Other Work

This is a piece about the court preparation programme that’s given by the Teddy Bear Clinic in Parktown, Johannesburg. Tragic that children  who have suffered sexual abuse have to be prepared to face the accused perps and that parents especially are counselled to expect the courts to fail them and their child.

 

 

 

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This piece and the “box” was published in The Star (Africa Edition) – June 2012

http://www.iol.co.za/the-star/nowhere-to-run-nowhere-to-hide-1.1329803

UFRIEDA HO

“KING of kings” says the T-shirt salutation to Haille Selassie. But the Ethiopians in the room don’t feel like the people of an emperor. They say they feel less than human, they feel like animals.

“The underwear I have on is not my own, it’s been given to me,” says Tarekegn Mulatu, through community leader Abtamu Abe Shuke.

“I never expected this; they took everything,” he says.

Mulatu is referring to 23 May, the day his neighbours in KwaThema used the excuse of a service delivery protest to turn on foreign-owned stores, looting and destroying tuckshops and spazas in the East Rand township.

Since that day Mulatu and about 150 other Ethiopians, most of them men, have been holed up in a backroom of a makeshift church in nearby Dunnottar. There are a few donated old mattresses, plastic chairs, a crate of cooldrinks and broken fridges – all empty. They’ve been surviving on donations from local churches but they can’t stay much longer. There is one toilet and no kitchen facilities. They’re too scared to return to their shops and homes in KwaThema, a few kilometres away, and there’s nothing to return to anyway.

Kegne Shameso Meshamo was a soldier back in the horn of Africa, but found himself disheartened by the political leadership. South Africa with its constitution and democratic transition appealed to him. In the seven years he’s been here he’s  managed to open a spaza shop.

Meshamo says: “Now we are here in the church with no food, no clothes, waiting for donations when we were working before, not asking for anything.”

Back in KwaThema Meshamo shows what’s left of his shop. The roll-up door pushes up to reveal the debris of his working life – a few rotten onions, scattered sweets among smashed bits of counter tops. Before Meshamo can elaborate, community leader Abebe shoos everyone back into the car.

“The car was stoned last time we came,” he says, frightened even as it’s just two old ladies who walk past and a clot of primary school children milling about. Anyone could be an enemy it seems.

Shuke translates one story after another. Everyone gives their names by pulling from their pockets a piece of paper in a plastic protector. It’s a Homes Affairs document they carry at all times. Their names are sometimes misspelt, but no one has bothered to get it right, they say. The status is identical: “asylum seeker” – people who have fled their country because they fear persecution. Another common thread is a finger pointed at the Tsakane police. The allegations range from sitting back and letting looters do as they please, dismissing their claims of theft, harassment and assault, refusing to open cases and being part of the looting themselves.

Tsakane police station commander Colonel Petro Shilane says he’s unaware of complaints against his officers.

“I know only one case of a man whose groceries were brought to the police station and when he came three days later to collect them he said some things were stolen, so we’re investigating,” says Shilane.

Shilane admits though that there’s a problem if allegations exist but he has no  record of cases being opened. He adds: “It is not our job to question the legislation or to make judgment on who is in the country. Our job is to protect people, whoever they are, and make sure they have a safe environment to live in.”

But he adds: “I can’t guarantee the Ethiopians’ safety in KwaThema. That day things were bad, the community was hungry to attack them and unless we are their bodyguards I can’t guarantee their safety.”

Shilane has committed to establishing a community forum specifically to deal with issues involving foreign nationals and fighting xenophobia. He says May 23 was an “eye opener”. At the same time though he says there are no specific plans to highlight these issues among his own ranks.

Dr Loren Landau, director of Wits University’s African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) says that there are conversations the country still has to have to understand the root causes of xenophobia.

“The government refuses to acknowledge that our black population is divided along ethnicity, space and class and these are growing inequalities. It divides people and people who feel disadvantaged will act out, and foreign nationals are often the target,” says Landau.

He adds: “South Africa has a backward looking plan for moving forward; instead of focusing on redressing past injustices we should be aiming for equality for all who live here now.”

