cast of winners: The 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winners will be a major highlight at this years National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. They are, back, from left, Greg Homann (theatre); Jamil XT Qubeka (film); Nicola Elliot (dance) and, front, Kyle Shepard (jazz), Husain and Hasan Essop (visual art); Donna Kukama (performance art); and KwaZulu-Natals Njabulo Madlala (music). Picture: Timmy Henny

Latoya Newman

Preparations are well under way for a successful 40th National Arts Festival this year.

In a meeting with members of the media in Durban on Friday, festival director Ismail Mahomed shared some highlights of this year’s fest.

He said the programme was an interesting exercise for a number of reasons. These include that it is the festival’s 40th anniversary, it’s also the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, and it’s the 30th anniversary of the Standard Bank Young Artists, so the programme will include items that mark all of these celebrations.

The programme is also set to pay homage to human rights, World War I and create dialogue around the arts in South Africa, including our new minister of arts and culture for the country (Nathi Mthethwa) and what this means for the arts industry here.

“For us the festival is a wonderful exercise to interrogate all that. We could have gone the nostalgia route, looking back at where we started, but we really needed to endow a festival to new artists. So we’ve tried to create a balance,” explained Mahomed.

“We have looked at the role the festival has played in our journey towards the democratisation of our country, and looking at what roles our artists played then and what roles they can play now as we continue beyond 2014.”

The festival will run from July 3 to 13. And with a host of international, African and South African artists participating in different categories, here’s a glance at some of the highlights.

As the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, Mahomed said festival organisers have looked at the music of that period and its influence on artists.

“In the Gala Concert with the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra we are dealing with some of the composers of that century. We have also asked South African composers to create some music. We have commissioned Bongani Ndodana-Breen to compose a work for the Odeion String Quartet to reflect 20 years of democracy for Homage: A tribute to South African composers.”

The Standard Bank Young Artist Awards mark their 30th year this year. They recognise the rising stars of the arts in South Africa. This year the programme salutes the winners from the past three decades and this year’s winners.

“We want to give an essence of how the young artists every year are an integral part of our democracy. It’s something that we as a nation can be proud of,” said Mahomed.

In addition to this year’s winners showcasing their works, the festival also showcases the works of some of the previous years’ winners who are movers and shakers in the arts.

For example, in theatre a highlight is a line-up of eight productions written, directed or adapted by previous Standard Bank Young Artist winners, some of our most contemporary and cutting-edge theatre-makers. These include Lara Foot’s Fishers of Hope; Aubrey Sekhabi’s Marikana – The Musical; Mpumelelo Paul Grootboom’s Protest; Geoffrey Hyland directing Slowly; Marthinus Basson’s Macbeth, Slapeloos and Princess Zinzi Mhlongo directing Cooking with Elisa.

The programme also features exciting inter-genre collaborations such as Ubu and the Truth Commission – with original direction and animation by William Kentridge and this revival directed by Janni Younge; and Cargo: Precious – a collaboration between four Young Artist Award winners: director Sylvaine Strike, choreographer PJ Sabbagha, musician Concord Nkabinde and dancer Fana Tshabalala.

This year Strike has been named the Featured Artist on the programme, so her work will be a strong feature on the programme.

This year also sees the second season of Solo Theatre, which will showcase nine solo productions that explore cultural values, racial politics, sexual identity and a range of narratives.

Mahomed said artists would also explore issues that touch on topics like Marikana and Robben Island.

“We think it’s crucial that artists find their critical space and critical voice without ever undermining their artistic standard, which must underpin whatever they do.”

For the full programme visit