THE READER: Lerato Bereng

Born in Maseru, Lesotho, Lerato Bereng is a curator living and working in Johannesburg. In 2007 she received a Bachelor of Fine Art and in 2014 graduated with a Masters in Fine Art from Rhodes University, Grahamstown. She is currently an associate director at Stevenson gallery in Johannesburg and has been working there since 2011.  From 2007 to 2009 Bereng was selected as one of five young curators in CAPE’s Young curator’s Programme for which she curated “Thank You Driver“, an exhibition on mini-bus taxis as part of the Cape ’09 Biennale.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m Not Your Weekend Special edited by Bongani Madondo. I’ve been meaning to read it for the whole year and stillness would not be found. Finally reading it and I wanna be Brenda Fassie.

How do you decide what to read next?

I read quite spontaneously. Either a book will be recommended by a friend or colleague, or I will be interested in a particular thing and read books around that, or see something on someone’s shelf that catches my eye. Mostly I read on flights, stillness doesn’t often avail itself in Jozi.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

I don’t have a single favourite anything but one that is gentle and memorable is a book called The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacquot de Boinod, which I discovered in a book sale pile years ago. The book is a dictionary of words that only exist in certain languages. For example the word “Mukamuka” is defined as Japanese for so angry one could throw up. I liked the idea of feelings that often transcend language but are universal. I certainly have been so angry I could throw up. This actually inspired an exhibition at some point. I have a thing for language and translation and the spaces between.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Tricky. I have many favourites for different days. An artist created one favourite of mine: Kemang Wa Lehulere has a character named The One Tall Enough to See The Morning, who features in his work – he made a drawing of him.

What’s your favourite book about art?

Oddly, I don’t have a favourite book about art. There are many that I find insightful or stimulating like Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Do It: The Compendium which is a collation of several DIY art works collected by Obrist of several years. I liked the approach of multiple versions of the same work / exhibition happening in people’s living rooms, project spaces etc. across the world.

What were your favourite books as a child?

Well we grew up hearing unwritten stories in Sesotho, and some of those like the story about “Tselane – a girl that was fooled by a sweet singing voice – are engrained in my memory. Roald Dahl’s Matilda had me captivated for a long time. Beverly Clearly’s series of books about a girl called Ramona taught me spunk at age 9.

Your favourite magazine?

I used to read Elle in my formative years, traded that for Art South Africa and Frieze when I first landed in the art world, and now I read whatever I come across. Chimurenga is still one of the gems.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

I bought my niece Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and gave my mom my copy of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as a hospital read.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I’ve had it for years, read it, but didn’t really read it and have had to re-read it a few times more.

What book do you turn to for advice?

My uncle Patrick Bereng wrote a book called Haboo. This tells the history of Lesotho’s royal family and its many branches. It is not really advice that I look for, but definitely a go-to-book to remember where I’m from when things get a little abstract.

Do you read mostly paper books? On your iPad? Kindle? All three?

Only paper books. A little old school of me, but weird not to turn a page or find an old receipt/note/flyer used as a book mark from 5 years ago.

Quiet chronicler of an anguished time

BY EMMA VANDERMERWE

A year after Peter Clarke’s passing at the age of 84, the second edition of Listening to Distant Thunder serves as poignant and robust review of one South Africa’s foremost artists, celebrating his life and work.

South African Art historians Elizabeth Rankin and Philippa Hobbs wrote the original edition over a period of seven years in close collaboration with the artist. The book was first published in 2011 (and with a print run of only 500) to coincide with the critically celebrated exhibition of the same title at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg that had been curated by Rankin and Hobbs.

With over 200 reproductions and photographs, a preface by Clarke (dated 2011), and the introduction (now rewritten poignantly in the past tense by Rankin and Hobbs in 2014), the re-released monograph, with its expanded distribution, serves to widen Clarke’s legacy and expand upon his life’s works. It will cement Clarke’s seminal position in the minds and hearts of those who followed his contributions while he was alive, and equally introduce him to younger generations who are now beginning to realise his contributions as the “quiet chronicler” in the history of South African art.

The book’s text flows effortlessly through historical facts and familiar memories imbued by Clarke himself, telling the story of an artist whose life, work and contribution to art spans over 60 years: a journey that is alive, personal and celebrated step-by-step.

We start with the origins of his family tree’s history – stretching back to the slavery of St Helena – and witness his early childhood in the Simon’s Town area. Illustrated examples of his first determined drawing and sketches, as well as family photographs, all serve to instil a lifelong investigation of the home, seascapes and people in their landscapes.

In 1956, Clarke – then a driven 27-year-old – decided he wanted to stop being a dockworker and become a fulltime artist. A move to Tesselaarsdal in the Overberg region near Caledon in the Cape fills prolific sketchbooks as he tirelessly observes his surrounds and the various peoples. As we chart the poetic foundations for his artistic language, we follow him into 1961 as the young man joins the printmaking department at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art. Clarke then travelled abroad to study at the Rijksakademie in the Netherlands where he was exposed to the various techniques of printmaking. This period – the “Amsterdam experiments” – crucially includes the use of colour in printmaking that, until this point, had eluded him. Other ideas explored at this time included the use of colour reduction printing merged with an engraving technique – illustrating the beginning stages of what would go on to become his signature style.

We can see the undercurrent of upheaval in Anxiety, Clarke’s 1969 painting, which is imbued with the trauma of forced removals from Simon’s Town, and his relocation to Ocean View, a bleak and barren township. The work illustrates how his art delves into the sociopolitical experiences of ordinary South Africans, avoiding outright protest: his approach, by his own admission, is a strategic one. Poetic social reflections form a more subtle narrative – an indirect but powerful critique, nonetheless, of apartheid and its grievous consequences. The results reveal the true essence of Peter Clarke and his work – both a celebration of life and perseverance, and a deep sadness and struggle through the darkness in between. As the turbulent political climate escalated towards and into the 1980s, the metaphorical image of the bird – which recurs frequently in his artwork from this period – becomes a symbolic a source of freedom. Not bound to locations, flying above and beyond confinement and oppression, it is poignantly captured in the raw, seminal and widely reviewed Haunted Landscape.

As the chronology of the monograph progresses, there is the introduction of collage and handwritten text onto Clarke’s surfaces (which becomes another signature style of the artist) and the more apparent effects of apartheid are addressed and analysed. Illustrations of his Concertina and Fan series interplay with photographs of the artist himself as he reflects. A final photograph of Clarke sitting at the Ocean View Library, (which he financially supported and where he taught children art classes) reminds the viewer of his convictions and dedication to education and the future of South Africa’s youth. This book remains sensitive and aware of Clarke’s legacy into the very last sentence, where a final reference to his passing supersedes his final quotation:

Everything I produce is created firstly for myself and out of that urge generated by the agony and joy of my existence. But one is a part of people, an individual amoung a mass of individuals. So one’s artistic creation is meant not entirely for oneself and ones own indulgence. I am another person. I am also another person.

Listening to Distant Thunder: The Art of Peter Clarke is published by Fernwood Press.