Landau warns that xenophobia is not an issue that peaked with the riots of May 2008 and vanished. It’s also not rage directed at foreign nationals only but is a storm that can pass over anyone who is seen as non-local at any time.

Seven-months pregnant Teshome Melese and her husband Genet Fikeka are also among the Ethiopians exiled from KwaThema. Melese is one of a handful of women living with the men in the church. It’s an uncomfortable situation. She lifts her skirt slightly. She’s wearing sandals even as the highveld winter has taken hold, it’s the shoes she was wearing the day of the looting.

“I ran when I saw the people coming up the street and I fell,” she shows scars on her shin. “They didn’t care that I was pregnant.”

She joined Fikeka in South Africa just over a year ago after being apart for six years. She says she expected things to be tough, but she did not expect to run for her life.

Their shop was cleaned out too. The painted pictures of mielie meal, sugar, bread and airtime logos on the outside walls are the only clues there used to be traders there.

Her child will be born a South African. But she just shakes her head, it means nothing.
“Only God knows now what will happen to us,” she says.

 

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BOX – THE ETHIOPIAN POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report has reported that Ethiopian authorities have “continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.”

They organisation says that last year Ethiopians were “arbitrarily arrested and detained and remain at risk of torture and ill treatment.”  They note a clamp down on journalists and opposition politicians and that ethnic Oromo in particular are being targeted.

Freedom House, an US-based independent watchdog body, rates countries for their accountability and public voice; civil liberties; rule of law; and anti-corruption transparency. A score on a scale of 1 – 7 (one being the strongest and seven being the weakest) is given.  Ethiopia has been downgraded from a status of “partly free” and an overall rating of 5 to a status of “not free” and a rating of 6 over the last two years.

Ethiopia is a federal republic and was never colonised, though it was occupied by Italy for five years. The country has a history of border conflict with Eritrea and has marked by drought and famine. In recent years it’s political repression that as reared its head. The country is ruled by the Ethiopian Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and is led by Meles Zenwari, who’s been prime minister since 1995.

In May 2005 Ethiopian security forces killed 199 people following elections. Journalists, activists and thousands of civilians, who slammed the election results were detained and attacked. In 2010 observers from the European Union and African Union observers found that year’s elections to be not free and fair.

 

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COFFEE WITH THE ETHIOPIANS – City Press iMag (April 2012)

UFRIEDA HO

English is useless here, ditto a credit card.
But sign language goes a long way, so does a smile or two in Little Addis that spreads out at the base of the blue-mirrored tower along Delvers Street, Joburg that used to be the swanky Joburg Sun 20 years ago.
The Ethiopian communities that have settled in the inner city don’t care that the five-star crowds are gone or that property owners have long ago surrendered their buildings to bird poop and soot. No one’s bothered to service a lift or replace a pane of smashed glass for yeas.
These are the buildings where Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants have come to trade, to live and to call this eastern end of the city of gold, their home.

Inside the Joburg Mall garage-sized storage spaces have become fluorescent-lit shop. Headless mannequins display Made in China everything. There are tight T-shirts emblazoned with “Baby Doll” in sequins across the front, multi-coloured hats and synthetic handbags mimicking brands from Milan. There are stacks of lunchboxes and crates of plastic babies with blue eyes and bubble making gadgets in neon green.

Closer inspection though reveals other wares. The corners of some of the stores have shelves full of sandy-coloured spices and dried herbs that need sniffing to be identified. There’s an aromatic whiff from vacuum-packed foil packages that hold roasted coffee beans. There may be a Coptic Cross near a cash register and a sign for customers scribbled in Amharic.

Up a small spiral staircase is an oasis to the crush of consumerism in the double-storey mall. Here is the coffee house run by sisters Tigi and Helen Tefera. Tigi has been in South Africa for 10 years, Helen followed two years later. The sisters and a brother arrived here from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Helen is seated on a stout stool next to a music system that’s playing the gospel music of Solomon Yirga. “He’s very good, very popular,” she says.

