The highly anticipated annual Standard Bank National Arts Festival (NAF) kicks of in Grahamstown this weekend, with a programme packed with jazz, dance, theatre, and, for a change, cutting edge contemporary art.
The visual arts programme has always seemed fairly low on the festival’s agenda, but this year the NAF boasts a strong line-up of exhibitions and performances, including an exhibition by Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner Mikhael Subotzky, a performance by Steven Cohen and Nomsa Dhlamini and a group exhibition of Chinese and African artists curated by Rhodes lecturer Ruth Simbao. Subotzky’s exhibition, which opens on 28 June, is titled “Retinal Shift”, and investigates the practice and mechanics of looking, in relation to the history of Grahamstown, the history of photographic devices, and Subotzky’s own history as an artist. This new body of work is centered on a four-channel film installation titled Moses and Griffiths, which conveys the history of Grahamstown through the experiences of two local tour guides. Simbao’s curated exhibition “Making Way” looks at the burgeoning economic relationships between China and various African countries as represented in artworks by artists from these regions. Some familiar names on the show include Athi-Patra Ruga, Doung Anwar-Jahangeer and Gerald Machona. Steven Cohen, who has been based in Lille, France, for some years, makes a rare stage appearance for South African audiences with a highly acclaimed new performance work “Cradle of Humankind”. The piece debuted at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2011 and looks at the notion of origins and inter-species connectedness. Performing together with Cohen is his longtime care-giver, friend and collaborator, Nomsa Dhlamini, who some will remember from an earlier video work “Maid in South Africa”. Also featured on the festival is “Call and Response”, a retrospective of the work of Cedric Nunn, and Usha Seejarum’s solo exhibition “Venus at Home”.