Friday, February 7, 2014

Crossing The Line - Exhibition at the Barnard Gallery

Art is the signature of civilisations, as was famously once said. Acclaimed South African artist Robert Slingsby explores this idea in his exhibition Crossing The Line that opened at the Barnard Gallery in Newlands last night.

Slingsby travelled to a remote region in Ethiopia for the inspiration behind his large-scale portraits depicting tribespeople who have lived according to ancient traditions since 7500 BC. The area is so war-torn that he had to travel with soldiers in tow. It is with this fearlessness that Slingsby confronts his subject matter.

Slingsby tells me that what he is doing with his work is documenting art - the art of the tribespeople.
What is so striking about the portraits is how he has depicted the way the subjects adorn themselves - with body paint culled from the earth as well as through the controversial practise of body mutilation - many of the portraits show women with discs pierced through their lips.

Slingsby has captured this all in brilliant detail. He uses subdued tones but for intermittent striking splashes of colour. It took him 18 months to complete the collection with each piece taking him three weeks. Indeed, it has been said that he captures the soul of his subjects.

The Barnard Gallery is the perfect space to showcase this work and it is Slingsby's third exhibition there. I really enjoyed the behind-the-scene video footage one could watch in a room leading off from the main gallery. 

It's important to note that in documenting the art of the tribespeople Slingsby raises a myriad number of questions. The effects of urbanisation - one portarait shows a warrior woman holding a modern gun is just one of them. I highly recommend that you go see this exhibition for yourself. It runs until March 13.

 Click here for more details

Monday, September 9, 2013

Interview with award-winning novelist Andre Brink

“There was a sense of exhilaration, a sense of adventure, a sense of enjoyment in everything that we did” – on his time in the Sestigers

André Brink is one of the greatest South African writers of his generation. A key figure of the Sestigers, he helped revolutionise Afrikaans literature, but he is also equally well-known as a consummate master of English prose. In his long career he has explored many themes in his work, including the legacy of colonialism and apartheid in the country. He’s written more than twenty novels, most recently Philida, which is written from the viewpoint of a female slave who was owned by one of his ancestors. The book was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012.

I interviewed  the great man for House of Publishers.

André Brink is a literary powerhouse. Masterful in both English and Afrikaans, he has wowed South Africa with his uniquely apt turns of phrase since his debut as a writer in the late 1950s. I visited him in his Rondebosch home to discuss his writing, his role in the Sestigers, and his views on the Censorship Bill.

Brink’s house is full of beautiful artworks rendered in bold, vivid colour – perhaps a reflection of the writer’s rich imagination.

We cover a lot of interesting ground during the interview, including Brink’s time as a revolutionary Afrikaans writer struggling with the burden of apartheid’s ubiquitous censorship, but it is when he is talking about writing itself that he becomes most animated.
You can judge his passion for yourself in the transcript that follows.


What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from a lifetime of writing?

To write. You have to keep doing it, and you learn with every little bit that you do. Every book, every article teaches you something you hadn’t known or hadn’t known in that particular way. It’s a matter of constantly learning, constantly being alert, and taking it from there
You were a key figure in the Sestigers. How successful do you feel the movement was in liberating Afrikaans literature?

I think it turned out to be extremely successful because of the dire state in which Afrikaans fiction found itself in right then. At that stage, there had been a long tradition of very naturalistic, realistic storytelling. Everybody did it more or less the same way. It was a 19th century approach, so it was a pretty dreary thing. Then along came this group of young writers who had all spent shorter or longer time overseas, especially in Paris. Paris became the sort of focal point and main point of reference for the whole movement. That bound us together. We wanted to do something new, and we wanted to do it in roughly comparable ways to the things that were happening overseas.

There were some people, like Jan Rabie and Bartho Smit, who had spent something like seven or eight years abroad and really knew the scene out there extremely well. Others, like Chris Barnard, went for only one year or slightly less, but in that short space soaked up the atmosphere of what was happening. And, because it was so startlingly different from anything that was happening in Afrikaans at that time, it immediately made an impression on our minds and we just tried to, like a sponge, suck it all up.

So there was a sense of exhilaration, a sense of adventure, a sense of enjoyment in everything that we did. We didn’t get together very often. Right in the beginning almost no one knew the others. I don’t think there was any one of us who knew all of them. That makes it sound like there were a hell of a lot of people, but there were only six or seven of us. The country is big, so we didn’t often get together. In fact, I think that in the period that the Sestigers lasted (and that wasn’t all that long, I think two or three years) we got together as a group only two or three times. For the rest, of course, we corresponded. But correspondence in those days was nothing compared to what it is today.

