29.08.00 Obituary: Madame Haenggi remembered.|
29.08.00 Artists ignored in women's monument publicity.
29.08.00 Hobbs goes to Jo'burg
22.08.00 The Resurrection of Samson Mudzunga: a participant's account
22.08.00 Important sculpture turns up in scrapheap
15.08.00 Celebrate diversity at Cape Town's One City Festival
15.08.00 Obituary: Constance Stuart Larrabee
08.08.00 New Art Party for Johannesburg
01.08.00 Is it cultural apartheid or what one makes? Question on representation
01.08.00 Controversy stimulates Michaelis debate
01.08.00 Band fantasy as art
01.08.00 Jacking-up museums for change
01.08.00 Winners of the Sasol New Signatures
01.08.00 New Gallery director for the Association of Arts, Pretoria
Obituary: Madame Haenggi remembered|
by Sandra Brewster
A grand old lady of the visual arts community passed away on July 20, 2000, in Kantonsspital, Interlaken West, Switzerland. Fernande Marie-Louise Haenggi was known for her encouragement and promotion of younger black and white artists during her 18 years in Johannesburg.
Madame Haenggi, as she was often called, was born on October 1, 1904, in Auxenne, Cote d'Or, France. During her life she lived in Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Australia, France and the USA. She entered the Johannesburg art gallery scene in 1959 when she became one of three partners of Queens Hall Art Gallery. This lasted until February 1961. From April 1961 to December 1973 Haenggi was partners with her elder son, Fernand, at Gallery 101 where they ran many exhibitions. Some of the artists that showed in Gallery 101 during this period were Lucas Sithole, Lucky Sibiya, Dumile, Sidney Kumalo, Durant Sihlali, Ezrom Legae, Lucas Seage, Azaria Mbatha and John Muafangejo. From June 1974 to October 1976 Madame Haenggi ran her own business called Madame Haenggi Gallery then was in partnership with Chris Crake until April 1977 running the Chris Crake Madame Haenggi Gallery.
A policy of showing work by black and white artists was always in place. All artists were considered and encouraged to bring in their work. Madame Haenggi supported many of them by purchasing their work or lending them money towards an exhibition, being refunded out of net sales proceeds. Openings were always mixed and liquor was served although it was against the law.
Madame Haenggi was highly interested in the arts of all periods. She studied painting with a local artist in Melbourne during the 1928 - 1931 period. However, she never painted much and only for her enjoyment. She will be missed and remembered as a generous supporter of the visual arts and young artists. Madame Haenggi is survived by her two sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Artists slighted over unveiling of Women's Monument |
by Kathryn Smith
Artist Wilma Cruise and architect Marcus Holmes' collaborative monument to the women of South Africa, was unveiled by President Thabo Mbeki on Women's Day, August 9 this year at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. But while the media statement on the monument issued by the office of the Minister of Arts and Culture, Ben Ngubane, waxes lyrical about the historical events that inspired the work, (the 1956 women's march to Pretoria) it fails to mention either of the artists' names. This, despite the fact that the monument is the first of its kind in the country and that its multimedia and non-figurative design could help redefine monuments as we know them. ArtThrob contacted Cruise and the advisor to the process, Rayda Becker of Wits University Art Galleries for comment.
Cruise describes the process as culminating in a "bureaucratic knot that Kafka could have only dreamed of in his worst nightmares". After the decision was made to accept Cruise and Holmes' proposal, they had seven months in which to complete the work. As Rayda Becker commented, in an earlier time, sculptro Anton van Wouw had seven years in which to complete his monument to women.
Three weeks before the date of unveiling, the artistic team still had not received payment. When this eventually arrived, time was so short that everyone involved in the production process, from metal cutters to computer technicians, all had to work overtime, an additional expense which has not been reimbursed by government. Further to this, certain requests made by Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology 'after the fact' will probably not be reimbursed as they are 'extra' to the final budget. This included the computer technology that triggers the sound piece and lighting to be disguised in a box that would be movable. Also, the inability to fulfill a promise of an uninterrupted power supply to the monument meant that Cruise and Holmes had to bear the costs of 'making safe' themselves.
While the monument stands as one of the most lyrical and poetic public monuments in the country, the context surrounding government's involvement, or lack of involvement, and the criticism that has begun to circulate around the process makes for an unsurprisingly complicated and politically complex argument. And it all devolves on one line in the competition brief: that the process will be "fair and transparent and that historically disadvantaged artists are enabled to participate."
Becker is particularly vehement on this point. The apparent lack of enthusiasm of the part of the government, implicit in the omission of the artists' names in that first press release, points to what she sees as dashed hopes for a "discovery" of new artistic talent. This romantic and naive desire is the underlying ethos of many competitions - that some new, hidden talent will emerge. As can be expected, for a myriad of reasons, this is rarely the case.
