‘Home’ Research and Development: Soweto, November 2014

Sunday – Soweto! Ntokoze Dube our guide took us on an informal walk around Kliptown, the area our Hotel is based in. The Soweto Hotel has fantastic links with the local community; it is based in the famous Freedom Square where Mandela and 3000 delegates wrote the freedom charter in 1955. Across the rail tracks is a very poor shantytown, with no electricity or mains water and sewage system. Soweto is huge and many faceted, smart new houses and large shopping malls contrast with the tin shacks and street stalls near our hotel. In this neighbourhood we met ‘Brother Bob’ (Nameng) and his Sky (Soweto Kliptown Youth) project. Bob was born in Kliptown, but was fostered after becoming an orphan, he told us how he had escaped this harsh foster ‘home’ when ‘Mama Eva’ came to find Bob and his brother and bring them to her home. He was relieved to be back in Kliptown, a racially and culturally diverse area and happy to be in a loving home with Eva. He developed a passion for helping the children in this community, and as a result in 1985 he set up a youth club and after-school creative programme KCYC. Wanting to expand his work to include all ages, he set up the Sky project (1987), an international project including a boarding school, free meals, recording studio, holiday clubs with creative and sporting activities, and a learning centre open to anyone in his community; one of Bob’s strong beliefs being ‘a community that reads is an intelligent community’. Sky has an exchange programme with students from the USA, links with Warwick University and the NBA Basketball without Borders. Brother Bob is at the heart of this community and Sky is a haven for the local youth, providing a home, education and the chance to go out into the wider world with their music tours.

We would be proud to engage with the work of SKY, and Bob would like to make more international links and be part of Home.

On Monday a very different visit took us to The Soweto Theatre, a beautiful newly built theatre – the first in Soweto. We met Carl Johnson, the General Manager and Warona Khosi the Artistic Programme Director and Robert Motseko who works manages Marketing and Community Engagement. One of Carl’s main aims is to reach more of the local community as his audiences and participants. Warona was very interested in Bill’s extensive experience in community engagement in his previous WildWorks’ projects, in the context of the forthcoming anniversary of June 1976, the death of Hector Pieterson during a student uprising. Warona would like to develop a way for the Soweto Theatre to go into the community and devise with them, hoping to create a piece that used the setting of Soweto in a similar way to WildWorks’ embedded use of site and landscape in their productions. The forthcoming project would need to commemorate the historical event, but also, importantly, look forward to a positive future for Soweto. Carl explained some of the political complexities of the 1976 Uprising, his background as a British born man, brought up in a liberal East Cape South African home, gave him a fascinating overview of the situation.

We hope to work closely with The Soweto Theatre; the meeting was full of interest and positivity.

On Tuesday we met with Phaphama Initiatives, an NGO that covers many areas: it promotes tourism, runs workshops on conflict resolution, gender reconciliation (with USA ‘help increase peace’ HIP), support work in schools, correction institutes, and in the community, they teach skills of mentoring and finding alternative employment, they run a youth entrepreneurial school (YES) for over 16year olds, a project bringing together people with relevant skills and students requiring mentoring. Africa Mzaku, the Arts and Culture Director, outlined this stream of their work. He described it as a Post-apartheid community arts movement to encourage social mobility. Outdoor work is one of its main features, they have worked with French Theatre Company L’Epidores and a Belgian Arts Agency Frans Brood, they have curated an artistic tour and staged theatre performances, dance and music in their outside space. Dutch artists have come over to swap skills with South African teachers. We discussed what area might be best for our project in Soweto. Africa suggested the Bramfischer ville community would be a suitably diverse community, then, on reflection, answered:

‘I think your project can work anywhere.’

Later that day we met Zanele Mashumi an artist. She was born in Soweto and studied art in Johannesburg. Zanele runs her own company hosting art exhibitions in cafes, pop up galleries, and abandoned buildings. She was well informed and very interested in Home. Bill was impressed with her photographic project where USA students gave cameras to Kliptown residents, including children, and asked them to take their own photographs on a variety of themes. The resulting photos were very poignant, we felt we had made a fantastic link for our project. Zanele is also interested in using installations to reflect the lives of the local community:

‘People’s voices really matter.’

