47th National Arts Festival in Makhanda comes to an end

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The 47th National Arts Festival, which has now come to an end for 2021, took place against a backdrop of turmoil.

Planned as a hybrid event, the Makhanda-based festival looked forward to reuniting with a small dedicated audience and community of artists for a live festival, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has again gone virtual with many artists showcasing their talent on the digital space.

While the festival still attracted a supportive and enthusiastic community of online fans, the number of visitors to the website was lower than last year’s.

“The work that was presented was extraordinary. There were small pieces because obviously, we couldn’t produce large pieces with the restrictions that were in place, but they were meaningful, they were relevant and they were inspirational at a time when the art sector for over 450 days has not been fully back at work.

“So, you would have expected the work to be very depressed or very angry, but a lot of it was positive. The festival managed to do what it always does which is to being multi-disciplinary art forms to audiences in South Africa and around the world,” says National Arts Festival CEO Monica Newton.

Artists showcase their work at the 47th National Arts Festival: 

The Shack – a short but impactful shot film about Buti and his daily struggles in the immediate and greater environment he lives in, made even harder during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a densely populated South African informal settlement, Buti is faced with many hardships, from scarce income and employment opportunities to limited access to food, water and sanitary living conditions.

Buti works every day, and yet has no income to show for that work.

When the pandemic hit, he was forced to enrol for food parcels to sustain himself. The piece explores the cruelty of a world where the rich exploit the poor and their subsequent fight for survival.

The producer, actor, and scriptwriter Tebogo Chologi, who also won a Gold Standard Bank Ovation Award this year, says he hopes the story will inspire other creatives to never give up, no matter the setbacks.

“What I want to say is that if you work hard, if you put in all the work, your hard work will be pay off. And one day, it will be recognised somewhere. And yes it is tough times for us, but my advice to artists is to remain creative, use what you have; don’t stress about what you don’t have. Sometimes all you need to make something beautiful is right under your nose.”

Having to move onto the online space just days after thinking the National Arts Festival was going live was heartbreaking for most artists.

With no live audience, no one to connect to, many were forced to bring the magic to the comfort of their homes.

Musician Chadleigh Gower says, “It was tough but I learned that you need to be creative, you need to be able to think on the spot. I remember that I had been rehearsing to go live with my band and then the President announced the lockdown and we had to quickly think on our feet. Also have good relationships helps because I could quickly pick up the phone and say please help me take my stuff online.”

A piece blending performance and dance to an original score, “As If The Rain Watched Over Her” traces a day in the life of a young wig maker, Maria, whose internal conflict reaches a climax through the troubled relationship with her sister, Elizabeth.

Those behind the magic say there is so much good to be learned from these uncertain times.

Film lecturer Jacques Cloete says, “The online space is a blessing because it has shown young people that they can use any camera they have, in the comfort of their homes and be able to reach a far bigger audience than they ever could. You could literally get a few friends together and shoot something really awesome in your yard. So this will encourage others to do the same and not have to stress about having to pay for expensive studios.”

Film teacher Jacques Batista says, “What really stood out for me was being able to have an all female cast and seeing how that translates on screen. It was lovely to have an all-female cast and see them work their magic and being able to celebrate women in this way was so amazing.”

Although the live shows were cancelled due to Level 4 restrictions, the festival organisers, artists and the technical team worked tirelessly to ensure that the show went on, so to speak.

Meanwhile, some of the artists who took part in the festival are happy to have been given the virtual platform to showcase their talents.

The Fringe programme will remain online until the end of August, giving audiences another month to experience and enjoy the incredible work presented this year, and the platform will remain online and accepting work throughout the year.