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The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is underway, and this year’s visual arts programme offers an unprecedentedly strong selection of solo and group exhibitions.

Art South Africa will run reviews of the festival’s highlight exhibitions over the next few days, so keep checking www.artsouthafrica.com for the latest. For our best reviews, lookout for next week’s newsletter. For now, though, here are some tidbits to persuade you that if you haven’t yet seen these shows, you really ought to.

– Mikhael Subotzky: Retinal Shift : Subotzky’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award exhibition is a sensitive and rigorous study of the act of looking at people, places and history. The central work in the exhibition is a four-channel film titled “Moses and Griffiths”, which reframes the history of Grahamstown through personal and canonical narratives of the town, as told by two local heritage agency employees. This work is offset by a photographic installation that presents images from Subotzky’s personal and professional archives, and offers insight into the intimacy of the photographer’s gaze. – Various artists: Making Way : Curated by Rhodes University lecturer Ruth Simbao, this exhibition brings together Chinese and Southern African contemporary artists in an exploration of place, new global exchanges and the relationship between culture and economics. Familiar names include James Webb, Thenjiwe Nkosi, Gerald Machona, Doung Anwar-Jahangeer, Athi-Patra Ruga, who will conduct public performances in Grahamstown this Saturday from 10am. – Cedric Nunn: Call and Response : Consummate South African photographer Cedric Nunn’s retrospective Call and Response is on show at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown. The exhibition spans Nunn’s work from the 1960’s and 1970’s to the present. – Steven Cohen: Cradle of Humanakind : This is Cohen’s first performance in South Africa in seven years, and represents his final collaboration with his childhood caregiver Nomsa Dhlamini. The work is inspired by the Cradle of Humankind, an area in the north of Gauteng believed to be the origin of hominids. The work is a deeply moving tribute to Cohen and Dhlamini’s relationship and addresses many of the contradictions of love across racial lines in post-apartheid South Africa. – Usha Seejarim: Venus at Home : Seejarim’s solo exhibition of sculpture, installation and video examines the gendering of everyday activities. Conceptually framed in response to Henri Lefebvre’s notion of the everyday, the show invigorates the mundane objects, activities and journeys that we typically think of only in functional terms.

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