419 25.06.2014 Young artist Happy Dhlame pose with a bottle of wine, that shows his a painting branded on it, which is titled Blackjack in the limited edition of wine. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

AN INNOVATIVE project sees art meet the art of wine making. Fine artist Happy Dhlame is the third in a series of artists to have been commissioned by prominent art collector and convener, Harry Zietsman.

Zietsman owns a series of gallery spaces around the country including a hotel in Graskop, a restaurant in Cullinan and Harry’s Pancakes in Pretoria. His collection houses works from JH Pierneef to William Kentridge as well as emerging artists like Dhlame.

The idea is to design labels for limited red and white wines on a yearly basis. These wines will then become collectors’ items because of the art on the labels.

The first commissioned artist was Shane de Lange in 2012 followed by Abrie Fourie last year and now Dhlame.

The idea of the Black Box comes from all the exhibitions Zietsman has supported over the years. He has catalogued each one and it is basically a library of artists.

Dhlame explains the concept behind his designs which are subtle, raised black lettering on a black label.

“I thought of black history in South Africa which is why I titled the wine, Black Jacks. Black Jacks were part of the former black SAP in Soweto. There is also a plant called black jacks and in Afrikaans we call them wag ’n bietjies.

“If they stick to you, you have to stop and take them off and it takes time, just like wine. Also, the manner of consuming wine is to take your time in a relaxed environment. I think that art goes hand in hand with wine, which in turns goes very well with your meal. Oh, and there is a black rock band called Blk Jks.”

The limited edition wines are produced from a wine farm in Tulbagh and are available from Zietsman’s various venues.

Aside from the wines, Dhlame is working on another project which will be part of his year-end exhibition. The artist, who studied here and in Europe, has often exhibited on both continents over the years. His latest project is titled Land of Milk and Honey.

On election day he dressed up in a mask and a suit and collected rubbish in those large rubbish packets, dragging them past voting stations in Melville to his final destination, which is a rubbish collection site in Newtown. The whole episode was caught on camera. On one side of his rubbish collection were the words “Land of Milk and Honey” against the background of the ANC’s colours.

“I had to perform it on voting day,” he states. “It’s about a normal man who takes rubbish from the suburb to the CBD to get food. Most of these men you see dragging the rubbish on their carts are family men.

“I was fascinated with the balaclavas they wear. When I was doing my research I asked one of the men why. I addressed him in Zulu, but he replied in Sotho. He was from Lesotho and said that they wear them when they are in the mountains for the cold, but in South Africa they use them to hide their identity.

“I used the mask and the suit as metaphors for politicians. They use suits as a sign of authority and authenticity. Maybe authenticity is dressing well?”

The travelling rubbish exhibition also included a blue light on top.

“I used the blue light as a symbol for the blue light brigade. The irony of the blue light is that these men are not in motorised vehicles, but they take up room on the road and motorists are forced to give way to them. It’s about freedom of space.”

Watching the video, one can’t help but laugh at the spectacle of a balaclaved suited-up man pulling a rubbish cart with an ANC sign and a flashing blue light through suburbia while mystified voters look on .

The video is being exhibited in China and the US. On its return to South Africa it will form part of an exhibition at the end of the year called Men in Balaclavas.