Is Durban really the backwater of the South African art scene?
by Carol Brown
Despite many artistic successes over the years, Durban is still not considered a major role-player in the contemporary art scene. Try as I may to defend my home town I also cannot deny this fact. Cutting-edge is not happening on the East Coast. 'Red Eye', the multimedia art/fashion/culture event, ran for eight years and hopefully nurtured many young artists, giving them a space to create new, experimental work. They took up the challenge. It also created a vibe in the CBD and for this its events are legendary. That too has now come to an end. However, in spite of all of this, the fact remains that Durban is still buzzing, maybe not with cutting edge art, but with loads of pizzaz and creativity.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal's Centre for Creative Arts continues with its Time of the Writer, Poetry Festival, Film Festival and year-long diverse programme which brings creative talent from all over Africa to Durban. The annual MTN Film Festival takes place from June 20 - July 1 this year.
And Durban now has a Fashion Week to rival Cape Town and Johannesburg. This is the third year of this event (now known as the MTN Fashion Week and organised by Vanashree Singh and Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe) which has proved extremely popular and which has drawn the country's fashionistas to the city. Artists and designers have been involved in the production of this event in past years and the trend continues this year. Durban has a reputation for producing some of the country's top designers over the years - names like Craig Native, Amanda Laird-Cherry, Colleen Eitzen and Gideon spring to mind. Twelve young students from a wide selection of tertiary instiutions are involved in this year's show too.
The Durban Art Gallery is staying at the forefront by being the first to host the MTN 'Messages and Meaning' exhibition. Young artist Bronwyn Lace is showing at the Durban University of Technology as part of their increasingly exciting artist-in-residence programme, while Karen Bradtke is expanding her gallery artSPACE to Berlin where she will be taking works by local artists. Andrew Verster, who turns 70 in June, remains one of South Africa's top innovative artists. He is currently showing never-before-seen work at the KZNSA and remains actively involved in the Grahamstown Festival where he will hold a survey show in celebration of his 70th year. Architects Janina Masojada and Andrew Makin won a worldwide competition to design Johannesburg's Constitutional Court.
Maybe we aren't on the cutting-edge, but are we really the backwater we are made out to be?