From the Junior School head's desk: 15 June 2023

Sarah Warner

For last year’s play programme (The Girl who would be King) we sourced images of works by local artists that appeared in the exhibition, Ancestors and Dreams in African Art (May 18–Jun 25, 2022). The exhibition, a collaboration between Everard Read (Johannesburg) and Jacaranda (New York) paired the finest contemporary art in South Africa with exceptional pieces of traditional African art; the stated aim of the exhibition was to prompt collectors who focus solely on contemporary art or traditional art to “realise the valuable conversations between them”.

One of the images we were given permission to use in our programme was Lady Skollie’s Look Daddy! I’m A Snoek! The title refers to a humorous TikTok video that did the rounds in 2021, but more on that later. First, Lady Skollie, born Laura Windvogel, is an artist and activist from Cape Town whose work has been exhibited locally and internationally. Girls in the Junior School will recognise Lady Skollie’s name in connection with the R5 coin she designed in 2019 to commemorate 25 years of democracy in South Africa. (The coin is in circulation currently and features iconic images of voting polling stations from 1994).

Lady Skollie is no stranger to our Senior School either: in July 2019, she was included in the programme for Studium Apertum (speaking on the topic, “Agitate, agitate, agitate”) and last year, in response to our request to use her image for our programme, she asked that we reserve her two tickets for our Thursday night play performance (row P, seats 13 and 14). If she did attend, no-one saw her come or go…

Anyway, Lady Skollie and her crayon and ink image have been on my mind over the last month as the publicity surrounding the release of Disney’s The Little Mermaid has gathered momentum. Mrs Howden mentioned Disney’s much-discussed decision to cast African American actress Halle Bailey in the lead role when she spoke to the Senior Primary girls about the arguably more exciting release of 10 new animated African stories (Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire) to be streamed on Disney+ in July.

Ariel, as The Washington Post reminds us, is not Disney’s first “black princess” (that accolade belongs to Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, 2009). Still, the casting decision is important; in the heartfelt words of one of several mothers of brown girls interviewed by the same publication, “I kind of made it up in my mind that I was a princess. She [my daughter] actually gets to see that she’s a princess.”

While the discussion over changes that “were long overdue” continues on multiple platforms, my hope is that moments like this one prompt South Africans to realise other “valuable conversations”: conversations between American mainstream media and local art, revisionism and tradition, and – in a junior school context – adult debate and children’s experience.

To return to Lady Skollie’s crayon and ink image: the TikTok video it references features a little girl looking at herself through a mermaid filter on a cellphone,,“but,” the online catalogue tells us “instead of recognising herself as a mermaid, she identifies herself as a snoek – a fish that is considered a culinary delicacy for the Coloured community of the Western Cape. This community is closely linked to the Khoi-San people of South Africa, and Lady Skollie shares this heritage. The artist extensively researches Khoi-San history and came across a rendering of an unusual Khoi-San rock painting depicting fish-tailed figures.”

The connections and layers go on and on and lead us to stories and images, old and new, of African water spirits, mythology, figures and tales from the African diaspora – and back to contemporary African surfing culture (local surf brand Mami Wata), Zandile Ndhlovu, South Africa’s first black female freediving instructor, and a little girl who knows she’s a snoek. All valuable conversations…


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