Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reflecting on the Soccer Art Frenzy

GIANT body parts are scattered all over the workroom. A colossal woman’s head is balanced on a stick while an artist bends over her, pushing her plastic eyes into place. Massive sets of hands sit on a tabletop. The fingertips have yet to be covered by tan masking tape, so you can see the plastic bottles that have been used in their construction. Long strands of coarse rope, which will be used as hair, cascade down a spiral staircase in the corner of the workroom. The artists barely look up when we enter. With over 30 giant puppets, or grand personnes as the French participants in the Giant Match project call them, to complete before
the World Cup starts, there isn’t time to indulge curiosity. This room is one of many workrooms that colonise the 20-storey Wits University corner building. Over 100 puppet makers have been toiling in these rooms and in the theatre across the road since mid-April. Their frenzied creative work is emblematic of the heightened artistic activities that have been manifesting all around the city of Joburg in the run-up to the landmark sporting event. Artists, actors, dancers, curators, choreographers and theatre producers have within the last year been focused on creating artistic products to complement or coincide with the event. Never have the two contrasting fields of sport and art shared such synergy. Given the amount and variety of cultural products that have been designed to be staged during this international soccer extravaganza, it would be easy to think that it’s not just a sporting event but a huge cultural festival.

Although the Department of Arts and Culture’s promise of R150 million to fund tournament-related cultural projects didn’t materialise in the way that it should have, the art community forged ahead with the aid of foreign cultural agencies such as the Goethe Institute and the French Institute of South Africa, (Ifas), and other government bodies such as the City of Joburg and the Gauteng Provincial Government. That such a diverse cultural programme will run alongside the World Cup is testament to this robust and determined community, accustomed to fighting tooth and nail to survive without national government support and their keenness to exploit the opportunity the event has presented to showcase cultural products.

Undoubtedly, such efforts evince that the arts are not only relevant, in the sense that this sphere is able to engage with sporting activities, but have an equally important role to play in major events. Almost every sphere of the arts is presenting work during the World Cup: there is the African Film Festival at Africa Museum, musical and theatrical productions such as The Boys in the Photographs, but primarily it is large visual arts displays that dominate, including In Context, a multi-media multi-venue art exhibition, Without Masks, a large Afro-Cuban exhibition at the Joburg Art Gallery, SPace, a Pan-African exhibition
at Africa Museum, the aptly titled This is Our Time, an exhibition spread across Joburg and Cape Town venues (Brodie-Stevenson Gallery and Michael Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town), Halakasha!, a soccer-themed exhibition showing at the Standard Bank Gallery, Harun Farocki’s Deep Play, also at Joburg Art Gallery, and the bi-national Brazilian/South African exhibition called The Eleven Football and Art – Africa 2010 x Brazil 2014.