While DACST held workshops to encourage and train historically disadvantaged artists to put together professional proposals for the project, in the end, the importance of the site, and history of the event that the monument would be designed to commemorate, made it imperative to select the best possible proposal. Administered by DACST, the competition was open to all, and an independent steering committee and judging panel (comprising representatives from government, the arts, historians and veterans) oversaw the adjudication of proposals.
The new monument, which as Becker observes, reads more like a memorial given the 'low' focus (as opposed to the 'perpendicular' design favoured by other monuments we love to hate), effectively "refigures", rather than subverts, monument design. Cruise and Holmes have worked with the reality of a found, ethnographic object - the imbokodo (grinding stone) - and combined with this with text and sound which echoes the language of the original protest. Truly postmodern in its language, the monument creates "equivalents of experience" without falling into old-fashioned rhetoric. It is not about a simulation of experience, but an experience made up of 'real' objects that is more evocative than didactic.
Perhaps this is where some dissatisfaction lies, over and above the predictable criticism that the monument was awarded to an all-white team. I suspect that this won't be the last we'll hear on the subject.
New addition to the Jo'burg
ceilingscape - a Stephen Hobbs sculpture.
See clip [1.7MB] by clicking on the image
Hobbs goes to Jo'burg|
by Sue Williamson
Artist Stephen Hobbs has made the subject of his videos, performance art and wallpieces his hometown, the city of Johannesburg in all its madness and glitziness and crazy contrasts. What could be more natural , then, that Cape Town's trendy Long Street bar Jo'burg should commission Hobbs to do a special piece for the bar. The Jo'burg collection already includes work by such artists as Brett Murray, Conrad Botes, Arlene Amahler -Raviv and photographer Dale Yudelman.
Hobbs' concept was to make an upside down 3-D version of Johannesburg's most famous landmarks, set inside a red circle sourced from a famous logo designed by the legendary Raymond Loewy, and to clad the structures in glittering squares of metal. The whole thing, immaculately crafted by Marco Cianfanelli, has been affixed to the gold-painted ceiling in the bar. Here it revolves, mirror ball style, affording upward-glancing patrons an ever-shifting view of polished surfaces and canyons. Atop the Ponte tower, the subject of more than one Hobbs video, Coca Cola sign has been worked in beadwork by the artist's grandmother Naomi, and is also the chosen spot for the artist's signature.
Finding Mudzunga's mother's grave.
Baptism at Lake Fundudzi.
Mudzunga climbs into drum.
The covered coffin at the burial.
Mudzunga's son at sealed grave.
One of Mudzunga's two wives, Dorcas,
Finding Mudzunga's mother's grave.
Baptism at Lake Fundudzi.
Mudzunga climbs into drum.
The covered coffin at the burial.
Mudzunga's son at sealed grave.
One of Mudzunga's two wives, Dorcas,
The Resurrection of Samson Mudzunga: a participant's account|
by Kathryn Smith
Trekking to Venda on the last weekend of July to witness what we thought would be a celebration preceding Samson Mudzunga's imminent October burial, turned out to be a taxing but interesting exercise in Mudzunga-style smoke and mirrors.
Battling our way through the Venda night with few directions, we eventually found our motel. The motel, shebeen, roadhouse, Chicken Licken and Caltex garage in the area are all owned by Mr Matshidza, local fat-cat businessman, whose mini-empire is not confined to the Dopeni and Shanza villages where we were staying, but stretches as far as Louis Trichardt and perhaps even further. As this complex was our home base for our time in Venda, which was focused on radically rural areas, it really drove home the huge divides between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.
Morning had us trying to find our way up to Mudzunga's place. The night before, the police had tried to arrest Mudzunga for the third time in the past two years, once again trying to prevent his planned performance from going ahead, thus we didn't even know whether we would find Mudzunga at home, or whether he'd be back in jail.
Finally arriving at his gate, we encountered a wooden figure holding an axe presiding over a handpainted sign denouncing the local police and listing all Mudzunga's perceived 'jealously' driven encounters with them until now. Nestled in the foothills, Mudzunga's home is an amazing exercise in African modernist architecture, if such a thing exists. Sculptures adorn water features, and little details like a car rearview mirror attached to an outside washbasin are indicative that nothing is extraneous. Mudzunga's inventiveness and sense of aesthetics are fantastic. And thankfully, Mudzunga had avoided incarceration, demanding to know why we were so late, and telling us that he had to compromise by letting his hired dancers go - according to him, the police had forbade them to perform and paid their expenses to leave.
