Chuma dares to dream
● Young Artist award-winner ‘sleeps on it’ before producing inspirational theatre
INTENSELY evocative and somewhat unorthodox in her approach to the arts, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award (SBYAA) winner for Performance Art, Chuma Sopotela, says it is in her dreams where she finds inspiration and motivation to do the things she does.
“I love sleeping particularly because I want to dream, so I literally sleep so that I can dream, so that I can get my next project.
“Or I will see something, be inspired by it and sleep with it [on my mind] and think about what I want to do with it. Then I go to sleep and I dream and then I get my answer,” Sopotela said.
The multi award-winning actress, director and choreographer, born and raised in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, said she dedicates her performance work to the place where she is performing.
“I really love dedicating my work to a particular place so I love making work about the place [and] that is what I am doing – I am making a work about Grahamstown and also particularly about the time of the festival and what is there before and after,” she said.
Passionate about creative activism, Sopotela uses her talent as a performance artist to educate and transgress the boundaries between perceived knowledge and indigenous knowledge.
“Art is the facilitation of knowledge but it also creates new knowledge and for me that is very important.
“We say we have indigenous knowledge but we do not live in that time, so it is up to what we do with art that we bring that indigenous knowledge to our society now and create new knowledge,” she said.
Actively vocal about the influence of politics and the utterances of politicians, Sopotela said it was important for artists to bring about change with the hope of influencing people’s perceptions.
“With my performance art work it is about changing perceptions and perspectives.
“Politicians mess with our minds, [they] make us believe certain people are bad and therefore there are wars in the world because this is what they are feeding us.
“As long as we make people aware of these kinds of manipulations, I think then we will be better at making decisions about who is good and who is bad and what is good and what is bad and what is right and wrong,” Sopotela said.
The working title of her performance at this year’s National Arts Festival, Indlulamthi (The ones who are taller than the trees), will both be a showpiece looking at the current socio-political climate in South Africa through the eyes of children, while highlighting the Palestinian situation.
“[A] few years ago [when] I was here, I decided I would love to work with the kids – the street performers who we see during the festival – so I decided that a long time ago, even before the Standard Bank award, to work with them,” she said.
Sopotela will also be working with a fellow performer from Palestine, Ahmed Tobasi, as part of the performance has to do with the current situation in Palestine.
“I am not an all-knowing human being but what I try to do is trigger things that we know already and then pull them up to the surface.”
Working closely with the concept of the body and the way people see each other, Sopotela said it was important for people to think about the reasons why they see others in certain ways.
“My work [is also] about the body and how we see each other, which glance are we using, what frames – how are we framing what we look at and are we aware of these frames that we create, so we can understand why we think about other people that way,” Sopotela said.
On being named one of this year’s SBYAA winners, Sopotela said the award was a highlight in her career and cemented the idea that people appreciated and trusted her work as a performance artist.
Among her many accolades, Sopotela won Kanna and Fleur du Cap best actress awards for her role in Lara Foot’s Karoo Moose. She was also nominated for a Naledi Best Actress award in 2008 and received five award nominations, including the Montreal English theatre awards for her performance in Waiting for the Barbarians, directed by internationally acclaimed Alexandre Marine.
Sopotela was a winner at the 2008 Spier Contemporary Awards, as well as a 2017 Malcolm McLaren Award winner for her recent collaboration with Wa Lehulere on his Performa 17 Biennial commission, I Cut My Skin to Liberate the Splinter.
● Catch Indlulamthi on Thursday and Friday from 5pm to 7pm.
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