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The National Arts Festival has announced an unprecedented eight Standard Bank Young Artists for next year. This makes 125 artists who have been honoured since the award was started 30 years ago.
The Young Artist Award is made annually to young South African artists who are either on the threshold of national acclaim, or whose artistic excellence has enabled them to make international breakthroughs.
For the first time the awards include a prize shared by siblings in a single category and for only the sixth time, a prize in the film category has been awarded.
With the newest category for performance art, which was instituted last year, the Young Artists Awards celebrate seven key genres. Next year, apart from Standard Bank marking 30 years of sponsoring the awards, the festival also celebrates its 40th anniversary.
• Next year’s National Arts Festival takes place from July 3 to 13.
FILM: JAHMIL QUBEKA
The Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Film is not awarded every year and is doubly important because it is recognition from outside the film industry.
The film-makers chosen usually demonstrate a particular vision or immediately recognisable style early in their career and Jahmil Qubeka joins only five other directors chosen in the past 30 years.
Born in the Karoo and raised in the Eastern Cape, Qubeka credits his film-making education to mentor, fashion photographer and film-maker Daron Chatz.
Qubeka is a film buff whose late father indulged his love of films to the point where he became a walking, talking film encyclopaedia as a teenager.
Qubeka has made documentaries, television dramas and numerous commercials and music videos and his HIV documentary, Talk To Me (2005), won five international awards including a George Foster Peabody Award (for broadcasting), The Rose D’Or (social awareness award), The Japan Prize (best programme: education category) and awards at the Chicago International Film Festival (gold Hugo award) and World Media Festival (gold intermedia globe).
The 34-year-old produced, co-wrote and photographed uMalusi (2009) on less than a shoestring budget, but the care and attention paid to the youth drama’s cinema- tography makes it a much bigger deal than its limited release suggested.
uMalusi got him noticed at the Durban International Film Festival, where he attracted the backing to make his directorial debut with a police corruption drama, A Small Town Called Descent (2010).
uMalusi, in particular, shows his fascination with filming in black and white – the film features three different cinematographic styles to differentiate township, suburb and city – and his second film, Of Good Report, also features no colour, as well as a lead character who never says a word.
Of Good Report (2013) is the noir thriller that hit the news earlier this year when it was supposed to open the Durban International Film Festival, but it was not shown because the Film Publication Board refused to classify the film, citing child pornography.
A battle of words in the media made international headlines and upon review the Film Publication Board unbanned the film which then received a limited release on the local circuit before embarking on a road trip of film festivals, including the London Film Festival, where it screened in competition, and the Africa in Motion Film Festival in Edinburgh at the end of this month. – Theresa Smith
THEATRE: GREG HOMANN
“It’s a career highlight,” says 2014 Young Artist Award Winner: theatre, Greg Homann, who has been on an upward trajectory since the day he stepped into the theatrical world.
The professional theatre pro- ductions that he has directed have been nominated for 34 awards and have won 13, including Naledi Awards for Best Cutting Edge Production (The Pirates of Penzance and Delirium), a Standard Bank Ovation Award (One-Woman Farce), and a Silver Standard Bank Ovation Award for directing (Brothers in Blood).
He graduated from Wits in 2003 with a BA drama degree and followed that with an MA in text and performance studies with distinction from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada).
For the past seven-and-a-half years he has lectured at Wits, his alma mater, and taught directing, acting and writing before joining Afda (The SA School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance) at the beginning of the year as head of the school of live performance. “It’s been a huge change,” he says but then again, he is revisiting much of what he has been teaching for the past few years.
It is as a theatre maker that he has made his strongest public mark. It’s still a young career but on stage he has leapt across genres from the skull-cracking Pirates to the thrilling Brothers in Blood, both of which are still having reincarnations as audiences clamour.
His most recent work, a one-woman show that he wrote in collaboration with Louise Saint-Claire who also stars, One-Woman Farce still has to do the rounds even though it is already boasting an award from the national festival.
His head is turning to next year’s festival. “I have things I want to say,” says Homann, who is determined to challenge himself and audiences. He knows he could choose a classic and do that well, he has a proven track record, but he prefers to get writing and go the whole route. He loves plays with a political heart but is as easily charmed by playful comedy, both of which feature in past successes.
At the moment he is still juggling many ideas but what the award has done is to provide a moment of self-reflection for this thirty-something director/writer/actor.
“It’s given me a chance to look at what I’ve done, what I’m interested in and who I’ve been,” says this thoughtful theatre maker who is interested in entertaining and engaging hearts and minds.
If there’s someone to look out for on stage, it’s one of his most regular cast members David Dennis. “If there’s any chance of a role, he will be there,” says Homann, who is grateful to this generous actor who has been part of so many of his productions.
And if there’s anything that’s set in stone about this creative force, it’s that Homann will not rest on his laurels. – Diane de Beer
JAZZ: KYLE SHEPHERD
Kyle Shepherd’s first engagement with jazz at the National Arts Festival was as a teenager, taking part in the workshops at the jazz festival.
