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The Amani Arts Festival 2010

Various Participants at Lookout Hill

By Linda Stupart
30 October - 30 October. 0 Comment(s)
Installation by Maurice Mbikayi (DRC)

Amani Arts Festival
Installation by Maurice Mbikayi (DRC), 2010. .

Community projects in South Africa are difficult, possibly more so than anywhere else. With our particular history of colonial appropriation, missionary arts education and continuing problematic labeling, as well as the marketing and exhibition of ‘township art’ for a mawkish tourist market, many in the arts-educated community are just too scared to get involved, paralyzed by the (not entirely unfounded) fear of being just another outsider telling a community what they need and how they should make art.  

Art activist and performance poet Suzy Bell, however, has never been one of those people, and when group of Somalian men were kidnapped in Khayelitsha earlier this year, suggesting that the nation is once again facing an uprising of xenophobic sentiment, she made the decision to do something. She initiated a process of discussion, discovery and collaboration, which led to the Amani Arts Festival, a multidisciplinary arts and performance event which took place on October 30th at Lookout Hil Centre, Khayelitsha.

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On arriving at this event, I was immediately struck by an amazing and positive energy. A Pan-African hip-hop crew was performing, Zavick Botha was working with swarms of cheerful and creative children and, inside, a tiny space was packed with people listening to a discussion between the Gugulective and Bettina Malcomess about strategies of inclusion and exclusion operating in the South African art world. In fact, the event was crowded for the whole day with local children and adults as well as a good section of the ‘city-centre’ Cape Town art crowd.

Of course, there was also the ‘traditional’ visual art component, which featured a range of younger and more established artists including Sue Williamson, Stuart Bird and Svea Josephy. A lot of the work on show was very interesting; and it was nice to see pieces by up-and-comers like Tseleng and Mabaso, who were dealing particularly with notions of otherness, immigration and Africa. I was particularly impressed with Maurice Mbikayi’s large-scale installation and it was also refreshing to see works like Josephy’s Twin Towns piece positioned centrally in the exhibition space, looking out. 

Although I was generally impressed by the works on show, as well as the dialogues the curators set up between pieces (conversations that were then articulated in discussion during the festival), I felt that the curation of the space itself did need more consideration. Sloppy hanging, bad placement and messy labels should be seen as as inappropriate in Lookout Hill as they are in any shiny Cape Town gallery, if anyone is to take an exhibition, its artworks and the venue itself seriously. 

Hiccups aside, the festival really worked: educational workshops, interesting art, dynamic performances and inherently site-specific discussions meant that there was a range of events for a hugely disparate audience, avoiding the patronizing and paternalistic model of community outreach so common in Africa, but also not alienating audiences and youngsters who may not want to engage with a highly theoretical arts discussion. Most importantly, through a dedicated process of discussion and collaboration with existing groups like the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), as well as with local visual artists and a variety of performers and performance artists, Bell created an event that was for the Khayelitsha community, addressing issues of xenophobia without judging or patronizing the community in which it is so pertinent.