Throughout this trip in South Africa I have noticed the importance of art and different art forms, I have reflected on the different perspectives and stories art provides, and I have appreciated the controversy and challenges that these different art forms provide.
While in Cape Town we were able to reflect on our trip through art, each person producing a different perspective to what they have learned based on the individuals interests. Through art we were able to work through what we have experienced and how we feel about those experiences, we were able to draw parallels to the discussions in class and we were able to share those thoughts and reflections with our classmates, perhaps sparking new inspiration and reflection in them as well. Through discussion we were able to reflect on how we can take these experiences home with us as we move forward on our trip.
We went to a three-man play in Johannesburg called “When Swallows Cry”. This play toyed with many different perspectives on the ongoing racism in South Africa as well as different prominently white countries: Australia, The United States, and Canada. This play was made up of three different stories. One was of a man from South Africa trying to move to the United States, but even with all the right paperwork he still gets stuck at TSA and eventually sent back to South Africa because of where he is from and his last name. The man ends up killing himself because of the threat of being sent back home. Another story was about two South Africans who walked to a port and hopped on a boat to Australia. On the boat they had their paperwork taken and when in the jail in Australia, the man processing them calls them “monkeys” and treats them like trash. The one of the two men manages to tie the Australian man up, but the second sets him free only to both be shot by the Australian in the end. The last story was about a royal Canadian who was captured by two South Africans hoping to hold him for ransom in order to get money for their township. When the leader leaves, the assistant hears the Canadian’s story, the head man comes back and is frustrated with the Canadian almost killing the Canadian, but the assistant ends up trapping the leader and freeing the Canadian in exchange for month payments. The leader forgives him in exchange for his death if the Canadian doesn’t pay up. As an audience member I was struck by these interpretations and shocked by the overall message. Walking away from the play you questioned your actions and you picture yourself in the position of others. Through this art form you are able to see the emotion through expression and you feel what people have been through. It made you realize that some people are still stuck in the mindset that South Africa was during apartheid.
The play helped solidify the meaning of one of the articles we’ve read this winter called” INDRODUCTION: An Overview of Theatre in South Africa. A quote that resonated with me was “I certainly don’t believe you can ever separate art from politics, most definitely not in South Africa”(Mda, 8). “When Swallows Cry” and the story about the American Government rejecting the entrance of a South African citizen with all the right papers and what not is a strong example of how theatre and politics co-exist. Another quote that stuck with me was how when someone is “writing about ‘something out there’… he/she draws politics into the text: it is part and parcel of the most intimate experience of his/her daily life”(Mda, 8). This speaks to the raw emotion that the actors portrayed in the play probably through the writer, themselves, and their peers experiences with racism. The actors wanted their audience to feel what they feel and to understand the ongoing racism both during apartheid and even today. “It is through slogans that the audiences are mobilized and rallied around a particular cause”(Mda, 7), but also through emotion, bold messages and personal experiences that people feel the motivation to act. The actors and writer accomplished this goal. When I left the play I felt moved and I wanted to both process the information and figure out a way that I could change or help to prevent the ongoing racism.
As I continue to think about the play and our reflections and discussion through and about art, I realize the importance that art holds in the lives of South Africans. I also have a new found appreciation for art in my own life as well. As our trip is coming to a close I have started to think about how I can make a difference through art and how I can bring that home with me. While in South Africa I’ve learned that art can be a way of life and can communicate life experiences and value in the most powerful way. I hope to spread pride in artistic power and the artistic voice as I have felt my artistic power and voice grow.
Mda, Z K G. (1996). INTRODUCTION: An Overview of Theatre in South Africa. Westdene, Johannesburg.