“I remember being a 16-year-old and seeing concerts that blew my mind and opened me up to all sorts of things,” he says.
“To have in one week that amount of music, happening all the time on that level… to see all of that in one week, non-stop – it’s incredible.”
He attended the workshop until he was presenting classes and playing with other professional musicians in trios and quartets.
Today the 25-year-old Capetonian is a sought-after jazz pianist who has released three critically acclaimed SA Music Awards-nominated albums – fineART, A Portrait of Home and South African History!X.
Featured in the theatre production and Dylan Valley’s documentary, Afrikaaps, Shepherd regularly performs solo in concert as well as leading his trio with Shane Cooper on double bass and Jonno Sweetman on drums. His quartet features Claude Cozens on drums, Benjamin Jephta on bass and Buddy Wells on tenor saxophone.
As a composer and arranger Shepherd is at the forefront of redefining modern Cape jazz, taking his improvisational cue from the long line of artists who went before him, but at the same time tapping into a global, universal sound.
He is not sure yet what he will present as the Young Artist for Jazz at next year’s festival, since he is busy getting ready to release a solo piano album in Japan, supported by a tour through Japan, Malaysia and India until November. After that, it will be an academic residency at a university in India. It will be his third trip to Japan, which may be a culturally different destination, but is filled with fans who understand him when he plays.
“The spirit of the music cuts through boundaries. I find that to be an incredibly comforting thing. I’ve played in many countries in the past two years and I find the same thing everywhere, people take in the music in the same way.”
“I’m invited to all these places for what I do and the sense of knowing that overcomes the fear of worry about things (like) people in other places not being as interactive as in Cape Town where people respond in an overt way.”
“That’s why I love to play in South Africa, because you really get the energy from the audience, which is great. As a musician, that’s perfect.” – Theresa Smith
She creates real-life situations that straddle fiction and reality. That’s how 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist: performance art and Joburg-based public artist and lecturer, Donna Kukama, describes her work.
This is only the second time an artist in this genre has been given the award and Kukama is thoroughly aware that she is working in a field where great South African artists have surfaced yet not been rewarded. “The truth is that there have been a number of South African performance artists before me. Think of Tracey Rose, Samson Mudzunga, Steven Cohen, and Johan Thom, to name a few.”
She doesn’t want to dismiss the honour, but she wants to acknowledge that this niche for performance artists has only recently been established. And even though she comes in quite early within the discipline’s recognition by a major national platform, there have been many working with this medium paving the way.
She also points out that she got here through experimentation, trial and error, but mostly hard work.
Born in 1981 in Mafikeng, she studied Fine Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology, completed her postgraduate studies at the École Cantonale d’Art du Valais in Sierre (Switzer- land) in 2008, under Maps (Master of Arts in the Public Sphere), and is currently a faculty member at the Wits School of Arts .
Talking about her process and how she got there she explains: “The world is a funny place… and full of inspiration. I tend to find inspiration everywhere.
“My background or formal training is in painting, photo- graphy, and printmaking, but very early in my undergrad studies I began experimenting with video and performance.
“It was only during my postgrad studies that I expanded into using sound as a medium.”
Currently she is involved in a series of projects, including performances during the Biennale de Lyon, and a residency at the Frac de Pays de la Loirs, in Carquefou, near Nantes.
Other projects will be taking place in Strasbourg, Bordeaux, and Valence.
For Lyon, she will be presenting A Catalogue Without Pages (Volume 1 & 2, chapters 1-3). “The catalogue takes the form of a walkabout of the two main exhibitions, and can only be experienced once.
“My work constantly allows me to imagine multiple possibilities in how we can potentially experience reality,” she says.
Her reaction to the award is one that embraces recognition.
“It will hopefully allow for the way my work is viewed and perceived to shift, especially in spaces where it is not easily perceivable as ‘work’.
“Not enough attention is paid to performance art locally, and this award is a heck of a confidence boost for me, and hopefully other young people working in the same field.
“I hope that a few years from now, this artform will be as popu- lated as the other traditional forms of art, if not more.”
As for what to expect, she gives some clues: “Performance allows me to remember a past, to make the most of the present moment, and to continue imagining a series of possible futures.” – Diane de Beer
DANCE: NICOLA ELLIOTT
NICOLA Elliott and her Cape Town family have a long-standing history with the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown as spectators with wonderful memories.
She is the first one to go into the arts field as a professional, though, first performing as a Rhodes University undergraduate, in a student production.
She received a Master’s degree in Drama specialising in choreography in 2010 and has worked since on a project-to-project basis, receiving commissions from entities such as The First Physical Theatre Company (2011 & 2011), Dance Umbrella (2011), The Emerging Director’s Bursary (2012) and a funding grant from the National Arts Council of SA (2012-13).
She cites head of drama depart- ment Gary Gordon as a great inspiration while at Rhodes University. Always interested in physical performance, Elliott found choreography to be the most powerful form of expression.
“The Rhodes mentality at the time was to find things through the body, rather than teaching particular styles. It was quite an explorative process and I started to connect with those choreographic ideas,” she explains.
