The Commemoration Church Hall, a dark and musky room and perhaps
one of the worst venues at the 2015 National Arts Festival, hides what I would
consider one of its strongest works.
It is called Cape Mongo and masterfully uses performance art,
sculpture and film to make gut-punching commentary on everything from the
destruction of nature to the Afrikaans middle class, apartheid and
Up-and-coming artist Francois Knoetze created five wearable
sculptures shaped out of glass, metal, plastic, paper and VHS tape.
sculpture is a work of art, both gruesome and comic in appearance – living
rubbish that dwells in the dregs of the city. The paper sculpture has the head
of a kudu skull, and the metal sculpture looks like an armoured robot.
He donned these creatures and wandered through city streets, waste
dumps, plastic factories, vineyards and forests, documenting his journeys in
five separate short films titled Glass, Metal, Paper, Plastic and VHS.
Spliced with this footage is a mixture of archival video, including
scenes from Disney movies, grainy video out of the apartheid days, shots of cows
having their throats slit and even home video footage of Knoetze as a kid.
It all flickers across in rapid succession, barraging your senses.
Using a shot of beloved Afrikaans children’s character Liewe Heksie in one
snippet, and following this with a shot of a white Afrikaner beating a black man
brutally on the head leaves the viewer left with a nauseating feeling of
nostalgia and horror.
Knoetze was born in 1989, and must have experienced what all white
people growing up that time did – an idyllic childhood against the backdrop of
perhaps the darkest period in South African history.
This is the Fokofpolisiekar generation: Afrikaners, like Knoetze,
who grew up during the dawn of democracy and must now reconcile an idyllic
childhood with the horror of what they didn’t even know was going on at that
Knoetze is angry, or at least revolted. It is fitting that the
production takes places in Cape Town – a city where the poverty of Gugulethu
township is just a stone’s throw away from the wealthiest suburbs in South
Perhaps the strongest short film is Glass. Here Knoetze wears a cat
sculpture made of broken bottles and melted glass. He goes to bottle stores and
vineyards. He pours cheap wine down his creature’s throat and buries himself in
Like the provocative Cape Town band Dookoom used their single Larney
Jou Poes as commentary of indigent vineyard workers in the Western Cape, Glass
is an indictment of a city built on the dop system – where workers were paid in
cheap alcohol in exchange for their labour.
No wonder Glass has imagery of flowing wine spliced with shots of
blood bags in a hospital. Makes you think, is the wine – the coveted, carefully
crafted, exclusive varietals that Cape Town holds so dear – blood wine?
Like any good art work, there is so much to get out of Cape Mongo
that each viewer will go away having experienced something different.
Not since Steven Cohen have we seen anything this powerful or
compelling, and Cape Mongo deserves every ounce of praise it is getting.
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