Mudzunga's accounts of his long history of conflict with some of the local headsmen in the area, which has landed him in trouble with the long arm of the law, makes it difficult to locate where traditional power and regulations end, and the enforcement of police 'law', apparently a more 'neutral' governing body, begins.
My reading of the situation is that the jealousy Mudzunga speaks about has to do with his status as an artist and his employment in Johannesburg for some time. The intermingling of urban and rural influences have provided Mudzunga with a critical eye - he is suspicious of some local traditional leaders whom he sees as manipulating their communities with superstitions and myths, powerful forces in Venda tradition. Mudzunga also takes pleasure in combining various and culturally-conflicting influences in his working process and performances. It all devolves on the crucial question of power and who holds it.
Another interesting aspect to this particular performance is that the surrounding communities who usually flock to Mudzunga's events were conspicuously absent. They apparently now live in fear of being associated with Mudzunga's work. The announcement was then made that not only would we symbolically rebury Mudzunga's mother through his playing of an enormous coffin-drum, we would also bear witness to his burial and resurrection as well, originally planned to take place only later this year. Fearing that he might be re-arrested, it made strategic sense for Mudzunga to do it all while he remained a free man, and had an audience - and an important one at that. The media, the French Institute (who are co-publishing his monograph), representatives from the Gertrude Posel and Market Theatre Galleries and instructors from the Giyani College of Education and Susan Glanville and her film crew became complicit in an extraordinary, cathartic rite of passage in which we were not simply spectators, but active participants for two days.
Our first stop was the local cemetery, which we searched for several hours to find the grave of Mudzunga's mother. She died while he was serving his first prison sentence, and was buried without his knowledge. Unable to find the site, he sent for a woman who had attended the burial. With her help, he located what he thought was the right one, accusing the local powers-that-be of desecrating the grave and stealing the headstone (which was why we apparently couldn't find it. He and his wife Dorcas, gathered stones and earth from the site for use later on. While this was happening, the correct grave was suddenly discovered two sites up (with headstone intact), so the action, which became a parody of itself, had to be repeated with the same gravity and solemnity.
Back home, Mudzunga wheeled out the drum, shaped like an aeroplane, and completed his ritual performance which involved him playing it from within. We then had to pay our fee for seeing the drum (R15 each) which we were instructed to insert into a tiny gap in the side of the sculpture. Inside the drum's body is a padlocked hatch into which the money falls. Mudzunga carefully noted each person's contribution, by name and amount, in a ledger. We then assisted Mudzunga in getting his coffin, produced out of a loft storage space, ready for the performance and burial. Lunch was served, after which the Lake Fundudzi baptism and then later the burial were scheduled to take place.
The journey down to Lake Fundudzi, the ancestral lake that Mudzunga and other lay people had been prohibited from visiting, had been made treacherous by flooding. Abandoning the cars, we walked the rest of the way. Mudzunga was planning to drink the water, and according to the press release, was supposed to be baptised by the Archbishop of Germany. Instead, Kathy Coates partnered him in his pilgrimage while we looked on.
It was dark by the time we returned from the lake, so the burial was re-scheduled for dawn the following day. Next morning, this event took place. Kissing his wife Dorcas goodbye "for the last time" as he said, Mudzunga displayed and discussed his sangoma mother's accoutrements which would be buried with him. The grave had been dug behind the house, and Mudzunga lowered himself into the coffin which his first-born son closed and covered. The grave was then covered over with corrugated iron and bricks and sealed with a thick layer of cement.
A few anxious minutes passed when we wondered whether and how he would emerge. While his son performed a eulogy which traced all of Mudzunga's problems with the local chieftains, noises from the garage indicated that Mudzunga was alive and well. The doors to the garage was opened and Dorcas kissed the ground in front of the drum and opened its door. There was a definite sense of relief once Mudzunga had eventually emerged, arms raised and quite David Copperfield-like, from his drum. The construction of a complex subterranean mausoleum behind the Mudzunga home that includes an escape tunnel had facilitated this miraculous re-emergence from the cemented grave, up through his garage and out via the drum. The relief was two-fold: that the performance happened at all, and that now, Mudzunga feels he has laid many issues of conflict, both personal and of community, to rest.
Mudzunga and his visions, if they materialise into performance or objects, provide a fascinating matrix from which to read contemporary art production and the expectations of more 'traditional' art forms. Mudzunga relied heavily on our presence, assistance, guidance and interaction. We were effectively co-creators of the work that is as fraught with problems now as it ever was, even when it existed simply as one artist's vision. Mudzunga's strict instructions to the media that permission had to be obtained to film were ludicrous and took on an interesting angle when aspects of the performance process had to be repeated for the sake of 'getting the shot'. Mudzunga had no objections, and became visibly more animated when the cameras rolled. And the promised German archbishop was nowhere to be seen.
