol Brown which showcases the works he’s created since 1994. The exhibition shows how this all-embracing artist has branched out into other forms of visual expression such as ink on paper as well as set and costume design for opera productions. It’s a beautifully-presented exhibition with two sections separated by Skin Marking, a body of work on tissue paper, wax, pigments and steel pins which gained Andrew finalist status in the 2007 Sasol Wax Art Award.

Andrew Verster’s colourful Indian works are always magical but his three bold and colourful pieces of triptych titled Bodyworks II, III and IV fairly blew me away. So if they disappear mysteriously off the wall before the festival ends, you’ll know where to look for them! Andrew never ceases to amaze me with a zest and energy that far outweigh his 70 years. He is always exploring, fascinated by new ideas, has a very clear vision and is ever ready to give advice, sensible criticism, encouragement and assistance.

A festival favourite over the years and a Grahamstown resident himself, albeit for just a short while longer, photographer Obie Oberholzer presents The Hotazel Years. In his words “Hotazel is a little dump of a dorp with a run down hotel, a mine and a bottle store.” He also maintains that: ”If you can manage a successful shot in Hotazel (which is in the Northern Cape, by the way), then you can manage a good photograph anywhere.” The Hotazel Years is about his time in Grahamstown. It is also to display some of the photographs which were not printed to his satisfaction in his coffee table book by the same name. Another aspect of the exhibition is his farewell to his “beloved film/paper/analogue world” as he breaks up and leaves his colour-lab before moving to Nature’s Valley and into the digital world of photography.

I have reviewed two of Obie Oberholzer’s books and each image is a pure sensory delight that could occupy one’s time for more than just the cursory glance. Nothing to do with Hotazel, but I really loved his cloud image over Hartbeestport Dam, my favourite holiday retreat.

Unfortunately, I was never to have the time to visit Greg Schultz’s exhibition titled Go-Betweens which features earthly spaces of intense beauty joined by manifest and ephemeral creative forces, metaphors for the intangible. Another one I missed in this venue was Maureen de Jager’s fascinating exhibition, In Sepia, which is a collection of white sculptures, rusted images on steel and texts transferred to steel.

Working under his new independent production, Mhayise Productions, acclaimed Durban dancer and choreographer Musa Hlatshwayo premiered his latest work on the Fringe Festival. Titled Isililo sikaNandi, it is billed as a dynamic exploration of Queen Nandi’s silenced role in King Shaka’s reign.

Queen Nandi was betrothed to Shaka’s father, Chief Senzangakhona, at the time she fell pregnant by him. On telling the elders of the tribe, they dismissed this seemingly preposterous claim as the cause of an intestinal parasite – a stomach beetle – called an ishaka. This is how she named the son who was to become one of the world’s legendary war tacticians. When Queen Nandi fell out of favour, she was expelled from the Zulu people and, taking her son with her, took refuge among the Mthethwa where she raised the young boy to manhood.

Musa Hlatshwayo has created a slow-moving but intense piece that focuses on this story. Thus we see the young boy following his regal mother, carrying her royal train until she is divested of her finery and they flee for their lives. She now follows him, guiding, supporting and teaching. He becomes stronger, fitter, angrier and this is when the reason for the numerous black and white open umbrellas lining the stage becomes evident.

There is an African indigenous game called Umlabalaba designed by herdsmen to teach tactful and strategic thinking while sharpening one’s intellect. It was also used to assessing the strategic skills of the chief’s advisers. Like a chess game, it requires two opponents – the desired aim being to line up three tokens (in this case, the umbrellas) in a straight line. As mother and son play it, it becomes quickly apparent who has become the smarter tactician of the two. As each token is removed from the board, the umbrella is snapped shut and flung to the floor, indicative of the number of victorious moves - or removal of his enemies - Shaka made on way toward becoming the most formidable of the Zulu Kings.

Then it was off to the Recreation Centre in Rhini to see Thrash! presented on The Studio programme of the Main festival by Ubom! Obutsha in collaboration with the Purple Dragon Theatre from Canada. The new Ubom! Obutsha Youth Company offered what is described in the festival programme as a vibrant production “thrashing” the box of conformity and dealing with the search of identity.

Sensitively directed by Ingrid Wylde, Thrash features 12 talented youngsters in a story that deals with the challenges that beset young people these days. Malusi (17) is head of his household and he joins a gang hoping that they will protect and support his family. However, this doesn’t stop a rival gang member raping his sister. Performed to Afro hip-hop, the production doesn’t flag and much credit is due to this young cast for handling sensitive moments with maturity and professionalism. The message is punted loud and clear with youthful energy: “Thrash violence and poverty”.




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