Keitu Gwangwa stepped into the year as the new head of the Windybrow Arts Centre, formerly known as the Windybrow Theatre: a long-standing arts and cultural hub located in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. The arts-activist lets us in on her vision for the heritage site, her background as an arts administrator and her advocacy for the preservation of Indigenous African culture within the arts.
1. You are known as an arts activists and founder of Ndebi creations which seeks to promote the preservation of heritage and culture within Africa. Please give us insight into the work you’ve done and the moments that have shaped your journey as an arts activist?
I grew up during a politically contentious time in Botswana, during the Botswana raid where South Africans with refugee status in the country were being killed by the apartheid government. Artists gathered and created events that stood up against the Apartheid system. People like Dennis Mpale, Thami Mnyele and Steve Dyer, events like Shakawe with Willie Kgositsile and Hugh Masekela. These were the giants whose ankles I pranced around. It was an energetic time. In these spaces is where I was affected by art and music and an energy that I would always be attracted to. Throughout my life, I have always understood the use of arts and culture as a tool to engage topics that require the voice of activism. Working with Sophie Loucachevsky on Copi’s the Homosexual or the difficulty of expression, tackled homosexuality at the turn of the century in the Archipelago. This interested me, it was an unsettling production for most. I moved through a few productions with Sophie and tried my own where I faced challenges on an administrative level. My journey towards resolving a few issues in the admin section unveiled my talent in Arts Administration. I honed my skills studying Cultural Entrepreneurship with Avril Joffe and managed a few productions and assisted a number of artist in their administrative spaces. I ran an event management company managing artists as well and further studied Project management.
While working on Sing Africa Dance a production awakened my love for Indigenous African arts and culture, it’s during this where I can say my activism aligned with my love for the arts. Indigenous African Art has, and still is given the “airport entertainer” platform. I have worked over 10 years with various organizations in redirecting this perspective. Indigenous Art forms a great part of African Culture and Identity. This art communicates stories about a people, stories about who they are, how they are and how they came to be. I feel often times that these messages are lost to us. I believe that we need to have love and pride of our cultural roots before we can try to re-identify who we are as the new democratic South Africa. This is the agenda I drove in collaboration with “Decolonising Beauty”, with IStart2 Global and with Africa Zazi; a school program I formulated that teaches children about indigenous African Culture, with SALO (South African Liason Office) in conversations with the Western Sahara people, the Saharawi– in Algeria to mention a few –as the Pan African Officer of EMBO and other spaces in both formal and informal settings all valuable in contributing to my experience and knowledge.
2. What does the title ‘Head of Windybrow Arts Centre’ mean to you and what encouraged you to apply for it?
Windybrow Arts Centre is a fantastic arts space for the inner city youth. The Windybrow has a great history and when I speak of it to those that had the privilege of attending productions in its heyday, there is a great feeling of nostalgia that overcomes them. But that’s not what attracted me to apply for the position. It is that it is to become the Windybrow Pan African Center of the Arts that caught my attention.
3. What do you look forward to most in your new role?
I look forward to sharing all I have learned, discovered and engaged with, in my small travels around the continent and the treasures I have discovered here in South Africa. Creating a platform that opens discussions of where we as South Africans see ourselves in the Pan African agenda.
4. Looking at the role of theatre in the advancement of Arts, Culture and Heritage, what do you think is lacking and still needs more work?
I think there is an opportunity for collaboration, not only in the high-level academic spaces where intellects gather and have verbose discussions about Pan Africanism but that the movement and ideals are shared with the greater mass of people. Those spaces are well funded and have great attendance because the attendees have a great understanding of Pan Africanism. What is lacking is investing in spaces, works that seek to engage the agenda on a grassroots level. I feel funding stays a great challenge for the industry in general but we have an opportunity to learn from fellow administrative practitioners across the globe on how to engage funders and create sustainable systems, that firstly advances artists’ careers in the industry and also allows institutions such as the Windybrow and many other spaces, longevity.
5. What is your dream for the Windybrow Arts Centre?
I am working towards making the Windybrow Pan African Centre of the arts the nucleus for discussions, works and engagements around Pan Africanism. But firstly, let us start with bringing life to the place. Essentially it is a socially driven exercise as well as a project installation one. We cannot bring in works without considering the minds of the audiences and their understanding of Theatre or ignore people’s concerns about attending events in such a densely populated area not famous for safety.
6. In one word, tell us what the world would be without theatre.