The monograph on Ratshilumela Samson Mudzunga is being co-written by Stephen Hobbs (Market Theatre Galleries) and Kathy Coates (Giyani College of Education) and edited by Brenda Atkinson. It is part of the recently launched IFAS/MTN/Prohelvetia series. A seeing ourselves profile, part of the continuing series of Susan Glanville/Wayne Barker short films on artists, and a documentary are currently in production.
Important sculpture turns up in scrapheap.
by Sandra Brewster
Four years ago, a massive two figure bronze sculpture entitled Tightroping by sculptor David Brown's sculpture entitled was stolen from its position outside the Johannesburg Art Gallery in Joubert Park, pulled off the rock on which it balanced. The police investigated, but nothing came of it and the thieves have never been found. Recently, one of the two figures was located in a scrap yard not too far from Brown's Cape Town studio by fellow artist Willie Bester, always on the scrounge for interesting material to incorporate into his next piece. Bester immediately recognised Brown's style and contacted the artist.
"It was like it returned to me", said Brown as he looked up at the figure now hanging from his studio's high ceiling. During the theft, the head had hit the ground and been dented, and the impact split the neck.
Last year, before the recent recovery, it had been agreed with the Johannesburg Art Gallery that Brown would remake the piece but differently, in a more current, modern style. The artist did not want to remake the piece as it was 10 years ago. Costs for transit, crating and artist fees had to be covered. The casting alone would cost up to R50 000. There did not seem to be any money to do this, and Brown has expressed his concern with arts organizations' chronic shortage of money. This makes it extremely difficult to commission artists to do work or, as in Brown's case, restore damaged work.
Rochelle Keene, director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery said that the gallery did claim insurance after Tightroping was stolen. "In the past it has been fairly easy to claim insurance on vandalized work however in this case the piece had to be replaced. The quote given was a huge amount of money." Now that the piece has turned up and since restoring costs are a fraction of the replacement cost, Keene does not anticipate that there will be any problem in obtaining the money from the insurance company.
Keene has commended SA Metal in Epping, Cape Town, where Brown's figure was found. Instead of melting it down, they had contacted Bester, someone involved in the arts. She suggested that all scrap metal dealers should be alert when offered items like this, contacting the nearest art association so that curators may have a look.
In the meantime, Brown continues to create his sculptures. Very seldom is he commissioned and blames a lack of funding, especially with regard to monumental sculptures. His studio is full of large impressive metal sculptures dealing with historical and political concerns around South Africa and colonization, but plans for a show with the Goodman Gallery, where Brown has shown in the past, fell through with the cost of transport and the weak local art market.
A billboard proposal by Donovan Ward for the Cape Town One City Festival
Celebrate diversity at Cape Town's One City Festival
The City of Cape Town is gearing up for what is hoped to be an event that measures up to the excitement and activity of the much more famous Grahamstown Festival. The annual One City Festival, which attracted well over 50 000 people last year, is now in its second year, and will run from September 21 to 25. National and international artists in all fields will be featured - performance, visual art, music, film and any others that may fit in. The diversity of people of all cultures within the city will be highlighted allowing a focus on the theme of 'celebrating difference'. This year's message is more politicized.
In a recent interview on Back Chat with Tracey Miller of Bush Radio, director Zayd Minty stressed the need for such a festival in the city. "There is no true platform for different art forms to come together... no general arts festival". There seems to be a multi-purpose agenda to this festival. It is intended to serve as a networking tool for artists to find out information about each other and venues where all types of art can be shown. It is also hoped that One City will become an international event attracting tourists and artists from all over the world. There is something for everyone.
The main venue will be The Granary. It will be opening on Wednesday September 21 and feature a visual arts programme, poetry readings, performances, jazz and African music sessions, comedy, film and video screenings and a daily lecture series. The Caf� will also be open from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. daily for the duration of the festival. One of the main programmes to be shown is 'True Stories', a series of works by different artists and cultural producers. This programme will look at issues of history, memory and personal interactions through three different stories: 'The Love Phones Project', 'From Khayeltisha to Kensington' and 'Langa Histories'. If you have a story to add to the 'Love Phones' project, call Bush Radio at 448.5450.
