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ADVERTISING TALENT: SHOULDN’T “SUITS” AND STRATEGISTS ALSO BE PROUD OF CREATIVITY?

September 20, 2017

An Article Written by M&C Saatchi Abel’s Partner: Talent, Wouter Lombard, for The Media Online

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Image source: Pixabay.com

 

After spending my first 10 years in advertising working in account management, I moved into the people and HR space as Partner: Talent for the M&C Saatchi Abel group of companies in 2014.

One of my biggest priorities is to find and attract the very best talent for our agency. I’ve spent many hours and days reviewing every CV sent to our office and interviewing hundreds of prospective candidates.

Right from the start, it shocked me to discover that in this industry, ‘creativity’ seems to be reserved for the select few, as only designers, art directors and copywriters bring to interviews a portfolio of work that they have delivered against client briefs. After four years of reviewing CVs and conducting interviews, I am yet to see a strategist or a suit (as someone in account management is also known) proudly submit their portfolio as testimony to their role in helping to deliver brilliant and imaginative creative solutions for brands.

Suits can talk for an hour about their project management and people skills and brilliant relationships with clients. A select few will even throw in their strategic smarts and, if I am lucky, their business acumen, proved by running a profitable account. Yet to date, no suit has ever pulled out their computer to show me some ads as evidence of their hard work. It’s almost as if their role and responsibilities are disconnected from the very reason their job exists in the first place: to get great work done. 

This tension becomes even more transparent when I ask them to describe the role of account management. Hardly anyone focuses their purpose around creativity; instead, I will hear things like “my job is to hold the relationship with, and represent the client, in the agency”. I bet there’s not a single creative who would want another client on the project (as clients play that role well enough). So why on earth would suits position themselves that way? 

… to date, no suit has ever pulled out their computer to show me some ads as evidence of their hard work. It’s almost as if their role and responsibilities are disconnected from the very reason their job exists in the first place: to get great work done. 

Mark Winkler, one of our creative directors, summarises the role of account management as having to “facilitate the best possible work”. I think it’s a brilliant lens through which to view the single-minded purpose of account management, because whether you write a great brief, implement a smart process, manage your budgets carefully, present with flair or even write an accurate contact report – it’s all in pursuit of the best possible work.

And, as such, every suit should equally be able to talk proudly about the work in their portfolio, because they played a critical role in making it happen.

One could even argue that everyone’s role in an ad agency feeds into this purpose – to facilitate the best possible work – whether it’s in finance, HR, strategy or account management, or as a PA. Because, surely, an ad agency is a creative company, not just a company with a creative department. 

So, if you do come for an interview, bring your portfolio of work and let’s start the conversation from there. After all, if it’s not about the work, then what’s it about?

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HOW I PREVENTED GRACE MUGABE FROM LEAVING SOUTH AFRICA

September 4, 2017

An Article Written by Mike Abel for Daily Maverick

It’s spring! Let’s all focus on areas where we can bring our voices to bear. Where we can have influence. There is no greater tool than the polls. Each and every day in business decisions, in investing in ideas, in talent, in employment, in democratising education, in creating fair and equal employment opportunities. In supporting more charities. We each have far more power than we realise.
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Image source: pixabay.com

I was at my holiday home last weekend, a beautiful spot on the water, just outside of Hermanus, enjoying the happy sounds of family and nature, when I opened that app with the little innocent white bird (definitely not a dove) on a gentle blue background. You know the one that you just touch lightly, so as to open Pandora’s Box to the gates of hell?

And there, sure enough, I read the expected, yet enraging news, the “First Lady” (both words a joke in this instance) of Zimbabwe, that bastion of democracy and preservation of human rights, had safely returned home.

That our government had provided disGrace with immunity for beating-up a young South African woman, with an electric cable no less.

We’d all by now, seen that chunk of flesh she’d removed from Gabriella Engels forehead as she mercilessly attacked her for simply hanging around with her wayward sons in South Africa. Not their home country, but that of the victim.

