The Toasted Cheese and Black Coffee | An Ode

This piece was first published in Issue 2 of Chips!

I’ve never had any great patience for food. I enjoy food and I understand it as a necessity, but the process of preparing, buying, or even consuming it, has always annoyed me slightly.

When I was in the 3rd grade, I did a class presentation on what I thought the world would look like in a few hundred years. My presentation included all the flashy and outlandish things that only a child tasked with imagining the future could dream up. There were lightspeed tubes that transported individual people across continents, there were underground houses that could be accessed by taking elevators down into the heart of mountainsides, and if you wanted to get around town, there were these fancy watches that, at the press of a button, would encapsulate you in a bubble car replete with customisable colours and a sound system.

Of all the things I dreamed up in that presentation, there was one I really loved – the ability to reduce all food types to nifty little tablets, each one being the equivalent of a full meal. Not much has changed. I still love the idea of being able to live inside a mountain and surely, if I could have my favourite foods in pill form, I would jump at the opportunity. But it is 2017, unfortunately, and the closest thing I can find to a simple and fulfilling meal is the toasted cheese and black coffee.

Humble at heart, the toasted cheese and black coffee is simple to prepare, even simpler to consume, and wonderfully easy on the wallet. As a kid, as a broke university student, as a broke adult, as an impatient writer – it’s never failed to keep me filled and fuelled. The toasted cheese – brown bread, butter, cheese – is easy to make, perfectly packaged, and just filling enough. And the black coffee – piping hot, no sugar – is the perfect accompaniment. But of all the times I’ve enjoyed a TCBC, I savour it most when I am travelling.

Continue reading “The Toasted Cheese and Black Coffee | An Ode”


[Review] The new wave of painters

This piece was first published in the Mail & Guardian.

An interesting scene played out at Turbine Hall in Johannesburg last weekend. It went something like this:

Down a flight of stairs, past the bar and below ground, a small room housed a few framed paintings, each one illuminated by a soft light. The paintings were quite old and everyone who looked at them made sure to do so quietly and from a safe distance. In the same venue, but upstairs and around a corner, were rows of paintings in varying
colours and sizes. Here, everyone spoke loudly and asked many questions as they craned their necks and bent their knees to inspect the works.

Downstairs, outside the small room, a sign read: “Pierneef: A collector’s passion”. Upstairs, on the slanting glass panes that reached the roof, vinyl lettering read: “Emerging Painters — The Graduate Show”.

Titled touch and curated by artist Jessica Webster in collaboration with Amber-Jade Geldenhuys and MC Roodt, the Emerging Painters group exhibition upstairs was easily the highlight of this year’s Turbine Art Fair. The exhibition featured painters from a wide range of artistic schools and interests, each concerned with their own process and understanding of the medium. touch may have seemed overwhelming at a glance, but grabbing the attention of the crowd is exactly what Webster aimed to do.

“I felt I had to stand up to the challenge,” explains Webster, “because, through it, I could make what I think is a serious contribution: on the one hand to help build the careers of emerging painters and on the other to present the public with a strong sense of what good painting looks like.”

And painting is an interesting medium. Long cemented in people’s minds as one of the primary mediums of art, painting has gone through centuries of ups and downs. Said to have died and come back to life many times, it’s a medium that has consistently and effectively reinvented itself, while always looking back to its historical canon to improve on itself. Among the works in touch were references to traditional Western portraiture, bold takes on impasto techniques and soft, luminous tributes to the model act of brush on canvas.

Continue reading “[Review] The new wave of painters”

[Essay] Driving Anxieties

This piece was first published in Issue 21 of ITCH.

I’ve never been a confident driver. This is not to say that I’m an awful driver – I do fairly well on the roads and have yet to have an accident with another vehicle – but I am quite anxious behind the wheel.

Like all drivers, I despise traffic. It’s not so much the bit about sitting in long, smoky lines of early morning commute, I just hate the formality of it all. Stop. Start. Hoot. Switch lanes. Repeat. There’s nothing terribly stimulating about it. And because I am an anxious driver, I’m not the type who can zone out to an audio book or check emails or gaze out the window when in traffic. No, I can only sit – one foot on the clutch, one on the brakes, both hands fixed on the steering wheel as I wait to inch further along the assembly line. Outside of traffic, I do love to drive, though. In my 25 years of life, I’ve been lucky enough to go on many long trips by car and no drive has ever been the same.

Continue reading “[Essay] Driving Anxieties”

[Column] Broken dialogues: Public performance and privatised festivals

This piece was first published in the July edition of Creative Feel magazine.

It’s Festival time again. Depending on what you do or which circles you move through, those words could mean nothing at all, or they could only really mean one thing – It’s time for 10 straight days of art, music, theatre and more at the annual National Arts Festival. As the cold moves in on Grahamstown and the students of the local university take their leave, thousands of artists, art-lovers, journalists and other wild ones make their way to the sleepy Eastern Cape hollow. For some it’s a highly anticipated trip, embarked on every year without fail. For others, it can be the start (or end) of a successful career in the arts. For the most part, the National Arts Festival is an event that many seek to attend. But it is not without its problems.

