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The Performance Artist Playing Everyone




“A lot of people think that I succumb to this ditsy blonde role,” discloses performance artist Jana ‘Babez’ Terblanche. We’re sitting in a chic coffee shop on Kloof Street in Cape Town in South Africa; her pink highlights are a vivid counterpoint to the starchy white walls and tablecloths.

“But actually, I’ve used it as a vehicle, to push things further. Almost to see how far people will accept it.”

Winner in 2014 of the Simon Gerson Prize for outstanding student work at her alma mater, the University of Cape Town, Terblanche has created a striking portfolio that “interrogates the strains on the modern female body, using the breakdown of female archetypes to shift the way that we think about female agency and desire.”

It is fizzing pop culture unbottled and forensically analyzed, repurposed for a fluid feminist agenda. Her preoccupation with the icons that populate the macabre landscape of celebrity glitz and media voyeurism – Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton – has its roots in formative years spent in sparsely-populated mining towns in Namibia, where her only access to a cultural elsewhere was the radio.

“I’m South African, I’ve spent most of my adult life here, but my childhood seems disconnected from everything else,” she says.

“I also feel almost like my childhood was another life, another person. The first time I heard Britney Spears I was like, ‘What is this?’ I didn’t understand. I was in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere, dreaming about an American reality, because I didn’t know what cities meant. So I actually had quite a warped interpretation of the outside world.”

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Her Namibia Series revisits these desert moonscapes where the well of her creativity was first mined; she appears in flowing chiffon against the spectacular umber backdrop of the Fish River Canyon. Her face is hidden – a recurring motif in many of her photographs.

“I cover the face because I want it to stand in for every woman,” she says. “I don’t want it to be personal.”

In Bride, her face is obscured by a mask of roses, swarming like bees; in Hollywood Cerise, she is covered head to toe in a magenta body stocking, her ponytail spilling out like an insistent yellow question mark.

Her work is luridly confrontational but archly self-aware, a good-humoured, interrogational pop feedback loop.

“Initially people thought I was joking,” she laughs. “What is this little girl doing, making art about Britney Spears? She’s walking around in a pink suit, what does that mean? It took a lot of perseverance to say I’m going to stick to my guns, and only if you carry on do people say, oh, she’s still doing this, there must be some merit to it.”

Jana ‘Babez’ Terblanche (Photo by Jody Brand)

There is plenty of a salty sort of grit too, and a fierce determination to expose misogyny and patriarchal oppression. Nightfall, a performance piece in which she strapped bricks to her feet and walked across Company’s Garden, a famous local heritage site, was inspired by the March 2017 brutal street-corner murder of sex worker Nokuphila Khumalo by the famous photographer and artist Zwelethu Mthethwa.

“After that incident, his work was still being sold in galleries,” she says. “I was so infuriated, I couldn’t believe this. Someone literally profiting off the back of a woman he had murdered. I was going mental. There has to be a point where publicity is bad, but no, there isn’t. So I did this work, in memory of her and in solidarity with sex workers.”

READ MORE: Three Women, Three Wives, One True Story

The fallacy of neutral space, the idea that women can ever feel safe outside their own homes, is something she interrogates with passion.

“Space is not neutral at all. On a certain level, men navigate the world without having to be afraid,” she says.

“Walking on the way here, there were three guys in front of me. And I hate the fact that my mind immediately has to go to walking a bit slower – honestly, I had to stop around the corner. I consider this hyperawareness a form of repression that’s not spoken about.”

She talks about the common phenomenon of women feeling compelled to wear ear buds when on the street, just to deter unwanted attention.

“All the space in the world is male space. If there were women-only spaces, men would just get angry about it – men are so fragile. Isn’t that scary, that my mind went there? I thought about men, before I thought about the woman. God, that’s so messed up!”

Terblanche warns also of female complicity, of women who seek to appease male aggression.

“I’ve had so much kickback from women, and I’ve gotten very upset about it, thinking, wow, aren’t we supposed to stand together? But then I realized how strong internalized misogyny is. We’ve all been conditioned, and we have to unlearn these things.”

