Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art

The first in a series of three

My visit to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art, Waterfront, Cape Town, was a revelation to me.   It opened its doors in September of 2017, the work having commenced in 2014.  It has been described as the biggest of its kind in the world.

For me the outer character of the building with the segmented glass roof will still take a little time to get used to.  Perhaps the intention of the architects was to contrast the artifice of the glass with the earth-coloured silos.  These silos have been there for at least a century and what to do with them in the development of the Waterfront has been a point of discussion when the Waterfront was first developed in 1991.  The Waterfront itself contributed R500 million to the project, while Jochen Zeitz, a German businessman, contributed his collection of contemporary African art to the Museum on permanent loan.

The entrance atrium was for me most striking.  It is difficult to appreciate from a photograph as the height  (the silos are 57 m tall) is seldom captured.  There is brilliance in the way the original silos have been carved away to create this memorable space.  It may, in fact, be the most amazing feature of the entire museum.  Notice the all-glass lift in the bottom lefthand corner.

The base of this atrium has been used for music concerts.  You can see the scale from the people wandering in it.  This part of the museum is, in fact, below ground-level and there is also the Centre for Art Education.  Children and adults can be part of artistic activities.

At the top of the Museum the space has been given to a restaurant that looks over the harbour area.  What intrigued me was the huge glass segments through which you see a fragmented world.  In the following image of Table Mountain, through this glass, you are looking at reflections of clouds, which lend a surreal vision.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Bridgewater, Somerset West

Written mid-September, 2018

 

Source

Wikipedia Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art

 

Images

My photographs

 

With thanks to Douglas who shared this with me

 

Reflection of silos in neighbouring building

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Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art

Second in a series of three

I think we have been conditioned by tourist paraphernalia, bead work and pottery to expect a certain type of thing at a museum of African art.  There was nothing like that at the MOCAA.  Every art cliché was banished.

I walked up to the first of five levels on a stairway that felt like a work of art itself.

In an exhibition called All Things Equal there was a series of photographs of a man wearing creative forms of masks.  The Kenyan artist Cyrus Katoire, b. 1984, even used calabash pods.  And if each image was equal in size to the others, each image was startlingly different.

Even before I entered the next space I was aware of music, loud, brash and funerial.  In this darkened room was an animated art work by William Kentridge, considered by many as South Africa’s leading contemporary artist.  There were six 3 X 5 metre screens depicting a landscape that looked like a devastated world, done in charcoal.  The work is called  “More Sweet Play Dance” (2015).

In the foreground, figures that had been filmed were moving epically across this landscape from one screen to the next and out at the last one.   In part, the feeling was of a parade of grief;  in part, a parade of triumph.  A most moving experience.

In another series of rooms was an exhibition by Roger Ballen, an American-born South African artist who is known for his photography.  This exhibition, however, was partly sculpture, partly child-like drawings.  The theme was that the mind was a home refuge against external threats.  The effect was unsettling, touching on an uneasy dream.

 

 

 

Benin artist Julien Sinzogan, b. 1957, exhibited two painting/sketches dealing with the history of slavery.

Le Choc du Cultures

Bon vent a tous

There was an exhibition of 19th-century images of runaway slaves, probably American, together with detailed descriptions of what these people looked like.  This is the work of British-born artist Isaac Julien, an example of African diaspora art.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Bridgewater, Somerset West

Written mid-September, 2018

 

With thanks to Douglas

 

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art

Third in a series of three

One exhibition space was given to a thematically-unified  series of dark sculptures by Leonice Raphael Agbeojelou from Benin, b. 1965.  I did not record the context of the work, but it felt like an anti-war statement.  There were realistic soldiers, armed and determined.  There was a leader (?) on a horse above them all.  There were several luridly-painted dogs, snarling.  I find it tragic that so much artistic energy goes into the depiction of some kind of suffering and protest.

I was impressed by the work of Ruby Swinnes, a South African artist, b. 1997.  Her images seem to be inspired by Rilke’s words Making dreams of night real.   She depicts groups of people and it often feels as though they are moving through half-familiar parks of some kind.

There were many other things and I felt conveyed from the world of cute African figurines into a harder world of contemporary reality in Africa.  There is much anguish and pain in this work.  There is the cry of protest and bitter historical resentment.  That this magnificent museum has been constructed and exhibits what it does may be some grounds for optimism for this continent.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Bridgewater, Somerset West

Written mid-September, 2018

 

Images

My photographs

 

With thanks to Douglas

 

“While my guitar gently weeps”

When is a song great?  When the lyrics are written by Goethe and the music by Shubert.  I won’t argue.  In my time I reconsider the question because of my on-going response to a song.  This one is by George Harrison, and performed by the Beatles on their “White Album” in 1968.  Perhaps my world is smaller than those listening to lieder.  I understand the odiousness of comparisons.

It is worthwhile to see what Wikipedia says about the song, the difficulties before the final product and the meaning of the lyric.  I hear what they say about the words, but I still find those words, on paper, a random mix of ideas.  Wiki says “The song is a lament for how a universal love for humankind is latent in all individuals yet remains unrealised.”  Dale Allison says “the song conveys spiritual angst.”  The year 1968, with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, to mention some things, was a year to grieve.

The song pulses in a measured way, a bass-line descending in semi-tones, and rising again into sunlit major chords after the darkness of the descent.  It’s this that moves me.  Somehow I don’t mind that the lyrics don’t easily hang together.  It’s what one critic called “the unspeakable mix” in rock music, probably anathema to those listening to lieder or even the age of telling lyrics, the 1920s and 1930s.  The melody lifts above the pulsing, sadly reaching for something, perhaps a crumbling ideal.  There’s grief here.