In front of her are a tray of tea cups, small, white and dainty. Behind a wooden shelf a kitchen is screened off. A table-top charcoal brazier is burning and on top it is the hard working clay teapot, the jebena. Tigi is settled on one of a scatter of stools that make up The Ethiopian Coffee that they started five years ago.

“Back home you never make coffee without inviting friends or neighbours. When you’re about to make coffee maybe you smell the incense of someone else making coffee and you go there to drink with them,” says Tigi.

Traditionally the cups are re-filled three times, as the first brew is refreshed with more hot water each time. The third cup seals a friendship and is called the bereka (the blessing).

As Tigi talks the jebena comes to life with coils of coffee-infused vapour. The boiling coffee is ready and Helen gets up to remove it from the hot coals. The coffee is served with sugar or salt, no milk.

“I’m very proud that Ethiopia is where coffee started,” says Tigi, who learnt to speak English in high school. Coffee is Ethiopia’s gift to the world says Tigi, relating the legend of how an Ethiopian shepherd back in the 13 century is said to have decided to try the berries of the coffee plant, just as his goats did and so the evolution of coffee as a favourite brew developed.

But Tigi says not all South Africans are interested in an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, or the fact that Ethiopians are in South Africa not to steal jobs but because opportunities for a decent life in Ethiopia have shrunk.

The country has seen its share of socio-political pressure leading to government crackdowns on the media, opposition parties and civil society. Coupled with economic hardships, it’s spurred the exodus of more Ethiopians from their country.

But Tigi and Helen are transplants from a country that has a history and heritage that’s as dense as rich as a good cup of coffee. They lay claim to one of the most prolific paleo-anthropological sites in the Middle Awash region. Ethiopia is also the Rastafarian Zion and it’s a country famed for its long distance runners. They have links to the origins of the oldest religions – ancient Coptic Christian churches rise from mountain sides and old Abyssinia is associated with the first ever Hijrah, as the Prophet Mohammed fled Mecca for Medina.

Tigi says: “I came because they said it was a new South Africa ten years ago and my brother was here. I’m happy here but some people don’t want to know about us.”

She shakes her head when the conversation drifts to the xenophobic riots that shook the city in May of 2008. Tigi knows that fear of the unknown, fear of what appears foreign makes her a potential target.

Helen pauses to give change to a patron (they are mostly all men). He picks up a sachet of small grains before he leaves. Helen says they’re malt grains, a common snack preferred with coffee back in Ethiopia. But this is not Ethiopia, this is the Joburg inner city. It’s a life of high-rise flats, grey buildings and congested taxi ranks. Helen and Tigi live in flats near the mall. Multiple-storey living was an adjustment like so many other things far south from their homes. Tigi points to a mock-grass mat and explains its significance.

“Back home you spread a grass mat on the floor before you start to brew coffee. But here we don’t live on the ground floor anymore, we live in flats,” she says with a shrug.

A few shop spaces away from the Ethiopian Coffee music is blaring. It’s something in Amharic and CDs with handwritten labelling are lined up on a glass display counter for sale. There are also men’s shoes on shelves that crawl up the walls. Behind the counter is Habtamu Beyene. You lean in close to hear him because the volume isn’t going to change. Habtamu’s been in the country for two years. He says being on the wrong side of the political fence in Ethiopia forced him from his home in the Oromia region.

He’s flipping through discs as he speaks. A customer is doing the same with another column of CDs of what Habtamu says is all popular gospel music.

“I can’t go back home, it won’t be good for me. For now this is okay,” he says. He made the journey from horn of Africa via Kenya, then Tanzania to settle in Johannesburg.

He says many Ethiopians choose Canada or Australia as the preferred exit route from their home country, but South Africa has over the years become an attractive option for those prepared to work hard. But sometime hard work is also not enough and South Africa is no utopia. Men like Thomas Asfaw and Fisaye Tekle know this only too well. Fisaye is Eritrean, but both men are teachers. Both have exceptional English skills but both do piece jobs. Thomas does some translating and writes letters and fills in documents for other migrants. Fisaye helps out in shops at the trading centre.

