There is always much excitement and high expectations in Grahamstown when the Standard Bank Young Artists unveil the fruits of their labours to Festival audiences.  This year Standard Bank marks 30 years of sponsorship for these awards and to honour this anniversary, an unprecendented  seven awards were made in 2014.

A theatre favourite, Greg Homann’s OEDIPUS @ KOÖ-NÚ! is based on the tragedy Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. Giving some background to his work Homann explains how he cast the production, “David Dennis is a long-time friend and colleague with whom I have worked in four other productions and I felt that he would suit the character of Oedipus. I know how he works and felt comfortable with his acting ability. Masasa Mbangeni (a past student of mine) plays Antigone. I have been so enthused by her rehearsal performances and am excited to see the cast coming together.  An interesting angle for me is that I have cast Tumi Morake (a comedian in her other life) as Theseus and she has developed into an accomplished actress. It has been an interesting journey for us both. The others – Jerry Mntonga, Glen Biderman-Pam and Ameera Patel – are all new castings and have been so encouraged as to how it has all turned out.”

A double award this year goes to twins Hasan and Husain Essop (Visual Art) who are supported by the Goodman Gallery and will exhibit a body of new work in the Monument Gallery.  It is inspiring to see how two people can work together in one space with similar visions but each with his own ‘stamp’.

Husain explains their vision behind the exhibition, “This great opportunity gave us the platform to start working on a new body of work that forms part of a larger body which we’ve been working on for some time now. Our new work explores the ‘Unrest’ that we experience on a day to day basis. The images highlight both the experiences and surroundings that affect us on a physical as well as a spiritual level. We explore the notion of the effects of violence on our communities but also how this violence affects our minds and how we as individuals deal with this violence in our own way,” he said.

2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winners. pic by Timmy Henny

“Where technical aspects are concerned we have kept our traditional way of working incorporating performance and carefully selected backgrounds that complement the actions and wardrobe. We work with layering where hundreds of images are shot from all angles and carefully and painstakingly stitched together to form a high res image that appears both 3 dimensional and has a clear depth of field. Our work contains video and installation elements to create a full viewing experience,” Husain explained.

Hasan added, “Husain and I took a similar view towards the making of this new body of work. We both wanted to keep the formula we used in creating staged layered photography . The prize also gave me a new found confidence in my work, enabling me to focus on the meanings and messaging without having to worry about budgets.”

Donna Kukama (Performance Art) has been cementing her international reputation through a series of performances through Europe and South America.

She was one of the South African artists represented in Venice as part of Imaginary Fact, in the SA Pavilion during the 55th Venice Biennale.

Kukama’s work explores contemporary understandings of history; always accompanied by a consideration of meaning and questions around value; and reflection on the personal, in the context of the political. “I will launch my piece, THE MUSEUM OF NON-PERMANENCE at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown which I hope will continue to function as a mobile structure, morphing in various environments beyond the Festival,” she said.

Sassy and eccentric are two words you would use to describe Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Jazz, Kyle Shepherd. Festinos will not be disappointed with the performances this year from the feted Capetonian, a pianist, saxophonist, composer and band leader.

Ten years ago this prodigiously talented young man performed in Grahamstown as a member of the Standard Bank National Schools Big Band; now he stands on that same stage on the cusp of a career that promises to be significant for South African jazz.

“This year at the National Arts Festival I will be playing new works that I recently recorded which will be released on a double album of 21 tracks, titled “Dream State”. The album will be available in Grahamstown and was made possible with the generous support of Standard Bank. In my first performance at the National Arts Festival I will have the honour of playing my music with the great Feya Faku and Buddy Wells”, commented Shepherd.

Talented Njabulo Madlala (Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Music) performed in many countries before releasing his first album “Songs of Home”. Madlala who is based in the UK was recently invited to perform at the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival, and then at the RMB Starlight Classics at Vergelegen in Cape Town.

“I am forever indebted to Richard Cock and the National Arts Festival for recognising my talent and for the acknowledgement that I have received from my home country since the award,” said Madlala. “Working with talented Samson Diamond (violin) who is a past Standard Bank Young Artist winner and being part of the Gala Concert is going to be a highlight for me.”

Nicola Elliot (Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Dance) explains, “BRUISING is about that aching sensation of having lost something that was richly meaningful. It is about moving forward into a new, unexpected state of being despite that loss. Individuals might know this feeling from their personal lives; but there are also resonances for many South Africans as the concept of the Nelson Mandela-era South Africa seems to be slipping from our grasp; and more globally as the earth exhibits change at an alarming pace and scale.”

I’ve been inspired by the fact that the theatre is a place in which we can confront and reflect upon ourselves. Audiences can expect to find many things of unique beauty, but will also be startled and surprised by what the work presents and how it asks you to perceive the world of the stage,” she said.

Controversy surrounds this art maverick who won the Standard Bank Young Artist award for Film for 2014. Jahmil XT Qubeka made headlines last year when his film ‘Of good report’ was initially banned by the Film and Publications Board before being screened at the Durban International Film Festival. The film, of course, is anything but child pornography (which formed the basis of the banning), but is a highly provocative drama about a school teacher who lusts after the teenage girls in his care. Directed by Qubeka, the film is beautifully shot in black and white, and confirms his immense talent.  It will be screened at the Film Festival in Grahamstown, which is supported by MNet

There are seven further films showcasing Qubeka’s skills on the programme this year. He sardonically sketches the problems that are the scourge of South Africa – poverty, violence, xenophobia and corruption.

Cool and composed Qubeka is unfazed by the media attention this has all caused and says “my work is an extension of my vision, of what I see and feel around me. I’m fascinated by the genesis of humanity and consciousness. Where we believe we come from, why we think we are here and our speculation and preoccupation as to where it is we are going.  I am fascinated by the psychology of the self. That paradigm encapsulates the framework of everything that I do.”

“I am currently Directing a feature film called ‘The Riders’ starring Liam McIntyre, Lara Pulver and Richard E. Grant” he humbly notes. Richard E. Grant also happens to be one of the first Young Artist winners when it was sponsored by Five Roses in 1981.

The 40th National Arts Festival runs from 3 to 13 July in Grahamstown this year. Bookings for the 2014 National Arts Festival are open, and can be made online through the website staging.codelikeclockwork.com/naf2015. Programmes can be downloaded from the website, or can be collected from selected Exclusive Books and Standard Bank branches.

The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Eastern Cape Government, Department of Arts and Culture, City Press and M Net.