Artistic stance

Positions is a book that looks at the role of contemporary artists in modern-day South Africa.

Discussions and analysis about the intersection of art and politics are always complex, and perhaps even more so in a country like South Africa where culture and cultural production has long been used as a weapon of resistance.

Positions: Contemporary Artists in South Africa, edited by Peter Anders and Matthew Krouse, and published by Jacana, explores and examines power imbalances in politics, gender and race in the Rainbow Nation. In textbook style the book argues that, 17 years after democracy, artists have not really comprehended the role they need to play in encouraging various transitions and the non-racial development of nationhood.

The book is divided into four sections: “I write to fight”; “What rainbow?”; “New street, new people, new city”; and “Tippex politics”. Contributors include some of the country’s most respected and prolific arts writers, such as Shaun de Waal, Anthea Buys, Sean O’Toole, Jane Duncan and Andries Walter Oliphant. The contributors engage in conversation with a colourful palette of artists on myriad subjects including black masculinity, the rerouting of South African theatre, political satire, the expression of South African dance, gay and lesbian memory, and the hierarchy of representation.

With the clever introduction title of “Love in the time of Zuma: Mandela’s children reach adolescence”, Anders and Krouse stimulate the conversation about the exact position of art in the country, with the rest of Positions serving as a thermometer to gauge the temperature of society. Interestingly, they write, Jacob Zuma is the only post-apartheid president who has met face-to-face en masse with the country’s artists, a gesture that emphasises the artists’ changing position from a place of opposition to a place of representation, while acknowledging the much discussed imbalances and increasing moral degeneration. An interesting and insightful read for anybody interested in the transformational potential of a creative economy.