ART STATE Publisher Mpho Matsitle calls out breakers of promises in the Mangaung art scene.
All new things begin with promises, a new year is no different. This year however, barely before we could get used to writing 2018 instead of 2017, took away so much from the arts fraternity that we spent most of January reminiscing instead of looking forward to what the year promises.
However, one of the promises of this year that did not escape the trends is the biopic of the larger than life (and death) Brenda Nokuzola Fassie, ironically too a retrospective exercise. As the story started to trend and the fights that ensued as to who should play Brenda and who has the rights to tell her story, I heard Brenda shout from black heaven: “Leave me alone, leave me alone!”
If there’s a group that can identify with MaBrrr’s frustration at “promises that turn to lies”, it is the arts patrons of Mangaung.
“Next time it will be bigger and better!” Have we all not heard and salivated at these words at the end of every lit show? But then – after building up to the next Thursday, or the next fortnight or first Sunday of the month – dololo. We will then be bombarded with fairy tales of “unforeseen circumstances beyond our control.” What usually follows is yet another promise that will turn to lies – “we will make it up to you guys.”
It gets worse: one would be walking through the streets of Mangaung (or Zuckerberg’s), minding their own business, and suddenly a poster imposing itself on you. You stop your stroll (or scroll), and pay it attention. So and so will be doing such and such at this place at this particular time – lobola R90. And you think to yourself, I can easily part with the much of that, and I will sacrifice time off my life in return to have the time of my life. Because you’re generally a leader in your squad, they play ke tsamaya ke tsamaya le malome and at the appointed time you all rock up at the shandis and pay your R90s.
“The muffled sound of a late sound-check” welcome you. But you do not fret, yet. Until about an hour has passed and your people look at you on some “dude, wtf?” You try remain upbeat; “just you guys wait until so and so does their thing!” Three hours later so and so hasn’t done the thing, and only then does a smug MC take to stage to remind “y’all how these things are.” Basically, so and so isn’t going to do the thing. Nor is the thing going to be done. But, “we going to have a good time right!?” the MC commands. You want to cry, but you cheer, coz you’re already committed, might as well enjoy what come may. And because, well, “it’s nice to be with people.”
This is no hypothesis. Art organisers have been promising what they won’t deliver. In 2017 alone we have been to poetry slams sans slammers, magazine and CD launches only to see the magazine and CD months later. There was a school poetry festival I MC’d that only had one school, not the twenty promised. Boho promised Jazz Sundays, one got there and they played seven J Cole songs on repeat. Oliewenhuis had a protest art exhibition, yet when an artist – Ayanda Mabandu – protested, the organisers rushed to shush him. With the exception of Bloem First Fridays, none of the regular art events have been regular. Just as the art lovers get used to the culture every second Sunday we go to Art Fusion’s Black Sunday for instance, it just stops happening.
Even this august publication has unfortunately been used to peddle some of these unfulfilled promises. Kwena Peu promised an EP, Sphindiwe Sobayeni promised more women on Creatives Corner, and Thato Rossouw a monthly dig at arts and artists – to date, dololo.
The best example of this decadent behaviour by art organisers, was with Sthiba Urban Sundays: On the day of the event, at 09:32, they posted to remind all and sundry that the show starts at 17:00. At 17:58 they posted, and I quote verbatim, “BAD NEWS: THE EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED”. That was it.
If the block and my head were to become one, I’d wager that the reason for these promises that turn to lies is to be found in another Brenda Fassie classic: artists and art organisers reckon that we the art patrons are their Weekend Special. That is; whenever the bug hits them, whenever they feel inspired, hungry for the stage – they call on us. And once they’ve gotten their fill, or when they’re no longer feeling it, too busy with other more important things, they discard us like a one-night stand.
Much like Brenda’s beau who doesn’t “come around, to [her] see in the week” nor has “a chance, to call [her] on the phone”, our artists and art organisers don’t seem to be putting in the background work between the gigs. The organising, the planning ahead, the rehearsals, and open communication. “But Friday night,” we must be ready for them. Yes Mangaung; we are in an abusive love relationship.
But our great misfortune is that we can’t really tell them “leave me alone (I don’t need ya)”, because this is that Nomakanjani type love. So the only way to extricate ourselves from this abuse is to demand better from our lover. We must tell the artists when facing yet “another lonely night, on [our] own again” that we are no weekend specials.
We must bring it to their attention that they “don’t love [us] no more.” That they must deliver on their promises. And most importantly not to make promises they can’t keep. Because when they don’t deliver, like Brenda we will put up our hands in their faces and be like: “Baby, I don’t need your explanations honey.”