This Week in African Art and Culture – (April 24 – May 1, 2021)

This week in African art and culture, South Africa is brimming with events and notable prizes. In Johannesburg, Berman Contemporary, an art gallery is exhibiting a group of artists who are exploring and experimenting with paper as a medium. Several South African creatives are in the winning spotlight: a veteran actor bags a prize for his stage play, another emerges as a finalist in a prestigious international fashion prize, and a documentary film receives an Oscar. Discover more wins in the highlights summarized for you below:

Above: Installation View: Paper Adeventures at Berman Contemporary, 2021

Berman Contemporary Presents a Group Exhibition of Artists Exploring Paper in Johannesburg

At Berman Contemporary in Johannesburg, Els van Mourik has curated a group exhibition by five artists living and working in the city. Titled Paper Adventures, the exhibition features works of DuduBloom More, Odette Graskie, Natalie Field, Thina Dube, and Tzung-Hui Lauren Lee, and will be on view until May 23, 2021.
Collectively, the works reflect on the intimate nature of paper, allowing one to engage in the different ways the artists use it conceptually and physically. The show aims to highlight and celebrate the various ways in which the medium of paper becomes a primary form of artistic communication.
Paper has the unique trait of outlasting most other art forms, but its predominance has been challenged by other mediums in recent times, especially digital and technology-based work. Historically, paper has been linked to the disciplines of drawing, printmaking and painting. Avant-garde practices such as tearing, collage, folding, photomontage, cyanotype, cut-outs and papier-mâché have expanded our understanding of this ancient yet ever-evolving artistic medium.

Artists select paper that best serves their purposes, whether for drawing with charcoal, painting with watercolors, printing with a woodblock or cutting up for collages. This exhibition explores paper’s possibilities, going from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, spanning modalities from installations to sculptural forms, resulting in a lively, unconventional viewing experience.
Artworks made both on or with paper have a long and rich history in South Africa. It was a popular form for making resistance art during apartheid and was cultivated at community centers such as the Polly Street Art Centre in Johannesburg, one of the few places where Black artists could study and be trained in art. Printmakers like John Muafengejo and Dumile Feni used their prints to reflect on the political and social realities of apartheid in the Black settlements. This graphic tradition developed into a uniquely South African art form (African graphic expressionism) and is a source of inspiration to a broad spectrum of current South African artists such as Diane Victor, Patrick Mautloa, Minenkulu Ngoyi, Nandipha Mntambo, Sam Nhlengethwa and William Kentridge.
Paper Adventures showcase contemporary artists working in paper and includes fresh and exciting new works which also reveal unexpected aspects of the thought processes and practices of the artists—a behind-the-scenes perspective, a private view into their world. There is a personal nature to the exhibition such that the artists apply their individual creativity and innovative techniques to paper. And thus, viewers are invited to embark on an exciting journey into the past and the future.

John Kani Receives Pragnell Shakespeare Award for His Play Kunene and the King

South African acting veteran Dr. John Kani has won the prestigious Pragnell Shakespeare Award from the Shakespeare Institute in London. He was conferred with the highly acclaimed award for his original play, Kunene and the King, which premiered in London’s Royal Shakespeare Company, two years ago.
According to the Shakespeare Institute, the Pragnell Shakespeare Award is an international award that has duly honored Dr. Kani’s play for its appreciation and advancement of Shakespearean knowledge. Kani shared the good news on Twitter.
Kunene and King is set in post-apartheid South Africa, 25 years after the first democratic elections. The plot is centered around two characters—a successful but chronically sick white elderly male, played by British actor Antony Sher and his Black male nurse, played by Dr. Kani. The two men who hail from vastly different backgrounds are thrust into an uncomfortable closeness to reflect on the changes that have taken place in South Africa. Through it all, their shared passion for Shakespeare’s works takes their connection to new heights. In one moving scene, Sher and Kani recite a funeral speech from Caesar—Morris starts in English and Dr. Kani finishes off in isiXhosa.
One month ago, the 77-year-old actor shared news that Kunene and the King had been selected in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s top ten theatre productions. He was, controversially, the first Black actor to portray Othello in the Market Theatre’s 1987 production of the play.
Dr. Kani has been an outstanding actor, director, writer and activist for more than half a decade. His prolific and career-marking play, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, co-written with Athol Fugurd and Winston Ntshona, won a Tony Award in 1975. He emerged in the international film scene in 2016 and starred alongside the late Chadwick Boseman in the 2018 Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. Dr. Kani was also the inspiration behind isiXhosa being declared Wakanda’s official language. He is also the voice behind Rafiki’s character in the 2019 remake of The Lion King.