On Wednesday we met with Arts Township International, the meeting included Bangani Ngwenya the Director, Ro
lihlahla Mhlanga the Manager, and Mandla Tshabalala who sponsors Eyethu Cellardoor. ATI run an International Lifestyle Centre, including Soweto’s first wine cellar, where a photographic exhibition is being hosted from the 13th November. They turn homes into galleries and use local people’s houses to display art works. They are about to launch a graffiti route, and plan to revamp a defunct cinema on their land into a performing arts development gallery. Their overall aim is to map out a cultural district in Soweto. They plan to liaise with favelas in Rio and already work in Cape Town’s KCD (Kayamandi Creative District). ATI have links with Soweto Theatre and have discussed with Warona the idea of ‘flash mobs’ to bring performance to township people who, generally, do not seek culture inside buildings. They informed us about the links they have with educational institutions, and creative companies such as dance studios, film studios etc. We finished off with a tour of the new wine cellar and caught a preview of the photographic exhibition by Jerry Obakeng Gaegane Market Photo Workshop, beautiful photos documenting the lives of illegal gold prospectors. Bill Mitchell presented the story of WildWorks and Zap outlined how they we might work together, their response was:

‘You came to the right people.’

A few more contacts friends a were made during the trip, Sakhile Skhosana from Publication Design House who works with video and design and supports Soweto musicians by providing them with portfolios, and Victor a TV producer and director. Lastly, but not least, the one off collector, storyteller, and man of many names, Om Bolo ‘Father of Kliptown’. We felt immediately at home in his extended house of historical IMG_7970kitchens and other artefacts, including a huge prison tape-recorder with reels of tape recorded during the apartheid era. Om Bola cooked us a traditional Soweton meal, using bowls, plates and a calabash from three of his South African kitchens. The meal was amazing and Om regaled us with fascinating stories about his life in Kliptown, poverty, memories of Mandela and the events during the student uprising. Om was photographer, for five years, on the innovative, multi-racial ‘Drum’ magazine. He has worked as a cultural researcher and plans to document ‘The Unsung Heroes’ of Soweto. On politics, culture, and Kliptown family life, Om was an eloquent speaker. A skill he says he learnt outside by the light of a brazier and In front of ‘the teardrops of the candlelight’.

We were met with a very warm welcome in Soweto, and look forward to returning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Photo: Outside the home of Om Bolo

Home – Conceived by Dave Reeves with Bill Mitchell and produced by Zap Art in collaboration with artistic lead WildWorks. Supported using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

cropped-190252_198673736831155_180892_n55.jpg  WildworksPrint

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‘Home’ Research and Development: Rio de Janeiro, November 2014

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On Sunday night Mirela, our translator, took us up into Catete favela. A VW combi bus bounced us up the cobbled streets, then we walked through the tiny alleys to find The Maze, a jazz club. We met the owner Bob Nadkarni, a characterful English artist who had the foresight back in 1972, not to rejoin his broken down boat, but to stay and start the long project of building his own cavernous studio on top of a hill with one of the best views of Rio. Bob regaled us with stories about East Finchley; among other things he talked to us about some of his many projects, including his work as a film-maker, sculptor, painter and jazz musician. He and his wife also run a hostel in The Maze. He was very interested to hear about our backgrounds in the arts and the Home project – and is happy to help facilitate where he can as he has a wealth of connections with the local, and wider artistic community in Rio.

We will certainly return to The Maze when we next visit, and for anyone visiting Rio soon we strongly recommend it.

On Monday we met Luana Cabral, Artistic Producer and Coordinator for AfroReggae. Their work started in Vigario favela twenty-two years ago as a response to daily violence and tragedy. They now run a variety of projects promoting justice and inclusion through Afro- Brazilian culture. Luana’s impressive presentation of their work and the beliefs underlying everything they do was fascinating. We were particularly struck by the variety of support mechanisms and projects that gives physical and emotional support that empowers. Since Bill Mitchell, Artistic Director of WildWorks, believes strongly in the importance of supporting local communities who become part of WildWorks productions, there was a resonance in the work of the two companies. Luana was interested in the images and descriptions of previous collaborations between Zap and Wild Works, including Souterrain.

AfroReggae is a truly inspirational company, and we valued the opportunity to meet Luana and hear about their work.

Tuesday: another great day. We started with a meeting with Cristina Bokel Becker who has worked previously for the British Council (she remembers meeting Bill Mitchell in Cornwall in his Kneehigh days). We had attended the opening of her ATOS DE FALA Festival the evening before and Cristina was very pleased that the festival made the front page of the newspaper. Cristina was passionate about the discovery of new voices in the arts in Brazil and encouraged our project to make new links in Rio beyond the few well-known arts bodies.