'Night Vision' is another visual arts experience that should not be missed. Happening on Friday September 23, a total of 12 galleries around the city will be open from 6 p.m. Refreshments will be served and art will be displayed. A range of businesses will also be open during this evening. And check out 'Returning the Gaze', a project on race, power, culture and identity in Cape Town. Work will be produced on billboards and postcards by people in the city and within cultural organizations. The designs of the following artists' works have been selected for postcards: Brett Murray, Alexander Smith, Selvin November, Mustafa Maluka, Zen Marie and Cameron Platter. The billboards will show work by: Bernie Searle, Donovan Ward, Thembinkosi Goniwe and Selvin November. A submission of Bernie Searle's will also be used for a sticker.
A T-Shirt design competition including youth from primary, high schools and tertiary institutions exploring the theme of 'celebrating difference', and a youth newspaper project to discuss this theme and how it relates to their lives will both be available.
Planning is still being done for this awesome week. Keep updated by checking out www.onecity.co.za. A full page of programme details will also be published every Friday, from September 1, in the Cape Times.
Obituary: Constance Stuart Larrabee
World renowned photographer Constance Stuart Larrabee died recently yesterday in her home in Chestertown, Maryland, USA, at the age of 86.
Larrabee was famous for her unique photographic style and was South Africa's first woman war correspondent in World War II. She was particularly celebrated for her African tribal photographs which are in numerous museum collections, including the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art in Washington DC and the Corcoran Museum of Washington. In South Africa, her work is represented in the South African National Gallery in Cape Town, the Johannesburg Art Gallery and Wits University.
A major exhibition of Larrabee's work sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution is about to tour the world, and the curator of the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives is shortly to publish a fine art presentation of a hundred photo images of Constance's work accompanied by a biography of her by Dr Christaud Geary.
Constance Stuart established her photographic studio in Pretoria where she lived for over thirty years, and although she refused to be drawn into politics, her photographs finely document an important portion of South African history. They include celebrated studies of District Six, Die Nagmaal celebrations of the Dutch Reformed Church, and tribal African studies with the accent on the Ndebele. The photographer had a great rapport with Alan Paton and her photographs of life in South Africa aptly illustrated his Cry, the Beloved Country.
America's second oldest university, Washington College, has named its Arts Faculty The Constance Stuart Larrabee Arts Center in her honour.
Larrabee is survived by her niece Mrs Maureen Clarkson of Yzerfontein, Cape.
New Art Party for Johannesburg
AFRO.disiac (text performances images), the newest art party around, takes on the lukewarm Johannesburg art scene again on August 25. The mission is to 'bring art to the people in an unthreatening and seductive manner'.
Facilitated by Dumi Gumbi, Mark Boone and Isabelle Rorke, the orientation of AFRO.disiac is towards a real access of a fresh youth market. The organisers are pragmatic and strategic about their goals. The art on show will deliberately tread a fine line between commercially-viable and more experimental work. Pricing will be affordable. Postcards, greeting cards and T-shirts will provide "functional art forms for the common majority" (sic) Performative presentations provide the potential for audience interaction on a level that tries to avoid the dumbing-down processes of say, theatre hypnotists or pseudo-magicians.
The second AFRO.disiac happening takes place on August 25 and is dubbed 'Exhibit X'. Six visual artists explore aspects of male and female erotica (a bit of sexy always pulls 'em in) and hip-hop, rap, poetry and dance provides the entertaining edge. Video art, installation work and a joint initiative between AFRO.disiac and W.O.W (Women on Women) magazine showcasing works from a competition called 'Female Strength!' encouraging female artists to create powerful images of women, will also be on show.
For pictures and images of the first event, look for POETIC GESTURES by Marc Kwabema Boone on www.111.co.za.
Is it cultural apartheid or what one makes? Question on representation|
by Thembinkosi Goniwe
I would like to respond to the article titled 'Artist cut up over gallery's refusal to host circumcision', Sunday Times July 9, 2000 by Bonny Schoonakker (see July ArtThrob). What bothers me is when a journalist who is foreign or not critically orientated to certain discourse - in this case visual arts and its politics - sticks his nose, intruding under the rhetorical journalistic licence of covering "a good story". Of course, a journalist has a right to cover any story, but it is also critical to know that writing about visual arts and its politics is not only about covering any "good story". It is embarking on a complex critical practice demanding comprehensive understanding in order to illuminate the intricate issues involved. A lack of knowledge is very dangerous. In its worse impact, it corrupts the possibilities to improve critical debates on issues, of disputes, or contentious problems prevailing in contemporary South Africa. This is the case, especially when undertaken from one's racial perspective and preoccupation.