Above:Daniel Kaluuya by Nikolas Smith
Daniel Kaluuya Wins an Oscar

At the Academy Awards, which took place Sunday, Daniel Kaluuya walked away with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the widely acclaimed movie, Judas and The Black Messiah. This award comes after wins for his portrayal of Fred Hampton, which include the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAGAs) and the British Academy Film and Television Awards (BAFTAS).
Judas and The Black Messiah tells the story of the way Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton, played by Kaluuya, was assassinated by William O’Neal, a mole played by Lakeith Stanfield. In a moving tribute, the British actor, who is born to Ugandan parents, thanked Black Panther’s Fred Hampton for the work that the civil rights group has achieved:
“What a man. How blessed we are that we lived in a lifetime where he existed. You know what I mean? Thank you for your light. He was on this earth for 21 years, and he found a way to feed kids breakfast. Educate kids, give free medical care, against all the odds. He showed me, he taught me, him, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, the Black Panther party, they showed me how to love myself, and with that love, they overflowed it to the Black community and other communities.”
In 2018, Kaluuya also received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in Jordan Peele’s psychoanalytic horror movie, Get Out. Kaluuya, reportedly, first caught Peele’s attention when he played Bingham “Bing” Madsen in the first season of the British dystopian sci-fi series, Black Mirror. Since then, he has starred in Marvel’s blockbuster, Black Panther, and Queen and Slim, a nuanced film on American police brutality.

Above: My Octopus Teacher

South African Documentary My Octopus Teacher Bags An Oscar

My Octopus Teacher, a South African eco-documentary, won the Best Feature Documentary award at the 93rd Oscars. A 2020 Netflix original, the documentary film also won at the British Academy Film and Television Awards (BAFTAs) on Sunday, April 11.
Produced by filmmaker Craig Foster and directed by Pippa Ehrlich, the documentary tells Foster’s intriguing journey to find purpose through an enriching year-long encounter with a wild, common octopus in Cape Town’s freezing waters. The documentary, shot in False Bay, is an immersive experience that captures the beauty of the undersea world and of connecting with oneself and nature.
Foster already had started documenting his free-diving experiences when he came across a young octopus that caught his attention. To earn the young octopus’ confidence, he visited and tracked its movements daily for an entire year. As their intimate relationship grew, Foster learned how the young octopus slept, lived, ate and creatively protected herself from pyjama sharks.
Foster’s undersea friend later dies of natural causes after mating with a bigger octopus and producing a large number of eggs. The South African filmmaker gives an endearing account of the way the young octopus impacted his life. My Octopus Teacher beat strong contenders in its category—The Mole Agent (Chile), Collective (Romania), Crip Camp (U.S.) and Time (U.S.).

Teju Cole and Bernardine Evaristo Elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Nigerian authors Bernardine Evaristo and Teju Cole have been elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of America’s oldest academic societies, formed with the purpose of honoring exceptional scholars across diverse fields.
With over 5,700 active members across the U.S. and the globe, the academy is one of the most prestigious learned societies in the world. New members are added annually through a “thorough petition, review and election process.”
The 2021 members are grouped into the categories of mathematical and physical sciences, biological sciences, social and behavioral sciences, humanities and arts, and leadership, policy and communications. Each category is further divided into sections.
Evaristo and Cole (of Brunel University and Harvard University respectively) are both categorized under humanities and arts in the literature section. They are joined by other scholars from universities across America, including award-winning poet Jericho Brown (Emory University) and Duong Thu Huong (independent).

Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom Shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize

Ghanaian novelist Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom has been shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Previous winners of this prize, the world’s most significant literary honor for a woman, include Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Marilyn Robinson.
The 2021 shortlist is made up entirely of first-time nominees, the first occurrence since 2005, reports The Guardian. Chair of Judges British-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo revealed that the judges intended to champion stories about marginalized communities, going further to note that Gyasi’s novel “tells of a Ghanaian family in the deep South and how they struggle to cope when their lives are torn asunder—it’s another forgotten community.”
Like Yaa Gyasi’s classic debut Homegoing, Transcendent Kingdom was met with rave reviews upon publication and continues to garner accolades, including longlists for the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize. Most recently, it was selected for the 2021-2022 University of Wisconsin-Madison Go Big Read program.

Above: Lukhanyo Mdingi

Lukhanyo Mdingi Emerges as Finalist for 2021 Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Prize

South African fashion designer Lukhanyo Mdingi has emerged as one of the nine finalists of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy prize for young fashion designers.
The winner of the top prize will be decided by a jury and some of LVMH’s top designers in September. The winner will be awarded a cash prize of €300,000 (U.S. $361,014) plus a year of coaching from experts at LVMH. The runner-up prize termed as the Karl Lagerfeld Prize winner will be given €150,00 (U.S. $180) and also benefit from a year of professional advice.
Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of Louis Vuitton and founder of the LVMH Prize said, “This class of nine finalists is a wonderful snapshot of today’s and tomorrow’s fashion. These young designers are all talented, of course, but also committed and realists. During this semi-final, each of them showed in their own way a very personal and accomplished creative universe.”
The other finalists include Bianca Saunders, Charles de Vilmorin, Christopher John Rogers, Conner Ives, KidSuper’s Colm Dillane, Kika Vargas, Nensi Dojaka and Rui’s Rui Zhou.

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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