The Creative Society is an arts employment charity that helps young people into jobs in the creative and cultural industries.
Last week, New Deal of the Mind returned from a 10 day voyage to sunny Johannesburg. The aim of the trip was to take two NDotM Future Job Fund employees to South Africa to exchange ideas, thoughts and explore the possibility of setting up an exchange programme for young aspiring artists with cultural organisations in Johannesburg.
This brilliant opportunity came about through an invitation from Lemn Sissay, fellow NDotM Southbank artist in residence who has been visiting South Africa for 15 years. He was performing his critically acclaimed one man show, Something Dark, at The Market Theatre during the month of November.
Thanks to the support from Lemn, Arts Admin and our NDotM trustees we were able to put together a trip that was a great opportunity for young creative FJF employees to be inspired and learn about the Market Theatre – an institution that played such an active role in the anti-apartheid struggle. The trip explored themes of political resistance, struggle, race, identity and theatre’s relationship with society.
Both FJF employees and myself come from African or Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. For Mwila Mulenshi, currently employed with NDotM on a FJF placement, the trip was a return to her heritage. Originally born in Zambia, it was the first time that she had returned to Africa since having left the continent at a very young age. Alex Simpson, a Jamaican-born actor and theatre practitioner with The Mayhem Company, found his preconceptions of Africa challenged by both the affluence and the poverty that we encounter during our trip. He was also exposed to some of the most prominent theatres and practitioners in the country. We even met the South African musical and stage legend Hugh Masekela!
During our trip we visited some amazing arts organisations doing great work with young people, including The Market Theatre Laboratory (The Lab), Artist Proof Studios and Sibikwa Arts Centre. We attended the launch of a creative space run by university students that kicked off a research project, ‘Xenoglossia’, which explores how language has played a central role in some of the gravest historical misunderstandings that have been reincarnated in recent history. This event ignited a debate about whether a mirror had a memory which threatened to consume the rest of the trip! The Apartheid Museum was a shocking reminder of pre-1994 South Africa – at the entry visitors are given a ‘white’ or ‘black’ card that determine which side of the Museum you enter. We also saw the inspiring Constitution Hill which is the new home of the thoughtfully designed Constitutional Court and the also the site of the notorious ‘Number Four’ prison complex where both Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were detained. On top of all this we also managed to visit Soweto and Freedom Park as well as get up close to some lion cubs at the Lion Park!
As is often the case when travelling, we learned the most about the country when actually engaging and speaking with local people. A special thanks to Lemn must be made for all the fantastic introductions that he made for us – we are very grateful for this. We made friends with a young photojournalist currently studying at the Market Theatre Lab – Malibongwe Swane – who lives in Tshepisong, a sprawling township near Soweto, in the South of Johannesburg. We met Malibongwe early on in our trip and gave him his first commission to document our time there – as a result we have some fantastic pictures! We also spent the afternoon with poet Phillipa Yaa De Villiers, who’s incredible life story gave us an up front and personal insight into some of the racial issues in post apartheid South Africa. Our trip to Soweto was also made infinitely more interesting by the fact that we were shown around by local resident Sanza Sandile who, after studying film and music studies at university, went on to set up Johannesburg’s number one youth radio ‘YFM’.
I could go on and on, but I will leave it to Mwila and Alex to elaborate on their experiences. Please watch this space for blog posts from them about their time in Jozi!
If you are interested in supporting further exchanges of young people with arts organisations in South Africa please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com.