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Renaissance Men is a performance piece which was executed in the two Cape Town townships of Khayelitsha and Dunoon Area 5 in September 2013. The facilitators were artists Masimba Hwati and Wallen Mapondera from Post Studio working together with David Chinyama from an organization called Studio Harare. These three artists invited other artists and staff volunteers from Greatmore Studios in Cape Town. The piece was performed by riding in the townships on ice-cream carts from Ola Ice-cream, handing out books and reading material to the locals.
The main project idea was to connect the anticipation for ice cream with the culture of reading.
Ice cream is common in a lot of African societies. It establishes itself as a quasi-essential aspect of community life. We used this element to engage people, and drew parallels between this phenomenon, with a direct need for dissemination of literary information to and in the communities.
Millions of Africans right now are flanked by vital information in the form of books but have a challenge of developing and nurturing a culture of reading. A number of African governments are tackling illiteracy by means of policy making and affordable (in some cases, free) education programs.
However, the struggle lies somewhere between the ability to read and the desire to read.
One of the big issues we were trying to draw attention to is that of xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals, which occurred mostly in underprivileged South African townships. Khayelitsha and Dunoon Area 5 are two of the townships where these attacks took place. It was of significance that the Post Studio facilitators, being Zimbabwean, were working in these communities distributing books with information that addressed xenophobia, among other subjects. It was a volatile environment that posed a potential threat to their safety.
We realized that the problem was not unavailability of reading material on the subject, but that a lot of community members were not in the habit of reading for understanding of the situation.
Essentially, the more informed one is of the matter, the more understanding they are of a situation, and tend to react better to a problem. With more information on the subject, it would have been possible for locals to respond in a different manner to the arrival of foreigners in South Africa.
Renaissance Men is a project that seeks to build bridges between the ability and desire to read across African societies through creative means. We believe this project was successful. However, it is only just one method to tackle this problem. There is still plenty room for further exploration and experimentation so that it has a greater impact in reaching more people and drawing more interest.
Our aim is to engage communities and community leaders in spreading non-linear education systems in their environments. Through a symbiotic process between us and the community we propose to develop tools that will persuade and revive the desire to read. Linear education by nature has an institutional lifespan and after one has graduated from it there is need to introduce ways to continue the education process.
Many thanks to Pro Helvetia for funding the project, AyandaMabulu, the renowned Iconoclastic painter who was also the local anchor of this project. We are also indebted to Wendy Hodini, the amazing and efficient administrator of Greatmore Studios and Greatmore House, as well as ZiphoDayile and all the individuals who helped realize this project.