By Laa’iqah SeedSower
Scorching heat kept fans in the shade, but the pull of beauty and the power of expression brought them out in hoards up the winding, picturesque road of Freedom Park. Freedom Park is a 52 hectare venue that overlooks Pretoria. It was designed to honour our nation’s heroes and tell the complex stories of South Africa and its people. It also provided the perfect space to host some unsung heroes of the Indian community, at the launch of an anthology of female artists – I AM I.
Honouring women, heritage and culture
Fatima Chohan, deputy Minister of Home Affairs, said in her address, “Being a woman is being a creator. Beauty is our natural state. We are part of the divine mechanism of creation itself.” Minister Chohan described the timing of the book launch as significant, since August honours the impact of women to our country’s freedom and September honours heritage.
Aunty Jaynie Dawood, as she is fondly known, is the author of the anthology. She wanted the community to come together to recognise and honour the contributing artists. The book is a collection of excerpts from visual, literary, music and dance artists.
Zulekha Dockrat described the moving two-year journey of the anthology. “I Am I highlights art from a marginalized group, who are often expected to be only housewives.” She said her community has forgotten their ancestral heritage. “We’re not only about making mean curries.”
Art is timeless activism
From the opening address, followed by the national anthem, to the speakers and performers at the book launch, the call for activism through art was clear. What is art, after all, but a timeless form of activism that punctuates our expression and perpetuates our passion?
There are no men-only instruments
Shanthi Naidoo treated the audience to an insightful discussion on the language of the tabla and then played a moving set. I asked why she chose to play an instrument that is generally associated with a male artist. She answered, “I actually didn’t think about the fact that it was a male-dominated instrument. I loved the sound and rhythm it created when I first watched someone play. So, when I had an opportunity to learn, I grabbed it.” Shanthi has been learning and playing the tabla for 13 years. She calls herself “blessed to do any of this.”
Saroja, another talented musician featured in the anthology, plays the veenai. I think this is the most beautiful stringed instrument and the artist kept her eyes on me as I took in the marvel of this ancient instrument after her performance. Saroja first started playing at age 15, when her father introduced the instrument to South Africa. At age 65, she still honours his wishes.
A picture is a meandering road
Kiasha Daya spoke to me about one of her most striking paintings featured in the anthology. Her embracing of Islam, at the time of her marriage, was her inspiration for this breathtaking work of bold red strokes and subtler movements of dull colour. The painting caught my attention before I even entered the room.
Too much to savour
I must confess, being out on a bright, sunny day on a lush lawn, surrounded by friendly and helpful youth volunteers, in the company of established female artists who pour their beauty into their chosen medium of expression (gasp!) – well, it was admittedly difficult to speak to all the artists.
Suffice it to say, this enchanting book launch was a delightful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Among my regrets as a rambling fan of the pull and power of beauty, is this: I didn’t have cash handy to purchase a copy of the book.
If you’re a fan of beauty with a purpose and art with a voice, find a copy, and tell me how you were moved.