By SIBUSISO MKWANAZI
Ironically, those tasked with delivering creative content to the rest of the population often find it difficult to describe the level of satisfaction they derive from fulfilling their destiny. But there has to be a reason why they do what they do, however they do it, wherever they do it.
I firmly believe that the arts and culture are as vital a part of our society as politics, religion, economics and Chicken Licken. This is because there are a limited number of aspects in life that can bring us together and rip us apart, simultaneously and with such intensity.
A few weeks ago I landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and was greeted by two rather obese gentlemen who had decided to make Terminal One their home for a few weeks. For the first-time visitor, their message was that their country welcomes the world with open arms and also acknowledges the contribution that others play in what it is today.
Unfortunately, I could also pick up that – because they were sitting back to back – they are a people who do not like it when you breach their personal space and are certainly not as warm as us Africans. I tried demonstrating a bit of ubuntu by attempting to get their names and Twitter handles but all they would let me know – as brass statues tend to do – is that they were crafted by Dutch artist Tom Claassen.
This is the power of art, confirming that a single idea really can say a thousand words, in all languages.
My itinerary then took me to one of the most iconic institutions in Spain – not Real Madrid Football Club, but the Guggenheim Museum. Outside, music – an effective tool – was used to calm visitors down after they realised that they would have to wait in the queue for a little longer than they had anticipated.
Coupled with design, art – modern and contemporary – was used to communicate effectively with those open-minded enough to take it all in. Situated in Basque Country, the Guggenheim continues to bridge not only a physical gap between the old and new Bilbao but also act as a buffer between laid-back locals and inquisitive visitors. After breaking the ice by simply pointing at the striking architecture of the museum, random conversations were sparked about current affairs such as Ebola fears, hopes of having more Spanish artists exhibiting, the state of the economy and the chances of a Chicken Licken franchise in Spain.
Even a brief stopover at Paris’ Charles du Gaulle Airport included a taste of art and culture, demonstrated by the number of manifestations of their beloved Eiffel Tower that pop up everywhere. Toilets, boarding gates, walls and turnstiles are among the objects that fail to escape French patriotism.
In medical terms, arts and culture are a nation’s heartbeat, the measure of vital signs such as how excited we are, how impressed we are with our leaders, where we see ourselves in the greater scheme of things and what we consider to be entertaining.
As ballerina Kitty Phetla proved this week in Soweto while performing for schoolkids, the arts are an education. As the photographic exhibition You Are Here proved, Johannesburg is a city of wonderful contrasts and much-needed change. And as residents opened up their homes to be used as studios in Cape Town as part of the Maboneng Arts Gugulethu Experience, it became difficult to argue that home is where the art is.