I have a complex relationship with the National Arts Festival. This is probably because I have a complex relationship with Grahamstown. I lived and studied in the small, colonial settler town for four eventful years before leaving it for the decidedly busier and smoggier city of Johannesburg. During those four years I did what students do. I studied, I partied, I missed home, made friends, made a new home, attended a few National Arts Festivals – student stuff. It was also in Grahamstown that I decided I wanted to write about the arts for a living and this is where the complexities began.

Grahamstown is a place with a bloody history and it wears its scars openly – from the architecture and the zoning of the city, to the colonial monuments still firmly anchored to its hillsides and main roads. It’s an infuriatingly rigid place in this way, and art, in all of its forms, becomes a good lens through which to interrogate these stubborn histories.

Continue reading “[Column] Broken dialogues: Public performance and privatised festivals”

[Essay] Songs about Home

This piece was first published in The Con Mag.

I hate having to tell people where I’m from. Home, like time I believe, is an unnecessary construct. By way of convention, Cape Town would be ‘home’ for me. I grew up there, my parents live there and I met some of my closest friends there. Put me there for more than a week, however, and I’ll be looking up the quickest available bus trip to anywhere else. It’s nothing overly personal really. I just don’t feel at home in Cape Town.

Similarly, Johannesburg is largely foreign to me. I live here now, physically and mentally (for the worse, perhaps), but it’s not quite ‘home’ either.

A friend of mine (someone I met in a small town I briefly called ‘home’) recently went to work and live in another country. I’m no good with instant messaging platforms like Whatsapp or Facebook messenger, and I’m far too awkward a person for voice notes and video calls so, in order to keep in touch with this friend, I began writing them emails.

We spoke like this for a while, sending each other updates and swapping stories every few weeks. They told me how they lived in a three-storey house and drove a rickety scooter to work, and I told them how Jo’burg was still all dust and concrete and looping sequences of both dread and inspiration. We spoke a lot about ‘home’ too. At least the concept of ‘home’. In one email, I recounted in equal parts nostalgia and relief, how when I had first arrived in Grahamstown, everything was overwhelming and terrifying and that when I first got off that cramped bus in Jo’burg, I felt exactly the same way. Right at the end of the mail I attached a final thought – how in both instances, it had been music that had helped me find stability, and more specifically, it was two very different pieces of music that gave clarity in those moments of uncertainty.

Continue reading “[Essay] Songs about Home”

[Column] Painting is personal: South African graffiti as an intimate artform

This piece was first published in the June edition of Creative Feel magazine.
Image by Cale Waddacor (@graffitisouthafrica)

Graffiti can be many different things. To old, suburbs-dwelling folk it’s likely a sign of a deteriorating neighbourhood. To marketers, it’s a hip, youth-orientated tool for pushing product, and to greasy property developers, it can even be a tool for gentrification. Graffiti is an undeniably artistic medium, however, and an intricate one too.

To me, graffiti is personal. And this, in part, is due to the fact that I used to write graffiti during my younger years in Cape Town, but it is also the very nature of graffiti that makes it a personal artform – a performative one. From the slow hiss of aerosol paints – the many different smells they produce and the high, whiny headaches they can give you – to the shrill rattle of cans knocking against each other in your backpack as you traverse the city by night. Graffiti is intimate. It’s carried out in silence, often after dark and always concerned with the surface on which it’s being carried out upon. In cities like Johannesburg for example, which is made up of a seemingly endless collection of buildings, metal, dust and concrete, graffiti is arguably one of the only artforms that sees its artists truly interacting with their environment.

Rather than being the faceless, directionless mass that many make it out to be, graffiti is an artform that’s hierarchical in nature. It contains levels. There is bombing – the tags, outlines and chrome and black lettering carried out illegally and at speed – and then there is the commissioned side of it which sees larger pieces and murals spreading throughout the city, painted legally, carefully and during the day. There are laws too. Strictly speaking, a mural covers a piece, which covers a throwup (quick pieces comprising one or two colours and an outline), which covers a tag. Never the other way around. To put a tag up over a mural or a piece is hugely disrespectful (and in some circles, can quickly see your own pieces and murals meeting the same fate.) Similarly, public walls, trains, electricity boxes, and other city-owned property is an artist’s playground. Residential walls, religious or historical buildings, and most natural surfaces like trees and large stretches of rock face, are strictly off limits. These rules and guidelines exist for a reason. Most of the time, graffiti writers get a bad rap for what they do, and having a few kids who are new to the artform haphazardly running around their neighbourhoods and scribbling all over their neighbours houses doesn’t help graffiti much in the way of a moral code…

Read the full piece in the magazine or online.

[Column] Performing power in the local comedy scene

This piece was first published in the May edition of Creative Feel magazine.
Photograph by Kerryn Chegwidden.

“And then I said ‘Grandpa, I’m not doing that to grandma, she’s family!’”

The 20-something year old stands before a silent audience in a small Johannesburg venue, strained smile and wide eyes scanning the crowd for a friendly face. He finds none, and only continues to stand there, punchline all run out and with no laughs to show for it. A few audience members shuffle uncomfortably in their seats while others offer up forced laughter to cut the tension. Eventually, after what seems like a lifetime, the MC for the night takes to the stage again, putting the young comic out of his misery.

