Thando Doni

 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre

Thando Doni trained as a theatre maker with the Arts and Media Access Centre (AMAC) and with independent physical theatre company Magnet Theatre in Cape Town, although the Eastern Cape is in many ways his cultural and aesthetic home. In addition to his extensive work with Magnet Theatre, he has collaborated with numerous other theatre organisations, including Masibambisane Youth Theatre Organisation, Emlanjeni Theatre Productions, the Manyanani Entertainers and Bonfire Theatre Company.

His performing and directing credits include The Grave, Trojan Horse Story, Looking Inside, Inxeba Lomphilisi, Ingcwaba Lendoda Lise Cankwe Ndlela, Mhla Salamana and Passage. He won Best Director at the Baxter Theatre’s Zabalaza Theatre Festival in 2011 and was awarded a GIPCA Director’s Bursary in 2012.

The National Arts Festival Artistic Committee affirms that Doni is “one of the rare theatre makers who works across the board – from young people to ex-offenders and professional performers” and that, as a “dogged” theatre maker, he crafts “profound and profoundly moving” experiences: “One is changed after watching a performance created by Thando Doni. And often the lives of his performers are changed for the better too. He works in the harshest of conditions, but his passion for theatre and for the people he works with puts him right up there with the best.”

Kristi-Leigh Gresse

 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance

Kristi-Leigh Gresse began her dance career in classical ballet before turning to modern dance. She graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and then joined the Dance Residency programme at the Durban Playhouse. She subsequently collaborated with several  of South African dancers and choreographers (including Lliane Loots, Jay Pather, Sean Bovim, Mandla Sunnyboy Motau Ntuli, Warona Seane, Lulu Mlangeni and Luyanda Sidiya), in the process of developing her  artistic style.

Her work may be a described as dance drama, although she resists being “boxed” in this way as she continues to refine and redefine her identity as an artist – an idea that is expressed in her solo piece, Blank, which also explores the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies. Her work has cohered thematically around the politics of the body as well as reflections on collective and individual forms of identity.

Gresse has participated as a performer and choreographer at the Dance Umbrella, Fresha Festival, Women’s Arts Festival and Infecting the City. She received a Standard Bank Ovation Gold Award for Sullied at the National Arts Festival in 2018 and went on to win the South East Dance Award at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2019. Her work has featured prominently at the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Festival in recent years, and she was commissioned to produce a dance screen offering for the digital JOMBA! Festival in 2020. She was invited to return to Brighton for a residency with South East Dance in 2021.

Buhlebezwe Siwani

 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art

Buhlebezwe Siwani completed her postgraduate degrees with distinction at the Wits School of Arts (BAFA Honours) and the Michaelis School of Fine Arts (MAFA). Following residencies in Switzerland, the Netherlands and France, her work has been exhibited from Europe to Asia and Australia to America. She has also published two books, Imfihlo (2015) and Qab’Imbola (2018). In recent years she has lived between Amsterdam, Cape Town and the Eastern Cape.

Siwani works in a variety of media, focusing on embodied performance, installation, photography and video, but also exploring the creative possibilities of paper and sculpture. The National Arts Festival Artistic Committee affirms that, “Because she works across film, the body, and more typical gallery presentations, she has a versatility which is especially notable in Covid-19 times.”

For Siwani, everything performs: “Objects perform, paper performs … As an artist, it’s my job to blur the line, to see a piece of paper becoming something else – a carpet, a chair – and to make this believable, to allow the object to transcend the initial physical limitations that we place on it.” Artists thus have the ability and the responsibility to shift the way that a given object is seen.

Siwani believes that a work of art should tell its own story through its own medium – the medium that, in effect, it chooses for itself. This approach complements her emphasis on urgency , spirit and healing.

Cara Stacey

 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Music

Cara Stacey is a composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Johannesburg. She holds a Masters in Musicology from the University of Edinburgh, an MMus in Performance from SOAS in London and a PhD in African Music from the University of Cape Town and SOAS. She trained in piano and the umrhubhe, uhadi and makhweyane (southern African musical bows), and has also studied the mbira and budongo. Her teachers include Dizu Plaatjies, Khokhiwe Mphila, Bhemani Magagula, Tinashe Chidanyika, Modou Diouf and Andrew Cooke.

