7 Reasons to Attend the National Arts Festival in South Africa

7 Reasons to Attend the National Arts Festival in South Africa

The National Arts Festival in South Africa holds from Thursday, June 29 until Sunday, July 9 this year. Widely known as the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, it covers a wide spectrum of the arts with artists, theatre practitioners, academics, musicians and actors contributing to its broad framework.

Here are 7 reasons why you should attend this year’s event.

Womb of Fire

The theatre piece Womb of Fire, by the MotherTongue Project will premiere at the festival. It is created by a collective of female artists, activists, academics and practitioners dedicated to personal and social change through participatory theatre. Womb of Fire focuses on the female body in performance as a site for disruption and decolonization.

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews

The Crows Plucked Your Sinews, written and directed by Hassan Mahamdallie and performed by Yusra Warsama, explores the violence of the British Empire and the resistance that followed. Here, Mahamdallie investigates untold and obscured histories in a theatrical creation for the contemporary stage.

Image credit: nationalartsfestival.co.za


This year, there are two ballets. Over the first weekend, Dada Masilo returns to the National Arts Festival after an absence of 7 years with an African reinterpretation of the iconic dance work – Giselle. Choreographed by Masilo with drawings by William Kentridge, it’s a South African premiere of note that the festival is proud to present.

Neons and Vacuum

There is a double bill of works that straddles contemporary dance and performance art. Neons tells the story of two men going through a difficult time in their relationship, with actions that are refined, intense and at times violent. Performed to a soundtrack featuring Maria Callas, the striking choreography thrives on contrasts: power and intimacy; distance and violence; as well as commitment and irony. Vacuum, another performance in turn, looks at the visual perception of movement as it makes its way through the history of art, from Renaissance paintings to photographic development.

Image credit: nationalartsfestival.co.za

All the Art Exhibitions

Everything to be exhibited during the festival is a must-see. September Jive, presented by Alliance Française, is a selection of 150 music sleeve covers with a special focus on indigenous South African design. Andrew Tshabangu’s Footprints is an exhibition of photographs that have both contributed to and undermined Johannesburg’s iconography. The Mendi Centenary Project is a multidisciplinary art exhibition commemorating the remembrance of the sinking of the Mendi, 100 years ago. Virtual Frontiers by François Knoetze is a new body of work that takes the form of an arrangement of virtual-reality panoramas and immersive sound pieces telling stories of the past, present and imagined future of Grahamstown. 

The Film Programme

The films are presented in partnership with the embassies of Russia, Cuba, Italy and Korea. There is always a focus on South African cinema thanks to support from the National Film and Video Foundation, as well as the Gauteng Film Commission. Filmmakers will introduce screenings, and in addition, a range of seminars linked to the selected films have also been programmed.




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