2015 has been a big year. #RhodesFell, #FeesFell, we discovered a new hominid cousin on our doorstep, Oscar Pistorius is going to jail (some more), and Zuma decided the future’s atomic. We covered some of these stories directly, others were documented in the mainstream media, but their effects and undercurrents could be seen permeating the creative current this year with ripples of critique and commentary. Against this backdrop there were also the stories that stood out for us on a purely subjective level. So as we count down the days to the close of the year, we want to pause briefly to reflect back on the big stories that have shaped this year in some form or another, whether for us as a nation or as a publication. These stories, in no particular order, are the ones that have had a big impact, been a big deal, caused a stir, made us super proud, and contributed to defining this year.

New Year’s Eve in Hillbrow

Photographer Jono Wood and journalist Camilla Janse van Vuuren spend an unforgettable night tagging along with the SAPS.  

“I spent New Year’s Eve on the streets of Hillbrow. In the belly of a beast that I have feared for over a decade. I’ve never been to Hillbrow. I’ve driven through it, windows shut, doors locked, eyes on the road. This was a little different.”

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Pola Maneli | Representations of Blackness in Bold Colour

Young, talented, and highly opinionated about being these things, Pola Maneli tells us why having skills and talent comes with a lot of responsibility. 

“My obsession with the representation of blackness is an offshoot from this liberal rainbow nation initiative illustration series I did a few years back […]. The idea was to portray stereotypical depictions of South Africans from all races which would then allow us to all come together over a braai to laugh at how ridiculous they all actually are #TatasDream.”

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Of Freaks and Freedom | AfrikaBurn 2015

The Grand Kids Collective’s spectacular video captured the mesmerising scenes, artworks and people who make the pilgrimage in the Tankwa desert for the annual festival of radical self-expression. 

North of the Border | In Celebration of Africa Creativity

In celebration of Africa Day, we rounded up some highlights of exceptional creativity from the other countries on the continent. This was by no means an easy task, and the list was anything but comprehensive. Africa is a vast, nuanced and constantly changing space. To try and sum up ‘Africa’ in any sense is a failure of both understanding and imagination. 

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The Titillating and Seductive Theatre of Jemma Kahn

Each titillating and devilish tale in Jemma’s multi-disciplinary collaborative theatre show is skillfully penned by a different writer/illustrator pair. The stories, expertly told by Jemma and her side-kick Roberto Pombo, delve into the erotic, macabre and darker side of human nature. 

“I think the problem with a lot of theatre is that no one bothers to ask that question in the first place. They ask, what do I want to make? Not even, what do I want to see? You have to make something that’s entertaining and watchable and not just because ‘it’s time that I did a Hamlet.'” 

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Photographic Retrospectives: Then & Now Nightlife and SA Street Style

As part of our photography month focus back in April we compiled 2 fun retrospective features: Billy Monk’s 1960s snaps of wild nights at the Catacombs Club in Cape Town vs. party goers today; and the original SA street scene photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko’s 1999–2003 archive vs. street style photographers today. 

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Creative Disturbance by Design | An interview with Richard Hart

Ask Richard Hart and he will tell you that good design is surprising, inventive and intelligent. As one of the design greats of South Africa who pioneered a proudly local design aesthetic, we relished the opportunity to interview him back in March for our graphic design month focus. 

“I hate trends! The very word sends shivers down my spine. That might be a bit harsh, but I do feel that the internet has created this massive glut of very competent design work that all looks the same. This has been going on for years and it feels very destructive to me.”

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Lebogang Rasethaba Directs a Black Tie Pantsula Crew 

Shot on a dusty soccer field in Tembisa township with the hazy winter sun setting in the background, Lebo’s simple music video for UK jazz band Sons of Kemet packed major punch. He said:  

“Pantsula and jazz aren’t things that people were ever meant to see together; they both have rich histories with very different cultural and aesthetic values. But framing ideas within a different context can give them new life.”

Marlene Steyn’s Many Selves

Marlene’s work is like reading a foreign language backwards and, as if by magic, understanding what it means.

“I aim to open up and stir the human ego (sense of self). If the ego is an egg, I guess one can say that I break it and scramble it to make many side dishes.”

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Sethembile Msezane on Black Women and Colonialist Ideologies

Using her own body to embody real and fictional characters from history, Sethembile’s bold performances subvert colonialist ideologies and highlight the history of black women in South Africa.

“I think that there is a disruption in South Africa that questions the ‘New South Africa’ or the concept of ‘The Rainbow Nation’.  There’s a shift in awareness amongst the youth of South Africa, where there is an attempt to transcend the legacy of Apartheid and Colonialism by transforming contemporary South Africa from an Imperialist society to one that is rid of racial, class and gender abuse through public debates, music, art and so forth.”