It was not a matter of just picking up a phone. Because we got together so rarely, the communication among us was very intense. There was this sense of discovery, coming at a time when something drastically new was necessary in the field of writing. We were there with this passion, this very fervent interest in the processes of writing, so all of this had an effect on our work and we did, at least some of us, start, from a very early stage, to realise that our interests lay in the same direction. To try and spread our ideas, we were very fortunate in that one of us, Bartho Smit, was a publisher. This meant that we could found a little magazine, which brought us together, which fired our interest, and which gave us the possibility of going to the public.

This magazine only lasted for two years. Partly because right in the beginning we decided that even though we were passionately fired by the same interests in prose writing and storytelling, we did not want to be a school. We didn’t want to be too close. We wanted no sense of inbreeding with everybody in the little group doing the same sort of thing. I think right in the end that was one of the weaknesses of the group; that we did not last long enough because of the decision we had made beforehand. And so, we were brought together and at the same time kept apart because we were aware that even in our sense of storytelling, we approached writing from so many different angles. Each one of us had a very different way of wanting to tell a story.

To go back to the success of the Sestigers, I think part of the reason for it was the political climate at the time. The apartheid situation was coming to the fore and people were getting interested in new things. And it so happened, almost inevitably, that our interest in a new kind of writing coincided with a need in our society, which in world terms is very small, for pretty radical new ideas. Because of this, the press became very interested in what this movement was about. The Afrikaans press, but also the English, and that gave us a larger window on the world through which they could look in on us, and we could look out on them. This became an immensely fruitful part of the whole communication setup within which the Sestigers operated.

How did having the first Afrikaans book [Kennis van die Aand] banned by the South African government change your direction as a writer?

It certainly made a change because censorship had been in the air; had sort of been born with the book. It was just a time when the government was thinking in terms of passing a new censorship act, systemizing the whole approach to literature, English and Afrikaans. But, because it was a largely Afrikaans government, the Nationalist government, their primary focus was deviant writers in their midst who were threatening to challenge their long held opinions and approaches of the Afrikaner community. That meant the interaction with the press, the interest of the press, was such that almost nothing that we did could pass unnoticed. In a way, it was wonderful, knowing that we were not operating somewhere apart from where things were happening. Everything was a part of this community.

There were a few journalists, Helen Zille was one of them, she was working at the Rand Daily Mail at the time, who brought a wider English perspective representing a wider political view; so that even TIME and Newsweek started writing articles about what we were doing, which was quite a thrill for us. We had never thought of a larger audience at all, and then suddenly a part of the world’s attention was focused on us. There was so bloody little to write about as far as South Africa was concerned, apart from apartheid, which was the same old story again and again.

Then with Ingrid Jonker and her father, her father was one of the leading Nationalists, the world really sat up and took notice. There were strong rumours that he would be in charge of the new censorship board that would be instituted. Ingrid was one of the seminal figures within the Sestiger movement, and she had links to all of us, so, of course, she was of great interest to the press. She was a most unconventional sort of person who could take a view, a totally different, unexpected, staggering, shocking, scandalous view of young South Africans to the world at large. So, what we did, and what was initially meant to be kept among us as a group, became spread all over the world.

Of all your achievements, which makes you the most proud?

It’s such a moving thing, and writing is such an active, constantly changing, developing form of communication. In a world that is changing so fast, it gets difficult to keep track of everything because something that might have been immensely important to me at a particular stage for particular reasons as a result of a particular book, may not feel so later.

Your latest book, Philida, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. How do you feel about missing out on that for the third time?

Well, there were so many other times in between that it just became part of what was happening. But, for me, there has always been a sense of achievement and disappointment in a new book. It was nice to get the book done, nice to see it in print, and nice to see it being translated into other languages. At the same time, there is a sense of disappointment with every book. I always knew that this wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. I wanted to do it better. I wanted to do it differently. So, there was a sense of disappointment every time, and it becomes part of the package. You sort of work knowing that you will never get where you want to be. So, you just keep on and that keeps it exciting, keeps it adventurous, and keeps the sense of adventure alive.