And so, I stopped hearing Mother Nature, the joyful sounds of my sons playing, no longer seeing the sunbirds sucking nectar out of the aloes outside my lounge. I felt my blood pressure raise, my heart-rate increase and was once again startled, believe it or not, by yet another unfathomable decision and action by our government.

Then, like a miracle, as I stared across the water, I had an epiphany – one that is probably bleedingly obvious to most of you, who haven’t been drawn into this deep and dark world of constant insta-news feeds.

I thought “why the fuck are you doing this to yourself Abel? You have worked bloody hard to be able to enjoy time away in this beautiful spot with your family – and here you are allowing Grace Mugabe’s departure to screw up your day, to rob you of this current happiness”.

And with this sudden realization, I found immediate peace.

I committed to 140 characters on the matter of the assault, and closed the app – for the day.

I then went for a glorious breakfast with my wife, to this great little hideaway spot called Milkwood, on Onrus beach.

There is a wonderful prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” – and there, simply, is what my epiphany was about.

What I realised, is that no matter how angry and outraged I got, I could do nothing directly, about this outrageous betrayal of a South African citizen. That the words of our Minister of Police the day before were now utterly meaningless – or that we would finally do the right thing, having learnt from the Omar al-Bashir fiasco.

Learnt what….

And while there was absolutely nothing I could do directly to stop her jet from leaving, I comforted myself in that I try to do the small stuff I can, where I can, to hopefully bring a little more justice and consequence to bear, like so many of you reading this, given our NPA continues to play hide and seek with the country.

Has there been a Shaun sighting of late?

Where organisations such as Outa, SaveSA, Afriforum try tackle the madness – where our opposition parties fight the good fight, and independent media like Daily Maverick and their Scorpio, EWN, Amabhungane and a few others try to expose these stories so that active citizenry and hopefully, finally the courts, can help bring about positive change, in the complete absence of those paid by our tax money, to prosecute.

It is through supporting these initiatives, media organisations and NGO’s that we’ll eventually return our country to the one envisioned by Mandela versus the one created by Zupta.

But we need to be kinder to ourselves in the process, so as not to become emotional victims to the insanity that currently besets our beautiful land. But to have the calm, the strength and the resolve, to help where we can, and when we can.

Wilfred Owen, the great poet of Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori fame (we all remember that from high school in the 80s) who died in World War l had two truisms that he left behind for us, as gifts. The first is the English translation of the poem above : “That it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country” which he said was the greatest lie of all. And the stresses of the current situation here, can cause one great anxiety and illness. A country poised for growth, currently ruined by corruption and cronyism.

A country that enjoyed 3% economic growth under Thabo Mbeki, now hoping to realise 0,3% growth in 2018 – this against the backdrop of 28% unemployment. Where tens of thousands of graduates, with huge student loans, are unable to get jobs, because of the lack of investment in South Africa – 100% due to a credible lack of faith caused by endemic corruption.

His other insight was “every night as I stood in trenches, I was faced with a choice. I could either look down and see my feet in the mud. Or I could look up and see the stars”.

And so, we all have choices. We can be outraged, as we should rightfully be, but then we need to make decisions that will dig us out of this mess.

There are many ways we can help this country, beyond also needing to actively support the fighters for truth, consequence, accountability and justice.

The only way to create economic growth, is to create an environment fertile to investment. This is where our focus must be. And populism isn’t a solution. It spells even greater disaster for our country.

Yes, we may have a political party currently in power, which hounds those who would hold them accountable, even from within like the heroic Dr Makhosi Khoza, Pravin Gordhan and many others who actually tried to save the ANC with their vote of no confidence. Those who would also try bring them to book, like Thuli Madonsela, Mcebisi Jonas, Vygie Mentor, Desmond Tutu and others, against a backdrop of massive fear and tangible danger.

But back to that lovely prayer by Niebuhr: “Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Let’s all focus on areas where we can bring our voices to bear. Where we can have influence. There is no greater tool than the polls.

But beyond that, each and every day in business decisions, in investing in ideas, in talent, in employment, in democratising education, in creating fair and equal employment opportunities. In supporting more charities.

