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I was invited to DJ @ the opening of Peter Engblom’s “Swinging Safari” exhibition held at the George Hotel, Eshowe. Peter has implemented a ‘take over’ of the decor and the ‘intent’ of the hotel and is gradually creating a MUST VISIT point on the art itinerary of KwazuluNatal. The entire hotel – with its huge Zulu photographic wall prints, with Peter’s art work, its backpackers, a studio, a gallery – is becoming a phenomenal art instillation of unique and intriguing proportions. And not only does Eshowe boast an incredible forest with a canopy trail of tree top ecology, it also hosts a Field Drum Academy (the only one in South Africa). And in his inimitable way, Peter gathered together an eclectic group of truly interesting people at the opening of this exhibition.
The opening: The event began with the Norwegian Field Band performing “Swinging Safari” by Bert Camfert. The Field Band consisted of an amalgam of brass instruments, a drummer and stunning vocals brilliantly performed. The young performers from Norway are on an adventure of their lives working at the Field Drum Academy.** Then Shomon Daniel presented THE most shimmering rendition of ‘Summertime’ that I have ever heard, giving a lyrically insightful interpretation that made me hear this song for the VERY first time. Nothing short of astonishing!! Certainly someone to watch. Later on there was a man called Jim Reves crooning to some Afrikaner songs – “Sarie Marais” was one of them – completing the artistic instillation and the practical ‘conceptualisation’ of Peter’s artistic oeuvre that is so surrealistically seized in his art work. And then of course it was my turn to DJ dance the guests into the wee hours of the night!
The Exhibition: One of the absolute basic requirements in viewing Peter’s art work is having a sense of humour and being able to think laterally. This seemingly simple freethinking liberal stance becomes the inherent anarchic challenge invoked within any viewer. Without this utterly contemporary insight, it is impossible to make any headway in grasping Peter’s challenging perceptual contribution to the contemporary South African art scene. Whether it draws on Zulu tradition, Afrikaner nationalism, English Colonialism, white domination or black empowerment the overall picture (excuse the pun) is one of INCLUSIVITY. It is IMPOSSIBLE to extract any one influence and delineate a priority. In the mix of what Africa was and more specifically in what South Africa has become, these influences which may still be jostling for dominance in an hierarchical world (the one that is rapidly dying) are given equal importance in the reflective balance of our historical past. One can no more extract whites out of Africa than one can extract blacks out of Europe. In this sense, Peter’s work levels the playing fields and gives prominence to each of the prestigious ‘swings’ of our history in the synthesis of his work. Using a strong (and deceptive) sense of nostalgia even to the point of introducing the flickering light of aged 8 mm film into his video workings
and thus merging past with present Peter ties the entire historical concept of contemporary South Africa into a disturbing bundle of reality….with a twist of humour! And by placing the present in the past or the past in the present depending how you the viewer ‘weights’ the presented images (a modern white women in traditional African dress with warrior-like Zulus in the background) Peter instantly questions how influences can and are so easily and unconsciously absorbed into our subliminal historical make-up. To say that any one of these power points in our archives is of little significance is to embrace denial and to be immune to vital human energies. Whether good or bad, we have all been contaminated by our collective past. In this sense Peter’s work is crucial to the deeper appreciation of our South African heritage. The consideration may not be ‘comfortable’ but that does not make it any less relevant. And for me, the nostalgia in Peter’s work is used to highlight the importance of contemporary thought rather than show a hankering for the past.
Our history is riddled with gaps, with inconsistencies, with hidden agendas, with lies, with selective memories – all of which is evoked in Peters work.
If you get half a chance to travel to Eshowe, to stay the night or weekend basking in the summer glory of the George Hotel and to end up feeling culturally stimulated and relevant, do NOT hesitate. Go! You will not regret it!
** “THE FBF Academy will aim to address the low levels of skills in the economically and socially challenged areas in South Africa and the FBF intends to establish a learning centre which will bridge the gap between schooling and possible tertiary study but also generally raise the levels of functionality of our tutors and staff to a level where they can become self-sustaining.”