This may not be the first time that the visual arts component of the Festival expands beyond and disrupts the conservatism that has long characterised the gallery space.
The programme this year comprises of the inter-disciplinary, experimental, non-conformist and sometimes marginal. It is about time that it becomes difficult to categorise and pigeonhole arts practices.
Increasingly, artists that were trained within the fine arts discipline generate collaborative work in performance and installation art that seeks to engage with the social, interrogate the elitist 'public' space and reconfigure the architectural structure of Grahamstown through site-specific works. One can speak of artwork that is not a commodity and whose medium is the people.
Perhaps it would be too soon, too hopeful and inaccurate to think of this inclination as a 'social(ist) turn' but it does encompass ideals that challenge the privatised spaces in art practice. There is, thankfully, a growing interest in artwork that is not solely concerned with the self but with the social.
Visual Art Standard Bank Young Artist
This year's Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) for Visual Art, Mikhael Subotzky, examines spatial configurations that perpetuate and maintain separatism, segregation, exclusion or isolation through systems of surveillance. Retinal Shift is at the Monument Gallery as well as the Gallery in the Round.
Subotzky is renowned for his thought-provoking photographic work conducted at Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison in 2004, Die Vier Hoeke (The Four Corners). These images disclose the dehumanisation of the 'criminal' body, the isolation of 'the criminal' from societal visibility and the abstraction of the sense of private/public within the prison space.
The notion of four confining corners is further complicated in Subotzky's recent collaborative work with Patrick Waterhouse that documents Ponte City, a circular building in Johannesburg. This photographic assemblage comprises images of Ponte residents' four-cornered doors, windows and television sets. Subotzky's choice to install a part of his SBYA 2012 presentation in the Gallery in the Round is cunning.
Subotzky, member of the prestigious Magnum photo agency, will also collaborate with the inter-disciplinary artist, Athi-Patra Ruga, in Performance Obscura, which forms part of Making Way. Ruga's work disrupts the predictability of public space through emphasising the presence of the unfamiliar/alien social body.
Making Way, curated by Rhodes' Professor Ruth Simbao is a large-scale exhibition that includes performance art pieces by artists such as Randolph Hartzenberg, Doung Anwar Jahangeer and Gerald Machona. This multi-media exhibition, designed to take place in a variety of venues, features the work of outstanding artists whose paths have traversed national boundaries.
It includes artists such as Hua Jiming, Wu Junyong, Qin Ga, Maleonn and Chen Quilin from China, Dotun Makun from Nigeria, Jahangeer from Mauritius, Kudzanai Chiurai, Vulindlela Nyoni, Dan Halter and Gerald Machona from Zimbabwe, South Africans James Webb, Brent Meistre and Lebogang Rasethaba, as well as Thenjiwe Nkosi who has origins in South Africa and America. This convergence makes the preposition "from" seem erroneous.
Joint winner of the inaugural MTN New Contemporaries Art Award in 2001, Usha Seejarim's Venus at Home dissects the ordinary objects that not only define domestic space but also the ways in which those within it relate to each other. The scrutiny of these objects makes them somewhat uncanny, almost unfamiliar.
Maria's Story and Kathy
It is this aspect that also frames the haunting Maria's Story, an exhibition by this year's Rhodes Artist in Residence Maureen De Jager.
Maria's Story illuminates the sequestered life of the artist's great-grandmother Maria Ana De Jager. Seejarim's and De Jager's dexterity transforms the ordinary into the exquisitely extraordinary.
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is presenting Kathy: The Man behind the Public Figure. The invaluable memoirs and letters that display Kathrada's contributions to the struggle against apartheid will be displayed in the Observatory Museum. One of eight accused in the Rivonia Trial, Kathrada's participation in the Passive Resistance Campaign and Defiance Campaign of the South African Indian Congress led to his arrest. He was imprisoned on Robben Island and in Pollsmoor Prison. The Foundation promotes the principles of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of South Africa.
From paintings to pictures
My Freedom, My Expression is presented by the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture and features works of artists who address socio-economic inequities. There are two retrospective exhibitions of works by artists Clare Menck and Cedric Nunn. Menck's Hidden Life, presented by the Sanlam Art Gallery, is a collection of paintings made between 1990 and 2010. The spellbinding paintings defamiliarise the private space and personal body. Nunn's exhibition, entitled Call and Response, is a selection of photographs from the late 1970s to present day, some of which document the lives of workers under repressive industrial systems. Tracey Derrick presents One in Nine, which exposes the challenges and effects of breast cancer.
This year's PPC Young Sculptors exhibition, under the theme "Reimagine Concrete", includes some of its previous winning artists, namely Lwandiso Njara, Roelf Daling, Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe and Sybrand Wiechers, who developed sculptures that will be auctioned to raise funds for selected non-governmental organisations.
The Arts Lounge
The Arts Lounge 2012, conducted by Rhodes University's Visual and Performing Arts of Africa (ViPAA), features in-depth discussions and engagements with artists, film screenings, interactive installations, poetry, art and music performances. The Arts Lounge runs in the afternoons and will feature ArtChat sessions with artists such as Cedric Nunn, Abri de Swardt, Usha Seejarim, Doung Anwar Jahangeer and Athi-Patra Ruga.
Art fanatics will also enjoy Out of Silence: Leopards and the Trapping Truth, 2052 Karoo as well as The Arena Art Exhibition of Exhibitions in the Yellowwood Terrace. It includes a variety of creative works that encompass sculpture, painting, ceramic, fabric and fibre art, graphic design and photography.