The protagonist’s voice in the novel sounds very authentic, yet her situation couldn’t be more different from yours. How did you get into the head of a female slave from the 18th century? What process did you follow?

I think writing, whatever the subject is, has the basic thing in common that you have to imagine yourself into the skin of someone else. Without that you can’t even start. A certain amount of displacement always takes place, and you come across the opinions, the views of other people around you. Sometimes they are violently different, sometimes they are very close together. There are shades and nuances of difference between them. In order to try and understand the world in which you live, there is a need to move out of yourself and into the imagination and the living world and the history and the story of other people … and, if that leads you very far from where you set out from, as in this case the mind of a slave woman in the 18th century, then it is just part of the process.

What are you working on at the moment?

It’s a new novel. I’m about halfway into it. It’s about someone I discovered in the process of writing Philida - which spanned the history of my family, my predecessors, and my ancestors. I found another person who is, at the moment, the passion of my life. She grew up as a little girl in the Karroo, literally barefoot. Her father became very interested in politics, so through her father’s connections in the political world at the end of the 19th century, she got in touch with some of the bigger names of her world: politicians, and people from the diamond world, people like Barney Barnato and Cecil Rhodes.

She, at quite an early age, was taken by an Afrikaner family with connections in England, to England. Not for a long time; for a year or two. That happened at the time when she was only about nine. But then later she was forced to come back when her father died. After that, the wife of the governor of the Cape Colony became interested in her, and when they went to London, they took her with them.

So, she landed in London again and found herself in the theatre world. She met one of the key figures there, Oscar Wilde, who was an utterly remarkable person in his time. She even became the mistress of the Prince of Wales. There was a rumour that she had a child by him, so that means I could have royalty in my family. Just from every point of view she became a totally remarkable young person. She also met one of the Rand Lords, John Dale Lace, who married her (although she was already married to somebody else!). It was the beginning of an immensely colourful life.

She came back to South Africa with John and settled in Johannesburg. She had a house designed, one of the great, grand houses of Johannesburg (which still exists and is now a museum), and met everybody who was anybody. She would drive around in a coach drawn by six zebras. She was just way out in every way imaginable. She had a bath that moved on rails from the bathroom to the bedroom, and occasionally somebody might press the wrong button and she would be drawn in, in all her splendid nakedness (she was very beautiful), when there were people there. She seemed to take it all in her stride. In fact, she seemed to take a sort of perverse delight in that sort of thing.

Then her fortune disappeared, which was only to be expected in those circles. She ended up in a two-room little zinc house in one of the poor suburbs of Johannesburg and died in rather miserable circumstances, but having experienced everything that her time could offer, from being the mistress of the Prince of Wales to that. It is a fascinating life; a life that to the dirty mind of a reader, or writer, is just so fascinating that I could not let it go.

You were a lecturer at Rhodes University and then UCT. What do you have to say about the university system in South Africa?

It isn’t what it used to be. I think, thank god, that when I retired it was just about the time when the universities started changing from educational institutions to big corporations. It’s just not my scene at all anymore. I think that there are a few excellent universities. Wits is one, UCT is another; not many more. They can’t really compare to what America and Britain and a few other countries offer. But for the rest, I think our education is in a terrible situation right now. We are [Brink and his wife] sort of foster parents, not officially, to our housekeeper’s daughter, who is very bright. She is now finishing school and will be going to Rhodes next year. Through her it is possible to stay in touch with much of what is happening. And, because she is black, and very smart, she sees what is happening and certainly doesn’t like it all. She is impressed by some aspects of it and totally unimpressed by others.

Do you think writing can be taught, or do you think it is something that is innate?

I did teach creative writing for many years, here and in America, and a little bit in France.
However, you can’t really teach someone to write if it isn’t there. If the talent isn’t there or the curiosity and the ability to write, the fascination with language, then it can’t be taught from the outside. There has to be something, a certain interest, a certain curiosity, a certain ability; then one can certainly refine it, and you can send it in particular directions or open up possibilities and options. In that respect I think courses can be very beneficial. But to teach somebody to write is just not possible.

What is your creative process?

