By Keren Banza
Art serves as a mirror to society. It is a powerful medium for artists to express themselves while reflecting on society’s values, struggles, and triumphs. The National Arts Festival (NAF) is a space that captures the essence of societal inclinations and issues.
As we approach 30 years of democracy, our healing as a nation is still ongoing. Art illuminates the dimensions we must expose to heal. Productions such as Droomwerk invite introspection to the legacy of our ancestry and the shadows it casts on the present. Lady Skollie’s exhibition, Groot Gat, delves into the complexities of cultural identity and the impact of colonial history.
Other pieces unpack generational trauma and the lasting effects of our country’s history. Roots deconstructs motherhood through multiple generations. It asks us to look beyond maternity to see their humanity and sacrifices. Hold Still shines light on migration, displacement and its longstanding effects in the modern world. Simultaneously, the workshop, Native and Umbilical Archive, decolonise education and Xhosa history.
The epidemic of gender-based violence (GBV) in our country continues to spread. In response, pieces at NAF tackle this discussion with full force. STOP!, Text Me When You Arrive, and Ashes to Ashes demonstrate the pain of GBV survivors, given a taste of the fear that haunts women. As cases of GBV rise, so will the art created in response.
Beyond our pain lies the beauty of African identity. Many pieces on the NAF programme honour our cultures and identities. Through traditional isiXhosa dance and music, The Eastern Cape Indigenous Music and Dances Ensemble paid tribute to Latozi ‘Madosini’ Mpahleni. In Exit/Exist, Gregory Maqoma calls on us to reflect on what informs our personal and collective identities. Productions like Legendary Queer Sisters open a space to celebrate queer identity and discuss issues plaguing the LGBTQIA+ community.
Art doesn’t fear the personal. Relationships are founded on connection, experiences and communication. When one lacks, often the foundations shake. Dog Rose tackles the tumultuous relationship that may arise between mothers and daughters. 2Lovers explores how unresolved conflicts may slowly kill a relationship. By exploring personal dynamics, art reminds us that we aren’t alone in our experiences.
The arts contribute to the social fabric of our nation. If we take time to pay attention, we hear our stories and find room for understanding, healing, and progress. Here’s to more Festivals, and more themes.