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Dood in die kamer / Death in the Room is die titel van ’n treffende kunswerk deur Ntobeko Mjijwa wat deel vorm van ’n nuwe uitstalling wat tot 22 April by die Oude Leeskamer op Stellenbosch te sien is. Mjijwa het ’n graad in Skone Kunste en ’n sertifikaat in Teologie en doseer plaaslik en internasionaal in beide dissiplines.

Kunstenaars (be)wys behoefte aan versoening en hoop van Paasfees met nuwe uitstalling op Stellenbosch


Versoening vorm die bindende tema van ’n nuwe kunsuitstalling op Stellenbosch vanweë die belang daarvan in die verhaal van Suid-Afrika en hoe dit in die toekoms weergalm.

“’n Stem wat deurlopend in die Suid-Afrikaanse dialoog rondom geregtigheid en versoening weerklink, is dié van die kerk,” luidens ’n verklaring deur Maryke van Velden, verantwoordelik vir kreatiewe bestuur by Oude Leeskamer, ’n kultuur- en erfenissentrum op die hoek van Dorp- en Drostdystraat.

Die uitstalling bring die werk van Suid-Afrikaanse kunstenaars (uit die verlede en hede) byeen en herinner Christene aan die hoop wat opgesluit is in die Paasverhaal, waar Christus die hoogste prys betaal het om die mens met God te versoen: die hoop vir ’n nuwe wêreld, volgens Van Velden.

Naas die “profetiese stemme van aartsbiskop Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naudé, Steve Biko, Albert Luthuli en Jaap Durand,” is die kunste “nog ’n onmiskenbare bemiddelaar (of fluitjieblaser) in die gesprek.”

Die teoloog en anti-apartheidsaktivis John W de Gruchy het in ’n essay getiteld ‘Holy Beauty’ as volg hieroor geskryf: “(K)uns het die vermoë om sowel ons persoonlike as gedeelde bewussyn en persepsies te verander. Dit daag ons waarneming van die werklikheid uit en stel ons in staat om die goeie van die verlede te onthou, terwyl dit tegelyk nuwe beelde van transformasie in die hede vorm. Kuns prikkel die verbeelding en verwondering; dit roep ons tot stilstand en besinning, en ontsluit daardeur die moontlikheid om ons persepsie te verander en uiteindelik ons lewe.” (Sien ook die rede wat De Gruchy by die opening van hierdie uitstalling gelewer het hieronder. – Red)

’n Treffende kunswerk deur Ntobeko Mjijwa heet Dood in die kamer / Death in the Room. Die kunswerk verwys na die lykwaak van die anti-apartheidsaktivis en vader van die swart bewussynsbeweging Steve Biko wie se kontroversiële dood tot wêreldwye protes gelei het. Die toneel wat uitgebeeld word, is gespanne en vol emosie, sigbaar in handgebare en gesigsuitdrukkings: ’n geliefde se hand wat aan die kis raak; ’n vriend, buurman of bewonderaar van die gevalle leier wat sy hand teen sy bors druk; ’n ander wat sy kop vashou. ’n Amper ongesiene karakter in die agtergrond, is dié van Die Dood. Terwyl almal met hulle eie emosies worstel, is hulle onbewus van die alomteenwoordige Dood. ’n Bewustheid van die universaliteit en alomteenwoordigheid van die dood is ongewoon in baie Westerse gemeenskappe, en tog kan die dood op enige gegewe tyd “in dieselfde kamer” wees, luidens ’n inligtingstuk deur die kurators. Mjijwa het ’n graad in Skone Kuns en ’n sertifikaat in Teologie en doseer plaaslik en internasionaal in beide dissiplines. Mjijwa het bygedra tot die ontwikkeling van ’n kunskurrikulum vir die African Christian University in Zambië en is tans betrokke by studentebediening by die YMCA aan die Universiteit van Kaapstad.

