The Thupelo workshops is a two week workshop that provide artists from diverse cultural, national and social backgrounds with a rare opportunity to work with fellow artists in an intense yet supportive environment. The creative processes in the workshops are designed to lead to personal artistic growth through the exchange of ideas, experiences, techniques and disciplines. The exchange leads to experimentation and growth.
Thupelo Cape Town grew out of the Thupelo Workshop movement that was happening annually in the Johannesburg area in the late-80s. The impetus for this movement was the socio-political situation in South Africa at the time and how it impacted on the creativity of Black artists… ie. virtually no facilities to be involved on either educational or professional levels.
The workshop concept as such was not unique to South Africa but grew out of the international Triangle Artists` network of artist-run workshops initiated by Anthony Caro and Robert Loder in the early-80s. The Triangle network was an established network that stretched across the world and workshops have been hosted in many countries for example USA, India, Botswana, Jamaica, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Wales to name a few. But nowhere else in the world has it flourished and survived for so long as it has in South Africa. This could be ascribed to the uniqueness of the country’s cultural makeup and history… the centuries` long effects of colonialism, slavery, Apartheid and social engineering had reached a point of critical mass in the decade following the 1976 Soweto Uprising and 1985 the year of Thupelo`s inception was, ironically, the year of South Africa’s state of emergency. Politically the country was at a point of no return.
Thupelo was the brainchild of Bill Ainslie and David Koloane and under the auspices of FUBA, FUNDA and the Johannesburg Art Foundation the first workshop was organized to be held outside Rustenburg in 1985 at a convention centre called Hunter’s Retreat. Its semi rural setting was perfect for allowing concentrated creative energy to flow…
“An art workshop should be a quiet place where one concentrates on the work, where distractions are eliminated. Where one learns to detect the traps that inhibit creativity”.
Bill Ainslie’s well-known dictum for what constitutes a good workshop environment became the foundation on which the Thupelo Workshop concept was built and it quickly became a blueprint for the organisation of future workshops.
His words clearly lay emphasis on the processes of art-making rather than the end product… on the therapeutic nature of creativity-in-action given the proper environment and, consequently, the potential for individual self-discovery to happen in this process. At the time of Thupelo`s inception South Africa was indeed a society desperately in need of healing and therapy. In this context the workshop functions as a metaphor for healing in a society deeply in need of healing. Through the workshop process with its emphasis on the creation of supportive environments in which to work and the sharing of ideas, experiences, techniques and disciplines, artists essentially became the beneficiaries of a blueprint for a new society and that creative responses and approaches are the way to negotiate the traps that inhibit progress.
Some selected personal reflections by artists on their Thupelo experiences is insightful as they give a sense of the “spiritual” impact of Thupelo…
“One of the most difficult things I have had to learn as an artist and teacher is that I do not know how to make an artwork or how to teach people to do it. The difficulty has to do with being used to being LOST and of working in the dark”.(Bill Ainslie)
“Thupelo is what an artist wants. There was a collective of different cultures and ideas. I was inspired all the time. I can see a big change in my work. Thupelo is “artists` energy”…” (Gizachew Kebede – Ethiopia)
“Once again Thupelo has allowed me to look at myself from within… a given time.. the outcome is always a growing thing”. (Wonder Marthinus)
“Thupelo allowed me to see the world in a more inclusive way. When you are true to yourself you find yourself… you link into the collective, so it becomes an archetypal thing. There is an infusion of ideas but without imposition or indoctrination. A workshop is a bit like being in a dream and the dream keeps interpreting itself”. (Jill Trappler)
“Now, this is the joy that I have discovered through the Thupelo Workshop… I think it’s a learning process… if you are pushing your boundaries, you are experimenting you do not know what is going to come out of that, but you are keen to find out how far you can push, because being satisfied with what you are doing and being able to do it good… it sets you free. ” (Lionel Davis)