We greatly enjoyed meeting Cristina, being introduced to ATOS DE FALA, and her warm enthusiasm and considered suggestions for ‘Home’. We hope to spend more time with her as the project develops.

Next we visited Mauricio Hora and his assistant, Cristiano, in Favelarte in Gamboa. Mauricio is an internationally renowned photographer, who took up photography as a ‘weapon’ to escape the violence of his favela upbringing. He was very interested in our Home project. He would love his work to reach a wider audience to enable his community to have a stronger voice. He then took us on the cable car up into Providentia favela to visit his Casa Miyella ‘Yellow House’, an arts space, funded by the money raised by French documentary photographer JR.

To meet Mauricio and to see the Yellow House was a privilege.

Wednesday: another inspirational day! Firstly to the dance studios of Redes de Mare organisation, a huge working studio space in The Mare (a collection of 16 favelas). We met Isabella Porto, the Coordinator at the Studios and Lia Rodrigues, a choreographer of her own international dance company. Two hundred and fifty students aged seven to seventy, attend free dance classes, and eighteen young people attend class four hours daily forming the core dance company in this space. We visited a variety of Redes De Mare’s spaces, including an impressive project including adult and children’s libraries, study rooms and, outside, bikes belonging to the Mare Sem Fronteiras programme to encourage kids to cross the symbolic borders created by the criminals in the favelas. Their project has produced the first map of the 16 favelas; this makes the favelas visible to the world. The Redes De Mare project started off twenty-two years ago, as a fight for basic rights for things such as water. Now it has widened its brief to the need for culture and public security and is currently running 16 projects locally. They are keen to promote pride in local people’s home areas by bringing in artists e.g. Italian photographer Antonio Venturi, who created a very positive exhibition based on work with drug users about their ideas on the place they call home.

Relationships to Home were clear. However – beyond that – it was simply a pleasure to hear about their history and achievements.

After a great local lunch, we visited Observatorio De Favelas in Bella Mare, 2 blocks away. We met Jorge Barbosa, a gentle yet dynamic academic who heads the Observatory and the Cultural Centre nearby. He is a great believer in public art not just being about aesthetics, but also being about socialisation. The project has many strands: photography agency and school, web design, research office, publicly agency and a partnership with the university, which also accredits their courses. The cultural centre is exhibiting, for the third year running, an impressive contemporary art show ‘Travessiass’, linking well-known and local artists. Jorge likes to work in partnerships that deliver legacy and change; he was interested in the title of our book Landscape Theatre. To help our work, he offered access to very detailed information on the favelas (one interesting fact, there are 500 Rock bands in the favelas!)

The themes of resilience, identity and community have been emerging as we talk around this concept of home.

Thursday, our last day in wonderful Rio. Mirela, our fantastic guide, showed us around Vidigal favela. The steep hilly favela was lively and friendly. It had three outdoor performance areas, as well as a large sports arena and kindergarten. Apparently the local drug baron arranged for the arena to be built after a huge landslide destroyed part of the hill. We visited the project Todos na Luta where Mirela volunteers. Raff Giglo set up this boxing project in 1993 to help disadvantaged young people through boxing; two of its boxers won medals in last year’s London Olympics. His daughter, among others, runs a programme developed with Harvard University, which includes self awareness and creativity. Each session cIMG_20141104_155657omprises of four elements: The mind, using meditation techniques. The Body, boxing. Feelings, getting in touch with their feelings through creative activities. The Mouth, words, and making connections. The project uses video to build communication skills and empower the youngsters as well as build skills in using technology. Lucas, the psychology specialist, offered to help us with links to São Paulo and Rio universities; we are hoping to connect with institutes of learning in each location.

After winding our way down the hill past numerous barbers, cafes and small shops, we went through an oily car mechanic workshop to find Moda Fusion a fashion atelier that trains twenty young people each year in pattern cutting, sewing skillsand design. The students have links with the fashion world in Paris, as well as central St Martins in London. We were encouraged to contact Gringo Cardia, ‘the father of creative enterprises in Rio’, if we wanted a fashion link for Home.

All the work we have seen in the favelas has been really inspiring. We have been made very welcome by all the people we have visited, and have come away with a lot of positive feedback on our initial ideas for Home.

Home – Conceived by Dave Reeves with Bill Mitchell and produced by Zap Art in collaboration with artistic lead WildWorks. Supported using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England. 

cropped-190252_198673736831155_180892_n5.jpg   WildworksPrint