Die werk van Paul Greenway heet EA 61: Mayfield begraafplaas / Mayfield Cemetery (sien hierbo) en bekyk die wyse waarop “armlastiges” begrawe word. In baie gevalle word familielede nooit opgespoor nie; ander kan gewoon nie verantwoordelikheid aanvaar nie as gevolg van finansiële of ander redes. Dis ’n stop-raam-animasie waarin die kunstenaar verfilm is terwyl hy ’n graf oor ’n tydperk van drie dae in Mayfield-begraafplaas oopgrawe. ’n Armlastige is deur die plaaslike lykhuis beskikbaar gestel en in die graf begrawe. Erf nommer EA 61 is aan die armlastige toegeken.

Die werk is ’n diep persoonlike poging tot herstel en versoening. Greenway spreek deur middel van ’n gebaar van respek, empatie en aanspreeklikheid kwessies rondom verwaarlosing, versaking en verlies aan wat die armstes in ’n gemeenskap beleef. Hy belig hierdeur vals persepsies van “gewone menslikheid” en “menslike waardigheid” en problematiseer eksistensiële en etiese kwessies rondom regte/rites, waardigheid, plig, herstel en versoening. “EA 61 Mayfield begraafplaas bevraagteken die sekuriteit wat opgesluit lê in voorreg en mag sonder aanspreeklikheid, en waardigheid sonder plig,” volgens die kurators.

Die uitstalling heet: Om terug te fluit. Die titel verwys na Albie Sachs, wat in 1963 die hooftemalied van Dvořák se Nuwe Wêreld-simfonie as ’n vorm van kreatiewe verset uit sy tronksel van eensame afsondering gefluit het. ’n Mede-gevangene het terug gefluit … en so word die lied toe ’n vorm van kalm verset en solidariteit.

  • Om terug te fluit duur tot 22 April 2023.
  • Deelnemende kunstenaars: Joseph Buys, Ydi Coetsee Carstens, Paul Greenway, Jonathan Griffiths, Walter Hayn, Leonard Matsoso, Franli Meintjes, Ntobeko Mjijwa, Bonnie Ntshalintshali, Odous, Sophie Peters, Chris Soal, Marijke van Velden.
  • Die Oude Leeskamer kultuur- en erfenissentrum is ’n projek van die Jannie Mouton Stigting. Die visie van Oude Leeskamer is om ʼn toonaangewende erfenisbate te wees wat historiese waarde beskerm, maar terselfdertyd ʼn lewende ruimte is waar Suid-Afrika se unieke en diverse kuns en kultuur gevier word. Vir meer inligting besoek Oude Leeskamer en https://www.40stones.org

If art keeps hope alive, it is a sacrament, a means of grace

 

Art serves many different purposes. It evokes pleasure, aids contemplation, contributes to human well-being, but it also protests injustice, inspires struggle for freedom, writes John W de Gruchy.*

This is not necessarily the intention of the artist, but in seeking to express the truth, the artist serves the good and creates the beautiful. Of course, it is often argued that art is not necessarily beautiful and that by shocking us into facing harsh reality, it neither dares to be beautiful nor can be. But that is to misunderstand beauty and confuse it with its many banal counterfeits. True beauty does not seduce us into moral apathy; it attracts us, transforms us, and energizes us in the pursuit of truth and goodness.

In providing alternate images of reality and altering our consciousness, art serves the cause of human liberation in all its several dimensions and so redefines beauty. Indeed, what could be uglier than a crucifixion? Yet what is more beautiful than Grunewald’s altarpiece? In facing head on the reality of ugliness it not only shatters our illusions, but draws us towards, indeed, into that beauty which, as Dostoevsky famously said “saves the world.” Art thus becomes a means of grace, it becomes Fynart, something more than fine art; it is beautiful art in a new liberating key.

Fynart is not just the art of those who populate the Western Cape and capture its scenic beauty on canvas; Fynart has evolved over the many years since the San populated the region and created galleries in the caves that dot the landscape from Blombos to the Kalahari. Fynart is the art that was reborn through fire during the struggle against apartheid; it is township art that reveals beauty and awakens hope even as it portrays poverty and injustice.

Fynart troubles our conscience and challenges our indifference in becoming a means of saving grace.