In addition to being a composer and performer, she is a Senior Lecturer in African Music at North-West University. Her research work focuses on indigenous southern African music, connecting it to different musical histories and sound forms. Her musical work is described by the National Arts Festival Artistic Committee as “rich and complex, and at the same time beautifully accessible”: “Her practice envelopes indigenous and electronic music through the filters of history, social issues, and nature. Her work draws from life and forms bridges for the listener to access worlds that might have been elusive to them.”

Stacey is committed to contextualising and preserving southern African musical traditions. She sits on the executive committee for the South African Society for Research in Music and is the International Council for Traditional Music country liaison officer for eSwatini, but she resists “being seen as some kind of authority on indigenous culture”. Much of her work has been produced collaboratively – with musicians from different parts of South Africa, Europe and South America – and she is primarily interested in experimental and improvised music.

Gavin Krastin

2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Performance Art 

Gavin Krastin is a performance artist and arts educator. Based in Makhanda, where he lectures in Theatre and Performance at Rhodes University. He challenges audiences with discomfiting meditations on the politics of representing the body. The National Arts Festival Artistic Committee notes that he has “revitalised the field” of performance art by managing to be “risky and brave” and, at the same time, “mindful and meticulous” – thus “opening the door” for a new generation of artists.

Krastin is also committed to education outside of formal institutions and to supporting and promoting the work of his fellow artists. As the founder of the immersive live art exhibition Arcade, he has curated platforms for performance artists who are, like him, committed not to transcending the politics of the body but to “sitting inside the mess” of the body. “It has always bugged me,” he observes, “that some of the work I am interested in – the abject body, the hybrid body, the pushing and pulling and prodding of the body – is considered ‘dated’ or ‘very 90s’. How can one ever say that the body is dated?”

For Krastin, performance art cannot be reduced to a certain historical moment, or one form of identity politics; he seeks instead to explore fluid identities, working with his dramaturg and partner Alan Parker to “make a safe space for unsafe things”. Mindful of potential readings of his work as a white queer male in South Africa, he does not create work simply to offend – avoiding what he calls the “shock jock factor” – and challenges the stereotype that “performance art entails anarchic nihilism, has no structure, is messy and destructive”. He is nonetheless committed to the primal, raw, autonomous use or extension of the body, and the unpredictability of performance.

Vuma Levin

2021 Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 

Vuma Levin is a guitarist whose compositions combine South African musical traditions (such as Nguni-Sotho song or traditional instruments like the gourd bow and mbira) with jazz, pop and digital samples. In his music he explores the contradictions of young black South Africans’ experiences, debunking the notion that Africa has a “single story”.

He started playing the guitar at the age of fourteen and was mentored by jazz guitar veteran Johnny Fourie. In 2009 he joined the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band and made his first appearance at the National Arts Festival. He has since performed far and wide, from Mozambique (More Jazz Series) to Hungary (Jazz Showcase) and Switzerland (Montreux Jazz Festival), with regular appearances at South African jazz venues: Mahogany Room, The Crypt, Tagore’s, Afrikan Freedom Station and The Orbit among others.

Levin has lived and worked in Amsterdam, Basel and Johannesburg. After studying, touring and performing in the Netherlands – where he participated in the North Sea and Amersfoort jazz festivals, among various others – he taught for brief periods at the Tilburg, Maastricht and Amsterdam conservatories before returning to South Africa to teach guitar, ensemble and jazz theory at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Levin has produced four studio albums to date. Of his first album, The Spectacle of An-other, Lewis R. Gordon wrote: “Levin’s compositions, lyrical without words, soothing while paradoxically discomfiting, demand not only listening but also re-listening.” His latest release – the concept album Antique Spoons, which is also accompanied by three short films – has been critically acclaimed for its virtuosity. He has received numerous prizes at the Keep an Eye Jazz Awards (2014-16), and he has also been recognised by the judges of the Eindwerk Prijs (2014), the SENA Young Guitarist Award (2015) and the Dutch Jazz Competition (2016).