Saturday, January 29, 2011

Top 10 Cultural Highlights of 2010

A bit belated nevertheless here it is, in no particular order:

1. Paintings by Nicholas Hlobo at Brodie-Stevenson Gallery:
Hlobo is the country’s rising art star. Since showing solo exhibitions at the prestigious ICA in Boston, Massachusetts, and at the Tate Gallery in London in 2008, he has secured an enviable international profile, which has been further cemented since scooping the Rolex Visual Arts Protégé for 2010/11, which will see Anish Kapoor mentoring him.
But it is not these achievements that garnered him a place on this list: it’s the extraordinary so-called “paintings” - a collection of canvases boasting intricate three-dimensional embroidery - he exhibited in 2010.
In them he upturns the notion of the painted canvas, transforming the traditional western art medium into a sculptural form that straddles the realm of craft.
So far the artist has focused on the exterior embellishments that conceal human forms but, in this remarkable series, he attempts to peel back the surface layers as he explores interiority and the interplay between the two.
This presents an interesting shift for the artist and one that suggests that the fixation with identity that has gripped visual arts production in this country is moving in a new direction.

2. Foreplay, written and directed by Mpumelelo-Paul Grootboom at the Market Theatre:
This was the second run of this play, an adaptation of Arthur Reitzinger’s Der Reigen (The Circle). Grootboom is an uncompromising playwright who is unwilling to pander to commercial concerns or bourgeois sensibilities. In this play he offers uncensored views into the darkest parts of the South African consciousness by probing sexual desire, utilising it |as a metaphor for an insatiable hunger for power and dominance, the two driving forces that have defined our history and have set the conditions for the current political climate.
This idea crystallises in a long, drawn-out rape scene where the perpetrator is a top government official. Though many audience members found the scene unbearable, part of Grootboom’s talent as a theatre-maker is his ability to force audiences to confront the harsh realities of a society that has lost its moral compass.
In Foreplay he softens these truths by infusing humour, music and stylisation in such a way that the pain and horror is aesthetisised, though it remains palatable and haunting.

3. Time of the Berries by Peter Van Heerden and Sello Pesa: the 2010 Dance Umbrella:
Ever interested in dismantling the boundaries between performers and audiences, Van Heerden and Pesa created a performance in which the spaces these two occupy were almost completely blurred.
Not just physically but ideologically too, as they appealed to the audience to engage in a political discussion. They also achieved this by making it unclear when they were performing and when they weren’t.
Though these strategies and objectives are nothing new – particularly within the world of performance art – they exploited these ideas in the creation of a work which aimed to challenge not just the passivity of the |audience but to probe the politics of passivity, particularly in a racially charged environment where acts of violence and abuse continue to play out. They related this idea to the Reitz Four by enacting scenes from this case, where four young white men abused black cleaners at the University of the Free State.