We each have far more power than we realise – but let’s channel that energy into where we can affect positive change versus simply negatively impacting our health and general outlook.

Today’s 1 September. Spring. What better time to commit to growth and renewal.

 

MANUFACTURERS OF “FAKE NEWS” RELY ON GULLIBILITY TO SPREAD THEIR MESSAGE.

August 2, 2017

An Article Written by Mike Abel for Daily Maverick

“Fake news” is not a new phenomenon, with lies and propaganda used to justify wars, royalty and the greatest atrocities of all time. If something seeks to divide, to foster hate or intolerance, there is usually a deliberate and evil agenda at play, and it is vital to dig further – despite your own fears and prejudices.

A lie told often enough becomes the truth” – ascribed to Vladimir Lenin

Many today lament the growing scourge of fake news but truth be told, we have always lived in a time of “fake news”.

It’s not something new, but dates back to the very beginning of “civilization” — if ever there were an interpretive word. fake news is possibly at the very centre of all religions, where seemingly impossible stories lurch from being espoused as hard fact, to metaphor and symbolism in order to find steadier grounds for believability.

Fake news can’t exist in isolation of gullibility and I can’t argue, today, with anyone having a phone being able to portray themselves as an expert on a chosen subject, the chances of being misled, are dramatically heightened.

The plethora of messages anyone is bombarded with in a day happens against a backdrop of insta-news, where many time-starved people are turning to social media channels like Facebook and 140 characters of Twitter to form initial opinions.

So, as our friend Lenin is quoted above, I’ve also heard it ascribed to Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao, a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Joseph Goebbels also had a similar version.

Looking at all the greatest atrocities perpetrated over time, a great lie usually can be found as the catalyst.

There are many great religions which have been around for centuries or millennia like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and more. They surely can’t all be right? In some cases, or dare I say possibly even all, millions or even billions, have got it hopelessly wrong.

But the genesis of each, assuming there is a “mistake”, would be based on creating deliberate fake news.

Human nature, unfortunate as it often can be, provides a bountiful bed of rose

petals (like the poster for “American Beauty”) upon which fake news and prejudice will land, in gentle comfort.

You see, sadly people (mankind – if ever their was a euphemism) frequently like to believe bad of others. Be it the falsely accused witches of Salem and countless other examples of supposed witchery which still today bizarrely costs innocent women their lives in parts of the world, to any of the ridiculous, farcical and evil lies concocted to suit an agenda.

We saw this this play out on a grand scale as recently as the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and how the poisonous rhetoric of “cockroaches” saw almost a million or more Tutsi’s, murdered by their lifelong neighbours and friends, the Hutus. Goebbels, one of the great psychopaths of our time, understood well the power of fake news in creating a fertile environment for Hitler and the Nazis’ industrialised extermination of the Jews. He is quoted as saying “think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play”.

And isn’t that something we all know so well today. But his warped genius required people to literally abandon all they knew to be true, with neighbour turning on neighbour (not without then looting their apartments): where your trusted friend, doctor, lawyer was over time, deliberately turned into a non-human monster perceptually.

The level of gullibility was so extraordinary that even the classification of a Jew, being parent or grandparent, would have seen Jesus gassed were he alive (due to Joseph and Mary) and Ishmael (due to Abraham) and yet few, many of the church included, conveniently saw the obvious lie for what it was. Then it was extended to blacks and gypsies (the Roma people). How gloriously inconvenient it must have been to witness Jessie Owens laying bare the great lie of racial inferiority at the Berlin Olympics.

This was the same psychology that allowed various Crusaders to mow down “natives” in droves for God’s glory.

Consider King Henry Vlll firing the pope and ordaining himself Defender of the Faith simply because he wanted to go through a few wives, to the concept of “royalty” in and of itself, where, when not limited to fairy tales, is a factually impossible and ludicrous notion.

