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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.

QUICK QUESTIONS WITH ARTIST JESSICA WEBSTER

June 30, 2017

An Interview By Mike Abel For Wanted Magazine

Mike Abel speaks to artist Jessica Webster on the eve of her exhibition “Wisteria” at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town

Describe the colour yellow to somebody who is blind. The sense of relief when the winter sun touches your side on a cold day. On the other end of the spectrum:  the taste of a lozenge after an especially bilious vomit.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone? I would like a beard of my own.

What are you known for? Beauty without design.

Teach me something I don’t know in the next five minutes. Impossible question!

What inspires you? People who are good with their hands – cooking, handling technology and machinery.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. I chose it expecting Ford’s striking set design and cinematography, and it was, but I didn’t expect to come away traumatised.

What was the last gift you gave someone? A painting I made for my friend’s birthday – Peter Rabbit scored into a green monochrome wax tablet.

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? I unpack my anger issues and generate new ones.

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What colour would you be and why?
Violet purple. It doesn’t contain a simple or direct idea. I think it should be used more but after the eighties, perhaps it needed a break.

How do you handle criticism? I am interested in it.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Smoke a cigarette, and often have a little weep about magnitudes.

Tell me about a time you did the right thing and no one saw you do it. That would detract from its resonance.

What do you worry about, and why? The degrees of hurt caused by my own and others’ carelessness.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? To have left a material and cerebral legacy that remains useful for further work. I am never late, which is foundational to realising the level of responsibility involved.

Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome failure? I didn’t attain a good mark in a grade 7 drama eisteddfod after working very hard on a performative interpretation of D.H. Lawrence’s The Snake. I lost my trust in authority from that moment, which led to a strongly independent approach to my art-making.

Would you rather be liked or respected? It depends on my mood.

What is the last book you read? Jonathan Franzen, Purity.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? Seizure: imparting the instant life.

What makes you angry? Carelessness.

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it?
Deciding to write a PhD thesis as a full-length amalgam of both analytic and continental philosophy, with no prior training in either. Sure, one can push the boundaries of what’s possible, but is it always necessary?

What’s your most significant project? It’s a life-long project: after being shot and left paralysed, I am attempting to create a worthwhile practice of living that produces meaning. My painting is deeply intertwined with this aim because it develops my perception of pain and pleasure. These senses reign over our deepest motivations, and bringing them to conscious awareness can offer the self (and viewer) the potential for mastering the complex relationship between desire and repulsion. Mastery can give purpose.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be? Whose tail you waggin’?

#ACTIVISM AND #OUTRAGE, IN 140 CHARACTERS

June 29, 2017

Article by Mike Abel For Daily Maverick

Beyond Trump, be it Hillary Clinton, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Jeremy Corbyn or closer to home, Helen Zille, social media is playing one of the largest roles in driving sentiment.

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Image source: pixabay.com

The online world of opinions is a fascinating place. For the first time ever, our generation is able to communicate with a global, national and local audience, directly from our “phones”, instantaneously.

On a planet not short of issues, each day brings a fresh opportunity to either vent or to give life to new opportunities to solve problems. In many ways, Twitter and the like can be used to harness the collective brainpower and will of billions of minds, to bring the most astonishing solutions to bear. Not that we often see this.

I frequently see social media commentary lamenting the #outrage as being the excuse not to do something. The notion that now you’ve let off steam, as an armchair activist, you’re not going to actually do anything further. A digital huffiness, if you will, as the modern day, ineffective panacea to a problem.

So, in this piece we’ll explore if that is indeed accurate.

Many of us get our high-level news feed through a tweet and then decide if it warrants reading further, by clicking the link. For a lot of the younger generation who prefer not to read, these 140 characters are often the full article itself and that alone can stir huge emotions, be they fact or fiction.

There is often far too little scrutiny, and that is why the Zupta-appointed Bell Pottinger and their local ilk (the #fakenews “journos” hired to seed and germinate these toxic grains) find traction within an undiscerning, dispossessed and angry audience. And in truth, who can blame them, this unsuspecting audience that is, for accepting “news” at face value. The dark arts of driving a sinister propaganda, on social media, is a relatively new thing.