My 'concerns' towards Pienaar's work - which was the case with Andrew Porter and Zwelethu Mthethwa, although in a different light - were premised on extending the debate Pienaar's work initiated. As written in his proposal, my interest was the binary opposition: black medical doctor and white practising artist; traditional (ritual) and (modern) technology. Centrally, to my interest were concerns to understand why Pienaar's work finds it 'easy' to make reference to "Xhosa culture": what does he know about Xhosa circumcision ritual of manhood? Why not a Jewish or Muslim culture as a reference?
What concerns me is the appropriation of the Xhosa circumcision ritual, reduced to commodity by taking the ritual out of its proper cultural context. What message is sent to those ritual 'originates' who are sensitively emotional and who hold dear to it, when a white Afrikaans artist - a beneficiary of apartheid -- not only raises questions under the problematic term "art" by auctioning his foreskin on the net but also exploits it for financial gain? In the meeting between myself, Pienaar and Porter on the 7 July, Peinaar boldly said "I want to make lots of money about this work, because a person will have to pay at least $I to access the website world-wide in the auctioning of the foreskin -- imagine how much I will make?" Then, what does this tell us about Alby Sachs' concern: "We live in such a terribly competitive society, and the money factor plays a big role. The temptation for sensation is a real one that corrupts artists -- it brings you attention and sells work and to me it's one of the terrible corruptors of contemporary society."
Another concern was the subjugation of the black race to further a white Afrikaans artist's interest. Pienaar anticipates using a black woman medical doctor, and I argue that he draws her into an art territory, a foreign discourse to her professional practice. Thus, she would be engaged not only to provide medical expertise, but also to be tested: to prove herself and represent other black doctors to gain the "trust" of white men. As Pienaar explains: "My use of a black medical doctor explores the poor trust us white South Africans have when it comes to professional help like medical, law etc... For men, this issue is specially huge, specially because it is the penis which is being treated..." Why and for how long will black professionals have to prove their ability or trust to the white race?
Apparently not only her skin colour seems significant in Pienaar's work, but I also argue that the fear of white man towards black man is brought into question. Whether, it is deliberated or not, but I couldn't divorce my understanding from the fact that, historically white men have never had any respect for black women who to date she is the greatest victim of a white man's system, positioned at the lowest rung of the social hierarchy. Madhubuti writes that "White men do not fear Black women. The white man's relation to Black women traditionally has been one of use, sexually and otherwise... White men do fear Black men. This fear may not be spoken and obvious to many Black people, but if one understands the history of white male/Black male relationships, it is evident that it is a history of war [power and control]."
Traditionally in Xhosa culture females do not circumcise the male, therefore what is Pienaar to say: advocating or establishing? This brings me to the question of power relations: on whose interests, intent and terms is her role defined and controlled? Who is under whose spell? The collaboration of the black medical doctor could be reduced to labour, although based on her medical profession. The contrast of black and white seems to operate on that level where the white has the idea and black provide the labour service? White is the thinker and black the labourer, and thus I see the black medical doctor as the "consumable Other who, [is] stripped of authority and ... opened to the penetrative dominatory advances of " a white Afrikaans artist.
The exercise of power by a white Afrikaans artist can be argued to rest on the fact that he is able to choose whatever and whoever would enable him to realise his artistic intent at whatever and on whoever's expense. This is the "power, the ability to possess unquestionably, to exercise uncontested authority and manipulate at will" under the misgiving rhetoric: 'the freedom of artistic expression'.
Whatever controversy Pienaar's work provokes, I do not censor his work, but argue that it should not be divorced from the politics of representation, reframing or appropriation of the "other", and culture of the "other". Thus, a critical inquiry should not be reduced to 'racial censorship" or framed in problematic wording such as 'cultural apartheid'. It is not a taboo that in South Africa the politics of power relations and privilege based on economy and knowledge are still vested in the white race who will defend their position (see Grey Areas (1999) edited by Brenda Atkinson and Candice Breitz). Therefore, it is not by default that we now know that an emotional response from white art practitioners will mask the reality of the subordinate group when it comes to questioning those with power, privilege, access to education, resources and continuing control of institutions. If space allowed, much could be said!!!
Controversy stimulates Michaelis debate.
It's not about what I want to do, it's what other people bring to it that is important. My work operates on many levels, said artist Peet Pienaar, defending his proposal to undergo ritual circumcision as a piece of performance art. His remarks were made during a debate held at Michaelis Art School on July 27 which centred on Pienaar's proposal for the 'Male and Masculinity' exhibition curated by Londoner Jeremy Mulvey to be held at the AVA later this year. Others on the panel were chairperson Malcolm Payne, graduate student Mgcineni Sobopha, Thembinkosi Goniwe, one of three other artists chosen for the same show, AVA director Estelle Jacobs, and artist/writer Sue Williamson.
