The Portfolio: Nthikeng Mohlele

An artistic and creative life is one of never-ending observations, associations, doubts and discoveries. It is the continued exploration of all these modes of being and becoming (and more) that life’s matters and perspectives are given some level of artistic form, coherence, even meaning. 

Art, by its very essence and nature, resists textbook thought and meaning. It cannot be said to be singular, and often changes its reach and interpretation depending on the who, why and where such artistic output is pursued. It is not possible to compress all the tentacles and contradictions of artistic creation and interpretation into a self-contained brainwave. To do so is to disregard one of the elementary and perhaps crucial yardsticks that defines and characterises art forms in relation to the public — perspective. 

The identity of a writer, primarily of English fiction, in the creative context of a post-independent South Africa, in a globalised world, who dabbles in the occasional (co)curation of book fairs, is a tenuous affair. The experience of creation (authorship) and consumption of literature and its sibling artistic disciplines are surprisingly complimentary but also have divergent instincts. 

My seasonal curation of the Polokwane Literary Festival has brought this point sharply into focus: that the typically lonesome environment in which literature is written and the public arenas in which it is experienced are foreign worlds. Everything is different. Creation and consumption time are not comparable in terms of investment and depth. There are suddenly such things as social etiquette and protocols to be observed for visiting politicians. Amateurs with the bluntest and the most rudimentary understanding of what constitutes art miraculously transform themselves into literature professors and philosophical sages. What should metaphorically be a long train-trip past the vast and sunlit landscapes of thought and nuance can often become a ping-pong game between drunken and sadistic egotists. 

 Finally, the outcome of engagement with pre-selected themes and allocated and moderated panel time, both subservient to and biased towards the passions, whims and worldviews of the festival director, can be a wild throw of the dice. Reputations are at stake. Budgets need to be accounted for. Festival delegates, bored to death by the drudgery and monotony of everyday life, come for an assortment of reasons: knowledge, autographs, to chase and charm beautiful women. Ingredients of art, arguably. 

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Nthikeng Mohlele
Nthikeng Mohlele
Nthikeng Mohlele is a South African novelist whose novels include Michael K (Picador Africa, 2018),a rewriting of J. M. Coetzee's Life & Times of Michael K.

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