Now I actually like the pomp and ceremony of the royals and their palaces etc, but to factually believe it can be true that someone is royal, is naturally, idiotic. And it is indeed the very pomp and ceremony that is experiential marketing to enhance its believability. That is why palaces and houses of worship are built on such a grand scale and often with such opulence that how could it possibly not be in the house of God or a king/queen.

All the Holy Wars of various religions were and still are, based on fake news.

Getting a gullible species to perpetrate horror, big or small, in the name of a giant lie – wrapped in honour and glory.

We have seen a British PR firm, Bell Pottinger, hired and briefed by Duduzane Zuma and the Guptas, play to our emotions and fears, very much like Goebbels described the press being his “keyboard”. We have seen how a lie told often enough becomes the lingua franca.

Just look at how the United Nations and then major global news channels all report on and condemn occurrences differently to suit their various sponsors and agendas.

Look at how the BBC reports as compared to the Telegraph, Fox versus CNN. It’s farcical.

How on a smaller, yet possibly even larger scale in terms of impact, fake profiles are created to sow hate, havoc and division once again in our beautiful land. The horrors of apartheid and third forces, should have taught us all better.

We even recently saw how a fake letter was generated by a disgruntled customer to damage a corporate on a fake charge of racism.

Today, we need to start by believing nothing that doesn’t come from a trusted and verified objective source. I am eternally grateful for the independent media locally for creating a platform for the truth to be told. 

We need far better investigative journalism, we need unbiased and secure reporters to give us balanced views and stories. We need to educate our friends, colleagues and the next generations to sift and filter through noise until they find the truth. We need far less gullibility.

My rule of thumb is if something I read seeks to divide, to foster hate or intolerance, there is a deliberate agenda at play. Any information/news that has a negative angle on a religious, racial, gender or sexual orientation basis is usually seeking to drive an evil agenda.

In my experience, that’s usually the case.

Ultimately, and most scarily, what you choose to believe at a superficial level, is usually a reflection of corroborating your own fears, prejudice and insecurities – or you’d naturally choose to dig further.

Always be careful what you believe, because it talks to who you are.

COFFEE, CAMEL LIGHTS AND KEEPING YOUR COOL

July 24, 2017

An Article by Mike Abel for Wanted Online

Mike Abel challenged South African pop artist Norman O’Flynn to answer his unique and quirky questionnaire.

NORMAN O’FLYNN

Image source: Wanted Online

Describe the colour yellow to somebody who is blind.  The sun coming out and warming your face on a freezing day.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone? How good I really am.

What are you known for? A contagious, positive attitude.

Teach me something I don’t know in the next five minutes. If you throw your phone in the air, you get air-time.

What inspires you? Seeing a great concept and wishing I’d thought of that.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Nocturnal Animals. The opening scene is repulsively fascinating.

What was the last gift you gave someone? A painting to a friend, of his two sons.
What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? That everything is happening for a reason and I’m part of it.

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What colour would you be and why? Pink. It only has positive connotations associated with it.

How do you handle criticism? With my fists clenched.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Make coffee for my wife, Liza Grobler.

Tell me about a time you did the right thing and no one saw you do it. Those times should remain those times.

What do you worry about, and why? That something should happen to my son because it would break me.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? The cliché: Doing what you love and being able to share it.

Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome failure? I tried to stop drinking for many years until someone explained to me I had a disease, that it wasn’t my fault and I had no control over it. So I stopped feeding it.

Would you rather be liked or respected? Both. I don’t think you can really respect someone you don’t like and vice versa.

What is the last book you read? The Sea of Wise Insects by Terry Westby-Nunn.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? Camel lights and coffee.

What makes you angry? Being scared.

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it? There have been many and they all involved changes that at the time seemed impossible yet in hindsight I wish I’d made them sooner.

What’s your most significant project? Tell me about it, what did you achieve and how? Myself, realising that all my actions are reactions and trying to stay awake to this.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be? It’s an O’Flynn, cool and unusual.

FORTUNE STILL FAVOURS THE BOLD: WHY BRAVE IS THE NEW SAFE

July 13, 2017

An Article by Mike Abel for Daily Maverick

Why there’s never been a better time to invest in South Africa than right now.

