Twin brothers' art popular at festival

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Copy of ca p11 Essops DONE INLSA Twins Husain and Hasan Essop's exhibition at the monument during the Grahamstown Arts Festival. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the festival. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

THEY ARE the first twins to win a Young Artist Award and, only 30 next year, are among the youngest to win in the visual arts category.

Hasan and Husain Essop have also been popular in Grahamstown at the Monument Gallery, where they are showing, seeing a lot of foot traffic.

This is partly because they have been at the gallery, talking to everyone. It is also because their work is accessible.

While a minority find the way they foreground their belief in Islam off-putting, it turns out South Africans, for the most part, are tolerant and curious. The pictures speak for themselves, but are open to multiple interpretations. Being named Young Artists meant they could go beyond making photographs for hanging on the wall.

For their Unrest exhibition they included not only huge canvases, but also an installation depicting two figures in camouflage robes, in front of a Qur’an stand. This is to symbolise their making a promise to fight their own bad deeds and ego. “It can come off as militant, but… it is what we are driven to. Islam is seen as aggressive, but the religion itself is not,” said Husain.

Their video installations depict their namesakes in a weapon-festooned cabinet. Drawing on the history of their namesakes – the Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons – they reference the commemoration of the violent death of the one in the video.

Copy of ca p11 Essops 3 DONE A couple attends the Essop twins' photographic exhibition at the monument gallery during the Grahamstown Arts Festival. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu INLSA

In an organised walkabout at the monument, visitors ask about the process in which they photograph spherically, moving in a 360° circle, starting with the camera pointed down, before moving the camera up by 15° and again moving in a full circle. They don’t know what a picture will look like until post-production on the computer.

“This kind of ritualistic act is symbolic for us, because we’ve been on pilgrimage,” said Hasan said about the photographic process. They spend plenty of time at the sites, with “lots of arguing”.

Hasan says they could actually handle a joint solo exhibition, but they don’t want to

. As children they loved the work of surrealist painters and they now try to inject a dreamlike quality into their work, using technology. The first two pictures in Unrest highlight the sense of community they were exposed to as children through their religion. Then the pictures shift forward in reference to their contemporary experience as adults.

The picture of black-clad men (looking like ninjas) hiding their faces, casually leaning against a Sea Point jungle gym, challengingly staring at the camera, is more menacing. “We call the exhibition Unrest because of the violent undertone,” said Hasan.

It is the undertone to both their lives, living on the Cape Flats. “You are driven to be able to defend yourself violently,” Hasan said.

Copy of ca p11 Essops 2 DONE FESTIVAL HIT: Twins Husain and Hasan Essop next to one of their pictures during their photographic exhibition walkabout at the Settlers monument during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the festival. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu INLSA

The picture adds a playful aspect to fighting violence with violence – the “fighters” are on a jungle gym.

The twins have done residencies in Amsterdam and travelled to Jerusalem, Germany and Senegal, as well as completed Hajj to Mecca.

“Cape Town is unique… from slavery, the mix of Malaysian, Indonesian and Indian… Islam in Cape Town has had years of ritual and tradition, mixed and passed on,” said Hasan. “Today you hear that what you were taught is wrong… and that is causing a split in the community.”

 

They put themselves in their pictures, and so put a Cape Town spin on things. “We love Cape Town… but that sense of paranoia around crime and violence, what does that do to you?” asked Hasan.

• The festival ends on Sunday. See www.iol.co.za for our coverage

 

- Cape Argus



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