Santu Mofokeng -- renowned photographer, WiSER 7 March 2013

Santu Mofokeng at WiSER 7 March 2013
This evening's gathering was quite a 'Johannesburg event'. We welcomed people as they started arriving from 5.30 and by 6 pm every chair set out in the WiSER room was taken. By 6.10 we were dragging all the kitchen chairs, and by 6.20 we had people along the walls standing and floor sitting. A number of children drew pictures and drank juice in the foyer. The crowd included some School of Social Science and Languages, Literatures and Media people but it was mainly School of Arts folk and city photographers who packed the room. A film crew was also present and radio and print journalists. The Goethe institute people, various gallery heads, and a visible presence of young hipsters were out in force.

The event wobbled at first – Achille Mbembe's meticulously prepared 'Nine Questions', handed to Santu's assistant beforehand, so that she cold better “work the screen”, were initially derailed when Santu, looking frail and distracted, declared he was malnourished because he had not been able to eat in days and was on medication for his bipolar disorder. But Achille was great-- and switched into another discursive and artist-biographical made for a while, until Santu regained himself, and the audience was held.

Santu recalled his time at Wits--back to African Studies Centre days (in the same rooms). Then Santu's assistant began to work with Achille to project haunting and beautiful images onto the screen, prompting Santu's thoughts and responding to themes, and he began to answer Achille's questions and take off in his own directions.

The atmosphere was deeply respectful of his work.

Achille's questions, leading to an image of chickens in and around a cave, led to mirth and extended critique by Santu of the notion of "an artist" and the way expertise is insisted upon him, for example in Paris, or by anthropologists, where he becomes 'a chicken expert' or 'a spiritual consultant'. For 40 minutes this pattern held and then Achille took 6 audience questions -, starting with Zen Mari from Photography in the School of Arts, who probed his artist persona and place in the upcoming Venice Art show.

Santu was enigmatic, funny, clever and sometimes maddening in his responses.

I have never so many people sketching in an event -- a whole row of people had sketch pads on their knees drawing Santu and the audience.

Thanks to all who helped make this a success and well done Achille for 'holding together' this special event.