Now that I’m getting older it’s much more laborious. It takes me about five times the time it used to take to write a book before. I used to try to write very fast so that I could grapple with the ideas very intensely for a short period of time, and then sit down again with it and start sorting it out. So, as I said, that now happens much more slowly. In the past I sometimes did a book in a few weeks. The time that I write, that also had to change because in the past when I was writing a book, I would be so totally lost in the world that I could only focus on that writing, which meant that for ten, twelve, fifteen, sometimes twenty hours a day while I was writing, I would just be in the book and not do anything else. And, then I would be totally exhausted until I started the revising process, which I really think is the most important part of writing. Now it’s different. I am very fortunate in having a truly remarkable wife who is a writer herself, and so understands the highways and byways of writing.

Philida, for instance, was the first book that really took me several years to write and I lost track of all of the aspects of the story. Karina helped me to sort out the incredible mess of the manuscript, because I would write down something, some event, four or five times in different ways. Now, she’s drawing up charts and putting stuff up on blackboards for me to be able to follow my own story and then make choices about what to keep and what to cut. It becomes a very complicated sort of jigsaw puzzle-building process which in itself I find fascinating. The process has always fascinated me, but because of the change of speed some changes have entered the process.

I can’t say I do my writing in the night; I’ve never been a night owl. I can’t write early in the morning. Early is sort of before lunch, so some time after that, and, inevitably, once I’ve spent some time in the bath. I do a hell of a lot of my writing in the bath. I think it is the relaxation of entering the pre-natal world.

So no, it’s not a particular routine that I follow.

What about research, how do you get into the mind of the characters you are writing about?

That is just something that is built into me. That is why I started writing. I am fascinated by people, their way of doing things and how their minds work. It’s amazing how much one finds out just by observing. Starting with your friends, your family; watching them. Watching very avidly and curiously, asking questions. From there it just escalates.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

If you had asked me a year ago I would have said I have no idea what it is. But now I know. I try, and I’m still in the beginning phases of that, I try to believe that if I try hard enough sooner or later something will give way.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Write; again, where we started. Read as much as possible. There is no exercise as good and as profitable for a writer as reading. Read as varied as you can, so that you can see how other people did it. Try reading the greats. Try to find out what made them succeed or not succeed. Sometimes you can learn more from other people’s failures than from their successes. Try to find out why a certain book works and another book doesn’t work, and then try either to follow or steer away from that.

You’ve been married six times, if my sources are correct.  What observations have you made about women, and how have these observations informed your writing?

No, I’ve been married five times. There was one particular interview where I said six by mistake and, for some reason, that became the number that was sent into the world. I suppose because it sounds more interesting.

Like with writing, it’s through your failures rather than your successes that you learn the most. Now I can say I know what a good marriage is about.

I am fascinated by women as people. I’m fascinated by people, whether they are male or female. At the moment I’m writing about Oscar Wilde, which means that homosexuality is something that fascinates me too. Not that I could ever move in that direction, but the way in which people live, the way in which people assess themselves as people, the road they follow, the things they get interested in, that has always fascinated me.

Who are your literary idols or influences?

The great Spanish writer Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote. That to me remains the greatest book ever. Shakespeare: one of the funniest, one of the liveliest, and one of the saddest writers who ever lived. One can just re-read and re-read and re-read.
The genre in which you write will always decide the choices that you make, the things that you prefer. But I don’t think anybody could do better than to read Shakespeare. I don’t think anybody has written more perceptively about women than him.

The character of Eugene Maritz in the Ingrid Jonker biopic, Black Butterflies, is widely considered to be based on you. How do you feel about that perception?

Wrong, like most perceptions. There are certain approximations, but frankly I think it was a very bad film in terms of how the different people were portrayed. I don’t think it even scratched the surface of some very fascinating human relationships. But, I was obviously too personally involved to ever stand back far enough, so my view of it would have to be skewed.

You are intensely opposed to the Secrecy Bill. What, in your opinion, can writers do to fight back?

I think just going on doing what we have been doing; protesting as loudly as possible and pointing out the stupidity of what the government is doing and has been doing for a long time. It’s a return to the sort of stupidity that the Nats committed throughout the whole of the apartheid period. But, I suppose it’s not even limited to what the Nats did, or what Zuma’s group are doing. It is something that goes with power, and once the corruption of power seeps in to a society, I am afraid there is just one way in which it can end.

Thank god it does end. That is one thing one does learn through a reasonably long life; none of this ever lasts. But also, people just never learn. They just go back, making the same mistakes in the same way. We are basically a failed species; it’s not a species to be proud of. I think the cockroaches are much more intelligent. They make sure that they stay alive.

