Sleep, perchance to dream

Intensly evocative and somewhat unorthodox in her approach to the arts, this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist Award-winner (SBYAA) for performance art, Chuma Sopotela, says it is in her dreams where she finds her inspiration.
“I love sleeping, particularly because I want to dream.I literally sleep so I can dream for my next project,” Sopotela said. “Or I will see something, be inspired by it and go to sleep with it [on my mind] andI get my answer.”
The multi award-winning actress, director and choreographer, born and raised in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha,  said she dedicates herwork to the place where she is performing.
“I really love dedicating my work to a particular place, so I love creating  with the place in mind [and] that is what I am doing – I am busy with a work about Makhanda [formerly Grahamstown] and also particularly about the time of the festival and what is there before and after.”
Passionate about creative activism, Sopotela uses her talent  to educate and transgress the boundaries between perceived and indigenous knowledge.
“We say we have indigenous knowledge but we do not live in that time, so it is up to what we do with art that we bring that indigenous knowledge to our society now and create new knowledge.”
Actively vocal about the influence of politics and  politicians, Sopotela said it was important for artists to bring  about change with the hope of influencing people’s perceptions.
“Politicians mess with our minds – [they] make us believe certain people are bad and therefore there are wars in the world.
The working title of Sopotela’s performance at the festival, Indlulamthi (The Ones Who are Taller than the Trees), will both be a showpiece looking at the current socio-political climate in South Africa through the eyes of children, while highlighting the Palestinian situation.
“A few years ago when I was here, I decided I would love to work with the kids – the street performers who  we see during the festival. I decided that a long time ago, even before the Standard Bank award,”  she said.
Sopotela is also working alongside  a fellow performer from Palestine, Ahmed Tobasi.
“I am not an all-knowing human being, but what I try to do is trigger things that we know already and then pull them up to the surface.”
Working closely with the concept of the body and the way people perceive  each other, Sopotela said it was important for people to think about the reasons why they see others in certain ways.
How are we framing what we look at and are we aware of these frames that we create, so we can understand why we think about other people that way,” Sopotela said.
On being named one of this year’s SBYAA winners, Sopotela said the award was a career highlight and cemented the idea that people appreciated and trusted her work as a performance artist.
“[It] is not just an award, it is the award for artists and every artist sort of dreams of being on the list because it is almost historical, so for me to be part of that group of people is quite an amazing achievement.”
Among her many accolades, Sopotela won Kanna and Fleur du Cap best actress awards for her role in Lara Foot’s Karoo Moose.
As a performance artist, Sopotela was a winner at the 2008 Spier Contemporary Awards, as well as a Malcolm McLaren Award-winner last year for her recent collaboration with Wa Lehulere on his Performa 17 Biennial commission, I Cut My Skin to Liberate the Splinter.
Indlulamthi is today and tomorrow at 6pm. Meet at RAW Spot Gallery on the corner of Rhodes and Lucas avenues before being led up Gunfire Hill to the Monument. Admission is free (no ticket needed).

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