Staging Change comprised two audiovisual installations, a poetry slam and a community led festival, curated into the 2018 Vrystaat Kunstefees International Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, South Africa - Africa’s premier arts festival, featuring significant experimental & public art components. Each event incorporated a mobile stage-cum-artwork as a framing device & performance platform, mapped with realtime video projections, augmented by sound, themed around the African concept of Ubuntu & regenerative futures; speaking to community links, compassion, solidarity & ecological justice. Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu states, “You can't be human all by yourself, & when you have this quality, Ubuntu, you are known for your generosity”. An accompanying performance poetry slam brought together a large cross-section of the Southern African political poetry community, focussed around Ubuntu, land rights & ecological justice. Staging Change occupied three prominent locations within the festival grounds.
The fourth, offsite Staging Change event was held north of the City of Bloemfontein: the Diversity in Ubuntu Meraka Festival. A Meraka in local Sotho language means a place or veld where people of different cultures come together & share their values. The translation in the Koisan language is ike/xarra/ke which means diverse people unite. This day long community-led celebration of diverse cultural heritages was developed with NPO Start Living Green, led by Anita Venter, building upon achievements & lessons gleaned from our shared work in informal settlements between 2015-18. It involved multiple performances, a marketplace, traditional Basthoto (Lesthoto) horse displays, idea exchanges & building & permaculture demonstrations, all designed to actively share cultural practices between elders & the youths. Following a co-mentoring process we had instigated over preceding years, local resident Mme. Mary Mofana directed the festival, ensuring strong community ownership & empowerment. We also brokered connections to the Pan African Creative Exchange network which exposed her & her performers to leading artists from around the African continent. The festival launched Mme. Mary’s newly-formed NPO we had mentored her to conceive & direct, Lesedi Multi-Purpose Community Development Village, which included a multi-purpose community building constructed from Post Natural building techniques pioneered together in prior projects since 2015. A collaboration MOU was signed with University Free State community affairs department for future sponsorship & the mobile Stage was formally handed over to the community.
Staging Change’s events capitalised upon ongoing community development projects, bringing Ubuntu into practice, handing control, funding & strategic development to local communities to stage celebrations of their own design. Through these empowering actions, & by providing skills building, finance & necessary connections, Staging Change positively situated and framed local indigenous cultural heritage & arts within South African contemporary arts & culture practice. Lesedi Village now operates as an indigenous culture centre hosting workshops & events, & the Ubuntu Meraka has become an annual festival, fostered though long term connections brokered with the International Arts Festival and University of the Free State.
1: Installation and Poetry Slam, Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, UFS, Bloemfontein, South Africa, Jul 12th, 2018, Curated by Ricardo Peach and Angela DeJesus. Poetry Slam conceived by Pieter Odendaal.
2: Installation, Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, UFS, Bloemfontein, South Africa, Jul 13th, 2018, Curated by Ricardo Peach and Angela DeJesus.
3: Ubuntu in Diversity Meraka, 129 Vlei Ave, Roodewaal, Bloemfontein, South Africa, July 14th, 2018, 10.00-15:00. Directed by Mme. Mary Mofana. (An official event of Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba).
Keith Armstrong (Artistic director), Dr. Anita Venter (NGO collaborator, Qala Phelang Tala), Adriaan Du Pleiss (Production/Design assistance), Mme. Mary Mofana (Meraka Director), Velili Phantsi (Event Compere), Thabang Mofokeng, Re-Future Cultural Ambassador/HOT Rural Workers Collective, Botshabelo Township, South Africa.
PARTNERSHIPS: Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD) - Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival/Tsa-Botjhaba, Dr. Ricardo Peach, University Free State, Centre Development Support, Qala Phelang Tala, Dr. Anita Venter. Angela De Jesus and Miné Kleynhans. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Flanders Foundation, QUT Creative Lab, change Agents Mokoena and Ellen Maphalane. This project has been kindly assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Keith Armstrong is supported by a part time Associate directorship of QUT's Creative Lab Research Centre. Special thanks also to Prof. Greg Hearn, Prof. Terry Flew, Prof. Mandy Thomas, Prof. Gavin Sade, A/Prof. Bree Hadley, Prof. Gene Moyle and Stuart Taylor. Special thanks also to doctoral students Christine Scoggin and Pieter Odendaal.