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Profile: Same Mdluli, taking the art world by storm

At 33, Same Mdluli has achieved what most people only dream of achieving in a lifetime. This dynamic, bold and fiercely intelligent young woman is in the process of blazing trails for young artists and presenting them with opportunities that previously did not exist.
Profile: Same Mdluli, taking the art world by storm

Born and partly raised in Botswana, Mdluli and her family went into exile in the United States during apartheid. They returned to Botswana in 1994, and in 1996 moved back to South Africa, where she matriculated from the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg in 2001. From there, Mdluli went on to study fine art at the University of Johannesburg. “I then did a Master of Arts in Arts and Culture Management at Wits until 2010. Thereafter, I enrolled for a PhD, which I completed last year,” she says.

Mdluli’s doctoral thesis, for which she received funding from the National Arts Council (NAC), focuses on “so-called rural artists and the way in which they were featured and received in the (white) art market during a particular period”, and attempts to interrogate why these artists have, according to her, since “disappeared from view”. As a result, she says, there has been very little research done on these artists and their individual artistic repertoires.

“My hope is that my research will encourage other scholars to start engaging in further research about these artists and other black artists in general. The South African art historical landscape has not paid much attention to many of these artists,” she says.

She pins down her motivation for her PhD reading in art history as partly political and partly personal, in that she has “always felt that there is a misconception that art is reserved for a selected few and therefore elitist”. She adds: “In a sense I wanted to challenge this misconception but it also became a means to better myself through education.”

Mdluli, who started drawing from an early age because she enjoyed the quiet time and space it offered her, was appointed as a member of the NAC’s Visual Arts panel in 2014. The role of the panel is to assess and recommend funding fairly and appropriately to projects, as well as to award bursaries to artists who would contribute positively to the overall visual arts and cultural landscape.

“My role on the panel, like the other three panellists, is to give some advice on why certain projects and bursaries are important to support. I’ve been studying art since high school and have worked in the industry for about 10 years. This has equipped me with the skills and insight to offer advice on both the historical and current contemporary landscape of visual arts, both locally and internationally,” says Mdluli.

She has recently started up Sosesame Gallery in Melville, Johannesburg, which opened with its first exhibition in late April. On describing the reasons behind establishing the gallery, Mdluli says: “One of the challenges young artists face is the lack of professional spaces to showcase their work and talent. This means they do not have the means to make a sustainable living from their craft and skills.

“The gallery comes at a time when we are all having to rethink many social, economic and political issues. It is thus an initiative that is an attempt to address some of these issues by providing a space where young (and older) artists can present their work.”

Sosesame Gallery, according to Mdluli, is run with the sensibilities of a cooperative. She serves as the curatorial director along with her three partners, who serve in other roles. “At the moment, we are trying to attract as many dynamic young and more established artists as possible mainly because we would like to steer the curatorial focus modeled around a mentorship programme. We found that this was one of the successful aspects of the first exhibition we put together, where painter Johannes Phokela, for example, mentored two of the artists participating.”

In the coming years, the gallery aims to acquire adequate funding so it can extend its scope in showcasing diverse artistic mediums. “The extension to other mediums such as video or installation work will all depend on the feasibility and resources the gallery is able to generate,” says Mdluli.

Having already done so much, there’s no doubt this star of South African arts and culture will only shine brighter in the years to come.

Catch the Otherwise Group Exhibition at the Sosesame Gallery from now until 02 June 2016. For more information please visit http://www.sosesamegallery.co.za

A note of warm gratitude from Napo Masheane

It’s not often that we as artists take a moment to thank the people who work hard behind the scenes to make it possible for us to grow and hone our craft. It is for this reason I’m sharing this story with you, to show my gratitude to those who have helped me towards realising a dream I had previously thought was unattainable.
A note of warm gratitude from Napo Masheane

As a young girl growing up in rural Free State, I heard the many voices and stories of ordinary people – their pain; their joy; what excited them and what made them wake up every morning to live and contribute to the rich tapestry of storytelling in our beautiful country. It became my dream, from a very young age, to capture these stories in poetry, prose and performance so they will live on through time to be shared and enjoyed by many generations to come.

As an African storyteller, I believe it is my duty to pay tribute to my ancestors, elders and those who are kind to me by fully utilising the resources they have made available in my endeavours to articulate and represent mine and their heritage.

The National Arts Council (NAC) has greatly empowered me in this regard, granting funding for me to fulfil this duty and, in turn, its mandate of developing all stakeholders in the arts, culture and heritage sector to promote transformation and redress, and much-needed social cohesion.

