Mattering: 50 Years of The National Arts Festival
Visual Art / Monument Gallery

Once a year, iKhala (the Eastern Cape Aloe) bursts with its iconic orange flowers. The flowers arrive mid-winter, just when sunbirds and bees need their nectar, and the landscape craves their colour. Bold and resilient, iKhala thrive in harsh weather conditions. It is sustenance, medicine, magic. Similarly, the National Arts Festival erupts in the town of Makhanda every year too. 


2024 marks the festival’s fiftieth anniversary. To contain, in a single space, a history of this magnitude would be near-impossible. Instead, this exhibition resists the illusion of ‘wholeness’ and lifts out fragments — the visual artworks, performances, people, politics, and phenomena that shaped each of the National Arts Festival’s five decades. Through these fragments, fifty years are brought into conversation with one another, and the viewer.


Mattering does not question whether walls can talk but instead invites them to talk. Here, history is not linear, nor are written records the only orators, but the artworks, architecture, elements, objects, and our bodies themselves constitute the festival’s ever-evolving biography. Like the beauty of iKhala flowers cannot exist without the bitterness of its leaves, a South African archive cannot exist without its scars. Gaps, blind spots, and violent erasures continue to haunt the margins. 


As viewers, we are invited to converse with the National Arts Festival’s history through these entanglements — presence and absence, nature and culture, human and non-human, past and present, energy and matter.


Book to attend a hosted walkabout with curator, Raphaela Linders, writer, Robyn Perros and researcher, Viwe Madinda.




Curation by: Raphaela Linders

Research by: Viwe Madinda

Words by: Robyn Perros 


Image Credits: 

Madosini Mpahleni 

NAF Archive 

Photographer unknown


Hugh Masekela

NAF Archive 

Photographer unknown


Boyzie Cekwana

NAF Archive 

Photographer unknown


Mamela Nyamza 

NAF Archive 

Photographer: Chris de Beer

  • Monument Gallery
  • Monument Building
  • Daily during the Festival 09:00 to 17:00
  • Daily entry to the exhibitions is free. The schedule walkabouts have a minimal cost and booking is essential.