I’m convinced this Bell Pottinger engagement, if proven to be what we suspect it is, is potentially a legitimate crime against humanity. To take on a project in South Africa, with our terribly fractured and hurtful past, and deliberately create, sow and drive racial division through cleverly constructed yet fallacious arguments, is staggering. I have little doubt this assignment, undertaken for the Zumas and Guptas, will ultimately be their undoing. It’ll be to Bell Pottinger what Enron was to Arthur Anderson (the latter having been far less of a crime against humanity). Let’s see…

Psychologists will tell you that opening up and sharing is very important in dealing with stress and anxiety. “A problem shared is a problem halved” as my wife, Sara, says. So, there is little doubt that just venting is in itself useful.

You feel you are giving words to frustration and others, friends, particularly on platforms like Facebook, will validate these concerns and through a forum-like discussion you’ll possibly be able to deal with it and let go, for the next day or two. I think this is mostly healthy.

But with easy access to sharing your opinions comes easy access to reading them and opening yourself up to massive exposure. Especially when your (political) foes are also trying to further their agenda.

A silly typo in a tweet from Donald Trump like “covfefe” goes on to become a global feeding frenzy within minutes. Even he foolishly retweets it as the intended word. Now there is enough to comment on, against or possibly for, Trump without “covfefe” being the media event it was. But people love a metaphoric loose thread hanging off a jersey, which they can then pull on and unravel until the person, at least in their eyes, stands bare.

How much of a role have millions of ordinary, everyday cellphone commentators played in framing perception around the current elections and surrounding issues?

Beyond Trump, be it Hillary Clinton, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Jeremy Corbyn or closer to home, Helen Zille, social media is playing one of the largest roles in driving sentiment. And that is what it is – sentiment.

One of the earliest truisms I have learnt in the advertising industry is “perception is reality” – and it is. Maybe history will shake out a different truth down the line, but for now, public sentiment will establish the perceptual one.

When I originally read Helen Zille’s tweet around colonialism, without any public commentary to shift my view, I was significantly taken aback. I have never considered progress in Africa, or elsewhere, as a benefit of colonialism. There were no benefits to colonialism, other than to the country perpetrating the invasion, theft and related human atrocities. For the locals, it was about being exploited, and it wreaked havoc and devastation on their lives.

Let’s be clear, it was a factor of simple progress happening in the world that was brought to countries being subjugated by colonialism, to make the colonists’ lives easier, rather than any attempt particularly to enhance the lives of those being suppressed, while stripping them of their resources, dignity, and assets. To confuse the two, as an intelligent, educated person with front row seats to this country’s past and present, is very sad in my view. To try to defend it thereafter is ill-considered. One must be able to put yourself into the shoes of another, and to see the pain through their eyes.

And indeed, if Helen were black, as some assert, it may not have attracted equal outrage, but that is a moot point, for we don’t know – but the comment itself would still be equally inaccurate and insensitive.

Given her history, I am absolutely certain that Helen Zille is not a racist – but I am equally sure her tweet caused deep hurt – and although clearly not intended, given the unforeseen fallout, it did point to a limited understanding by some of colonialism versus progress in our country.

I’m delighted that she has now apologised unreservedly for her comment. It’s dealing with these harsh realities and mistakes that opens a very necessary dialogue and a need for understanding.

Many still won’t forgive her, and will continue to fuel the fire, but that is part and parcel of political life, I guess – and to intentionally use this situation, to drive their own agenda. All parties do this. But, as the saying goes, “to err is human, to forgive, divine”.

It is also an obvious yet very important point that certain stories and even jokes can only be told by someone of the same identity.

Tell a Jewish joke if you aren’t a Jew and you could immediately be considered an anti-Semite. One often hears black people calling one another by derogatory terms which appear seemingly fine between them, but let a white person say it, and they’ll be called a racist. And they probably would be one too.

But because it is said between each other, it’s potentially liberating, as it gives people power over an ugly word, but on their own terms. Used by an outsider, it’s simply the blunt, hurtful insult, with no sugar-coating.

So, on to Theresa May (May or May Not, DisMay) or whichever choice terms are now being used on social media to describe her recent fiasco.

#MayDay : From the hallowed halls of 10 Downing Street, the election outcome from polling looked like a landslide victory. But what Theresa and her advisers failed to realise is that today, sentiment can turn on a tickey. Being seemingly ignorant to this, she called a flash election to cement her leadership. But, as the outcome has now shown, she had little understanding of the hopes and fears of the younger voters, their ability to turn out in numbers, and how Corbyn may appeal more to them at the polls than May and her Brexit message.

At the same time a relatively obscure and unknown Frenchman aged 39 managed to capture the imagination of a country and within just 12 months, powered his way to the presidency.

