Ukwanda Puppets and Designs Art Collective
Fellow: Factory of the Arts, Artists in Residence
Luyanda Nogodlwana, Sipho Ngxola, Siphokazi Mpofu
Ukwanda was formed during the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa by Luyanda Nogodlwana and Ncedile Daki, both former puppet-builders involved with Handspring Puppet Company’s War Horse project. Nogodlwana and Daki established what was initially the Masiphumelele Youth Development to extend their new-found passion for puppetry arts to the community of Masiphumelele. Joined by Sipho Ngxola and Siphokazi Mpofu, the group launched Ukwanda Puppetry and Design Company, a project that was supported by the Handspring Trust for Puppetry in Education and the CHR. As Artists in Residence of the CHR’s DSI-NRF Flagship, Ukwanda received the support to perform at schools, theatres, festivals, and significant UWC events, with their work being seen by thousands of people to date. They have travelled abroad, won awards at the National Arts Festival, and through workshops and other interventions have made invaluable contributions to the CHR’s ongoing commitment to re-imagining a post-apartheid city. Their work was at the heart of the annual Barrydale Puppet Parade and Performance through a decade-long partnership with Net vir Pret.
Tragically, Ncedile Daki was killed in February 2017 in a wanton act of violence. The loss of Ned rippled through Ukwanda, the CHR, the Handspring Puppet Company and the broader Cape Town puppetry arts community. The Barrydale puppetry parade and performance on 16 December 2017, titled Renosterbos, was dedicated to Ncedile Daki, who had dreamed of doing a puppet parade with rhinos. The CHR also paid tribute to Ncedile through the short film Looking for Ned, made by former CHR Director Premesh Lalu, and a public commemoration convened at the Factory of the Arts to honour Ned’s invaluable contributions to the arts and humanities. Beyond his stellar work with the team that gave us The War Horse, Ned joined the tour of Ouroboros in India (with Janni Younge) and also accompanied Luyanda Nogodlwana on a visit to the ICGC at the University of Minnesota, where they worked with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre on the 2017 Mayday Parade.
2021, and Looking Ahead
Ukwanda presented a weekend of puppetry in partnership with Net vir Pret at the Boschendal Plum Harvest Festival in March 2021, which included a puppetry workshop for children, an exhibition of puppets, and a puppet performance. 2021 has been declared the year of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke, and Ukwanda is currently involved in a new production focusing on her life. This collaborative project at the Centre for Humanities Research will draw together scholars across disciplines and Artists in Residence.
Ukwanda are set to be resident artists in the Laboratory of Kinetic Objects (LoKO) at the new Greatmore Street facility in Woodstock, where they will continue to receive the invaluable support of Jane Taylor, Jud Cornell, Itumeleng Wa-Lehulere, and the Handspring Puppet Company.
During the Young Theater der Welt Congress (July 2021) held at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, Ukwanda participated in several workshops and discussion groups both online and in person, connecting with young performers from around the world.
Boschendal Festival Gallery
Ukwanda travelled to Germany to work on Isikhalo Somlambo, a collaboration with the Staatstheater Augsburg. Their planned six-week stay unfortunately ended early due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet Ukwanda did not sit idly at home. Luyanda designed two striking new puppets: a leopard and a lion. Both are models for the giant ‘big 5’ puppets Ukwanda are planning to make in the near future.
Working from home, Ukwanda made the short film “The New Normal Life”, initially commissioned to communicate information around Covid-19 issues and safety protocols for young people in SA. Adapting their own sensibilities to the task, Ukwanda created a piece about more than rules, centering on community, family, and care.
The film focuses on 14-year-old Nande, who is worried when her 65-year-old neighbour, Tatu Zulu, stops coming out in the morning to feed his dogs and drink tea outside his house. The story revolves around the conversation between Nande and her mother who explains that Tatu Zulu has tested positive for covid-19 and is in quarantine. They discuss Nande’s concerns about the virus, its symptoms, and how to remain safe. It took almost 4 months to make the whole film, including writing the script, rehearsals, filming, and editing. The dialogue is a mix of English and isiXhosa, with English subtitles. The film was performed by Siphokazi and Luyanda and directed and filmed by Sipho, with artistic mentorship from veteran puppeteer and theatre maker Craig Leo. It received much media attention, including an article published in GroundUp.
Watch Now: https://youtu.be/EB0–q8esr4
Ukwanda worked on a project in collaboration with POPArt and Fak’ugesi that was commissioned by the Virtual National Arts Festival 2020. The aim was to make a short digital piece (5-8 minutes long) for the virtual blackout platform at the NAF. “The Lonely Sailor Weather Report” was performed by Ukwanda and directed by Craig Leo, with graphics and music by the POPArt group.
