Horrors of life and power of art explored

Suffering and healing is at the heart of a conference organised by the Goethe-Institut South Africa this month. It focuses on stories and art related to social trauma—in literature, the visual arts, dance, theatre, music and film.

The title über(W)unden has a double meaning in German—as a noun, über Wunden means “about wounds”, as a verb, überwunden translates into “to heal”. And the artistic expression of traumatic experiences can reflect both of these—they can engage with conflict and trauma directly but can also reflect social change and upheaval as a catalyst for new beginnings.

Über(W)unden—Art in Troubled Times draws artists and cultural activists from mainly sub-Saharan Africa into conversation with the audience.
How does social trauma impact on or even define the works of contemporary artists? What aesthetic languages do artists develop to engage with trauma? How do artistic methods, such as revisiting trauma, address it? Can the arts help to heal trauma and what role do artists play during times of social changes and trauma—and post-trauma?

International intervention

These are some of the questions that will be explored at a conference on four consecutive mornings. Artistic interventions in the afternoons will relate to and interact with issues raised during them. Participants at the conference will visit several sites where different forms of artistic expression will explore places where art has played a role. Artists from several African countries—such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan—will participate.

Among the participants are Antjie Krog, Sindiwe Magona, Kudzanai Chiurai, Karim Chrobog, Aboudia, Jens Dietrich, Paul Grootboom, Mark Gevisser, Sam Hopkins, Malte Jaguttis, Emmanuel Jal, Rumbi Katedza, William Kentridge, Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, Faustin Linyekula, Jyoti Mistry, Djo Tunda Wa Munga, Warren Nebe, Hans Narva, Théogège Niwenshuti, Marcel Odenbach, João Orecchia, Sello Pesa, Dorcy Rugamba, Dierk Schmidt, Véronique Tadjo, Hayley Berman and Vincenzo Cavallo.

A reading by Krog and Magona will launch the project on September 6. Several of the events include Hayani, a play that brings together award-winning actors Atandwa Kani and Nat Rambulana in a very personal narrative during the transitional years in South Africa.

There will be a site-specific intervention Na Ku Randza at the Centre for Historical Re-enactment based on a popular song by the late musician Gito Baloi. Acclaimed filmmakers Munga and Katedza will screen films and Aboudia’s large canvasses relating to the recent political crisis in Côte d’Ivoire will be exhibited. Congolese Ndombolo musicians will provide backing for a dance by Linyekula, a choreographer from the DRC, and Pesa will explore the meanings of a Sepedi idiom in a performance at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Jal, former Sudanese child soldier turned hip-hop star, will take the stage at the Alex Theatre, and Orrechia, Narva and the Skeleton Crew will explore the concept of United African Utopias, which will culminate in the countries’ national anthems at Gandhi Square.

Participation in the conference and many of the interventions is free and open to the public.


Lien Heidenreich is the head of cultural programmes, sub-Saharan Africa, Goethe-Institut.

Über(W)unden—Art in Troubled Times takes place from September 6 to 11 at the Goethe-Institut and other venues in Johannesburg. For more information, go to: goethe.de/johannesburg

To take part in the conversation on Twitter, use the hashtag #ueberwunden

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