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Source: pinimg.com

The famed stockbroker and philanthropist Bernard Baruch was quoted as saying something like “I made my money by buying low, and selling too soon”.

I’m not remotely amazed by the stockpiles of money corporates and individuals are sitting on because they are currently too scared to invest in South Africa. It’s human nature.

Most buy shares high – and sell them low. We are programmed to avoid risk. That is why so few deliberately choose an entrepreneurial journey for themselves. And for many, in big, fancy corporate jobs, why would they?

Many CEO’s and their C-suite compatriots can take home staggering annual packages by simply being in the job, mitigating risk, and by losing market share slowly, year-by-year. These are often not the people who started nor built the company, but those now presiding over it.

Were they the original founders, they’d be doing things very differently in South Africa today.

A number of years ago, I wrote a piece called Brave is the new safe where I proffered the thought that those wanting to adhere to the tried and trusted were putting their businesses into reverse gear and those who were prepared to innovate and take chances, would be the likely winners. Looking across many industries, this holds true.

Look at a company like Naspers, with an entrepreneurial, innovative and maverick CEO at the time, Koos Bekker, taking a punt on a fledgling e-tailer like Tencent in China – which now equates for the total valuation of the company and has made it the darling of the JSE.

If Koos sat on his hands and continued to tinker in print and pay-TV, their historic stronghold, Naspers, would be worth a fraction of the value it is today – and so an opportunity like this unlocks massive growth, and leads on to more and more.

There are a number companies in South Africa that have started since our economic nemesis, Jacob Zuma and his cronies got a python-like grip on our country. Some have already been sold for billions of rands.

As always, where some see threats, others see opportunity. It’s the same view, just perceived differently.

When I launched our company in February 2010 from Cape Town, with a decent start-up investment from our plc in London, people thought I was mad. An over-traded market, significant opposition, and no clients on the horizon. Today, we have eight companies in our group, all profitable. Two of them are significant acquisitions in terms of what we paid, and all started post 2010. And all were profitable within their first 24 months.

So, what made my partners and I embark on what most considered to be a foolish journey?

The way we see the world is often based on our history – both personal and family. My paternal grandmother, great-uncles and aunts, arrived in South Africa in the 1920’s from Lomza, Poland. They arrived, travelling at the bottom of a ship, with nothing and unable to speak the local language. They knew no-one. Much like the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, New York.

But they made a go of it. They had to.

It’s like applying the mindset of the Spanish conquistadors, who, the moment they arrived in a new place, burnt their ships, so they were forced to make a success of things, as there was simply no option of turning back. (Now, just so there in no misinterpretation here, I use this last example purely to talk to their mindset of making a go of things, and not as praise in any form of what they subsequently did, as I deplore every aspect of colonialism, which I covered in a previous piece for Daily Maverick.)

This bravery of my grandparents was passed on to my parents, and when, much to my mother Hermione’s exasperation, she realised that academia wouldn’t quite help pay the family bills, she opened a real-estate business, having just completed her Masters Degree in the French, on the Narrative techniques of Jean Giono – not exactly the required reading for selling homes.

This was in 1986. Not boom time for the city of Port Elizabeth, nor its property market. But I recall her saying “if I can make a go if it during a downturned economy, imagine when things change” and for someone who loathed apartheid as she did, she could sense the winds of change finally blowing – and believed deeply in the future of our country. And she was right. And it worked.

Just yesterday we announced our latest significant acquisition of a terrific company started in only 2012, by three young guys, all who believe deeply in this country and their offering, and want our investment to help them take their business to the next level.

My view, is this current stasis will pass. I don’t believe we are on the path to becoming Zimbabwe, nor a dictatorship. Am I naïve? Most certainly not. I know we have unbridled looting and thieving across the board and am fully aware of the concerted effort and indeed, successes in undermining our prosecution arms, our SOE’s and our ministries.

So, why do I believe?

I believe in the people of South Africa. I believe in opposition parties, where even with diametrically opposed ideologies, they can come together to fight corruption, and try to rebuild cities and municipalities. I believe our electorate is waking up and smelling the proverbial dung (it can’t unfortunately be coffee in this instance).

