But this was all in my head. Back to reality – the event was an opening at Resolution Gallery, the artist Chris Saunders, the work a series of photographs centred on The Real Actions Pantsula Dance Crew from Orange Farm, Johannesburg. The pantsula movement lives on. Though that petty, drug-free, gun-free almost naive tsotsism that it evokes is long behind us; pantsula dancing has made it into the new South Africa. It is still mostly practised in townships and by young black people, but calling someone lepantsula has become a mostly value-free statement. Mapantsula are a bit rough-and-ready, vigorous and agile, but also quite harmless. Pantsula dance takes us back to a time when traditional forms were moulded to new urban settings, when plaas-jappies were becoming kleva.
I arrived at the opening late (nothing to do with my punctuality issues – I was coming from a motivational session with girls at LEAP school in Linbro Park) and so I missed a performance by the dancers captured in the photographs and a speech by veteran photo-journalist Alf Khumalo. The dancers literally stopped the traffic on Jan Smuts Avenue for their performance. I would have loved to see the reaction of Jozi drivers to such audacity. And I have never really heard Alf Khumalo speak (his appearance in The Bang Bang Club is rather muted) so I was quite disappointed to have missed his speech.
The exhibition is essentially collaboration between photography and dance, a blurring of the lines between these art forms, and also a blurring between different worlds, as the artist explained to me.
The title of the exhibition, S'phara Phara is said to be onomatopoeia taken from the constant, rhythmic sound that trains make when riding over railway sleepers. The word then evolved to describe the sound of dancers’ feet as they dance in the pantsula style. As someone capable of executing exactly one pantsula move, it is not surprising that this is all news to me.
The dancers are shown practicing their art in various settings. They are shown dancing in the streets, competing, showing off but also relaxing in their homes. They are treated as artists, not mere objects. A sense of mutual trust radiates through the images. Saunders’ background as a fashion photographer is evident in this work. He captures style, clothes and body language. His Benettonesque approach (he has actually published some of these photos in Colors magazine) reminds me of Nontsikelelo (Lolo) Veleko.
Many authors and commentators have noted that photography, as a fine art form, is often about artists looking down the class scale and documenting the lives of the poor and the marginalised. This is undeniably the case here though considerable effort has been put into undoing the inequalities that are often inherent in these relationships. Bringing the documented into the gallery space and revealing to them the context in which their images are shown, sharing a percentage of sales proceeds with them; these moves suggest a way of tipping the scales towards collaboration and not exploitation.
I must admit that the charming and observant owner of Resolution Gallery got a sale out of me. I was drawn to a lone dance, caught mid-air, set against a spiritless, unremarkable township backdrop. The visual effect is that of a proud, well-clad dancer soaring above his surroundings. I am looking forward to receiving the latest addition to my collezione, which is becoming dangerously biased towards “modern” media. I will try to remedy this at the Joburg Art Fair, thought that gathering (and most like it, to be just) is not known for being kind to art collectors on a budget.
Poster by Ricardo Fornino, Resolution Gallery.
Resolution Gallery link: http://www.resolutiongallery.com/web//component/option,com_gallery2/Itemid,94/?g2_itemId=2920