Ukwanda also worked on a dance and object manipulation piece with Unmute Dance Company and Theatre Arts Admin. “Nothing is Here” was part of the Theatre Arts Admin season 2020, “Theatre in the Time of Corona”. It is an experimental/abstract piece that takes nothing as its subject matter, performed in and around an architectural sculpture comprised of multiple doors, designed by Robin Kirsten. The performance gave Ukwanda the opportunity to work with object manipulation.
In September 2020, Ukwanda assisted as puppeteers for little Amal, a 3.5-meter puppet designed by Handspring who is set to walk 8000 km from Turkey to Manchester, UK, in 2021. Under Ukwanda’s guidance, Little Amal took some of her first steps through the orchards of the Boschendal Estate in Franschhoek to film the video that would introduced her to the world. Little Amal is at the heart of The Walk – a travelling festival of art and hope presented by Good Chance, Stephen Daldry, David Lan, and Tracey Seaward, and with artistic direction from Amir Nizar Zuabi.
Barrydale 2020 marked a celebration of ten years of puppetry in Barrydale. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no parade and the performance moved online. Featuring some of the most loved giant puppets created over the 10 years by the Handspring Trust for Puppetry Arts, Ukwanda and Net vir Pret created four new puppetry performances that were livestreamed on the CHR Facebook page from 16-19 December. The programme included the launch of the long-awaited musical album Celebration: 10 years of the Barrydale Puppet Parade, in memory of parade musical co-director Gari Crawford, who sadly passed away on 14 November 2020. Siphokazi also presented a 4-hour intro to puppetry workshop in Barrydale with new Net vir Pret puppeteers. The workshop focused on brown paper techniques, inspired by the training methodologies in brown paper often used by the Handspring Puppet Company.
This was a very busy period for Ukwanda, with workshops, training, touring, international exchanges and collaborations, the Barrydale puppet parades and performances, and the completion of their new play Warona. While developing the play, Ukwanda attended workshops with well-known puppeteers Craig Leo, Gabriel Marchand, and Marty Kintu. In 2018, Ukwanda also attended master classes with Leslie Nott Manim and Megan Kruskal. Manim offered voice training and Kruskal provided acting/improvisation training. In 2018, Ukwanda performed with the elephant puppets (made for Barrydale 2016) at Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, at the Starlight Classics and BASA Awards in Johannesburg, and with the rhino puppets (designed for Barrydale 2017) at the Cape Town Carnival. They also showcased their work in a live-action seminar at the CHR’s annual Winter School in 2018. Luyanda participated in a 3-day course at Design Indaba 2019 (Artscape, Cape Town) alongside designers from across South Africa and abroad. Other highlights for Ukwanda include an invitation for their rhino puppets to appear at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) in March 2019, where they were seen by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The rhinos also appeared at African Fashion International 2019 in Cape Town. In preparation for the 2019 Barrydale Parade, Ukwanda and Partners Net Vir Pret visited the South African Astronomical Observatory, the national centre for optical and infrared astronomy in South Africa.
In 2018, Ukwanda created the play Warona and toured high schools and township theatres around Cape Town to great success. Seeing firsthand the problems caused by drugs in their communities, they felt driven to tell the story of a young girl who becomes trapped by addiction. Warona was directed by Thando Doni and featured five puppets as well as a complete township set. The play was first performed at Greatmore for funders and supporters, followed by a series of performances at the Delft Black Box Theatre, Welwitschia Primary School in Delft, Chris Hani Arts and Culture School, Luhlaza High School, Barrydale Primary School, Barrydale High School, Masiphumelele Desmond Tutu Youth Centre, and LoKO in Woodstock. Audience numbers exceeded 500 at Welwitschia, 400 at Chris Hani, and 300 for each of the LoKO, Luhlaza, and Barrydale High School performances. Altogether Warona was seen by over 2500 people, mostly school children.
The story explores questions of street justice and community responses to drug culture in the Western Cape. As children are placed under threat, so families seek to create alternative pathways for the next generation. Recognising how many facing drug problem in their communities often feel helpless, Ukwanda decided to place the ending in the audience’s hand and asked them to choose between several possibilities. Will Warona get caught and go to jail? Will she stop taking drugs and return to her mother? Will she follow her dreams and make them real?Ukwanda performed Warona at the Jakes Gerwel Commemorative Celebration, held at Greatmore on 10 November 2018, and in 2019 took the play to the Theatre Arts Admin in Cape Town, Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum in Strand, the 2019 Cradle of Creativity Festival in Cape Town, and the Grahamstown National Arts Festival (for four performances). In Grahamstown, Warona was awarded the Standard Bank Ovation Award on the first run and the Silver Award on the third one.