Originally published on House of Publishers 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: La Parada

Kalk Bay is any foodie’s delight. With restaurants like Olympia Cafe, Harbour House and now La Parada, the discerning person is spoilt for choice. La Parada is a tapas-style eatery located next to Olympia Cafe, along Kalk Bay Main Road. It looks out onto the harbour, and if you go in the daytime you will see colourful fishing boats floating on the water, the ones that are so popular on postcards of Cape Town.

Founded in February this year, La Parada not only offers authentic tapas from the Seville area in Spain but also offers a selection of dishes ranging from line-fish to lamb. The chef, Eva de Jesus, trained in Seville and was the chef at La Taberna del Alabardero in Madrid, a popular 3 Michelin star restaurant, so expect greatness.

What makes tapas-style eating so fun is that it is interactive. It's a selection of dishes in small portions, so one gets the chance to sample many flavours. La Parada serves its tapas in the Andalucian style, which is where Spain’s tapas tradition was born.

Inside, locally-cured hams hang from the ceiling. Bench-like chairs look out onto wall-to-wall windows and vibrant art hangs on the walls. There is a bar which offers, among other things, flaming Cointreau espressos, which the chef brings to your table and lights herself.

Part of the kitchen is on view, and one can see octopus tentacles and an assortment of other delicacies on display, which you can hand-pick for your plate. The service is good and the prices are OK, with R75 getting you a decent-sized main, and there is a great selection. I did have an issue with the fact that rice pudding is the only dessert, but it the vibrancy of the place made up for that.

Book in advance to ensure you get a table, as La Parada is giving the ever packed Olympia, a run for its money.

Originally published on Craig Speaking Hello

Review: Olympia Cafe

Olympia Cafe, the favourite haunt of local poets and painters in Kalk Bay, has an insouciant charm. Located below the Kalk Bay Modern Gallery, along Main Road, it has a menu that changes every day. From seafood to scrambled eggs, there’s something for everyone. And it’s not just locals who enjoy the fare; people come from all over Cape Town to get a taste of the cuisine and culture.

You enter the restaurant through a side door where the sign “hippies use side entrance” hangs; a reference to the bohemian types in the area. Inside, mismatched tables and chairs crowd the restaurant, and an ever-changing collection of art hangs on the walls as Olympia offers itself as a platform for local artists to showcase their work. Before you sit down, you have to write your name on a whiteboard and wait in line as Olympia is always packed.

Olympia has its own bakery, so if you go in the morning (the bakery on the side opens at 6:30) you’ll breathe in the warm yeasty smell of fresh bread. Flaky croissants, gooey Danishes, spicy cinnamon sticks, and all manner of delights are stacked on trays inside the café and you can select which you would like for yourself.

Part of the kitchen is on display, which always makes the eating experience more exciting. It’s in this open kitchen that the food is prepared. Chefs in the upper kitchen pile plates with salad and whatever needs to be cooked, and pass it through an opening in the wall by the gas hob. This is where things heat up, as flames jump into the air as liver is seared or fresh fish is cooked.

So, on the one side you see the jumping flames and simmering oil, and on the other side the view of the harbour with its bobbing fishing boats. Indeed, the view out of the wrap-around windows is just like another painting in the café, except its one that’s constantly changing.

The coffee is from TRIBE, and is the best I’ve tasted in Cape Town. TRIBE coffee is locally roasted in Woodstock, and they have a café by the Old Biscuit Mill where you can select your own beans for roasting, which is done by a trained barrister.

Sit in the mosaicked courtyard that adjoins the restaurant and sip on a coffee.  I recommend the cappuccinos for their creamy deliciousness, bitter bite and the delicate topping of foam art. It’s this kind of attention to detail that has made Olympia such a legendary place. That and the food, of course, which is locally sourced wherever possible, thanks to the unique vision of Kenneth McClarty, the man behind the magic. Also, the menu is adapted to whatever ingredients are available at any given time, so you even the most veteran visitors never get bored. A favourite of mine is the creamy, cheesy, grainy polenta served in a clay dish. Perfect for those cold winter evenings.

Olympia serves alcohol too, but its food and atmosphere that are its true calling cards. Dinner reservations are essential.

The History of Olympia Cafe

The Olympia building was built in 1919 and served as a tearoom in its early days. It was originally run by Arthur Goles, who came from an area in Greece named Olympia, hence the name Olympia Cafe.

