arterialOn a vacation-cum-work trip in S. Africa.  The Arterial Network public forum When do artists go too far and when do we not go far enough? looks like an appropriate segue, don’t it?

In a country with South Africa’s challenges, artists and creatives walk a fine line between two seemingly opposite poles. On one hand is the imperative to play a constructive role in building the new democratic order – for example by supporting the fight against poverty and social fragmentation, and to do so in a spirit of dialogue and partnership with civil society, government and business. On the other hand, as the contradictions of a developing society emerge – such as inequality, poverty, joblessness, poor governance, intolerance, xenophobia and corruption among other ‘morbid’ symptoms – artists also have to take up their historic role to be critical and to ‘speak truth to power’.

The basis for ongoing cooperation and constructive engagement between government and the creative sector is well defined. Government increasingly, for example, recognises the role that the arts and creative industries do and can play and has engaged with the sector in many different ways – through its ministerial portfolios in the arts, trade, education and tourism for example. These areas of government face the same challenges of governance, corruption and service delivery as all other sectors – witness the failures of the National Lottery to support government’s mandate in relation to the arts, and the challenges of implementing UNESCO Conventions to which the state is a signatory.

When artists have moved over to ‘speak truth to power’, the response has been increasingly critical in return. Artists have attracted harsh judgment from government – supported by sections of the wider society – for going ‘too far.’ In 2012, artworks such as Brett Murray’s The Spear and Ayanda Mabulu’s painting Umshini Wam, both satirising what some describe as ‘the pretensions of the ruling elites’, caused much controversy and public debate from all sectors of society. Before that, then Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana threatened to close a photographic exhibition at Constitution Hill, which visualised various dimensions of lesbian and female sexuality – eliciting a public outcry at the Minister’s assertions in the process.

Some may argue that public controversies such as these are important because they allow the kind of ‘robust’ debates that enable democratic societies to work out the values which inform citizen participation and which should inform the work of a developmental state.

So how should artists position themselves so that their role remains constructively engaged in the larger development project, while still ‘speaking truth to power? Where lies the sweet spot?

DATE: Monday 4 February 2013, 18:00-20:00

VENUE: Alliance Francaise, Cape Town

PANELISTS INCLUDE: Imraan Coovadia (Writer), Cosmas Mairosi (Moderator), Mike van Graan (Theatre and activist), Anele Selekwa (Theatre) and Kristy Cockerill (Association for Visual Arts).

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