Over the years, the NAC has supported me through my studies in drama at Fuba School of Dramatic Arts (1999 – 2000); my internationally renowned one-woman play, My Bum Is Genetic, Deal With It (2007), which remains one of the major highlights of my life; and in 2014/15, almost 17 years since my first grant, the NAC became my financial rock in pursuing my Master of Arts in creative writing (poetry and drama) at Rhodes University, making me one of the few black African women to complete two dissertations in those fields.

For this, I would like to thank everyone at the NAC and express my warmest and most sincere gratitude for their hard work and dedication, particularly Mr Andrew Nkadimeng, the NAC’s Arts Development Officer for literature. It’s such work that makes it possible for people like myself and many others to live our dreams and reach new heights as artists.

When I received the letter from the head of the Institute for the Study of English in Africa at Rhodes, Dr Stephen Fourie, confirming that I had been awarded my master’s, I recalled the number of occasions the NAC made it possible for me to pursue my passion and realise my dreams.

May this kind of support continue to reach other South African artists. May we also know that the seed you plant should grow and spread to other, less privileged artists with limited access to resources. I am indeed looking forward to many more years of creativity and the empowerment of black women in South African theatre and arts.

Thank you, NAC … Pele e ya Pele

National Arts Council CFO Scoops Two Awards

Following the National Arts Council’s (NAC) sterling performance over the previous financial year, having received its first clean audit since inception, NAC Chief Financial Officer Dumisani Dlamini, was lauded at the 2016 CFO Awards.
National Arts Council CFO Scoops Two Awards

Dlamini won the prestigious award for Young CFO of the Year as well as for Public CFO of the Year. This achievement signifies the NAC’s growth trajectory as a government entity that is truly turning the tide and changing for the better within a challenging economic environment.

The 38-year old Dlamini impressed the judges with the turnaround of the entity, going from a qualified audit with 56 findings to a clean audit in 2015. This was achieved through correcting faulty administrative processes, rewriting and simplifying documents and contributing innovative ideas to the organisation.

Dumisani had this to say when he accepted his award, “To god be the glory. I don’t even have a speech, this is so unexpected. I’d like to thank CFO South Africa for providing an opportunity for us to learn and grown. I’d like to thank the judges for this wonderful honour. I remember being a little boy from the dusty areas of KwaZulu-Natal, then moving to Johannesburg and then into this space. This is to say to every black child, girl or boy, you can make it! This goes to all CFOS in government who are under political pressure or are in a difficult environment – this is for you!”

NAC Chief Executive Officer Rosemary Mangope says the organization is proud of Dlamini’s achievement. “In order to truly change and make a difference, it is critical to recruit people, such as Dumisani, with the most appropriate skill levels, energy and drive; because in doing so, you find professionals who are passionate and committed, and take pride in their work. When such people are on your team, the results speak for themselves.”

The NAC has placed much emphasis on enhancing its governance systems, improving its internal controls and raising the bar in financial management. “This is only possible through exceptional commitment from team members, and the NAC’s team members have excelled in this regard, Dumisani being an excellent example,” says Mangope.

“Upholding principles of good governance is what fosters confidence in the NAC. This has been a challenge historically, but awards such as these are testament that the NAC is in a process of rejuvenation towards making an even greater impact in the arts, culture and heritage sector,” concludes Mangope.

Clowning around for a cause

When a Spanish clown named Tortell Poltrona entered a refugee camp in the war-torn Balkans in the early 1990s to bring laughter to hundreds of distressed children, he noticed something first-hand that simply couldn’t be ignored – the healing power of laughter.

Poltrona went on to start Clowns Without Borders (CWB), an organisation that has ballooned across the world during the last two decades, with chapters across Western Europe, the US, South America and Southern Africa.

The South African chapter of CWB works predominantly in marginalised rural and urban communities in South Africa, as well as throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with a commitment to inspire laughter and emotional relief, and a “long-term intention to empower, train and provide support to artists from other developing countries so that they can develop local responses to emotional trauma”.

Using laughter, performance, theatre arts education and professional empowerment, CWB South Africa aims to address the psychosocial needs of communities in areas of crisis, partnering with community and other nongovernmental organisations to strengthen child-caregiver relationships within existing family structures.

Established in 2007, CWB South Africa’s programmes include: 1) performance-based expeditions, where clowns are sent into areas of crisis to create an atmosphere of joy using nonverbal physical comedy, music, storytelling and dance, even if only to provide momentary relief; 2) family-based care and parenting programmes, which entails CWB working with community organisations to provide support to vulnerable children and families; 3) youth theatre empowerment, which uses theatre for the development and empowerment of vulnerable youth, focusing on addressing social issues; 4) local capacity development, which provides skills capacity training to community-based organisations and local arts groups; and 5) awareness raising through educational tours around issues regarding HIV/AIDS, gender based violence, poverty, and racism.