South Africa is rich in talent. We will get nowhere by simply sitting, waiting and observing. By hedging. By fat-cats waiting for others to build a good company, whilst sitting on their backsides – and then planning to use their swelling war chests, at some safe point, to snap them up, formularise them and drive them into ordinariness.

Those big corporates, with money to invest, should back themselves and back this country. You build a company by investing. You build a country by investing. And by fighting inequity simultaneously.

I’m full of respect for a man like a Wayne Duvenage, who leaves the comfort of being CEO of Avis to fight unneeded and iniquitous toll-roads (and wins) and takes on other all-important fights through Outta.

It’s an insult to him, and others like him, such as Sipho Pityana and Lawson Naidoo at places like SaveSA and all the other good and decent business people, big and small, who believe in this country, to just sit back and watch.

The only way to build an economy is through investment. Investment creates jobs, which builds spend, which grows industries, creates more employment, builds education – builds lives. It’s a positive virtuous circle.

Closing the taps, simply creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of implosion. You need to invest and spend your way out of a recession – while fighting the good fight at the same time. It’s not either or.

My challenge to these corporates, to the CEO’s, to wealthy South African’s with money to invest – is to put more chips on the table right now.

Believe in yourself and your ability to create opportunity, not only for yourself, but for others. Give those people skin in the game, let them create success for you, and in doing so, success for themselves.

This is the birthplace of an Elon Musk, Richard Maponya, Patrick Soon-Shiong (now allegedly the wealthiest man in LA), Mark Shuttleworth, Herman Mashaba – and many, many more who have created significant magic, out of absolutely nothing. Look at how even a Christo Wiese, in his 70s, has significantly invested and grown his empire over the past seven years, all under the Zuma Presidency.

South Africa needs to invest and spend its way out of this mess.

By the end of this year, our group will have opened another two companies locally. Not because we believe in Zuma, his Zupta cronies, this new “Public Protector” or the ANC – but because we back our countrymen.

We back and believe in the wealth of talent in this place and the value system of our people. I subscribe to the ethos of ubuntu – and fervently believe, that if we hold hands, and commit as business in South Africa, we can absolutely turn this ship around in-spite of this government which we are unfortunately stuck with until 2019.

If you have a war chest, get off your ass, back yourself – and back the good citizens of our beautiful land. And who knows, it may be the best business decision you ever make.

ARTIST BUHLEBEZWE SIWANI ON BEING A SANGOMA, HER DEFINITION OF SUCCESS AND HER UPCOMING PROJECT

July 7, 2017

An Interview by Mike Abel for Wanted Online

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Image source: Wanted Online

Describe the colour yellow to somebody who is blind. It is a paradox, a spectrum of emotions and senses. It is the warmth of rays of light, the feeling when someone you care about touches you, the brightest and most startling light, the fire that burns the brightest inside you. It is happiness. It is also the sickly smell of pee in the morning, the look of decay and ageing.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone? That I am a certified Sangoma with a solid clientele.

What are you known for? Seeing everything performatively; I believe everything performs: photography, sculpture, installations, etc.

Teach me something I don’t know in the next five minutes. A mixture of cow dung and sand with the right amount of water is stronger than cement.

What inspires you? People who wake up everyday; life is not easy.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to see those kweens assert themselves.

What was the last gift you gave someone? Time.

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? I don’t have a car, it just does not make sense for me to have one if I am never around.

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What colour would you be and why? Red. I LOVE the connotations, it is such a rich colour, so many possibilities.

How do you handle criticism? I read, re-read and listen, seek another opinion and then I chill because people will write whatever they want to write even if you give them a lot of information. Criticism is so subjective, besides the world is full of haters as it is. I like criticism, it motivates me.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Pull the duvet over my head and try to go back to sleep again after looking to see if the other human next to me has switched on the geyser.

Tell me about a time you did the right thing and no one saw you do it. This happens so often when you are an unrepresented artist, I cannot remember when I didn’t do the right thing. We all have some form of an altruistic characteristic.