At its best, with its polaroid tang of glamor and grime, Terblanche’s work stands toe to toe with its clear influences – performance artists Marina Abramovic and Ana Mendieta, and the shape-shifting roleplay of photographer Cindy Sherman. It is provocative and playful, but with a dangerous, hidden razor’s edge.

“I’m always playing a version of myself. We are all playing versions of ourselves,” she says, as the busy Cape Town café characters come and go. “That’s what’s so exciting about performance art. You can be someone else tomorrow.” – Written by Alastair Hagger


Kingdom Calling At The Bushfire Festival



It’s an early morning in May and as the sun rises, red, orange and yellow hues bathe the swaying sugarcane fields of Malkerns, a small town in the landlocked southern African country of Swaziland.

Swaziland, renamed ‘the kingdom of eSwatini’ in April this year on its 50th birthday, awakens to the sounds of the rustling wind and chirping birds. Very soon, these natural notes will be replaced by the cacophony and camaraderie of thousands of guests jetting into the country for the annual Bushfire Festival, a three-day fiesta of art, culture, music and food in the last week of May.

It’s a busy time of the year for a kingdom that is one of the world’s last remaining monarchies.

Within the Bushfire Festival arena, djembe drums beat to the rhythm of the heartbeat of Africa. Revelers indulge in traditional feasts at the food markets as the musicians take center-stage.

The likes of South Africa’s Samthing Soweto, Brazil’s Flavia Coelho, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade and Mali’s Salif Keita are present, offering a profusion of sounds and melodies.

In the camping arena is a confluence of cultures, as over 29,000 guests who have traveled here to attend the festival make new friends and form unlikely collaborations.

Many stop to admire a hand-crafted grass hat worn by a young woman who has traveled from Lesotho. Anna Thai is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, in the United States.

“The people here are very relaxed and accepting of each other. There are so many from different countries, so many languages and so many different faces and I really enjoy the diversity of it,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

What started as a cultural meet around a small amphitheater, where artistes performed in front of a crowd of no more than a hundred, is today one of Africa’s most talked-about festivals.


Swazi-born Jiggs Thorne. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

“We started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity.” – Jiggs Thorne

Swaziland-born Jiggs Thorne, the founder and director of the festival, always had a passion for the arts, but admits he had to learn the business aspect of the festival the hard way.

“The important thing is I never studied to become a festival director and that’s the thing with entrepreneurs, you are driven by passion; the kind of passion that gets you up and creates that drive you need to make something work. And you have to be incessant,” Thorne tells us.

Born in Manzini, he was inspired by his parents who owned a restaurant. He went on to pursue a degree in drama and politics at the University of Natal in South Africa.

In 1994, when he finished his degree, he decided to return to his home country and apply his passion for the arts. Thorne wanted to develop the local arts scene.

In 2000, he set up House On Fire, the eclectic venue where the festival is now held.

However, its business model wasn’t sustainable, and Thorne realized that if he didn’t act quickly, his dream would slowly fade away.

“Well, I was very much an artiste and I think I’ve become entrepreneurial along the way and we started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity,” he says.

The Bushfire Festival came into being.

“It was always about a positive light, warmth, about celebrating diversity,” he says.

A majority of the funding came from sponsorships, and partnerships – the festival is called MTN Bushfire.

With his brother Shelton, Thorne fine-tuned the business model to keep its mandate as a creative arts platform and business at the same time. As Thorne came from an arts background, he had to depend on others to make his dream work.

Read More: Setting Fire To Swaziland

“There needs to be integrity in the way in which you deal with people so I think that’s kind of paramount in this equation where you are dependent on others to make it happen,” says the 48-year-old father of two.

The festival grew beyond what Thorne had imagined, he says, contributing over E50 million ($3.7 million) to Swaziland’s economy.

“When the king travels overseas, people ask him about Bushfire, you know. So it’s quite a surreal thing that the concept that came up all those years ago in a sense has become owned by others,” laughs Thorne.