Jamie Lachman, the founder and executive director of CWB South Africa, says more than 380 000 children and adults have been reached in communities affected by crisis since CWB South Africa’s inception. “Our performances are nondidactic yet contain important messages about relevant social issues. These include HIV/AIDS, gender sensitivity, xenophobia, violence and abuse against children, hygiene and health, and poverty. They are also about creating a space to celebrate creativity, culture and community through the dynamic means of participatory theatre and clowning.”

Over the past six years, the National Arts Council (NAC) has supported CWB South Africa on a number of projects. The organisation currently receives funding from the NAC through the company funding initiative, which has enabled it to build capacity in order to reach greater numbers of beneficiaries, while also providing training and support to young South African artists who now work with CWB South Africa.

A recent highlight for CWB South Africa was its tour of communities around King William’s Town in Eastern Cape. The tour sought to increase access to the arts for rural communities while raising awareness about hygiene and water conservation, and was well-received by children and adults who attended, community leaders as well as educators. “The show was great, we really enjoyed it. I saw it in the morning and now had to come back for the second time. We learnt about the importance of water, how to save it and how we need to wash our bodies,” said one child who attended in Tshatshu.

Going forward, CWB South Africa intends to continue providing professional performances and arts interventions to marginalised children and families across the country, with the aim over the next three years to increase access to the arts, empower a new generation of young artists and facilitators, and continue to use the arts as a means for personal and social transformation. “We hope to be able to expand our relationship with the NAC, [in keeping with] its overall strategic objectives to develop programmes in support of youth development; and to develop programmes in support of audience development, participation and appreciation. We hope that our partnership with the NAC helps us continue to bring joy and laughter to areas wherever there is need,” says Lachman.

CEO’s message: Making the arts visible from the ground up

This led me to think more acutely not only about how the NAC is currently positioning itself to be more “youth-centric” in its developmental approach, but the manner in which we recognise the youth, in a country with a very young population, as our most valuable assets who have in their hands the most powerful means of clearly defining what it means to be South African.

This articulation of a unique South African identity, of course, is something that can only be cultivated and represented with zeal by young people who have a clear vision of what they want their future to look like. In turn, we see it as imperative that the NAC focuses on this expression as an investment for the current and future sustainability of the organisation, and South Africa’s arts, culture and heritage in general.

Before I delve into the specific projects I’d like to highlight, which place the youth at the forefront of making South African arts and culture visible both locally and abroad, I’d like to emphasise that the youth need to be guided by developmental organisations such as the NAC in their journey towards firstly finding their own expression in order to, secondly, lead the country through their own discoveries and the knowledge they acquire through these discoveries.

In a sense, what organisations like ours seek are symbiotic relationships, where there’s balance between nurturing the vast talent existing in our young population on the one hand, and enabling the youth to feel confident enough in their talent to realise their potential and become collaborative and skillful leaders in their respective fields, on the other.

Part of the NAC’s responsibility to nurture young talent entails identifying strategic partners in the public, nongovernmental and private sectors that have the means and expertise to engage with the youth effectively while creating spaces that are conducive for their development. One such organisation I regularly turn to as an excellent example of a strategic partnership is Ifa Lethu Foundation. As one of the NAC’s Flagship projects, Ifa Lethu commits itself to the development and economic growth of the creative sector nationally, focusing on craft. It manages the largest heritage repatriation and youth creative entrepreneurial development efforts in South Africa, and all crafters and emerging artists who benefit from Ifa Lethu’s three-phase training programmes, which include business skills training, are drawn from rural communities.

We are also in the process of developing strong partners for youth development in the private sector. These projects will focus on highlighting the impact the private sector is able to make, in partnership with the NAC, if youth development is approached in an innovative way.
During a presentation at the recent South African Cultural Observatory Conference, I quoted a statistic that should pique the interest of all stakeholders and potential investors in the arts in South Africa: In the UK alone, official statistics reveal that the the country’s creative industries – which includes the film, television and music industries – are now worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy, generating a staggering £8 million per hour. The statistical breakdown goes further to detail that the creative industries in the UK accounted for 1.68 million jobs, which represented 5.6% of jobs in the country.
If we are to nurture our most valuable and abundant resource, our youth, from the grass-roots level up, imagine the potential our industry has to contribute to South Africa’s growth in a meaningful way for generations to come.

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