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Experiencing the life-giving and life-affirming force o...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Experiencing the life-giving and life-affirming force of art and culture once again

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Lwando Xaso is an attorney and a writer exploring the interaction between race, gender, history and popular culture. She is the author of the book, ‘Made in South Africa, A Black Woman’s Stories of Rage, Resistance and Progress’.

To be in community with other guests as we were brought back into the fold of the fullness of life in a way that only art and culture can do, felt extraordinary.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Last week Saturday, I attended the launch of ma Barbara Masekela’s book, Poli Poli, at The Market Theatre. As I made my way towards the venue, I was beset by an unexpected giddiness – the same giddiness I experienced whenever, as a child, we had a field trip to the theatre. Even the path from the parking lot to the venue was more alive with human encounters than anything I have experienced since the onset of the pandemic.

Every time I enter a theatre, I do so as a child, and not the adult that I am today. The theatre space automatically transports me to the wonder of my childhood; a time when a well-told story brought me alive so completely. This was one of the few times when my attention remained undivided. Live theatre pulses with risk, immediacy and the thrill of witnessing real-time art in the making. It is in the moment and anything can happen in the moment.

Theatre feels intimate, familiar and authentic more than any movie could. It feels like all the times I knelt in front of my pre-school teacher or at my grandmother’s feet to listen to them tell a story, taking on different voices and faces as they switched from one character to the next. At a time when we did not see our stories on television, soaking up a story from my grandmother felt like an inheritance and served to remind me that our world was wider and deeper than all the ways that I had been made to believe it was not. It also reminded me that in our imaginations we can always be free.

So, no wonder I was delighted that my first big social outing since the pandemic would be to a theatre. The Market Theatre and ma Barbara gave us the gift of a much-needed elevating cultural moment. What we got was not a standard book launch but a reawakening. As I walked into the theatre with my copy of Poli Poli in my hand, I was struck by my emotions. Having been caught in this season of death for so long, to enter a historic cultural setting like The Market Theatre felt triumphant.

Four young black actors enacted vignettes from Poli Poli. They owned that stage with such joyful intensity and confidence. They were back on that stage with a vengeance.

The exuberance on that stage felt like an antidote to the gloomy Covid months. I basked in the rays of the life that was shining so brightly on that stage. This unexpected experience underscored how, in times of languishing, culture is a much-needed source to eroticism. Not eroticism in the sexual sense but the eroticism that Audre Lorde describes as the deepest life force, a force that moves us towards living in a fundamental way.  

To be in community with other guests as we were brought back into the fold of the fullness of life in a way that only art and culture can do, felt extraordinary.

The fact that despite the hardship of the past year and a half, the artists we saw on stage were able to revive our souls, speaks to the divinity of art. During a period of such constraint, The Market Theatre offered us a journey through time, to the sights and sounds of ma Barbara’s world with hardly any props – just a stage, committed actors and our imaginations.  

Following the play, ma Barbara took to the stage for a conversation with Mandla Langa about her memoir. She offered us wisdom from a life well lived and also humour from a life well lived. I got a sense that it was art and culture that buoyed her family through the turbulence of colonial and apartheid-era life. Since the passing of her brother in 2018, I imagine it was art again, in the writing of her memoir, that saved her from despair. I remember coming across a quote, which was a variation of a CS Lewis quote, that art is not necessary. It has no survival value. Rather, it is one of those things that give value to survival. The pandemic had me questioning the virtue of a life in perpetual hard lockdowns starved of all the things that make life worth living.

The experience of live theatre moved me towards living in a radically unexpected way. My reacquaintance with The Market Theatre was medicinal. It reminded me that human beings have the capacity to humanise a cruel world that seems intent on killing us. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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