The South African comedy scene is a small, but active one, and it’s entirely fascinating too. Collectively, it’s produced a good crop of well-known performers – Marc Lottering, Loyiso Gola, Nik Rabinowitz, Tumi Morake, and most notably, Trevor Noah. If the recent Joburg International Comedy Festival is anything to go by, we’re also a country that attracts a number of internationally renowned comics. We have a healthy amount of emergent comics too. At a glance there is Schalk Bezuidenhout – famous for his parodying of small-town Afrikaans complexities – while Tyson Ngubeni is becoming well known for his side-splitting sets that put forward shrewd commentary on issues such as colourism and Afriphobia. Lihle ‘Lindzy’ Msimang has a knack for satirising South African tropes, while comedic troupe Thenx Ladies are fast gaining traction for their unique blend of stand-up comedy and musical performance that shines a light on contemporary politics, media and more. There are many more stand-up comics in the country, and each week, another open mic night sees a handful of young performers try their hand at the craft. But as it goes, not all of them cut it.

Continue reading “[Column] Performing power in the local comedy scene”

Sweat and Chemicals: Spray Can Memories of Youth

Originally published on Casimir TV

Words by Dave Mann | Photography by Cale Waddacor of Graffiti South Africa shot between 2006 – 2011 in Cape Town.

My first encounter with graffiti was at the age of 14. I wrote a crude word on a vibracrete wall in the park near my house using a can of hardware store ‘Brilliant Black’ spraypaint. It’s still there, I think. I must have lingered around that park for about half an hour, chain smoking loose LD Menthol cigarettes and waiting for dogwalkers and the ADT guard to disappear up the road on his bicycle before I made my move. I don’t know why I did it or why I chose that particular word, but I remember how the rush of it grabbed me so strongly.

A few years, and a few crudely scrawled words later, I met a man known as ‘Toe’. At the time, Toe was one of Cape Town’s most well-known graffiti writers. You couldn’t move through the city for more than five minutes without seeing his three-lettered moniker on a wall, train, or street sign. There were other well-known writers in Cape Town such as Cros, Disk, Sure, Unik, and reaching all the way back to the original South African writers like Falko, Mak1One and Gogga. Toe was one of the first names I remember seeing though. To me, Toe was a hero and now, after seeing his name plastered across every inch of the city, I had bumped into the artist purely by chance. It was late afternoon in Cape Town’s Observatory, and Toe was busying himself with a large-scale commissioned piece.

Continue reading “Sweat and Chemicals: Spray Can Memories of Youth”

Dear Ribane: A message to you and the world

First published on Between 10and5.

Words by Dave Mann

Photographs by Khotso Tsaagane

“But do you think it exists though?” asks a voice through the car radio. “Does witchcraft exist and if so, would you use it against someone?”

The radio was tuned into a talk show on one of those youth stations and the presenter had been discussing, amongst other things, witchcraft, traditional healers and black magic in the workplace. For the most part, the discussion was superficial and offensive, focussing almost exclusively on the various scenarios that would unfold in the event you decide to curse your co-workers. A cheap laugh while you’re stuck in traffic, really. There was one caller however, a young woman, who called in and spoke quite simply and clearly on spirituality and how it can manifest in the everyday. As it goes, she was casually dismissed by the presenter, but her words hung in the air for a good while after the show. As I sat down that day for a late lunch with the Ribane siblings, the words began to take shape.

Continue reading “Dear Ribane: A message to you and the world”

Umzabalazo: The complex duality of Umlilo’s new video

First published on Between 10and5

It’s first light in Johannesburg and atop the second highest point in the city, stands a figure wrapped in cascading cloth fluttering silently around their frame. Black and white lines dress their face while jewels adorn the more angular aspects. The lone figure is Umlilo, South Africa’s one and only Kwaai Diva, and they’re on set at the first location of a multifaceted new music video.

Photo by Smangaliso Tshabalala.
Photo by Smangaliso Tshabalala

The visual counterpart for ‘Umzabalazo’, a track off of Umlilo’s Aluta EP, is filmed and directed by Odendaal Esterhuyse and conceptualised by Siya Ngcobo aka Umlilo, Odendaal and ALV Corp. Umlilo has a history of putting out cinematic music videos and ‘Umzabalazo’ is set to be just as striking. Only with ‘Umzabalazo’, the world was given the opportunity to peek into the filming process in real-time.

It went like this: Over two days Umlilo and the team behind the video travelled to sites of historical struggle in Johannesburg. The schedule was tight and comprehensive. Umlilo, in full costume, would film atop the Northcliff Ridge, before heading to West Park Cemetery and Constitution Hill. From there it would be the vast, bricked Mary Fitzgerald Square and the gritty, animated streets of Jeppestown. Throughout it all, audiences across Jozi, South Africa, and indeed the world, could watch the process unfold live via Periscope, moving through time and space with the artist.

Photo by Dave Mann
Photo by Smangaliso Tshabalala

Continue reading “Umzabalazo: The complex duality of Umlilo’s new video”