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Friday, July 3, 2009


Multi-layered multi-media exhibitions at the National Arts Festival.

History with its layers of fiction, lies, secrets and erasures is the material for key works on the exhibition programme for the National Arts Festival (Grahamstown July 2 to 11 2009).

Blood Diamonds, a performance art installation by Brett Bailey, takes audiences into the dark corners of Grahamstown, and into the murky crannies of our past. The raw power of Bailey’s assault on the imagination guarantees catharsis.

The ghosts of installation haunt many of the images in a collection titled Beyond the Documentary Photograph curated by Heidi Erdmann and Jacob Lebeko. The overall proposition is that the photographer’s art starts with making an image or installation and then translating it into two-dimensions with the camera. Again, a sense of layers in time and practice reinforce the disquieting portent that hovers in the gallery.

Xhosa rituals that mark passages of personal history are the under layers of Umtshotsho by Young Artist Award Winner Nicholas Hlobo. A keen and irreverent social observer, he pinpoints the high-tech urban moves that can be equated to older traditions for celebrating identity and social status.

Hlobo joins a prestigious group of previous awardees in the Standard Bank Young Artists 25: Retrospective. The 25-year history of the visual art Young Artist Award sponsored by the Standard Bank is tracked in a retrospective of winner’s work curated by the late Professor Alan Crump and Barbara Freemantle. The work on show invites the imagination to walk through a quarter of a century of aesthetic innovation and inspired patronage.

Engaging with the practice of shaving young men’s heads when they join the army, Paul Emmanuel’s Transitions summons up the ancient link between identity and appearance, with hair as an emotional focus. His evocative video is accompanied by extraordinary drawings on photographic paper that takes photo-realism to a new plane.

Gillian Ruth de Vlieg’s exhibition Rise Up! demonstrates the fact that the documentary photographer, whose aim is to capture moments in history, also produces timeless images with universal resonance. De Vlieg was one of the few women photographers working on the front line of the struggle for democracy.

The medium is part of the message for Bronwen Findlay whose lifelong love-affair with colour and the physicality of paint manifests itself in an exhibition she calls Matter and Treasure and Paint. The idea of the painted image as a repository of history is reinforced by personal objects imbedded in the layers of several of the works.

South African advertisers have always had something to say both explicitly, and embedded in the images, sounds and suggestion contained in the work they produce. Over the last 40 years, the country has undergone massive change in virtually every aspect of society. The exhibition Commercial Culture by the advertising agency Ireland/Davenport tracks how advertising has kept step with – and often anticipated – social change, often in a startling, humorous, cheeky, bold or outright subversive way.

The Eastern Cape Art and Craft Exhibition ranges over time and space to offer a metaphoric map of the richness and diversity of creative production in this fertile province. More regionally produced craft art is on sale at the Village Green and a wealth of exhibitions on the Fringe amplifies the opportunities to feast the eye and imagination.

The “10 days of amazing!” at the National Arts Festival will run from July 2 to 11 in Grahamstown. Booking is at Computicket. For more information visit the website on

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The Eastern Cape Government, The National Arts Council, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, The Sunday Independent and MNet.