Browse shows

An opportunity for retrospection as the National Arts Festival turns 50

Published on 29 April 2024

As the National Arts Festival marks fifty years, many opportunities to reflect on who we are and where we’ve been can be found in the Curated Programme. From the Festival’s history and context, to important memorials, rememberances and commemorations, and a nostalgic production or two – all can be found under the theme History, Nostalgia and Retrospection.

After the cathartic return of Gregory Maqoma’s EXIT/EXIST in 2023, Vuyani Dance will bring their epic work Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro to the stages of the NAF in 2024. The work  draws inspiration from the Zakes Mda novel of the same name and is, in Maqoma’s words, “a lament, a requiem required to awaken a part of us, the connection to the departed souls.”

Mandla Mbothwe also pays homage to the departed with a tribute to the lives of the South African artists we have lost (2020-2024) in his new work Izandi zemilambo yabo kuthi/ the sounds of their rivers in us commissioned by the Festival to commemorate the 50th anniversary. An installation with sonic activations, the work creates a ritualistic place where past and present converge, brought to life as a sanctuary, reflection and to honour memory and legacy. 

In the visual art exhibition Mattering: 50 Years of The National Arts Festival, curators Raphaela Linders and Viwe Madinda, working with writer Robyn Perros, lift archival fragments from each of the Festival’s five decades of archives. Here, history is not linear nor are written records the only orators, but rather the artworks, architecture, elements, objects, and our bodies themselves are co-constructors of the festival’s intertwined ever-evolving narrative.  


Left: Cion: Requiem of Ravel’s Boléro – Vuyani Dance | Left: Mattering: 50 Years of The National Arts Festival – Raphaela Linders, Viwe Madinda, Robyn Perros


Rhodes University’s exhibit In conversation: Four Decades of Artworks by Current and Former Staff of the Rhodes University Fine Art Department draws primarily from Rhodes University’s extensive art collection to map four decades of artworks produced by full-time and contract teaching staff of the RU Fine Art Department. Conceptualised to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Rhodes University, the exhibition is curated by Dominic Thorburn, Maureen de Jager and Robyn Munnick on behalf of the RU Visual Representation, Arts and Culture Committee (VRACC), and with support from the RU Office of Equity and Institutional Culture.

In the reflective dance piece Sometimes I have to lean in… Alan Parker and Gerard Bester reminisce, alongside more poignant interrogations, about what the passing of time means for artists, performers, and indeed, festivals, as we influence, support, encourage, knockdown and ultimately, transform each other.

Reflecting on the life of the late playwright Can Themba in this, his centenary year, the The House of Truth, (written by Dr Siphiwo Mahala) returns to the Festival for a new staging. The play explores the colourful life of the acclaimed Sophiatown educator, poet, and editor.

This year marks three decades since Can Themba’s The Suit was first produced at the Market Theatre in 1994, directed by the late Barney Simon. Set in apartheid-era Sophiatown, The Suit is back at the Festival this year with Sello Maake kaNcube in the lead role. The play is set in apartheid-era Sophiatown, and explores universal themes of betrayal, forgiveness, and human relationships that traverse generations and time periods.

Moving towards a more current kind of reflection and retrospection, emerging curators Shalom Mushwana and Callan Grecia present the group show Talking Loud, which sees young artists commenting on the perceptions and expectations of their generation.


Left: The House of Truth – JT William Consultations | Centre: Talking Loud – Shalom Mushwana, Callan Grecia | Right: Sometimes I have to lean in… – Alan Parker, Gerard Bester


History, Nostalgia and Reflection is one of six themes selected for the Curated Programme at the National Arts Festival, which takes place from 20 to 30 June 2024 in Makhanda. Tickets go on sale on 29 April. For more from the National Arts Festival’s Curated Programme, click here.

There’s always something innovative and unexpected on the Fringe, experimental works on the Arena Programme, or a magical experience awaiting on our Family Programme.