BROTHERS IN ART: Graduates of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Hasan and Husain Essop.
BROTHERS IN ART: Graduates of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Hasan and Husain Essop.
LIFE-SIZE: Wim Bothas The Epic Mundane.
LIFE-SIZE: Wim Bothas The Epic Mundane.

ART aficionados looking to stay out of the cold spell at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown have more than enough motivation thanks to the visual art programme’s plethora of colourful, playful, innovative and retrospective offerings.

A show that should be at the top of visitors’ viewing lists is that of Hasan and Husain Essop, this year’s recipients of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art.

Former graduates of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, these twin brothers started creating art together in 2007 after being approached by the Goodman Gallery.

Their festival exhibition – on daily at the Monument Gallery in the 1820 Settlers National Monument – is a continuation of their long-standing theme of “unrest”, which they explain they experience “on a daily basis”.

Multimedia, photographs, sculptures, installations and even a private area for prayer; all these elements are brought together by the Essops. Combined, they offer the viewer a glimpse into the brothers’ neighbourhood, spirituality, culture and hopes for the youth of their community.

“Our work highlights a multicultural clash between religion and popular cultures. We explore the dominating influence of Western theatrics and those narratives that are constructed to depict a certain reality,” they reveal in their artist statement.

“As twin brothers, we have set out to find ourselves in each other. Trying to create something new each time, a story unfolds and never ends.”

The Essops’ work is also featured as part of 14/30: Goodman Gallery and the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, an exhibition celebrating the 30th anniversary of the young artist award as well as its historical link to the Goodman Gallery. Out of the 30 Young Artists crowned so far, 14 of them have been represented by the gallery.

From the breathtaking, busy visuals that make up Mikhael Subotzky’s 1m x 5m panoramic digital c-print, Mr. Roussouw, to the fun Simpsons-inspired creations of Brett Murray, visitors are taken on a visual journey through some of the award’s most creative past landmarks.

Other notable artists whose work is shown as part of the exhibition (situated at the Albany Museum) include William Kentridge, Pippa Skotnes, Bonnie Ntshalintshali and Fee Halsted-Berning.

Found in the room right next to the 14/30 showcase is The Epic Mundane, an exhibition by Wim Botha. It serves as a continuation of the artist’s “enduring interest in creating immersive environments”.

Curated by Brenton Maart and consisting of several life-size figures and busts dangling from the ceiling, these installations are constructed out of various materials – among them wood, Bibles, encyclopedias, marble, steel wire, paint and polystyrene.

Featuring more than 50 puppets created over the past 22 years, Fabricate is the most exhaustive showcase of the Handspring Puppet Company’s work to date. It can be seen at the Monument’s Thomas Pringle Hall.

A company that has created puppets under the directorship of various notable figures – William Kentridge, Tom Morris, Malcolm Purkey, Adrian Kohler and Janni Younge to name a few – this showcase provides a rare opportunity for viewers to see the various styles and artistic designs they’ve taken on successfully so far.

One of the Handspring Puppet Company’s most iconic creations, Joey from War Horse, will also be stopping by to bring some warmth to the streets of Grahamstown this year. A majestic, naturalistic horse puppet sculpted from cane and operated by three puppeteers, Joey will make appearances on the Drostdy Lawns at Rhodes University on Thursday and Friday.

Similar to the festival programme’s theatre, dance, performance art and physical theatre components, the visual arts section once again boasts a large, diverse Fringe offering as well. But with so many wide-ranging options for art lovers to choose from, finding out about the good stuff is often down to the luck of the draw.

That’s where the Arena Exhibition of Exhibitions is proving to be helpful, with artworks from more than 60 Fringe visual art exhibitions featured at the Monument’s Yellowwood Terrace. Here one can see samples of the magnitude of exhibitions sprawled all over town before deciding which ones are worth bracing the cold, busy streets for.

Two colourful shows hailing from the Eastern Cape are also recommended for those who happen to find themselves at the festival this week. They are the Handmade Collection, featuring a collection of traditional craftwork by local artists, as well as the Eastern Cape Visual Arts Exhibition, displaying pieces created through the EC Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts & Culture’s skills investment programme.

• For the full visual arts programme, venue details and opening times, see the website and www., or follow @artsfestival on Twitter. - Cape Times