On memory and creativity

In a unique encounter at the Wits University Great Hall, five of South Africa’s greatest writers and artists will present their work and talk about how memory — or nostalgia — shapes their creative process.

Mark Gevisser will lead Nadine Gordimer, William Kentridge, Hugh Masekela, Chris Van Wyk and Zoë Wicomb in discussion at a unique discussion at the Wits Great Hall as part of the 3rd Apartheid Archives Conference held under the theme Narratives, Nostalgia and Nationhoods between 27 and 29 July 3011.

The On Memory and Creativity discussion, taking place at 6.30pm is free and open to the public

“To watch these five national treasures, across three media, on one platform, will be a unique and exhilarating experience,” says Gevisser. “I sometimes think we take our artistic talent in South Africa for granted. These extraordinary thinkers and artists have defined the way many people across the globe think not only about South Africa, but about memory and history, about oppression and liberation. This event will not only be entertaining and provocative, but will be a moment to celebrate the greatness of South Africa’s creative spirit and regenerative capacity.”

Nostalgia vs the present
Gevisser, whose last book was the award-winning Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, is currently a Carnegie Resident Equity Scholar at Wits University. The On Memory and Creativity discussion, he says, “could not be more timely. Some people are nostalgic for the apartheid era or for the years of struggle, some people are nostalgic for the ‘Madiba moment’, and increasingly, people are declaring their nostalgia for the Mbeki era. Perhaps this is to be expected in a country that faces such challenges in the present.”

Gevisser notes that, in a country with South Africa’s history, “even talking about nostalgia is very controversial.” With his guests, he expects an event that will “entertain, provoke and challenge the way we think about the past, by looking at our finest artists and writers mine memory for their creative work.” Each participant will present some of their own work, before Gevisser leads a discussion among them.

Masekela is one of the world’s greatest songwriters and jazz musicians. In his long career, most of which was in exile, he has recorded 34 albums, and songs such as Stimela and Come Back, Nelson Mandela have become global anthems. He is just back from a tour in Germany, and, most recently, he has become a passionate archivist, finding and performing traditional South African songs about migrant labour in his Songs of Migration project.

During his years of exile, he perhaps did more than anyone in telling the world about the situation of black people under apartheid and the struggle against it. At the On Memory and Creativity discussion, he will talk — and sing — about his songs of migration.

Contemporary vehicle of artistic expression
Kentridge is one of the most acclaimed and significant artists working globally today, and he has exhibited in almost every major contemporary art museum worldwide. He is a visual artists, film-maker and stage director. His latest opera, The Nose, just played to critical acclaim in Aix-en-Provence and was a smash hit at The Metropolitan Opera House in New York. In September, he will deliver the illustrious Norton Lectures at Harvard, and was the 2011 recipient of the Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy, the Japanese equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Nobel laureate Gordimer will read from her work and talk about politics, memory and literature. A lifelong political activist, she is recognised globally as one of the finest writers living today: her 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature commendation states that, “through her magnificent epic writing,” she had “been of very great benefit to humanity.” She has earned the status, along with South Africa’s other Nobel laureates former president Nelson Mandela and archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, as one of the most significant voices of conscience of our times.


The two other authors participating in the panel, Wicomb and Van Wyk, have used fiction and memoir respectively, to write compellingly about their childhoods and young adulthoods in ‘coloured’ communities in apartheid South Africa.

Wicomb, who lectures at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, has written several critically acclaimed novels and story collections, including David’s Story and You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town.

Van Wyk’s Shirley, Goodness and Mercy is one of South Africa’s best-selling memoirs, and was adapted into a highly successful play at The Market Theatre. He is also a prolific and award-winning children’s author who writes about the past for young readers.

The discussion takes place at 6.30pm at the Wits Great Hall. Entry is free.

For more information on the Apartheid Archive Conference www.apartheidarchive.org

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