Originally published on Southern Crossroads

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Black Orchid Burlesque and the art of tease

Burlesque is built on a wink and a smile. It’s the art of theatrical tease, a vintage form of erotic and ironic cabaret, where the emphasis is not on revealing but on concealing skin, while still feeding the audience titbits of fantasy-invoking bare curves. It’s the rare space where a woman can be sexy and funny at the same time, because the most beautiful curve on a woman’s body is her smile.

CLOWNING AROUND: Jessy (left) and Star (right), from the Black Orchid Burlesque troupe, photographed at one of Cape Town’s great entertainment venues, Vaudeville. The pair run workshops on Saturdays at the venue teaching wannabe Burlesquers.

I’m at the Obs Theatre in Cape Town. It’s 8pm and the show is about to start. I sit in the second row. Audience participation is expected at this type of thing and I’m shy. Diva-Disa Star, one of the sexy geniuses behind Black Orchid Burlesque, takes to the stage. She takes off one pair of gloves and there’s another pair underneath. She keeps going and going and it’s spectacular. Her moves are fluid, sensual and effortlessly undulating, and we’re all in suspense.

Diva-Disa Star and her ex business partner Scar-Lit Hearts began teasing the city of Cape Town nearly four years ago when they started Black Orchid Burlesque, at a time when no-one else in the country was doing Burlesque. The troupe follow the neo Burlesque genre: the vintage glamour of the femme fatales of the past mixed with a little bit of rockabilly cool. Boylesque, a movement big in the UK, is now done by Black Orchid as well. It’s an amalgamation of body building poses and cabaret dance mixed into the art of Burlesque, and it’s gaining popularity in South Africa.

HURLY BURLY: Star, a glamorous and petite Burlesque dancer. What is this lady like this lady like at home? She told us she has 5 cats. Sounds very homely. And she says they love nestling in her wardrobes amongst all the soft fabrics of all her beautiful burlesque outfits.

The show ends on an amazing high with Boylesque queen Jesse Jester. With his dark magnetism and otherworldly grace he’s like some kind of sexy space alien come to earth. Fluttering his impossibly long eyelashes, like giant butterflies resting on his cheeks, he slowly unzips his corset. Midway through he changes his mind, sliding the zip back up teasingly. The audience shivers with antici…pation.

STRIKE A POSE: Jessy in fool regalia

Standing by the bar after the show I ask Star about the Black Orchid creative process. “How do we conceptualise a show? It’s about the characters. Each artiste is different, and each character is distinctive and unique.” She pauses to take a sip of her drink, leaving a little bit of burlesque behind on the glass. “These are developed over time and are very personal to each of the performers who are influenced by various aspects of their own lives too. One of Jessy’s alter egos, for example, is a Japanese anime type person and one of the costumes he wears for that is covered entirely in toys…We try to always keep our audiences amazed and interested, so we tend to push the boundaries wherever we can.”

Jessy stresses that the art form of Burlesque “comes from the ladies.” I ask him how he got involved. “When I met Star, who had her company already up and running, she said to me she was starting up a Boylesque troupe. Having a love of all things out-of-the-ordinary (not forgetting the glitter - what is a performer without sparkle?!), I jumped at the opportunity and haven’t looked back since. Also, having the title of the first Boylesque performer in South Africa gives me some bragging rights!”

Aside from creating and executing their own performances, The Black Orchid Burlesque Academy aims to teach more women out there that it's okay to enjoy their sensuality and celebrate their femininity. “The women who join my workshops are self-empowered and confident, and not all of them started out that way,” Star says with passion. “All sorts of people join my classes: school teachers, secretaries, charity workers, students. We even have a 72-year-old tannie in the mix,” she exclaims, smiling, as she uses the word descriptively in Afrikaans. “Not one of these women would ever be ashamed to call themselves a Burlesque artiste,” she continues, "because what we do is classic and tasteful. It’s not all about gyrating hips and bare breasts. It’s up to the performer how much they want to reveal. Some of my shyer students never perform live – they just do it for their own self-gratification, though we do organise a photo shoot of final performances so that they can hold on to the memories.”

FANTASTIC: If you love what you’re seeing in this photo, then you’ll be happy to hear that Black Orchid Burlesque run workshops if you want to make the accessories yourself. They sell the fabulous outfits similar to those they’re wearing for a few thousand rand.