Elliott does not perform in her own work although she has begun performing again after an injury sidelined her for a while: “The most powerful place to be is where the audience is going to be.
“To craft the audience’s journey is my role.”
She is also clear that she wants to work with people she has worked with before for next year’s festival: “I feel like we’ve been on a journey together. I want to continue that journey. It’s an opportunity to go further into my aesthetic with them; I don’t have to start from scratch.”
Categorising her choreography is tricky because she draws on international trends. One of her favourite inspirations is Belgian choreographer Ana Teresa de Keersmaeker.
Still, her content looks inwards: “The look and taste of the work is inspired by international aesthetics, but what it deals with is personal and local.
“I see my work as a bit like a music score. Every person in it is like a different instrument, playing a different tune and harmony.”
Teaching at UCT School of Dance and the College of Music as an auxiliary teacher for her bread and butter, Elliott is looking forward to creating work for the young artist award: “This sort of budget gives you the opportunity to focus on something for a limited period of time and you can’t put a price on that.” – Theresa Smith
OPERA: NJABULO MADLALA
While operatic rising star and 2014 Young Artist Award winner: opera, Njabulo Madlala spends most of his time overseas, he loves performing at home. “The audience here is wonderful and gives so much that you give them more,” he says.
He recently returned to South Africa to perform under maestro Richard Cock. “I sang at RMB’s Starlight Classic with Katherine Jenkins. I also performed as part of the Verdi celebration concerts at the Linder Auditorium. All these concerts were my first concerts in Johannesburg and I absolutely loved every minute of it. Working with Richard Cock is a dream. He is a true singer’s conductor and a superb conductor and colleague. I love making music with him.”
The young Madlala was first introduced to opera in a round-about way. “Actually, it is kind of ironic how this worked out. My grandmother was a domestic worker and after many years of working for different families to keep us alive, she was employed by the most wonderful white family in Durban North. They loved me like I was their own and as it happened, the lady of the house loved opera and classical music. From time to time they would throw out things they didn’t use. One day we found old cassette tapes of opera.”
He listened to the tapes when the adults left the house because no one else was interested and started singing along. Before long all the neighbours knew about this, yet his family didn’t. “After completing high school, I announced to all my family that I wish to sing opera and travel the world.”
He is currently studying in London – where most of his studies have been so far. But he is planning to move to Germany to spend a few years working there and then travel again.
He holds on to home with a project called Amazwi Omzansi (Voices of South Africa) started a few years ago to help create platforms for young singers aspiring to go into music and opera in South Africa. Madlala invites international colleagues to come to South Africa to lead workshops and masterclasses for young singers here.
“This is how we are able to give back. I hope to develop this so music education goes back into schools.”
Home looms large in his heart. “To have one’s dream come true is the single most incredible experience. To have it come true at home is special and precious.
“This is something every artist wherever they are in the world longs for deeply,” he says about the Young Artist Award.
“The feeling I had when I got that phonecall is one of those moments you get once in a life- time. I will remember it forever.
“This is without a doubt one of my happiest moments. We benefit from this platform and will use it not only to showcase what we are about but also to empower those who come after us.” – Diane de Beer
VISUAL ARTS: HASAN & HUSAIN ESSOP
GROWING up, Hasan and Husain Essop were not surrounded by lots of pictures and posters on the walls because of a long-standing tradition in Islam not to depict sentient living beings in order not to encourage idolatry.
The 28-year-old twins from Cape Town, graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Arts in 2007, interested in depicting the world around them.
Drawn to interrogating the clash between their traditional Islamic upbringing and the influence of Western pop culture, they made themselves the subject of their own photography.
From the beginning they made the conscious decision to only use themselves as subjects so that any questions would be directed at them and it would be about the choices they made.
“We didn’t want to go out and capitalise on images of other people without getting their permission,” explained Hasan.
At that point they were drawing their inspiration from their surroundings, their community and the city. While Husain had gone on hajj to Mecca, Hasan had never travelled before, so a residency in Cuba in 2009 was quite the eye-opener.
“We thought we’d try to make a relationship between what we experienced in Cape Town and overseas and what came out of that was successful and really rich.
“As we were being invited to different countries we made sure to look for things we could take home and be part of the show,” explained Hasan.
Travelling to Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Dubai, they exhibited work and took part in residencies, as well as exhi- bition work in groups in Joburg and France. The fine line between tradition and religion, the misinterpretations, the clash between Western and Eastern cultures underpins their work.
“For us it’s a nice opportunity to explore in our art.
“Where we live, it’s a duality that our friends experience – trying to keep their tradition, heritage, values and religious values, and wanting to fit into a society. It’s not only from a Muslim point of view, but simply a religious point of view.
“Speaking to other people who believe in their faith, they are overwhelmed by pop media. It’s not a negative thing, it’s just something evolving today.
“It’s not just technology that is evolving, not just how we look and dress, but also religion.”
They haven’t decided yet what they want to present next year at Grahamstown, but it will feature some key work as well as new work. Either way, it’s going to be exciting since this will be their first trip to the National Arts Festival. – Theresa Smith