It’s Friday night and Braamfontein is alive with energy the energy flowing from bars and clubs that are filled with young people ready to drink and dance away the stresses of the week.
But on Juta Street, four floors up from all the noise, a different, quieter vibe has taken shape in the form of Creative Hustles, a series of events for young people to engage with established creative industry professionals and arts practitioners, hosted by Livity Africa in partnership with British Council Connect ZA.
Here a room full of young people sit attentively listening to a panel discussion about dance in the digital age.
The four panellists are looking at dance not just as an art form but an expression and exploration of their personal politics.
Different backgrounds, different views
The panellists come from different backgrounds. Alexandrina Hemsley is an independent choreographer, dancer and writer from London whose work aims to reclaim her identity as a mixed-race woman; Joni Barnard is an artist and educator from Johannesburg who believes strongly in collaboration, experimentation and play; Kieron Jina is a Durban-born choreographer, dancer and activist, who’s worked in different mediums and Soweto-born Manthe Ribane is dancer, muse and musician.
We watch a video by Alexandrina called “One Nubian for the boys” which she describes as an anti-selfie and anti-YouTube workout for our racist, misogynistic, body-shaming times?
When asked by an audience member how they truly feel about each other’s work Manthe is quick to say that even though she respects her fellow artists, she personally doesn’t agree with the element of nudity in their work. “I believe the body is a temple and it should be treated with respect.”
Alexandrina replies: “My body has never been mine. F*** this temple thing. I can be covered from head to toe but someone down the road can look at me like I’m naked just because I’m a woman”.
Challenges to being an artist in the digital age
There are challenges that come with being an artist in the digital age. Kieron says he’s constantly trying to find a balance between the two because he doesn’t want technology to overshadow his work, instead he wants to use it as a tool.
Another big challenge is finding, maintaining your artistic credibility while making enough money to live.
Despite the challenges, the panellists agree that there are more opportunities depending on how you use these digital tools.
Manthe says: “The world is watching. Facebook and Twitter are your websites.” But she also warns of the dangers of selfish and irresponsible behaviour online. “We all need to be careful what we put out there, because it’s not just about you, there are other people online that you need to consider.”
Artists need freedom to express themselves
Freedom of expression is an important issue not just in politics but in art too.
Joni Barnard has a big issue with the lack of access and elitism within the dance industry. She feels that it can stifle the freedom of expression that artist have.
She says, “dance is warped with politics” which is something she constantly challenges in her work like “Dance outside of the Umbrella” a video that literally plays on the rules and restrictions felt “under the umbrella”, of the dance industry. The video is a playful response to the elitism of the art world, she says “there are many pro’s to being an outsider and that is being able to play”.
Although dance is a challenging medium for young artists to operate it. The panel and engaged audience shows that young people are willing and able to make the sacrifices necessary. Even if it means forgoing a Friday night in Braamfontein to attend a discussions like #CreativeHustles.