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Jay Pather’s Standard Bank Young Artist Speech 2011

November3

Ladies and Gentlemen

As my first outing as Chairperson, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sibongile Kumalo. She was a beacon of light and authority amongst some of our most fragile years in the building of a National Arts Festival alongside the building of a new nation, and I would like to give her thanks.

We make art for many reasons. We view art for another range of reasons. We promote art for yet another whole host of reasons. At the National Arts festival we are meant to deliberate on all of these myriads of reasons why a work of art exists, why it may be shown or not. We also know that the kinds of reasons that are contemplated determine some crucial trends, decisions, and careers paths, praise and criticism alike From Fringe to Main, from Arena to Think Fest, from advert to sponsor, from sore bums to bums on seats, from programming to venues, we deliberate on all kinds of imperatives about art: Its excellence, its innovation, its transformation, its impact, its distribution, its demographic representation, its commerce, its value, its saleability its internationalism and so on and so forth.

But the reason why the Standard Bank Young Artist Award is so special is that it epitomizes the dream in what we do.  It sits at the core of the value of art; it represents the imagination at its most pure. It is Young in the best sense of the word. Not innocent, or flippant, or slight, or just effervescent. The Young Artist Award is about the young but not the unwise. It is young and not careless, it is young and not untrained, and it is young but not unknowing. It is young and brave, courageous, fresh, electric, idealistic, dynamic, pure, unwavering, stubborn, opinionated, hopeful and free: Free from constraint, from compromise, from fitting a mould, from brash commercialism, from trying to live up to industry expectations.

In some respects there is an intersection between the ideas of the Award and a young democracy like ours. Because in a growing democracy the pulse of ideals still reverberate and resonate even in an environment of practicalities, realism and at times despair. The sheer force and truth of the fight for justice, equality and transformation still remain. It is a pulse evident throughout much of the FIFA World Cup. A spirit that can be seen in the innumerable artists that flood the global market with works of stature and a particular South African incisive beauty – the sounds of  Madala Kunene and Hugh Masakela, the work of  the Handspring Puppet company Gregory Maqoma, Robyn Orlin, and the ridiculously young opera star Pretty Yende.

But we do not know each other as yet. This is evident in some of the tension of our times, we do not know ourselves enough. We still struggle across race, culture, class, and language to find each other. And there lies a rich and fertile field for creativity do represent a way of doing that we will never know, have never see or heard .

It is neither a path of simple beauty nor of pastel shades nor of just melodic music nor of empty well-spoken epithets nor pretty dance about elves and fairies. I am not dictating artists what to do, only to say there is much at this time of dreams deferred, realized or cherished to soak oneself in.

The choosing of the YAA winner is in itself filled with much rigour and passion. And for this I must thank the hardworking Festival committee who scour and imbue each choice with a passion equal to such a task, not just honouring someone’s past achievement but holding them up as a possible example of a vision in an uncertain unknowable future, someone that may represent untrammelled paths, that may fuse fragments from our disparate inheritance: a prophet, a dreamer of new ways of being.

Tonight’s then is a celebration of possibility, talent, courage and vision. And the vision lies with the sponsors of this unique Award,  the Standard Bank who I wish to acknowledge. The STYAA is no spring chicken in itself. It has been around for twenty seven years. It has showcased such established artists as Darryl Roodt, Andrew Buckland, Sibongile Khumalo, and Boyzie Cekwana. It is a vision that has been the benchmark on sustainability, longevity and commitment.

The cultural theorist, Pierre Bordeaux writs about symbolic capital – capital that does not manifest itself in brick and mortar . While the value of its investment may well be rands and cents its returns are intangible but significant and long lasting. They come through a catapulting of a career. How do you measure the impact of a William Kentridge opera on furthering the South African cause, on furthering the impact of our country on the world.  How do you measure the joy of seeing a Vincent Mantsoe poster in a Paris subway or the numerous artists inspired by this recognition, of youthful, imagination. Playing in the fields of the immeasurable and the not always intangible, takes vision and foresight. And for this we want to deeply thank the Standard Bank and Mandie van der Spuy and to say we so very happy to be in your company.

To the Young Artist Award Winners

You have already won. Maybe jus one of many rounds, but you have been chosen. This Award honours your work and what you are capable of. And in that you are blessed with the untrammelled, the untainted, the supremely, infinitely possible.  And amongst all of the young artists who we feel are as talented, we believe you to be the best for 2011. So we wish to celebrate you and with you. Unfortunately for you tomorrow we sit back and watch you translate all of this into hard work. Hangover or not. This could catapult you into a cultural icon of the future.

No pressure.

The platform is yours.

And with that double-edged wish. And with the grace of the Standard bank the National Arts Festival I want to assure you of our dedication to your support, to the production of nothing short of triumphs to give reality to whatever you might imagine and conjure, and know that as you walk away with this award we bear witness to you and your art, with respect and with our choicest and warmest of blessings.

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