The people who join Black Orchid Burlesque do so because they love the art form, not to make a quick buck. “We all spend far more on dazzling costumes than we ever make from shows, but every now and then we’re lucky enough to get a big gig,” says Star. They do have several sponsors on board though, like Sailor Jerry Rum, Affinage Hair Products and Wildfire Tattoos. “The best thing is being able to perform around the country at several festivals and events. The greatest feeling is walking off stage after a big show and knowing you thoroughly entertained your audience for those few minutes.”

She offers advice to aspiring Burlesquers: “Burlesque is more focused on costumes and personas than the actual people themselves, so I believe that if you have a natural attraction to the more dramatic arts it will help you to be a better performer. Some of my performers have no dance background, but make fantastic Burlesquers. Just remember to keep it classy and you can’t go wrong!”

With a wink and a smile I'll end with a quote from Burlesque great Dita Von Teese: “Burlesque stars are made, not born.” In other words, you can dance Burlesque too.

For more information on upcoming shows, workshops or to book Black Orchid for an event contact Fox on:

Originally published in HSSS

Photos courtesy of Karl Lilje

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Drawings in dialouge

“A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears,” Gertrude Stein, writer and patron to Picasso once said.

The Tjorts!/Cheers! exhibition explores this idea. In the show lines of text and lines from works of art form a dialogue where the words and art come together to create a more complex, rich vision.

Collaboration between poets and artists is not a novel idea. There is even a word for it: “ekphrasis” defined as “the response of one art form to another” and it often involves poetry responding to a medium of art. It goes both ways though – with the artist’s work as a starting point for the poet, and the poetry as a stimulus for the artist. And sometimes it is a complete organic collaboration.

Inspired by South African writer Danie Marais’ poem of the same name the exhibition is essentially a creative conversation between the poet and visual artists, Tina Jensen, Marlise Keith and John Murray as well as Marna Hattingh and Liza Grobler who co-curated the show.

Liza tells me how the show came about. “Marna approached me with the idea of having a drawing show in which we could celebrate the diversity of drawing. We started talking about a possible theme that could connect everyone's contributions and then decided that a shared text might allow for wider and more interesting interpretations."

Liza's love for Afrikaans poetry took things further. "I have read both In die buitenste ruim and Al is die maan 'n misverstand by Danie Marais and simply loved his poems. He has the ability to summarise very universal experiences in a single phrase and on top of that his poems are highly visual and often refer to songs, books and experiences that are very familiar to people of our generation.

Cheers for now! by Liza Grobler

Rain Dogs
by Marna Hattingh

Pencil Test by Tina Jensen

Opdrifsels (Jetsam) by John Murray

Errie Tjierrie Tjorts! by Marlise Kieth

“So we asked him to send us a number of unpublished poems to choose from…It made sense to select an unpublished poem as we wanted to strike up a conversation rather than reflect on a previously published text…As Tjorts! is a toast it also seemed an appropriate choice for the first exhibition of 2012 at the AVA.

In this poem Marais brings to light sights, sounds and experiences of Cape Town to paint richly layered picture of the city.

”This is seen throughout the work of each artist who responded to the poem in a range of media. Executions therefore vary from work on paper to site-specific spatial constructions. Artists also circulated work-in-progress and responded to each other’s interpretations in an effort to find synergies.

Each artist had a different take on the poem as reflected in their work. Marlise Kieth tells me about how she used the poem as the starting point for her piece Errie Jjerrie Tjorts! “The title of the poem comes from a nonsense rhyme from my child hood: olka bolka ribiekies tolka, olka bolka knor, erie tjerie tjikene cherie, erie tjerie tjorts or something like that. It has many variations depending on how one heard it while growing up. I found out that it is a picking rhyme, so whoever gets to be tjorts is IT/ picked. I liked that this could describe the random violence and other things that happen in one's day, how one gets to be picked or tjorts-ed and that’s what I’ve tried to express with the imagery of my painting.”

Danie Marais tells me about the essence of his poem – what he was trying to express with it. “The spark for my poem came from the Leonard Cohen song "A Thousand Kissed Deep", which he incidently also started as a poem:

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.
You lose your grip, and then you slip
Into the Masterpiece.

Cohen never says what the Masterpiece is, but the line always came back to me and I believe the Masterpiece is life itself. Every classic work of art - painting, song, poem, sculpture or book - stems from the human condition which of course is part and parcel of the one and only broken world we know.”