What do you worry about, and why? EVERYTHING because I exist. Existing is so hard when you are an adult Sangoma, you have a whole invisible entourage with you that keep speaking, so sometimes you can appear to be somewhat schizophrenic.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? Success, success, success. I suppose that would be me effecting some form of change. I want to change my world, change how people see each other and view the world. Success is freedom and I still have not freed myself from my thoughts, from societal constraints and norms. If I have changed one person’s perception then I have achieved some form of “success”.

Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome failure? Oh, when haven’t I failed?! I fail all the time so I go to sleep because that depresses me, then I wake up the next day and move on. I refuse to dwell in an abyss of negativity. I love possibilities too much.

Would you rather be liked or respected? Neither actually, I find that they are both impractical as they could impede one’s personal and professional growth if taken to heart.

What is the last book you read? Collective Amnesia by Koleka Putuma.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? Pigments of imagination.

What makes you angry? Ignorance.

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it?Quite a story to be honest. I left the comfort of home with R6000 in my account and moved to Cape Town with no idea of where I was going to stay, no job or educational prospects. I learned that you should always leave when what you want isn’t being served.

What’s your most significant project? Tell me about it, what did you get/reach? How? It is the next project I am embarking on, it is something I am most passionate about: Women, traditional medicine, culture and history. With this project I am getting closer to my truth. This will occur in exhibition form using the research I have done. I would love for this to occur soon so we will see.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be? Fuck what ya heard.

BUT IS IT ART?

July 5, 2017

An Article Written by Mike Abel for Daily Maverick.

With the opening of one of the world’s next great contemporary art galleries, the Zeitz MOCAA, in Cape Town in September, and with the global zeitgeist driving the by-second creation of memes, protest art and new forms of portraying creative messaging and emotion, I thought I’d look under the bonnet of where “art” is at right now and what it could, or rather, does, mean for society.

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Source: Pixabay

Oxford dictionary’s definition of the word:

art1

ärt/

noun

1.    1.

the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

As a keen collector of contemporary African art, I’m often confronted with assessing a piece for either our M&C SAATCHI ABEL Collection, a monthly Q&A article I write with a featured artist for Business Day’s Wanted magazine – or just proffering an opinion.

I recall the first time I went to the Guggenheim Museum in New York around 20 years ago; there was a Robert Rauschenberg exhibition.

I grew up in a home where my parents, Bernie and Hermione, both loved art and collected modern art, as far as their limited means allowed. My dad owned an art gallery and framing business, so there was lots of conversation around the subject. So, as I walked around the Guggenheim I had a fair bit of knowledge to draw on for my assessment.

I have never felt more lost or out of my depth. I didn’t know how to interpret a crumpled cardboard box or shredded fabric that may have started its life as a pillow cover. I felt like the fabled little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes who shouted “He’s naked”. What I probably did, however, given the rarefied surrounding audience of uptown Manhattan, and not wanting to show my inner PE boy, would have been to channel Rodin’s Thinker, assuming a contemplative pose, hand on my chin, while I considered the unfathomable.

When I walked out on to 5th Avenue I asked the client and friend with whom I was travelling what she thought of the exhibition, and she started laughing hysterically. I joined her. And so began my journey into understanding this fascinating subject.

Being in advertising, I’m also well versed in most forms of communication, be it visual, auditory or other sensory experiences. I’m called upon daily to assess messages, all be they commercial.

So, I want to talk a little about protest art and even how it informs social media today.

And how could I open this dialogue without referring to Brett Murray’s Spear. The famed (or notorious) painting showed South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, in a Lenin-like pose with extremely well-endowed genitals exposed. It pushes the boundaries, no doubt, and I didn’t like the piece, but at the time I understood it as a confrontational message of outrage, driven I guess by the state of our country and its citizens, to overtly comment on his polygamous lifestyle – and the alleged rape scandal regarding a young woman accuser, named Khwezi – who then had to go into exile, and later died from an illness.

