national Arts Festival Banner

Monday, July 11, 2011


(Two of the impressive sculptures on Nandipha Mntambo's exhibition)

National Arts Festival, Grahamstown: Friday, July 8, 2011

Last day in Grahamstown, so much furious writing of reviews while they’re still clear in my head. Then off to the Monument to say farewell to Gilly and Cilnette, the incredibly hardworking media team for the festival. Then to pop in to Festival Director, Ismail Mahomed, and CEO Tony Lankester to discuss the next stage of Festival Wires.

Festival Wires is a project aimed at getting KZN audiences and performers back to Grahamstown. I discovered to my horror about three years ago that KZN participation in the Festival had dropped to 2% (not even 20%). That sent me into overdrive and the three of us, with publicist Illa Thompson, have been looking at ways to encourage our hothouse KZN blooms to brave the cold. Which is fairly understandable. With weather patterns changing the way they are, few people in Durban have a winter wardrobe any more!

To my surprise and delight, Ismail and Tony gave me a present to mark my 25th unbroken period of years spent covering the festival – a beautiful ceramic calabash-shaped pot and lid in a brightly spotted basket. I felt truly honoured and part of the Festival “family”.

On the way out, I took in the exhibition by this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art, Nandipha Mntambo. The Monument Gallery has been painted a pristine white from ceiling to floor which sets off the works to good advantage. The exhibition is titled Faena and, according to the Festival programme, it is “the most beautiful and skilful section of a bullfight. It refers to a dance with death, where the matador must prove his courage and artistry”.

Mntambo goes on to say that she aimed to create “an experience/encounter that interrogates the viewer’s sense of sight, hearing, smell and touch.” A screen displays the feet of two dancers performing the Paso doble, a dance which is modelled on bullfighting.

Mntambo initially studied forensic pathology before deciding to pursue art but she continued her former interest by working with a taxidermist where she learnt to tan cowhides, which now forms one of her main mediums. The focus falls immediately on the three sculptures – the one side soft and felt-like while the treated inside reminding you that it once covered an animal. This is an exhibition that will leave a strong impression on you.

Sadness and shock tinged the day with the news of the deaths of dancer Eric Shabalala from Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre and television cameraman Peter Jakobi. Tributes will be placed on artSMart as soon as more information is to hand. – Caroline Smart