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Ed Young Sees Art people

If high school rules applied to the art world, Ed Young would be in permanent detention – and most likely wearing a smirk because of it. Highly provocative and often deliberately offensive, Ed’s irreverent work is largely autobiographical, and speaks to his ongoing interest in the ever-changing political climate and trends within contemporary art.

“Artists, for the most part, are like difficult small children with cute haircuts. They make a little drawing and run to their mommy and scream, ‘Look what I made!'”

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Digital Art Steals the Spotlight

Advancing technologies and the rise of possibilities with the Web 2.0 have given way to a new wave of digital and internet artists – the likes of whom hack tech to create immersive digital experiences or tap into the glitchy tumblr aesthetic to stitch found images together to present altered views of reality.

Here’s our list of the 7 Artist Breaking the Internet. And interviews with cyber crusader Tabita Rezaire and PhD student Anja Ventre who’s carved out a niche for herself at the intersection of technology and culture. 

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Drawing the Line Between Serious and Silly | Philippus Johan Schutte

Playful colour palettes and tongue in cheek humour are the common threads across designer/photographer/events organiser/everything-er Philippus’s varied and conceptual work.  

“There’s usually a meeting point, a mutually agreed upon neutral space between the serious and the silly, and once I find that space, I lean [the project] towards whichever side I feel is more contextually relevant. Like, having to dress Smart Casual for an event isn’t the same for everyone; some lean towards smart, some lean towards casual.”

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Nyaope. Everything you give me my Boss, will do

20 year old Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s hard-hitting photo essay of township drug abuse with accompanying essay by Sean O’Toole presents a poignant portrait of youth and circumstance. 

“Photographs of drug addiction share with pictures of poverty a certain generic sameness. Bare circumstances mirror bare lives. A key difficulty for any photographer here is avoiding repetition and sameness. […] In the manner of Larry Clark, Sobekwa’s Nyaope essay is defined by its focus on a fragile family, a family created by circumstance rather than biology.” 

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Haroon Gunn-Salie | It’s Time to Tell a New Story

Haroon’s multidisciplinary work is centred on dialogue and exchange and focuses on highlighting the contradictions in contemporary South Africa – a place which on the one hand is experiencing a major transition, yet continues to be defined by its long history of oppression and struggle.

“Racism and the effects of apartheid and colonialism persist in South Africa today and these enduring symbols of power perpetuate a national consciousness of inferiority. Untransformed public spaces enforce the continuation of this legacy, as concrete reminders of the everlasting and all-powerful colonial legacy that dominate​s and defines the landscape and mindset of the South African people.”

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#FeesMustFall | A Week of Student-led Protests

After a week of protests that started and Wits and spread across the country, the #FeesMustFall student movement reached a victorious climax on the lawns of the Union Buildings in Pretoria with the president announcing a 0% fee increase. 

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Where Streets Are Catwalks | SA Street Style

Street style photographers, fashion crews and personalities have put style on global trend agendas and influenced overseas runways. Here is this year’s list of the 11 local trendsetters to keep on your radar. 

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Nick Mulgrew | Literary Hustler 

A poet who references WhatsApp and a writer who details the cultural misappropriation of Native Americans by Spur Steak Ranches, with the launch of uHlanga Press, Nick is on his way to becoming a driving force in the South African literary industry.

“It isn’t all drinking wine and smoking Gauloises in amber-lit literary salons. I mean, it’s some of that, but mostly it’s the least encouraging work you can imagine.”

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Conquering Fears of Queerness: Zanele Muholi is the Ngonyama 

Through photography, Zanele has sought to normalise and conquer fears of queerness in order to make life safer for individuals like herself. In her most recent work, he’s turned her lens on herself to interrogate blackness, African history, gender politics and the culture of selfies. 

“Homosexuality has always been there, it’s a part of African histories that have never had the opportunity to be documented because they weren’t of interest to the historians and anthropologists that came before us. We’ve always been here. There were names that were used in various tribes to express what we know today as LGBTI.”

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Lizza Littlewort and the Persistence of History

Lizza Littlewort is acutely cognisant of the past and the tangible hold it has over our present lived realities. Her recent body of work, We Live in the Past, offers a biting critique of historical amnesia (but not without a sense of humour), and how this imperial-era attitude persist today.

“We can’t cherry-pick which parts of the past we would like to keep without imposing our preferred “version” of the past over someone else’s.” 

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K is for Kak-stoker | An interview with Anton Kannemeyer 

Talking about South Africa – and race, sex, class and politics – is not simple and tidy. Rather than reducing life to a series of dichotomies, Anton’s satirical work revels in the messy complexity and contradictions of this.

“Being offensive isn’t the only way to make a statement. I’m just wired in a certain way where I look at certain things and often respond in a way where I offend “decent” people. Truth be told, I see myself as a fairly decent person.”

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Now that you’ve seen the big shots, check out the young guns in part 2 of our 2015 Highlights: The Breakthrough Artists

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