This artwork was vandalised, defaced, removed, parodied and created much discussion. It was an ultimate statement of freedom of expression, although there were reported government questions and interventions.

The reason I didn’t particularly like the piece, and still don’t, is because I found it unnecessarily undignified. I’m certainly not saying it was gratuitous use of vulgarity, and it was a powerful statement, but I’ve been experiencing a growing concern and unease about a decay in decency and common respect – in our societal moral fibre, if you will.

Let me clearly state I am not a prude. I have no problem with swearing, telling a filthy joke or with adult consensual pornography. I think it’s normal. As long as there are no victims, no racism, no hate.

I also think my observations around The Spear are part and parcel of the domain of contemporary art, for what is it if it doesn’t create dialogue, some controversy, shift thinking, push the envelope – as long as it isn’t gratuitous.

Which brings me to the paintings of Ayanda Mabulu. His recent piece, of President Zuma having sex with our beloved Madiba, I found disgraceful. Not only does it strip the “dignity” of Zuma, (not politically), but from a sexual perspective, and it shows our iconic struggle leader and hero, the most admired statesman ever, in an anal sex situation that visually violates who he was and our beautiful memory of him.

Were Madiba still alive, I would wager Mabulu would never have done this.

When I first saw the Mabulu painting of Zuma and Gupta engaged in a graphic sexual act in the cockpit of a plane, as shared all over social media, I was shocked. I don’t believe it is responsible, morally nor socially, to denigrate an individual’s dignity like that. It is bullying and it is ugly in the extreme. I found these pieces to be unnecessarily graphic and gratuitous use of shock tactics to drive talkability. Now, because it’s purported to be “art”, I may indeed be incorrect, but this is my strong, personal sense.

I don’t believe that art, as defined by our friends at Oxford (upfront), needs to be as vulgar as this. Creativity calls upon us to be creative and unexpected in how we convey a message or solve a problem. Today, our younger generations are being denied the subtlety and decorum that may have influenced older generations to be able to convey strong, clear and powerful messages, without resorting to plain rudeness.

There is so much extraordinary contemporary African art that pushes the boundaries and challenges, confronts, arrests, and even shocks, without the need for vulgarity. This is where true talent and smarts lie.

I follow many young adults on Twitter from various walks of life, so as to get the pulse and feel of sentiment, mood, need-state, conversation and timbre. It’s essential to what I do. And I am mostly horrified by the way people feel incredibly comfortable, while hiding behind nom de plumes and fake identities, trashing people and creating intentional controversy and “click-bait” so as to grow their follower base.

Turn on the TV, and while “in my day” we may have seen violence on cartoon programmes, as perpetrated by Sylvester and Tweetie-bird, or Wylie Coyote and the Road Runner or Tom and Jerry trying to blow one another up, and worse, today, the way kids talk to each other on respected and supposedly wholesome American channels, is unbelievably bad.

Those cartoons allowed for messages to be perceived as different to reality. So, perhaps this younger generation has now become desensitised to the point that treating one another shockingly on social media channels is the order of the day. If so, it does not bode well for the future.

One almost needs to start a moral regeneration among the youth and young adults around what is and isn’t right or acceptable. I was taught never to lower myself to someone else’s level if they behaved improperly, and while I can’t say I’ve always succeeded, I mostly have, due to it being hardwired into my conscious and conscience.

People need to understand that one cannot say something on Twitter which you would not say to their face. It’s cowardly and lacks grace. We need to start calling out racists, bigots, liars and attention-seekers in a dignified yet firm way. I don’t want the Truman Show nor a squeaky clean, vanilla or sanitised world. I’m happy with banter, fun, rough and tumble, even clever rudeness, but not that which disrespects the dignity of others – and pulls people down simply to build oneself up.

So no, it’s not always “art” even if some say it is. You’ll know the difference; and then have the courage to call it out for what it is.

Twitter, Facebook and the like in South Africa is full of racism and related rage. Every day we have a choice to either fuel these flames or to gently pour water on them.

The latter may not gain you the followers, but it will start to heal your soul.