Goniwe responded to Pienaar by asking why it was so easy for him to use Xhosa ritual. He felt it was important to be aware that, to date, whites are privileged and that blacks would not be able to do the same type of investigation or utilise another's culture in the same way. Because of the imbalances that exist, whites still have vast choices and at the expense of others.
As expected, the debate was a very heated one with concerns ranging from unacceptable appropriation of Xhosa ritual to irresponsible curating. Other Xhosa members of the audience also found Pienaar's ideas insulting and degrading. The purpose of using a black doctor was also questioned. The aspect of the proposal which seemed to upset some audience members most was the appropriation and commodification of Xhosa culture by Pienaar in planning to have his performance broadcast on the internet and putting his circumcised foreskin up for bids.
There were other concerns about the curator's responsibilities and the fact that the debate was being held before Pienaar's work was even done. One audience member stated that it was interesting that the debate was in fact creating the piece and that perhaps it was even unnecessary for it to take place. Estelle Jacobs presented the history of the AVA's role in the project so far, but because Jill Trappler, local coordinator of this exhibition, was not present, some questions concerning the decision to not exhibit Pienaar's work at the AVA were unanswered.
Williamson commented that with the history of censorship in South Africa, great care must be taken concerning censorship. One must be careful in telling people what artwork they can do and what they cannot. At the same time, an artist must recognise and take responsibility for the fact that his work might cause offence.
Chairperson Payne was accused from the floor of conducting the debate in an abrasive manner, and the session ended with neither Pienaar nor Goniwe appearing to budge an inch from their original positions. What became quite clear was that the apparent appropriation of Xhosa culture in the name of art is a matter of extreme sensitivity.
Note: Pienaar will now carry out his planned circumcision piece at the Brendon Bell-Roberts Gallery to coincide with the 'Male and Masculinity' show at the AVA, and a fourth artist will be invited to take his place at the AVA with Thembinkosi Goniwe, Zwelethu Mthethwa, and Andrew Porter.
Band fantasy as art
An old picture of a late sixties band that never quite made it? Or artist Veronique Malherbe using an invitation to be part of a magazine shoot on 'The Eccentrics' for the August issue of Style magazine to make what the artist refers to as "my latest piece, a media-artwork called Machine-Gunned Aura"?
"It is a full-page colour photograph of an installation I created using live models, myself and a set which I created. It portrays a band that does not exist anywhere other than in our heads and in the pages of Style," says Malherbe, claiming: "Although we are a media construct, we are no less real than Britney Spears or Milli Vanilli: Surface truth, hype and gloss.
"The 'band' consists of Stan Engelbrecht, Mark Bates, Kasja, Justin Anschutz, Thain Torres and myself. The sex and drugs and rock and roll fantasy is a somewhat universal one and all six of us enjoyed the shoot. From an artmaking point of view, exhibiting my work in a magazine makes sense because I don't have to hire a gallery, don't have to send out invitations and I am guaranteed a viewership of thousands.
"I am going to be doing more bandshoots, with people other than myself frontlining, and I am interested in hearing from photographers who would like to collaborate on some of the shoots, as well as interesting people who would like to be photographed in one of the installations. One of the aims of the pictures is to simultaneously scrutinize both the media and the subculture attached to the style of music the band plays, in terms of dress-sense, environment, belief system and drugs of choice. E-mail me on Virginique@yahoo.com."
Malherbe earned her place in 'The Eccentrics' lineup in Style by creating an international media sensation last year when she used her own breast milk to make chocolates for a piece called Best Lay, and collected the semen of 100 men in testtubes for her piece, Sperm Halo. Both were shown at the Joao Ferreira Gallery on her May exhibition, The Quest for Zero Defect.
Jacking-up museums for change
curator Emma Bedford interviews the new CEO of the Museums of Cape Town
Who is Jack Lohman? This is the question everyone is asking about the recently appointed CEO of the Museums of Cape Town, and the first I put to him over lunch at the Gallery Caf�. In characteristically disarming fashion, he describes himself as 'an energetic spring that is passionate about museums'.
Jack Lohman is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Having spent his entire career working in, designing and developing museums and exhibitions, he brings a wealth of experience to bear on his new position as CEO of the cluster of national museums in Cape Town, a cluster which includes the South African National Gallery, the South African Museum, the South African Cultural History Museum, the Michaelis Collection and the William Fehr Collection.
Born in Poland, Jack (as he insists on being called) went on to study fine arts at the University of East Anglia, architecture at the Freie Universit�t in Berlin, and conservation at the Architectural Association in London. For nine years he worked at English Heritage, the British Government agency charged with looking after Britain's heritage, where as Head of Presentation he took responsibility for the long term development of such historic sites as Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey, Dover Castle and Battle Abbey. Jack also worked on similar schemes for the National Trust, developing plans for Fountains Abbey and Avebury Stone Circle museums. He has worked for the United Nations and the Central Board of Antiquities in Stockholm, developing their museum and interactive displays.
