Monday, November 7, 2011

10 Months, 150 Posts

This is my 150th post on this blog--I guess I've had a lot to say this year!
It seems fitting, because my year is winding down. I spent yesterday walking around my favorite neighborhoods of Cape Town, doing all the things I enjoy the most.

Got some crafty supplies at the St. George's Bric-A-Brac shop, and generated some ideas for Christmas presents. Sat at the cafe in the Crypt with a book, before meeting up with friends to finally see the Zapiro exhibit at the South African Jewish Museum.I ’d never been to this museum, even though it’s right next to the SA National Gallery. Enjoyed the first collection, about Jewish migration to South Africa. There were more stories from District Six, and many of the pieces intersected with what I’m reading right now, The Seed is Mine by Charles van Onselen. Also enjoyed the recreation of a shtetl in Lithuania, the country of origin for most of South African’s Jewish community.

I’ve been dying to see the Zaprio exhibit since July, and I’m so glad I got to go! Zapiro is the pen name of Jonathan Shapiro, a Cape Town-born cartoonist who says his mother instructed him as a child to draw the monsters of his nightmares to make them less scary. Shapiro’s grandparents came to Cape Town to flee Nazis purges in Berlin—only to see more discriminatory systems in place under apartheid.

The title of the exhibit was Jiving with Madiba, which plays on the way Zapiro’s caricature of Mandela dancing. But it goes deeper than that—despite their differences in age and background, the lives of the artist and the freedom fighter have interested in interesting ways. Zaprio’s early career was one of Struggle posters and calendars; some cartoons were featured (such as police as pigs), but largely the banners were informative (announcing rallies) or straightforward—Free Mandela may have been controversial, but it was a simple enough message to convey.

In the 1980s, Shapiro the man went to prison for a few weeks for his subversive artwork, and was actually inside Pollsmoor prison at the same time Mandela was. He tried to slip a 70th birthday card to the nation’s most famous political prisoner, but was unable to.

Zapiro’s work got its signature caricaturist style after Mandela was released and the nation began the transition to democracy. And in the true spirit of democracy, he could criticize politicians and leaders freely. The earliest cartoons featuring Mandela demonstrated how venerated he was—he was portrayed as a rising sun, or as Moses parting the Red Sea of racism; his face was placed on the globe, to show how beloved he was at home an abroad.

But for a satirist, nothing is sacred. As the difficult recovery as the country was under way, Mandela’s troubles were exposed in Zapiro’s cartoons (and his cabinet members were caricatured as scathingly as the old nationalist regime.) Mandela is a father, trying to control the terrible toddler of the New South Africa. The stalled economy and strained diplomatic relations were lampooned in a dead-pan way.

One of the most apt cartoons, I thought, caricatured the presidents (and presidential hopefuls) since Mandela. In order of succession, Mandela stands tall and completely fills a big pair of shoes. Mbeki comes next, half Mandela’s size, and the shoes look too big. Zuma is laughably short and squat, swimming in the big shoes left behind. And a spectre of Julius Malema can barely peek out of Mandela’s big shoes, but he’s grinning wildly, anyway.

The cartoons are funny and clever, but make you sigh in a way that feels like you’re saying, I wish it wasn’t so. But the exhibit contextualizes them—they don’t come from a place of malice, but from an artist who was invested in the struggle and functions as a watchdog for South African democracy.

In an interview with Shapiro on screen, he spoke of a phone call he got from Mandela about his illustrations. He said he was nervous, and worried he’d offended the president he’d admired. But Mandela apparently said that it was Shapiro’s job to be critical, and that he enjoyed seeing his work.

That museum was a big part of my Bucket List. Hooray! (But there’s nothing like wandering through the Gardens and Kloof Street—which have been important parts of my time here.)

I've accepted that this year, I may not make it to the top of Table Mountain. But a friend of a friend of a friend... 's aunt owns property near the reservoir halfway up the moutain, so I was privy to this sunset last night:

Will post most pics when I have more megabytes....

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