Stellenbosch's - and SA's - social tensions reflected in Triennale art exhibits

2020-02-10 19:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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'Tomorrow there will be more of us.'

The theme for this year's Stellenbosch Triennale, it's a statement loaded with emotion and truth. Within the context of one of the oldest towns in South Africa, where racial identity has been at the forefront of public debate at the university and beyond, it takes on a more nuanced meaning.

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Artwork by Reshma Chhiba in the Curators' Exhibition (Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

"We are more than our history," says Khanyisile Mbongwa, head curator of the art exhibitions. 

"We are not the victims of our futures, but its designers."

The Triennale's theme is about the narratives of the past, how we define it in our present and how we shape it for our future. The exhibits will be on show across the town, with the Curators' Exhibition at its heart in The Woodmill Lifestyle Centre.

Walking into the main hall, a mosaic of colours are captured within a long blanket, almost like a red carpet but hoisted far up above, guiding the mind into this world of other and self. The artworks on display - a collection of Africa's finest contemporary art - are intricately woven, stitched together to signify a sense of unity and a common thread in the stories told.

And one obstacle to fostering this ubuntu spirit is borders, according to co-curator and Ghanaian artist Bernard Akoi-Jackson. 

"We do not need borders - the artists' work can travel across borders easier than the artists themselves." He referred to some visa issues experienced by some of their international artists trying to attend the Triennale from outside of South Africa. 

He also explained the colour choice behind the Triennale's eye-catching green, supposed to symbolise growth.

"It also stands out against Stellenbosch's white houses, white cars and the white people," added Akoi-Jackson.

READ: Cape Town vs Joburg: Which is Africa's art capital?

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Artwork by Kaloki Nyamai in the Curators' Exhibition. (Photo: Stellenbosch Triennale)

The programme

Beyond the main exhibit, here are the other collections that will be on display from 11 February to 30 April:

  • On The Cusp - This is a look at the future through the speculative lens of 10 young African artists. It will be housed at Libertas Parva.
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Artwork by Aaron Samuel Mulenga. (Photo: Stellenbosch Triennale)

  • From The Vault - An ode to our past, this curated collection was sourced from the archives of Stellenbosch University and Fort Hare University. These fragments of our history aim to be the compass of the future. It will be housed at the Stellenbosch University Museum.
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Artwork from University of Stellenbosch's archives. (Photo: Stellenbosch Triennale)

  • Die Braak Pavillion - In the heart of Stellenbosch, this space will become an immersive public artwork where the spectator takes part in the creation. 
  • Concepts of Freedom - Both an exhibit and a film festival, it incorporates the medium into the freedom of expression and the revolution of knowledge. The video art installation can be viewed throughout the Triennale at 118 Dorp Street, while the film festival will take place from 4 - 7 March at Pulp Cinema.
  • African AD: Analog + Digital - Various performances by sound artists will take place throughout the event in various locations.

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The Triennale will also host a Creative Dialogues Talks programme at The Woodmill, focusing on utilising imagination in revolutionary practices. 

But in the spirit of inclusivity, the exhibitions will also be more accessible on an educational level through The Imaginarium - a free online learning platform.

Through blended learning, including physical workshops, it hopes to inspire its students to imagine and manifest their ideas by using the 8C's of learning - Curiosity, Creativity, Criticism, Communication, Collaboration, Compassion, Composure and Citizenship. 

"Stellenbosch is the memorial ground for the architecture and formation of Apartheid," explains the collective of curators.

"It is for this geographical reason that makes it a pivotal landmark for an ecosystem of transition, where art can be more than just aesthetic pleasure but also a space for interrogating the past and exploring perspectives of sustainable futures.

"Through the Triennale, Stellenbosch proposes platforms, activities and situations that have the potential to instigate and sustain dialogue, debate and new discourses on what it means to be alive, right here, right now and how we can imagine the future." 

For more information and the full programme, click through their website. 

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(Photo: Gabi Zietsman)

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