“The keep saying that we don’t have the right papers and you just keep going back to stand in queues,” says Thomas with a sigh.

Still Fisaye says of his home country that gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991: “The government controls everything, so you can’t work freely or do anything freely there.”

 

Across the road from the mall, old medical suites have re-incarnated to be a trading hub for Ethiopian goods. The latest newspapers are on sale, bestsellers in Amharic are available – there’s even an Amharic copy of the self-help book The Secret, the iconic “S” imprinted on a wax seal appearing, even on the Amharic version. Cone-shaped domes fashioned from metal are mitads, the modern injera (traditional bread) makers, and are on sale next to T-shirts featuring Haile Selassie and Bob Marley. There are also rows and rows of traditional Ethiopian outfits of dresses and tunics still worn on special occasions.

It’s lunchtime and people are settling down for a meal. Birkit Alem, who works in a small provisions store, has a plate on her lap. She’s torn off pieces of injera, the bubbly crepe-like bread that’s made from fermented teff flour and she uses it to scoop up a rich onion gravy and a finely pureed lentil dish.

“Why don’t you try?” she smiles, offering up her plate. The slow-cooked onion is spicy and dense. The beans are creamy and tart, so smooth they have a consistency like mayonnaise. “Like mayonnaise, yes, little bit,” she nods at the comment.

At the Bersufekad Restaurant there isn’t a menu, a carcass is being butchered in one sectioned off area. At the opposite end hair-netted women are preparing the specials, almost everything is served with injera as a staple. There’s kefto, ground beef, served in a rainbow arc with cooked spinach and a tomato dish. There’s beyaynetu, the combination platter of pickled vegetables, different lentils, spicy potatoes and of course the zesty onion stew dotted on topped of injera. And of course there’s coffee.

Sated and shaky from caffeine you can now leave Jozi’s Little Addis. Only now you don’t say thank you, you say it in Amharic: amesegenalo. You say it three times to get your pronunciation right and you say it three times to seal the friendship.

 

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MY DIY-ITIS IS REACHING FEVER PITCH 

(Originally published in The Star, 8 February 2012)

UFRIEDA HO

LIFE’S full of milestones, turning points and landmark moments – your first day at school, your first pay cheque and … the first time you stand jigsaw in hand facing down a slab of wood.

Once you decide to take on the task of taming the quivering blade and to tread the DIY path, there’s no turning back. The world as you know it changes forever, likewise your weekend social diary.

A first sign you’re becoming an altered version of yourself is when you’re at the hardware store even before opening time and it’s a Saturday morning. When you’re not lusting after a laser beam projector to make your horizontal angles straight and true, you notice you’re on a first name basis with store staff. You also start to speak funny. Your vocabulary includes words like drywalling and angle-grinding and you actually have an answer for a question like: “Flashing? Over or under? And nobody is blushing or waving around dodgy trench coats when this happens. When people talk about sandpapering you nod and your mouth forms responses like “it’s going to need something finer than 60-grit”. And just before you nod off at night you’re thinking how far you can push your staple gun the next weekend.

There’s probably no antidote to DIY-itis and there’s definitely no more space in your garage for hardware gadgets. But then again you should have known better, after all you Did IT Yourself!

 

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MEMORIES OF THE JOBURG LIBRARY – PART ONE – (Originally published in The Star, December 2011)

 

UFRIEDA HO

“I NEED to go to the toilet,” I whisper to my sister.

She looks up from the Encyclopaedia Britannica and tells me to wait two minutes till she’s finished reading her page inside the very important looking tome.

But I need her. This is the 80s, I’m small and the lift to the Joburg library toilets is scary. I know there are ghosts in the toilets…I need her.

A trip to the toilet starts with using the lift. You have to coax the springs of the varnished wooden with its frosted peep window towards you, push a diamond-shaped concertina gate to one side before stepping in. You repeat the process in reverse before you can press the button for the floor you want to get to. My sister lets me press the button. The lift shudders then moves slowly upwards, morphing the people beyond the glass window, creating more ghosts. The toilet is a cool hollow with alternating black and white tiles for a floor. You dare not look at the mirror as you wash your hands – that’s where the ghosts are.