This year, the local newspapers, radio stations and social media were abuzz with news on the festival.

Thorne owes its success to his team and his parents who left the legacy for him and the family to build on.

“It was kind of the fire they started and it’s a light that we’ve been able to follow. They are the legacy, says Thorne, who runs the festival with his siblings and extended family.

“Entrepreneurship is something that you don’t really study, you learn, and it’s something that takes over, and it’s kind of all-encompassing,” he signs off.

After the curtains come down on the festival, it’s back to the idyllic sights and sounds of Swaziland, until next year, when the little town of Malkerns will fire up again.

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Challenging Social Norms Through Body Art



Imagine a pinup calendar that revisits history through color, and woven in a manner that depicts your past and future in an amusing way. Confused?

Well that is what the future looks like for South African performing artist Athi-Patra Ruga, known for his flamboyant performances and tapestries that challenge social norms.

Growing up in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, Ruga knew at a young age he would become an artist, taking lessons, after school, at Belgravia Art Centre. He then received a scholarship to the Gordon Flack Davidson Academy of Design in Johannesburg.

“I had always known my body would be a site for telling stories. I feel the drive to tell stories, [I] overcame my fears – about it never been done before,” he says.

When he cut his teeth in art, he dabbled in fashion designing, incorporating fashion and art into one.

“Fashion has the power to dictate our movements physically and socially, to [a] great consequence. I have never seen it as a huge leap as both those mediums are concerned with the body,” says Ruga.

His current body of work is Queens in Exile, addressing issues of belonging and identity. However, it is his piece on the queens of Azania that put him on the cultural map.

“I feel it sparked something in the audience that [binds] our generation together. Witnessing the betrayal to the constitution I was raised with and also rainbowism, a utopian construct, played out in the country that is economically the most unequal in the world,” says Ruga.

Ruga was the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year in 2015 and has done work for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton. Believing the world is alive with possibilities, he held on to the hope he would one day travel the world.

“I had always dreamt of going to the south of France and now for the past five years, my husband and I have been going to Toulon for the Hyères festival,” says Ruga.

The Eastern Cape has produced some of South Africa’s great political leaders, from Nelson Mandela to Steve Biko, so it is little wonder Ruga’s work has strong historical references.

“History has the ability to arm us as a dispossessed youth, with knowledge that our forefathers went through the same things we are going through and we need that knowledge to arm us to find sophisticated ways of mobilizing for economic and cultural currency,” says Ruga.

He desensitizes “uncomfortable” topics using vibrant colors. His work is represented by the WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery in Cape Town, and in Paris, by InSitu Fabienne Leclerc.

There is also a lot of story-telling in his work which comes from his father being a journalist.

“I come from a family of people who enjoyed telling stories and I gravitate to that tradition of storytelling in my art,” says Ruga.

His industry is faced with numerous challenges, but Ruga chose early on in his career to not focus on the negative.

“I’m honestly not concerned with focusing on challenges, that’s not how I got here. It is the attitude that defines how I will overcome that is ultimate. Our education system is something we all need to face and improve as that leads one to art and in return empathy for others,” he says.

Ruga encourages upcoming artists to venture into different spheres such as photography, art and designing as they are lucrative.

He says there are more than enough role models across the continent one could look up to such as Nicholas Hlobo, a South African contemporary artist who creates sculptures and explores ethnicity, masculinity, and sexual identity. He too looks up to him.

Despite the global exposure and success at home, Ruga is convinced the best is yet to come.

“I always feel my big break hasn’t happened yet,” he says. That will be a story for another time.

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Making of the July Forbes Africa cover with Gbenga Oyebode




The July cover of the prestigious Forbes Africa magazine features Gbenga Oyebode, of Aluko and Oyebode, one of the largest integrated law firms in Nigeria with over 70 lawyers and three offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. The Firm provides a comprehensive range of specialist legal services to a highly diversified clientele including top-tier Nigerian, international and multinational clients.

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