 

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Bridgewater, Somerset West

2nd September, 2018

 

Sources

Wikipedia While my guitar gently weeps

You Tube While my guitar gently weeps

 

Images

Google, for reasons of their own, won’t allow me even one of their many pics of George Harrison.

My graphics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Kramer

In the days before CDs a friend brought me an LP with a new voice on the South African pop scene.  I was struck by the raw style and the lyrics, literate and telling.  The name of the album was the in-your-face Bakgat! , a name that expresses enjoyment in an earthy way.  The album was a mixture of English and Afrikaans songs, in itself unusual.  The song that I found most poignant was Botteltjie Blou, dealing with an addict to methylated spirits.  This was David Kramer.  There was depth in this music which contrasted with the regulation sentimentality of other singers.   This happened in 1980.

Before long everybody was singing his songs.  I remember wondering at the time whether he had become the best known South African.

I interviewed him at his Oranjezicht home, for the purpose of an article that encouraged teachers of English to use his lyrics in their teaching.  I remember his interest, even surprise, at my observation that the subject matter in his songs had the widest range I had encountered in any songwriter.

He collaborated with Taliep Peterson on “District Six – the Musical” which became the most popular theatre in South Africa’s history.  “Fairyland” followed, breaking all attendance records.  He continued producing albums, amongst them Baboondogs (1986) which was a protest at the political situation in the country, the worst it had ever been.  The song that most moved me was Dry Wine, actually written during the turbulence of 1976.

He and Taliep went on to produce more shows until Taliep’s tragic death.  On his own, Kramer has produced “Karoo Kitaar Blues”.  In this stage work, he sought out the musicians of small communities in the Karoo and promoted them.  A rich and moving experience.

Kramer touched a wide spectrum of people.  He was written about in Saspu Focus, the banned underground newspaper of those fighting apartheid.  He was written about in Huisgenoot, the iconic Afrikaans women’s magazine.  He was written about in the New York Times and hailed as South Africa’s Bob Dylan.

It is the piercing insights in the lyrics, his compassion for human suffering, his infectious humour, his raucous enjoyment of life and his sheer love for people that makes him great, a word I don’t easily use.

(c) Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Source

Wikipedia David Kramer

 

Images

My graphics (publ. RockCloud)   The internet is too mean to give me an image of Kramer.

 

Ek ken mos vir almal, ek is almal se pêl”  –  Royal Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Kramer – three songs

The oeuvre that Kramer has produced in his life is extensive.  To comment on it would need a book.  I have been a fan since his Bakgat! album in 1980.  Consistently, he produced albums and stage shows of quality.  He was surprised when I observed that the range of subjects in his songs was the widest that I knew.  It is perhaps necessary to read the lyrics of these three songs, two of them in Afrikaans.

The first was Botteltjie Blou (little blue bottle) a song dealing with a methylated spirits addict.  This addiction afflicts the down-and-out in terrible ways.  The song is sung as a first-person (“I”) and the opening lines boast that a snake can’t catch him, but what does catch him is the little blue bottle.  The portrait of this man is vivid and tragic — he has no teeth, his hands are rough, he lives on the slopes of the mountain.  Hunger torments him like barbed wire, but he closes his eyes and pours the blue down his throat.  Kramer’s performance of this song is raw and savage, portraying a life of rejection and destruction.   “Another swig, another year, oh God, my head is out of gear”  —  arguably the most tragic portrait in South African literature.

More loving, more gentle, is the lyric Dis die hanne, die (it’s these hands, these).  He sings about the hands of a old woman, wondering where her old hands came from, hands if old, are not yet cold.  These hands, they worked, they prayed in church.  They’re hard and they can give a smack.  These hands, of a granny, not so?  Somehow, the song is not sentimental, that thin line one walks with a subject like this.

The song Dry Wine was written in 1976, the time major uprising against apartheid began.  It appeared on the Baboondogs album in 1986.  It is a lyric divided into three cameos of life in South Africa and portrays the creeping fear of the white minority and yet the prevailing numbness about the situation, comfortable from the “distance of headlines”.  The refrain is “I express my opinion with a mouthful of dry wine” – an image that begins to resonate.  The other image in the lyric that seeps through is the telephone that rings and rings in the empty apartment.  The melody, slow descending chords, is haunting.  And Kramer’s performance is understated and quietly seering.

He did much else, developing ballads of folk tales and creating his own stories.  Some of his songs are really funny too, and he achieves that rare form – tragi-comedy.   Testimony to the versatility of this remarkable artist.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Sources

Wikipedia David Kramer

Flash lyrics

 

Images

My graphics (publ. RockCloud).  The internet is too mean to give me an image of Kramer.

 

 

 

The Waterfront:  some art, some architecture

The development of the Waterfront in Cape Town began in earnest in the early 1990s.  Arguably, it is the premier development of its kind on the Southern continent.  On my visit in October, 2017, I saw much to admire.  It was regrettable that the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art at that stage had not opened its doors.

As always, I poked around the nick-nack and the art shops.  There was much that I would’ve liked to take home.

What struck me especially was the new architecture.  There were two buildings in particular.  One was the Zeitz Museum, a bold, creative concept making use of the long-disused grain silos.

The other was the Allan Gray building with its glass cladding, some of the most extensive that I have seen.

 

 

 

Throw in a building that I also found striking, though I can’t say what it is for.

 

I was left with positive feelings –  that despite prophets of doom, there are people who believe in the future of the country.

And all of this, cheek by jowl with the traditional world of the Cape Town harbour.  The Bell Tower, built in the early-19th-century, is perhaps the most iconic.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

My photographs

 

For Douglas, with thanks

 

 

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