Many of my childhood Saturdays were spent at the Joburg library, this grand old lady built in 1934. In the children’s library everything was magical from the polystyrene Tin-Tin cut-outs on the wall to the squishy beanbag tossed in a corner. Behind the curtains you could sneak a peep of the balcony for two when the librarians weren’t watching and glimpse the library fountains.

While my older brother and sister had to do school projects about frog lifecycles and how rain formed I was flying away with Rupert Bear and Bill Badger in their airborne chariot and hogging one of the library’s few pop-up books that exploded all showy and over-the-top.

 

There was also reading hour. Then the quiet, blue-overalled librarian would come to life, gather all the small children at her feet and bring to life the stories in the pages on her lap.

Time went on and I too had to surrender my pop-up book for the no-nonsense sensibility of the encyclopaedias that stood like soldiers on the shelves. All grown up I was also considered responsible enough to get an extra library card to my small stack of cards. My extra blue card with it cutaway corner, came with the responsibility of paying fines too – 30c for every book returned after the date stamped on sheets of flapping gum-glued pieces of paper in front of the book. The cost was also measured in the tut-tutting of the librarian and my mother.

 

The adult lending library … for the BIG children.

 

By the time I was a student I had the run of campus libraries, but sometimes I still returned to the Joburg library. The sure stone giant that took up a whole block, with Spinoza in relief and gargoyle-like creatures tucked into its facade was my irresistible magnet. I returned time and time again to climb the wide entrance steps and tilt my gaze skywards to find the pictures embedded in the pressed ceilings

Now I walked right past the children’s library, wondering through the panelled glass who was taking out a copy of “The Famous Five”. I was completing assignments about the changing roles of journalists in wars since World War II till Desert Storm. I was asking for Alvin Toffler and Thomas Pakenham. Rupert and his chariot seemed far away.

I was also allowed into the reference section. Quiet and serious people turned on lamps over their desk and sifted through catalogue cards silently, their concentration distracted only as librarians’ shoes squeaked across the parquet floors.

I still practised bladder control, too scared even as a grown up to visit the toilet alone or to look into the mirror. But I was less scared to visit the coaches on display alongside the old grandfather clocks with three ships ticking from side to side, tossed about in their mechanical ocean. This was the first Museum Africa.

I could walk into the music library too and stretch my mind to Wagner and Dvorak but I smiled to see the library had moved on too, with REM, The Doors and even ol’ ACDC coded and catalogued along the wooden shelves.

The library had to move on some more still. In 2009 it closed it doors for its long awaited renovations. The coaches had already moved out years earlier, exiting via the roof to their new home in Newtown, books would have to be banished to the basement and even the toilet ghosts had to rest a little while. For now the library would be a memory, a cocoon wrapped in scaffolding and construction site tape.

 

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THAT’S WHY THE LADY IS REVAMPED – PART TWO (originally published in The Star, 16 December 2011)

UFRIEDA HO

YOU notice the escalator first, and then where the escalator leads to.

It’s a swish, modern, sensor-activated escalator that dominates the Joburg City Library. There’s more: three new floors. They rise from the centre of the library foyer that has been under wraps to the general public while it has been renovated.

 

A swish new escalator for an old library.

 

Gone are the flat-top glass display cabinets that dotted the quiet, airy space.

The same entrance space where, at exam times, a human snake of students grew in coils as people waited for a seat to become free in the reference section.

Now a mezzanine floor – the first stop on the escalator – juts out on to the reference section. It’s the new digital hub of the library.

There will be 212 public access computers and the library will become a wi-fi zone. Overall seating in the library – the first to be opened to all races in 1974 – has been increased from 255 to 566.

The imposing double-storey windows are opaque, shutting out the world to the seriousness of non-fiction and grown-up research material.

An old catalogue card cabinet stands among the rows of wooden bookshelves.

It’s not practically functional any more, just a reminder of a time before Google, apps and Android – a time when alphabetising was all the order the world seemed to need and a request slip for a book out on loan for two weeks was not too long to wait.