Social media played a huge role in driving both awareness and consideration of Macron. He offered the country hope and possibility, which they chose over fear mongering. What is more remarkable is that this followed unprecedented years of terrorist onslaughts in France.

Whether Macron was the right choice, or will deliver on his promises, is largely irrelevant in the actual decision-making process. On the day, he was the right man, and he succeeded as a result.

By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s email scandal was used very effectively and tactically to resurrect distrust for her as a candidate. It wasn’t about facts, or her track record, or suitability for the job. In the end, it came down to likeability and plain trust, which even though she won the popular vote wasn’t sufficient to win her the presidency.

It’s sadly quite an indictment of Hillary; having been FLOTUS twice and Secretary of State, the Americans chose an exceedingly brash property magnate, hotelier and reality TV star over such a well-known career politician. And especially after he made those bizarre, disparaging comments about women and minority groups.

Whether Americans liked Trump or not (the markets sure do), they trusted him more – and Corbyn also, like him or not, came across as authentic and real in comparison to May.

I’m convinced the #activists and the #outrage played a major role in driving final sentiment at the polls. Look at the local municipal election results last year in South Africa.

While many of the newspapers from the Independent to The New Age, and broadcasters from from SABC to ANN7, tried to drive a positive view, online publications, like the one you’re reading, gave South Africa the real story, which was shared and commented upon by millions of South Africans, resulting in unprecedented coalition governments unseating the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg.

With social media, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and while marches happen, forums and civic groups are created and #ZumaMustFall, #ZuptaMustFall, #StateCapture and #GuptaLeaks are the new order of the day, it’s inaccurate to think this is simply armchair #activism, because it is actually driving sentiment – and one thing you can be entirely sure of, it’ll play itself out at the polls.

MATERIAL MAN, PAUL EDMUNDS

June 23, 2017

An Interview By Mike Abel For Wanted Magazine

Mike Abel quizzes Cape Town contemporary artist and sculpture, Paul Edmunds about life and his love for olives.

 

Describe the colour yellow to a blind person. My brother’s old bedroom had yellow curtains (it was the 80s). It was eggy and womb-like.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV? In 1993 I lived in Paris on R15 a day. Also, as a kid I won a cereal-eating contest.

What are you known for? My work often involves unusual materials and labour-intensive processes.

Teach me something I don’t know in the next five minutes. Cut a carrot into ribbons; slice some small salad onions obliquely; stone and halve some black olives. Mix these with lemon juice and crushed chili. Leave for an hour, stirring regularly. It’s all about the olives.

What inspires you? Anything that compels me with its colour, texture, form, scent or sound.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? I’ve never had TV, though I do stream things these days. Most recently I streamed a Graham Norton Show. It’s hilarious.

What was the last gift you gave someone? I gave an old denim jacket to my niece.

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? I rarely drive, so I’m probably thinking that my bike makes more sense. Or, I love aircon and this Beachwood Sparks track.

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What colour would you be and why? A dirty blue. It’s an incidental colour.

How do you handle criticism? My own is harshest, so if someone else’s penetrates, I listen.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? I telepathically encourage my wife to make tea.

Tell me about a time you did the right thing and no one saw you do it. I regularly help old folks cross the road.

What do you worry about, and why?The loss of mature trees in my neigbourhood and on the planet worries me. I’ll worry more if I have to explain why.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? Possibly success is never doing things you don’t want to. That can be a case of, ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with’.

Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome failure? I exaggerated the seriousness of my practice, and bought the myth of the suffering artist. I was able to step back and formulate a more agile approach, a lighter touch which does not preclude the possibility of seriousness.

Would you rather be liked or respected? Both, please.

What is the last book you read? ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? ‘Who’d Have Thought?’

What makes you angry? Our lack of civility.

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it?
Early on I struggled to sell work, so I made an exhibition which was unsellable. It was tremendously liberating, and had a paradoxical effect on my career.

What’s your most significant project? Tell me about it. What did you get/reach? How? Soon after my father died, I produced a show called ‘Season’, which explored how I was drawn into a more intimate relationship with natural phenomena during this time. My gallery didn’t quite get it; sales were poor. Ultimately I was liberated from what was a dysfunctional relationship with them and I took the opportunity to re-examine my approach.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be?A little je ne sais quoi and a bunch of What the F*#@!

Source: http://wantedonline.co.za/society/the-arts/2017-05-01-material-man-paul-edmunds/