Understood as a means of grace, Fynart has the potential to help us see reality differently, awaken insight, and transform our lives. It does not necessarily do this, but when it does it leads us deeper into the mystery of life, awakening that hope which becomes active in a love that strives for a more just and compassionate world. The invitation to this exhibition said it well. Art is a “means of gentle defiance and solidarity” or, as Albie Sachs experienced it in prison, it evokes a “whistling back” that keeps hope alive. It confirms our faith in truth and goodness, and therefore becomes beautiful and saves us from despair.

Those who wrote the Psalms had a sacramental view of the universe. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” declared one of those ancient Hebrew poets. The universe is God’s theatre or, we could say, God’s art gallery. But only if we understand God as the mystery within whom we “live, move, and have our being.” If God is not greater than we can conceive, then we have no need of art to help us penetrate the cloud of unknowing and imagine a new heaven and a new earth.

My wife Isobel and I live on a farm in the Hemel en Aarde Valley outside Hermanus. Already known as Volmoed early in the 19th century, Volmoed became widely known for its Fynbos – a description of more recent origin that describes the floral kingdom rooted in the soil of the Western Cape. Today Volmoed is a Christian retreat centre that provides an inclusive space of hospitality for all who seek renewal, healing, and direction for their lives, not least through our art and faith programme. It is also committed to justice and reconciliation in our land and therefore it directly links us to your own project. Indeed, the Volmoed Community was founded in 1986 in the middle of the States of Emergency that traumatised our country, for this very reason.

Fynbos abounds on Volmoed as it does in the region, inspiring painters and poets and evoking the prayers of those who take time to stop and stare at the beauty around them. Fynbos has led to naming the art of our region Fynart, and by analogy Fynbos helps us appreciate Fynart as a means of grace. Isobel, a botanist, poet and painter, has taught me to stop and stare at the beauty of Fynbos despite my inclination to keep moving along the path at a swift hiker’s pace attempting to keep fit. But a sacrament has to be savoured in order for it to become a means of grace. “Oh, taste and see,” the Psalmist tells us, if you want to receive grace. Unless we pause in our tracks and look at the beauty beneath our feet we will pass by untouched, as tourists do who saunter through art galleries, ticking another block on their “to do” list.

When Portuguese sailors first discovered the King Protea on the shore of False Bay in the fifteenth century, they had seen nothing quite like it before. It was different to any flower they had known. Indeed, as its name suggests, it is protean – multi coloured and shaped in many forms, impossible to comprehend in all its rich variety and beauty. Later colonialists discovered diamonds and gold, and greedily exploited the earth. But the Protea evoked awe and wonder. It was a sacrament to be savoured.

Fynart has to do with the core of our lived experience, generating a unique aesthetic within the global art gallery in the same way as Fynbos contributes to the global garden. Fynart is the art curated in this gallery, the art of a people who somehow must find each other in a way that brings healing and hope to us all. Fynart is the flowering of a fragile yet resilient beauty which whistles back even in the darkest times and places. As such it is art that keeps hope alive. Only if this happens is it a sacrament, a means of grace, for us.

Take time to stop and stare, for art will never be Fynart to those in a hurry to achieve their goals rather than explore the textures of the landscape and discover beauty of its inscape. Or be able to whistle back! Ross Snyder, echoing Gerard Manley Hopkins, taught me long ago that:

Life is a ceaseless revelation. Both of landscape … a wide-lensed field with a skyline. And inscape … a patterning beauty still growing … How much we become human depends on allowing particular landscapes to strike through our senses into our mind with a feeling of discovery and fresh rightness until their beauty dwells in us. (Ross Snyder Inscape, slightly amended.)

* This is a shortened version of FYNART AS A MEANS OF GRACE, an opening address delivered by John W de Gruchy at the opening of To Whistle Back (Oude Leeskamer Gallery) Stellenbosch, 2 February 2023. Read the full text below: 

John W De Gruchy opening address – ‘To Whistle Back’ (Oude Leeskamer 2.2.2023) (1)

 


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