 

An old “enquiries/navrae” sign survives.

 

The revamp of the grand old lady of the city has come at a cost of nearly R93.5 million. It’s from the city’s coffers and a R26m grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The library will continue to house prized collections, including the Michaelis Art Collection, the Harold Strange Library of African Studies and the Newspaper and Pictures Collection.

Among the gems are hand-drawn maps and manuscripts, posters and pamphlets that have been collected and archived since the library opened in 1934.

Architect Jonathan Stone is the man behind the renovations.

“We haven’t tried to mimic any of original features, instead you try to complement them when it’s a building like the library is,” says Stone of the responsibility of taking custodianship of a heritage building in need of transformation.

Joining him on a sneak preview of the library, I ask him first to show me the toilets.

“Right over here,” he says, taking only a few steps across the ground floor foyer – no more trips to the second floor.

The ground-floor toilets are a new addition. They’re all tiled, fluorescent-lit with neat cubicles; no toilet spooks that haunted my childhood trips to the library loos.

The lifts have been upgraded, too. Gone are the spring-action door and the concertina-styled gate shuddering up and down the library.

Stone says some elements of the building were crying out for a facelift, other elements, including the Gothic-styled stained glass windows, were too historically precious not to be included in the new-look library

Adherence to heritage guidelines is about modern city life, too, and a library’s role in public access to information. “In a city like Joburg you always have to have a newspaper section, it goes back to the days when a man off the street should have the right to walk off the streets and look through the newspapers to find a job,” says Stone.

He has his own memories of the space, like joining his father for amateur theatre productions in the library’s theatre. Yes, a theatre inside the library, but it’s a space that has been ignored for years.

Revived, Stone says the theatre will be a self-contained space that will make the library part of the cultural life of the inner city.

“It will have its own entrance on Sauer Street and will hopefully bring people back into this part of town,” says Stone.

People will be back in the library by February 14. After nearly three years shut away from the public the library will open it doors again on that day.

Before I descend the façade stairs to where the fountains have been replaced by planted gardens, I can’t resist a sneak look-in at the children’s library. Tintin cut-outs aren’t back on the walls yet.

The shelves are not as a high as I remember. I pass a librarian behind her wooden counter. I ask how much one pays for a book fine these days. I remember paying 30c per overdue book.

She says it can be up to a capped fine of R30. I pretend-gasp and smile at inflation’s sure, upward creep.

The books aren’t different, though, they stay constant. The Nancy Drews and the Enchanted Woods wait patiently on the shelves for their next reader, because even time doesn’t age a good story.

 

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THE BIG DRUID WALKS ON

This article appeared in THE STAR on 21 October. It’s an article about Willem Boshoff, meeting the Big Druid in his Joburg home and watching him tell his stories on walkabout at UJ’s Fada campus. He’s an incredible artist and a storyteller that gets you thinking, leaves you with a smile and wishing he’d carry on some more. I’ve heard him speak before at Circa and it’s like you want to thrust a pipe in his hand, build a bonfire and get him to tell another story and talk about another of his artistic wonder. The photos are the pictures I shot mingling with the throngs who came to be on the Big Druid’s walk.

 

Weapons of a ‘linguistic terrorist’

October 21 2011 at 09:00am  – http://www.iol.co.za/the-star/weapons-of-a-linguistic-terrorist-1.1161804

BY UFRIEDA HO

YOU can scare Willem Boshoff with some things, but not big words and not bird poop.

The self-confessed “linguistic terrorist” says art begins with a way of seeing – even when you’re looking at excrement. In Boshoff’s way of seeing and his creative play, everything – from the A to Z in two killer volumes of Webster’s to the language in cloud formations, and what can be divined in ancient rock art runes – is transformed into things at home in an art gallery.

Boshoff’s Setups and Upsets exhibition is on at the University of Johannesburg’s FADA Gallery. It’s the university’s annual alumnus exhibition. Boshoff was a student at the Witwatersrand Technikon. He also lectured at the old Tech, becoming head of the fine art department in 1984.

