Kim Gurney's roundup of the year
Best Local Show
'Democracy X' at the Castle was very skilfully curated, encompassing a wide variety of artefacts and artworks with interesting juxtapositions and surprises to discover - even on repeat visits.
The visual arts component of the Grahamstown Festival was a definite highlight as issues of heritage took center stage. Among the most intriguing was Peter van Heerden, a Cape Town drama student, who made himself into a permanent 'live art' installation for the duration of the festival in his hard-hitting performance piece called So is 'n Os Gemaak. Printmaker Paul Emmanuel continued the theme in less dramatic fashion, as did painter Leigh Voigt and creators of the Keiskamma Tapestry. Kathryn Smith's show 'Euphemism' was another highlight, which I also enjoyed in its later installation at the Durban Art Gallery. Brenda Schmahmann's 'Through the Looking Glass' at the Albany Museum was also an intriguing festival exhibition.
The name of the show now escapes me (perhaps no coincidence) but the exhibition was coupled to a conference at the University of the Western Cape. It was supposed to engage with ways of seeing women in society and to explore the associated issues, which sounded very intriguing. Unfortunately, the exhibition itself was a real letdown both in terms of presentation and content.
Also disappointing as an art exhibition - perhaps because of the hype - was 'Hands the Shape Humanity'. It was a great concept but it was in fact a travelling show of wisdom or thought rather than a show of artworks, which were thin on the ground and rather contrived.
More generally, the handling of the protracted saga of allegations and counter-allegations at the NAC by the Department of Arts and Culture was a disappointment for artists around the country and particularly for those awaiting clarification on funding.
Voiceovers: Wits Writings Exploring African Artworks, published by the University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries was very enlightening. I really enjoyed the personal engagement with the artworks in this catalogue, which provided an interesting alternative entry point to the usual more academic fare.
Best Art Book
This one must go to 10 years, 100 Artists published by Bell-Roberts. This book is a feat that goes some way towards filling the relative void of information about South African artists - especially younger, emerging ones.
One to watch for 2005
In the Western Cape, it will be interesting to see what Tollman Award winner Mustafa Maluka gets up to now that he has returned to Cape Town from the Netherlands. Among emerging artists, Mikhael Subotzky, a recent Michaelis graduate, will also be one to watch after he received 100 per cent for his photography exhibition of Pollsmoor Prison inmates.
Quote of the year
Japan Mthembu, a member of the NAC's former executive committee, on the protracted saga of allegations and counter-allegations at the arts body just months before the entire board was axed by the Minister of Arts and Culture: 'Staff morale is also affected under this cloud and things do not run as smoothly as they should. We are mindful of that but it is not a situation where we think it necessary to press the panic button.'