WORKSHOPS AND EXCHANGES
In 2018 Siphokazi and Sipho visited the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change (ICGC) at the University of Minnesota. This Centre runs In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis, where Siphokazi and Sipho designed and built a giant panther puppet, which they also manipulated for the annual Mayday parade. The experience exposed Ukwanda to different styles of puppetry, and they learnt to build puppets from recycled materials. Ukwanda presented their work at the University of Minnesota and appeared on Fox TV.
Siphokazi and Sipho attended a puppetry course in London at the renowned Curious School of Puppetry in 2019. Besides puppetry, they immersed themselves in learning about theatre making, writing, storytelling, the use of projectors, the manipulations of objects, and shadowing techniques in theatre performances. They also had the opportunity to attend large theatrical productions, such as The Lion King (Lyceum Theatre), Philip Glass’s Akhnaten (English National Opera), and Jesus Hopped the “A” Train (Young Vic Theatre), among others.
Ukwanda began a collaboration with the Staatstheater Augsburg in November 2018, when the Augsburg team first met with Ukwanda in Barrydale. The 2018 Barrydale parade drew from an intensified public awareness of the vital importance of water, a precious resource that had been made all the more urgent in the Western Cape due to severe drought and water shortages. The city of Augsburg has a historical water system that dates back to Roman times and formed a core element it its proposal for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list. United by a deep interest in conserving this precious resource, in 2019 Ukwanda travelled to Augsburg and spent a week with performers from the Staatstheater, workshopping ideas for their collaborative production centered on the theme World Heritage/Sharitage: Water. The Augsburg team visited Cape Town later in the year for a puppetry workshop presented by Craig Leo at the Baxter Theatre. Ukwanda spent much of 2019 at Greatmore, designing the puppets for their new play Isikhalo Somlamboat, which they intended to showcase in Augsburg and to perform at theatres in Cape Town in 2020.
Ukwanda began as Artists in Residence while under the apprenticeship of Handspring Puppet Company. Their early days were driven by immersion in design, experimentation, and developing as puppeteers, puppet makers, and storytellers. With the assistance and support of Handspring and the CHR, Ukwanda produced and performed Qhawe, a Xhosa Fairytale.
Qhawe is inspired by stories from Xhosa tradition about a time when animals once had the power to communicate with people, particularly the Amaqaba. The play was directed by CHR Artist in Residence Mongi Mthombeni, with the assistance of Gabriel Merchand. Ukwanda performed Qhawe at the Cape Town Fringe Festival and later toured to the Montagu Festival, where the production received the Montagu Festival double gold award. Ukwanda also performed at the Farewell Festival for retiring Vice Chancellor of UWC, Professor Brian O’Connell. Handspring demonstrated their world-famous War Horse on the occasion. Ukwanda continued to tour in 2015, performing at the Zabalaza Theatre Festival at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town and at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
In 2016, Ukwanda participated in Art Week Cape Town, performing a puppetry demonstration. They also performed their giant puppet at the Cape Town Carnival that year. Ukwanda conducted Arts Education workshops at the Factory of the Arts with 20 Grade 10 learners from Chris Hani and Luhlaza Secondary schools in Khayelitsha. The workshops were coordinated by Siphokazi and taught by Ukwanda and Artist in Residence Dathini Mzayiya, with production support offered by Convenor of the Factory of the Arts, Itumeleng Wa-Lehulere. The workshop culminated in a puppetry performance and display of artworks by the learners.
Luyanda and Ncedile Daki were hosted by the Center for the Study of Global Change (IGCG) at the University of Minnesota in 2016, working with In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre Company as part of a longer collaboration on puppet-making and performance.
On 31 March 2017, Ukwanda performed alongside Reza Khota, Dathini Mzayiya, and the Rainbow Arts in tribute to artists Ncedile Daki and Mluleki Sam. Later in 2017, Ukwanda performed at the CHCI Meeting, The Humanities Improvised, hosted by the CHR.
Since becoming Artists in Residence at the CHR, Ukwanda has been committed to the Barrydale parade and performance. From designing and creating puppets, to performing in the annual parade, to hosting workshops and mentoring the youth of Barrydale, Ukwanda has been integral to the success and impact of this remarkable annual event.