That year he also moved into his home in Kensington. The house cleaves to one of the suburb’s many slopes. Stairs lead to his workshop where for the last two decades he’s literally carved out a name for himself as a conceptual artist and sculptor.

“I’m finishing 10 pieces for an exhibition in Italy,” says Boshoff stepping through wood shavings towards his latest Zebrano wood creation.

 His sure sculptor’s hand rests on the curves of a segmented dome waiting for polishing and finishing touches. Boshoff isn’t quite satisfied. He also has a lament.

“In a 100 years there will be very little wood left for art. All the good pieces are chopped up for bad furniture and expensive hotels, but we work with what we’ve got,” he says.

More stairs lead to the house. There are old typewriters, works by Tom Kgope and in the kitchen a wooden sculpture he created, back home from an exhibition. Topped with glass, it’s ready to receive a cup of tea.

“It’s just a table,” shrugs Boshoff with a smile. Only it’s not. Boshoff has coaxed out the narratives in wood grain since he decided he was going to be a sculptor when he was just a Vanderbijl Park schoolboy.

His stories also come from books. In his library are books that hold texts that inspire. Words hold their own roots and origins. They also have their own curious bastardisations, evolutions and, sometimes even, demise. Working in English is also Boshoff’s simultaneous middle-finger and salute to the language.

His piece, Negotiating the English Labyrinth, is a maze formed by a 3D crossword, filled in with green pen. It’s full of the English that confuses. English is not Boshoff’s first language – but big words don’t scare him.

 “Years ago I would spend up to eight hours a night learning all the difficult words that people like philosophy and English professors used so that no one could understand them. They were the type of people who think those who don’t understand English or speak it with an accent are stupid,” says Boshoff.

Boshoff got himself into “linguistic shape”. Then language became his art, also his creative weapon – inverting and reversing meanings and labels.

“I was able to upstage the English intelligentsia. It was not to belittle them but to show them the fact of life that those you think are defunct can actual lead you,” says Boshoff.

It’s also a sense of fun that Boshoff has with his work. It comes through in the way he teaches, still sitting in as external examiner for many universities and when he talks to the public, walking them through his exhibited works.

 

He’s a celebration, says Rosalind Cleaver, exhibition curator. “As a conceptual artist Willem is extraordinary. What he expresses stands for a bigger picture,” says Cleaver.

Cleaver says the UJ exhibition represents Boshoff’s many facets. It’s also a reflection of the timeline of his personal artistic journey.

“He’s a sponge; scaffolding that holds all the information around him,” she says.

Boshoff admit thats he’s always collecting ideas, constantly working in his head; not able to say no. Next up he off to Washington for a Smithsonian fellowship and preparing for an exhibition in France.

Setups and Upsets includes his silkscreen works from 1972. There are his cloud pictures also his Skatkissie – a wooden jewellery box that has found its way back to him.

He sold it during the dips after a divorce. It’s a piece titled for the heartache of treasures lost.

See the Druid Walks. One consists of images of elm trees lost to disease: the hurt and abuse of Boshoff’s beloved trees is seen in patterns and texture. There’s also his 9/11 tribute as seen from his flat in Tribeca, New York. The photos as slideshow are symbols where the Twin Towers emerge, crosses marking the impact zones, buildings reflected in mirrored facades showing a nation fragmented and sticky tape in weird places like an impossible mender.

It’s the way Boshoff sees things and his audience is richer for it.

* Setups and Upsets is on at FADA, Bunting Road campus, until Saturday at 4pm.

Willem Boshoff telling his family’s story through art

 

 

ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT copyright: UFRIEDA HO ©

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Here are URL links to some of my recent articles and also articles in my portfolio. They’ve been saved as PDFs on acrobat.com.

THE COST OF A BULLET – The Star 11 February 2011
https://acrobat.com/#d=YPZ*k*mU0GogNg-sO4VESw

LONG JOURNEY TO JUSTICE – The Star 9 February 2010
https://acrobat.com/#d=KJGcEZYINChJrt3GZs*Xsw