Plett ARTS Fest: How Woke Are You?
A blog by Wandisile Sebezo
The expression “stay woke” originates from the African-American Vernacular English. It was popularised in 2014 by the Black Lives Mater movement to promote awareness about racial and social injustice in America, but has since entered the lexicon as an expression that encompasses many different social issues, from labour to health to LGBT rights.
Simphiwe Dana is woke because most if not all her songs touch on social issues that affect ordinary people in modern South Africa. The students that started the Fees Must Fall campaign are also woke, for they highlighted the hypocrisy of a system that not only commodified education, but also sought to treat unequal people equal. The Rhodes Must Fall went even further by seeking to deconstruct the social makeup of a South Africa that still resembles its colonial past, for this, these students are woke.
This year’s Plett ARTS Festival is promising to do just that – demonstrate social consciousness. It was through seeing the content of this year’s Plett ARTS Fest that I began to wonder, just how woke are we?
The festival takes place from the 25 June to 9 July, with it comes a bag of music, theatre, documentaries, fine art, fashion & design, crafts & markets, and also presenting a winter school.
Take Wezile Mgibe for instance, a visual artist from Port Elizabeth who would be performing at this year’s Plett ARTS Fest. His is about live and visual art, a “performance that interrogates notions of being oneself in a world constantly trying to make you someone else” he says. Here he is addressing identity politics, affirming yourself, whether- as an artist, being black, being a woman, or simply being queer in this very intolerable society.
Having seen Wezile’s work in Port Elizabeth before, he is inviting us to have dialogue- about thought provoking issues that relates to the politics of the self, calling us to have the courage to break away from barriers imposed on each of us, be it by the church, family or by society at large.
The festival also brings in AFRIDOCS: 5 thought-provoking films on the big screen over 3 days, from the 4th to the 6th of July. There are two easily recognisable names here, and they include a documentary on the life and times of Miriam Makeba, affectionately known as ‘Mama Africa’, who acted as a cultural ambassador of not only South Africa but also the entire continent, during times at which it was not popular to do so. Who through her music and song, inspired generations to have the courage to stand up against oppression, and perhaps whose music also consoled those who were in prison.
And the other one encompasses the life of Oliver Tambo, he who opened a law firm with Nelson Mandela in 1952, and later became the longest serving president of the ANC, and led during the most difficult time of the ANC’s existence- when it was banned and exiled in Lusaka, Zambia.
Certainly delving into this very important history of how we have come to be, and celebrating those who shaped our country for the better, is the best cornerstone with which we begin a journey of understanding where we’re headed as a country, taking stock from and standing on the shoulders of such giants.
What is art if not to push human creativity to its full potential, changing our mind-sets and well, making sure we stay woke?