Attending the opening days of the fortieth annual Grahamstown National Arts Festival, J. BROOKS SPECTOR contemplates the meaning of the project and the works on view there - as well as some more troubling signs.
This year represents the fortieth anniversary of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival - a project that first began as a way for the 1820 Settlers Foundation to preserve and advance the importance and place of the English language in South Africa. Originally centred on the works of William Shakespeare as the archetype of the internationally influential English language writer, over the years, the festival has now come to incorporate virtually every art form - and performances now take place in a wide variety of local (and even foreign) languages. Increasingly, too, with the end of the country's international cultural isolation in 1992, the festival has increasingly incorporated a wide variety of foreign performers as integral parts of its program oeuvre.
The writer, travelling to Grahamstown after arriving at Port Elizabeth's airport, finds the landscape en route to the festival recapitulates the troubled history of the region. And this is a story that continues to speak to the difficulties the Eastern Cape still faces in achieving...