Danie is clearly inspired by many other artists, and also tells me that he recently saw Noah Baumbach’s drama comedy Greenberg. Danie says that the main character, Greenberg (Ben Stiller) is talking to an old British friend he fell out of touch with, Ivan (Rhys Ifans). They had a band back in the day and they almost had a record deal too, but now Greenberg is 40 and kind of lost. Ivan is on the verge of a divorce after kicking drugs and booze, but he wants to be a good dad to his son. Danie explains how Ivan then says to Greenberg: ‘It’s huge to finally embrace the life you never planned on’. Then Danie goes on to explain how Greenberg fits in with his poem:

“I suppose that’s also what the poem is about, and that might just be one thing that unites this exhibition and all the artists who took part. We might just all be looking for the proper balance between the acceptance of our fate in this unrelenting world and a little bit of bloody-minded defiance.”

Tjorts!/Cheers! Is on at the AVA, 35 Church Str, until February 10. Call 021 424 7436 or email or see Gallery hours are Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5pm, Saturday from 10am to 1pm.


Die wêreld is alles
wat die geval is,
soos Wittgenstein sou sê,
maar ek en die gevalle alles
het altyd ’n gespanne verhouding gevoer.
Jare lank het ek my swart hart
kinderlik soos ’n vuis vir revolusie
gebal, my tande vir ’n ander wêreld
Maar op hierdie uitgewasde somerdag
met die Moederstad wat soos opdrifsels
teen ’n Tafelberg vol littekens lê,
loop my beker oor van bewondering,
drink ek op alles wat geval het.
Want o, hierdie wêreld met sy kleinlike oorloë,
growwe nalatighede en nederlae
ís my vervalle woning;
hierdie stukkende lewe met sy
Nighthawks at the Diner, sy
Madame Bovary’s, sy bergies en sy botteltjies blou
ís ’n perverse meesterstuk
die groot onheilige mis voor die son.


The world is everything
that is the case,
Wittgenstein said,
but everything
rubbed me wrong.
For years I clenched
my black heart childlike
for revolution, set my teeth
on edge for another world.
But on this washed-out summer day
with the city shored up
jetsam against a Table Mountain
wrapped in scar tissue, my cup
overfloweth, I propose a toast:
to Tess of Durbanville
and everything that has fallen.
For, oh, this dashed world with its petty wars,
Cape-Coon choirs and mountain fires, this ocean
we have ploughed, this world
I’m passing through is my home;
this star-crossed life with all its lepers
of love and Grapes of Wrath,
its Rain Dogs and Nighthawks
its Madame Bovarys, bergies and blue murder
bestows on us a perverse masterpiece
our daily bread –
the great unholy mass, the fog
that will not clear.

Danie Marais
Poet Danie Marais has won critical acclaim for his lengthy works that explore personal experience using sound, visual images and texture against historical, environmental and political backdrops. It is precisely this unique combination of substance and essence that makes his work so strikingly resonant.

Marlise Keith
Artist Marlise Keith’s work captures often disturbing but mostly surreal moments in small, detailed areas. She draws primarily in acrylic inks on paper, canvas and board. She works this medium into delicate lines and tipsy smudges, swirls and clouds making her paintings a mood and a picture. It is important to examine her works carefully to fully enjoy their complexity.

Liza Grobler
Artist Liza Grobler has dabbled in a diverse range of media, embracing bright colour and often incorporating traditional craft techniques to create site-specific work. Her art is a conversation between image, language and daily life.

Tina Jensen
Artist Tina Jensen mostly uses black marker pens to create images that are very much like doodles on paper. She has an intuitive approach when starting an artwork and prefers to not have a preconceived idea about its final look.

Marna Hattingh
Artist Marna Hattingh creates a distinct personal iconography of imagery and symbols in her drawings. The evocative stylized figures lost in patterned interiors are playful, yet ambiguously sinister. Her work seeks to make subtle commentaries on society’s oddities and the numerous unfounded fears that lurk in the corners of our minds.

John Murray
Artist John Murray is interested in the physical process of applying medium to a surface. He mostly works with oil paint and charcoal and the process of application often consists of scraping the surface with blades or sanding paper. He sees this as subtle acts of violence that underlie the quiet appearance of his work. Although his work makes reference to the physical and social world that we live in, his response as an artist is quite visceral.

Originally published in HSSS

Photos courtesy of the artists