More recently he worked at the Field Museum in Chicago, the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung and designed EXPO pavilions for the government of Macao and for the Dutch government at Hanover 2000. His London-based consultancy, concerned with museum design and exhibition conceptualisation and production, is so successful that an office in Singapore has been opened.
He explains that he has worked on some of the most aspirational projects on the planet requiring enormous budgets. This combined experience in museums and entrepreneurial culture has equipped him for the task of fund-raising which is essential if our museums are to survive. By building public/private partnerships he intends to develop our museums so that they can equal the best in the world. His vision is to create a museum of excellence that provides the best consumer service possible.
All good and well, but does he have the experience required for this context? He is quick to point out that 90% of his work has been implemented outside Europe in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Australia and Japan, about which he is passionate. (Japanese is just one of the 7 languages he speaks.) He has also designed exhibitions in Dubai, worked on the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and designed a 36-venue travelling exhibition for the National Museum Services in Zambia.
Jack Lohman has, in addition, familiarised himself with the South African situation over the last 5 years through several visits both as a consultant and an active participant in local projects including the Peace Centre for the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust, the De Beers development of the Big Hole Museum in Kimberley, the think-tank on the Johannesburg CBD and 'The Cape Town Experience' for the Board of Executors.
While he acknowledges the disadvantages of being white, male and foreign he sees certain advantages to being an outsider. He's fearless and prepared to step on toes, if that's what's required. He claims to do nothing by half measures and considers that he has a 100% success rate. In short: he delivers. By providing a fresh perspective, he is able to ask uncomfortable questions and to initiate change. As he is only here on a three-year contract, we can be sure that change is imminent and bound to be dramatic.
How is this change going to be achieved? A new organisational structure is required, flattening management to create teams running across all the functions. Each site will get a facelift. New aspirational projects will be conceived to change the public perception of museums. Emotive and evocative projects to capture people's hearts will be implemented with dynamic marketing in the appropriate language and media. New exhibitions, refocused displays and dramatic programmes are set to attract a greater black population, more young people and to make the museums more family-friendly by catering for the needs of children. Fund-raising on a large scale will build on existing relationships and develop new commitments by firing people's imaginations.
Things are changing already. A name-change is imminent and the buzzword in museum circles is that everyone is getting 'jacked up'. Some staff members have been redeployed and a whole lot of shaking's going on. An international specialist in museum surveys arrives soon to teach us how to find out what our audiences want and three students will follow hot on her heels to focus on the redevelopment of key displays. They are from the National School of Art and Design in Norway where Jack lectures in the Museum Design Department.
The survival of museums depends on a complete rethink of our exhibits and approaches to marketing them. Jack subscribes to the approach that the South African National Gallery must tell the story of South African art. Given that there has been no funding to purchase art for the last five years, I look forward, with bated breath, to making this tale come true.
Well, if one swallow doesn't make a spring, one lunch doesn't provide all the clues to this energetic spring. A breath of fresh air he certainly is and we can expect many and far-reaching changes to the museums of Cape Town and in all likelihood, the ripple effect of his influence to spread much wider. Watch this space for change.
Motseokae Klas Thibeletsa
Winners of the Sasol New Signatures
Motseokae Klas Thibeletsa won this year's competition with an oil painting entitled Stepdaughter Unwelcomed. Mark Wilby received a Judge's Award from Willem Boshoff with a conceptual video installation entitled Promise Contained: Contained Promise, and Richard Letsatsi Bollers received Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi's Judge's Award for his oil painting Be Strong, Be Proud, Be a Part of the African Renaissance. The exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum is generally weak, and given the presence of works by Janet Wilson, Natasha Christopher and Merryn Singer, amongst others, the judge's choices are rather conservative and quite mystifying.
Piet van Heerden
New Gallery director for the Association of Arts, Pretoria
Ex-curator from the State Theatre Art Gallery, Pieter W van Heerden, has been appointed as the Director of the Association of Arts Pretoria, and assumed his new position on 1 July. Nandi Hilliard will work with him in her position as gallery manager. An ex-Private Secretary to the Minister of Arts and Culture in the Western Cape, Van Heerden states: "My vision is to fulfill my ideals of art promotion, art instruction and the art trade within the context of a specific and well-established art society, for the benefit of the Association of the Arts. I am also particularly enthusiastic about integrating and expanding into the activities of an existing art society the exciting possibilities which modern technology offers us."