Live performance disrupts established norms, expectations

By Naledi Mashishi

Live performance can be used as an act of transgressing societal norms and expectations. This was the sentiment shared by the panellists at the launch of Acts of Transgression: Contemporary live art in South Africa, hosted by the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research (WiSER) at Wits University on Wednesday, February 20.

The non-fiction book of essays, published by the Wits University Press, was edited by the director of the Institute of Creative Arts, Prof Jay Pather, and writer Catherine Boulle. Pather says that he and Boulle decided to compile the book because of the unique position of live art in South Africa and because of Pather’s professional experiences in combining performance and choreography with academia.

“We had an awareness of how much live art was in the country and the uniqueness of it which needed to be written about in depth,” Pather told Wits Vuvuzela.

Pather said that he and Boulle had a list of potential writers that they used to select the final group of contributors.

“We wanted people who had been published, and some who hadn’t. We wanted people who were writers, artists and academics, and we made up the book that way,” he said.

The panellists at the launch, Zen Marie, Prof Achille Mbembe and Katlego Disemelo, focused heavily on the subject of ‘performativity’ which was defined as the description or the contribution of something new to a discussion rather than a representation of something of the past. The panellists also discussed how performativity had been used by performance artists to disrupt established social norms and expectations.

Disemelo, one of the contributors to the book, described how he used Instagram for research on his chapter on queer bodies and performativity.

“I viewed Instagram as a storytelling medium. By scrolling through carefully curated photographs you can see queer people telling a story about themselves to the public,” Disemelo said.

Wits Applied Drama MA student, Rutendo Chigudu, who attended the launch, said that she would be interested in reading the book based on the discussion that had taken place. “I think it really raises questions to artists, academics, practitioners, and audiences on what our view and interpretations of art are,” she said.

“It forces us to question the artists’ intentions and the audience has to ask themselves, am I coming to see the art or be part of it?”

FEATURED IMAGE: Prof Achille Mbembe, Zen Marie and Katlego Disemelo argue for the relationship between power and performance.
Photo: Naledi Mashishi

Movie Review: Sew The Winter to my Skin

Directed by: Jahmil X.T Qubeka

Starring: Ezra Mabengeza, Zolisa Xaluva, Mandisa Nduna, Kandyse McClure

Genre: Western

Vuvu rating: 6/10

“Sew the Winter to My Skin” (2018), which was put forward as South Africa’s Foreign Language entry to the 2019 Academy Awards, is a movie that uses classic western tropes and mythology to tell its story. The movie is set in 1940s Western Cape, South Africa, and tells the story of real-life John Kepe, known as ‘the Samson of the Boschberg’ who notoriously stole food and livestock from nearby farms until 1951 when he was convicted of killing a shepherd named Dirk Goliath and sentenced to death.

Director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka chooses to tell the story with minimal dialogue, leaving the narrative heavily dependent on visual clues and the musical score. Rather than focus on the life of Kepe, Qubeka focuses more on the myth and presents Kepe as a Robin Hood type figure who steals live sheep from the farm of Nazi-sympathizer and failing sheep farmer, Mr Botha, and gives them to his poor community.  The audience is treated to scenes of Kepe narrowly dodging bullets from white farmers in pursuit of him, hanging off the side of a cliff while carrying a sheep, and hiding in a well-kitted out secret cave.

Qubeka uses Kepe as a lens to tell the wider story of Apartheid and racial oppression. The movie explores the tensions between the white Afrikaaner farmers who are quick to use violence to cement their power, and the poor black communities near them who face the brunt of it. Kepe then emerges as a symbol of black resistance. The movie ends with Verwoed’s description of Apartheid as a “policy of good neighbourliness” and the stark irony of this quote is explored throughout the film.

The lack of dialogue can at times make the movie unclear. It also means that character’s motivations are unexplored, and they are left as two-dimensional caricatures. This is most obvious with Zolisa Xaluva’s depiction of the villain, who is a black man that carries out racial violence against other black people, and the women in the film, who are given little to do other than cry in pain.

While it is beautifully shot, the Western-style film sacrifices clear storytelling for flair which may make it inaccessible to many. It is also at times, quite violent given its 13 age restriction. Audiences who enjoy arthouse-type movies will greatly appreciate the layered storytelling, symbolism, and interesting cinematic techniques of this film.

FEATURED IMAGE: Sew the winter to my skin is South Africa’s entry to the 2019 Academy Awards
Photo: Provided

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Movie review: Matwetwe

By Onke Ngcuka

Cast: Anastasia Augustus, Lungile Cindi, Mbeko Cindi, Karabo Dikolomela, Neo Erasmus, Sibusiso Khwinana, Kgomotso Lediga, Mimi Mamabolo

Director: Kagiso Lediga

Genre: Comedy

Vuvu rating: 6.5/10

Do what is necessary to afford yourself a better life. This is the message that is humorously highlighted by director Kagiso Lediga in his film, Matwetwe (Wizard), which was released in 17 South African cinemas on Friday, January 25.

The movie tells the story of two best friends, Lefa (Sibusiso Khwinana) and Papi (Tebatso Mashishi) that have just matriculated. The comedy follows the best friends on New Year’s Eve in their township, Atteridgeville, as they try and make money from the weed that they grow, which they name ‘Matwetwe’.

Lefa, the reserved one of the two, has been accepted into Wits University to study botany, an achievement highly celebrated by the community. Papi on the other hand, who considers himself a ladies’ man – a fact true only to himself – hopes to make a quick buck here and there to spend on the “good life” – the ladies and alcohol.

Narrated by three township dwellers, the movie invites the audience along the hilarious adventure of the two young men as they come across several kasi characters, including murderers, the township’s ‘mad man’ and the gangsters trying to get their hands onto the boys’ product.

Lediga, who also wrote the movie, does a great job on the character sketches as they bring the township to life, and give the audience greater insight into kasi culture. While the movie did well on the character sketches, this was at the expense of the storyline which fell short.

The comedic talent of Lediga shines bright in the comedy as it uplifts the difficulties of transitioning into adulthood faced by the boys as they reach out towards independence. The young men’s relationship strengthens as they face challenges in selling their product, however, Lefa’s secret threatens this friendship, resulting in an unexpected turn of events.

The film came under fire on social media in the week of its premier for the lack of advertising from its executive producer and international DJ, Black Coffee. Regardless, the film did well in cinemas on its opening weekend January 25-27, as it came fourth at the South African box office, according to Screen Africa.  

Matwetwe is a good South African comedy. It isn’t great, but highlights that local is lekker. The film has been screened in the US at Urban World, the biggest genre festival in the US, Fantastic Festival, and International Film Festival Rotterdam in Europe. Matwetwe is expected to screen at more cinemas across the country.

FEATURED IMAGE: Matwetwe tells the story of two young men seeking to make better lives for themselves. Photo: Onke Ngcuka