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National Arts Festival announces new award for advocacy through arts

Published on 24 June 2014

The role of the arts in transforming South Africa from an apartheid state to a constitutional democracy will be under the spotlight at this year’s National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

Over the years, the Fringe programme at the Festival has been an open access platform for artists who have engaged the arts for social and political advocacy. During the eighties’ State of Emergency in South Africa, the Fringe programme was volatile and the work represented the political tensions of the time.

As South Africa celebrates two decades of democracy, the National Arts Festival will this year introduce an award that recognises artists who continue to engage in the arts as a platform to advocate social change and to entrench South Africa’s human rights culture.

The Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights in the Arts will honour an artist or company whose work on the Fringe programme embodies Adelaide Tambo’s passion for the arts and her deep commitment for human rights. The Award has the support of the Tambo family.

Adelaide Tambo – who shared a birthday with Nelson Mandela – was a champion of human rights. “The arts are a channel for dialogue and expression on human rights issues. She fought for the freedom of her people and she loved the arts. She was a patron of The Ballet. She was a consumer of all art forms.” says her daughter, Tselane.

An actress herself, Tselane Tambo – the youngest of 3 children of Adelaide and Oliver Tambo – directed For Coloured Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf at the National Arts Festival in 1994. Twenty years later, Tselane will return to the Festival, to present this award in honour of her late mother.

“I think that my mother is the perfect person to carry the name of an arts and human rights award – it embodies the qualities that she exemplified and is remembered for” says Tselane.

She explains, “To my parents, the arts were an essential part of their being. They insisted that we be cultured. The ANC choral group, Amandla, was the brainchild of my father whose passion was choral music. He recognised that as a people from such rich cultures it was important to express our struggle through the arts, through music. My mother was an artist. It wasn’t her job, but it was her passion. I think were it not for the rigours and demands of political life; had she been born into a world where she could have chosen any profession she liked, she would have chosen something artistic like design. She had a creative life that very few people know of. She took us, as children to opera and ballet and theatre. Our home was filled with music.”

“South African artists have a long history of claiming their political voice and using it to advance many causes. The Fringe programme at the National Arts Festival is a beacon of innovation and creativity that is characteristic of South Africa’s cultural landscape. The Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights will be a wonderful catalyst to advance excellence and the determination to continue to build a nation in which all South Africans can enjoy their constitutional rights. We are grateful to the Tambo family for aligning Adeaide Tambo’s legacy with the National Arts Festival”, said Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed.

The Adelaide Tambo Award will include a cash prize for the winner as well as a production incentive to extend the run of the play. The winner will also be invited to create a new work for the 2015 Arena programme at the Festival.

The Adelaide Tambo Award is supported from a grant from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands which will enable the Festival to present a bouquet of events on the Festival’s Main, Arena and Development programmes. The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is the Festival’s overall sponsor of Think!Fest.

Human rights are a central element in Dutch foreign policy. In particular, combating violence and discrimination against LGBTI people, women, and human rights defenders are major priority areas for the Netherlands. There is much to be learned from South Africa’s remarkable struggle for freedom and human rights and its 20 year democracy. The Embassy is honoured to partner with such auspicious institutions to celebrate the tenacious commitment to human rights and art of Ma Adelaide Tambo.

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