A few weeks ago, Betsy and I managed to grab the tail-end of what probably is South Africa's most important art-related event: The ABSA L'Atelier Art Awards. Ismail's partner, Rat Western had managed to get a work in and stood a change to win one of a series of impressive prizes.
The food at the event was extremely good but, possibly even more surprising, so were the works on display. I found almost every single work impressive in some way, much better than I expected. I was happy to see so much good stuff was actually coming out of this country.
Then, today, I had a second very pleasant surprise. Currently at JAG (imagine that, probably South Africa's most important gallery and they don't have a website), the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Africa Remix is on show. Art from some 45 artists from around 25 African countries. The show's already been on in several European and Japanese cities but now, here in Jo'burg, has arrived on the African continent for the first time. This show, too, is of very high quality and if you're in Jo'burg before the end of September, I really urge you to see it.
One series of of photographs I had already seen before, a few years ago in Leeuwarden. Another work, a naked Osama Bin Laden on the American Flag, made me wonder why Al Qaida hadn't yet bombed every venue the exhibition has already been shown at.
In relation to the exhibition, Africalia was hosting a full day seminar or discussion programme, at JAG, on African art, and I was sort of lucky to enjoy the first half. Ismail had a piece on his work, including five minutes of infoporn on SowetoUprisings.com.
Ismail was on a panel with a few other South African artists, one of them being Aryan Kaganoff, whom is 'known' for shooting a film with a cellphone. Kaganoff tried to be the enfant terrible of the panel and succeeded in coming across as extremely arrogant.
Also on the panel was a Stacy Hardy who liked to talk about bringing digital social networks to the people and although she said all the right words, I couldn't deduce whether she was actually any good as far as understanding the technical aspects of digital social networks go.
But the worst addition to the panel, albeit temporarily, was Danielle Roney. Although pleasant to listen to and well spoken, her presentation and idea of putting up a series of internet kiosks which she herself designed (gasp!) to bring into contact people from as far away as Johannesburg and Beijing felt ten years overdue. She even dared to show a video, recorded a week earlier, a picture-in-picture video, of someone in Johannesburg, talking ("about anything") with someone from Atlanta.
Next, she was going to build on the synergy of the Beijing olympics and take this wonderful technology to China, I'm sure to bring people across the globe closer together.
Seriously, what crap is this? Someone is actually paying her to do this shit? Get a kiosk; install an operating system; install any one of a host of instant messaging or video conferencing tools; put one kiosk in Jo'burg and the other in Atlanta (or Beijing or, wait a minute, both!) and, voila, you're done.
Generally speaking, the quality of South African media is mediocre, at best. Investigative journalism isn't up to international, well, 'western', standards. Newspapers, typically, publish sensationalist crap and report and expand on the infighting in, often but not only, the ANC.
Thank god, or whomever you prefer thanking, for The Mail & Guardian, probably the only decent newspaper in this country. It only comes out once a week and actually holds the middle between a regular newspaper and a weekly, with current events but also more in depth articles. Typically, it takes me a few days to get through the whole paper.
Often, the M&G comes with extra supplements. Sometimes on education, Africa's development or whatnot. And sometimes it comes with "Gauteng News', 'Newsletter of the Gauteng Provincial Government' (each province in South Africa has its own government). Because the M&G is a high quality paper, you'd expect the supplements to be of the same standard as well. Luckily, this typically is the case.
But not so with last week's 'Gauteng News'. At 8 pages, one of which was taken up by ads, the supplement had 20 articles. Twelve were accompanied by a photograph. Out of those twelve, four, all on the first three pages, included a picture of the Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa (who, of course, is ANC). Out of the 20 articles, no less than 9 prominently referred to the premier, every single one in a positive manner. These numbers are more appropriate for a Zimbabwe or Libya and don't fit well with a, supposedly, democratically run country or, in this case, province.
Then again, if you would ask the DA in the Western Cape, I'm sure they'd argue the ANC is not a very democratically operating organization.
A dollar a day
Also in last week's M&G, the business supplement had a positive article on Ghana's participation in Agoa, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. Bill Clinton, in 2000, signed the act into law in the US and it allows for duty-free trade of certain products (from, in this case, Ghana), in exchange for US-directed economic reforms.
Although the article mentions not everyone is that impressed by the agreement, but the article also doesn't divulge on the why and, instead, quotes a USAid executive as saying that Agoa is an opportunity not to be missed and goes on to say that, with the expected introduction of a similar scheme by the EU later in the year, the opportunities and possibilities will significantly increase.
All very good and whatnot, but what I don't get is that the article mentions that in the uniform and workwear factory, which is positively highlighted in the text, the employees make 'little more than $1 a day'. Surprising, as this is less than the generally accepted poverty level of 2 dollars per day. These people are, in effect, working for the US on a US-government sanctioned project for less than 2 dollars per day? How can this be condoned by a country and an NGO which claim to want to alleviate poverty?
According to a list available on Wikipedia, some 80% of Ghanaians live with under 2 dollars per day. As the workers in this factory have to support a family, it's not unlikely these people live with significantly less than 1 dollar per day.