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Pro Helvetia Johannesburg celebrates 20 years

2018 represents the 20th anniversary year of Pro Helvetia’s presence in South/Southern Africa, alongside Cairo celebrating 30 years in the MENA region and New Delhi marking ten years in South Asia.

For the Johannesburg office the anniversary year provides an opportunity for us to initiate new and interesting joint programming possibilities among the three involved liaison offices and Zurich, informed by the interconnected histories and contemporary experiences of these world regions. We also look to make visible a distinguished track record of exchange and collaboration in our region. Finally, we seek to pause and reflect – with partners in Switzerland and the region – on the role and position of Pro Helvetia in the region in ways that would inform the general strategy of the office going forward. On this last point, we also use the year to explore new relationships with partners in major urban centres on the subcontinent beyond the traditional confines of our region – in the first instance, in Lagos, Dakar, Bamako, Accra, Addis Ababa, and Nairobi.

In August/September we will convene a gathering of the partners that we work with currently or in prospect from across the sub-continent. We look at an open and imaginative format for the gathering with invited orchestrators of conversations and inquiries, with the aim to think together about the questions and issues facing the cultural field in the region and the subcontinent in the coming years.

During the course of the year we have a number of projects planned with key partners in South Africa that would bring arts professionals from Switzerland and the regions of the three liaison offices together. We explore interesting formats for these encounters aimed at exchange, networking and collaborations towards the production of new work, as well as showcasing existing projects that have emerged from connections between the three liaison offices.

We also then look to develop a small publication marking this moment of ‘backward-forward’ looking, that would draw on the discussions and material generated out of the March gathering, for launch in November/December 2018.

See the “Events & Projects”  page for more information about upcoming events that happen in the frame of the anniversary year.

The Johannesburg office of the organisation was originally established in 1998 under the leadership of Mirjam Asmal.  The organisation rapidly established a strong reputation in South Africa for unusual, bold and independent artistic programming, with the quality of work and exchanges being an over-riding criterion. Colin Miller was also instrumental in this period in nurturing a fertile ground for exchange and collaboration in the jazz field, which continues to yield rich returns under the current stewardship of music programme manager Germaine Gamiet.

From an early moment, cooperation with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has enabled our office to support the strengthening of transnational networks and collaborations among artists and practitioners working within Southern Africa. This has enabled us to develop a strong and meaningful regional network which has in turn benefited our core Swiss programming in profound ways.

From 2006, Jasper Walgrave continued to build on the sturdy foundation established by Mirjam Asmal, bringing dynamic programming in the performing arts field into the repertoire of the office, a legacy that Rucera Seethal now takes forward as programme manager for the performing arts.  Walgrave also oversaw the launch of the SDC financed ANT micro grant funding programme for intra-regional mobility within Southern Africa, and the strengthening of networks in neighbouring Mozambique and Zimbabwe in particular. The office was relocated to Johannesburg in 2012 – a more strategic location relative to our ambitions within the wider region. Esther Malia also joined the team at this point as finance and office manager, anchoring the organisation during a period of substantial change.

Joseph Gaylard took over from Walgrave in late 2013, bringing an extensive network in the visual arts field and new continental linkages to bear on the work of the office. During this period, our activities have extended in significant ways beyond South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with important emergent partnerships in the DRC, Madagascar, Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia. In 2016, Tiffany Mentoor and Sthembile Gasa joined the office, with Tiffany administering our SDC regional arts programme and Sthembile driving our on-line communications.

We start our 20th anniversary year in Southern Africa with a special contingent of arts professionals from our sub-Saharan network present at CROSSROADS in Basel and Geneva from February 8 – 10 2018. CROSSROADS comprises a multi-disciplinary arts programme, a conference organised by the Knowledge-Learning-Culture Division of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and theme-based panel discussions.

The event aims to bring into focus and embody some fundamental questions around the rationale for an entity like Pro Helvetia Johannesburg: What impact does cultural exchange and international networks have? What roles does art and culture play in processes of societal change, both in Switzerland and globally?

The conference component features a number of important voices from our region alongside counterparts from the Middle East – North Africa, South Asia and Switzerland:

  • Lineo Segoete, the director of the Be re ne re Literary Festival in Lesotho, and part of the Another Roadmap network joins a panel exploring questions that “no-one wants to talk about”
  • Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, who is one of the drivers of the Another Roadmap network supported by Pro Helvetia Johannesburg through our SDC financed regional arts programme, talks about the uncomfortable points of intersection between art, politics and power.
  • Mantse Aryeequaye, director of the Chale Wote Festival in Accra, Ghana, participates in a discussion about the position and role of independent art spaces,
  • Jamal Nxedlana, cofounder of the itinerant arts collective CUSS and the creative platform Bubblegum Club, contributes to a discussion about the possibilities and limits presented by digital technology for the artistic field

Nxedlana and CUSS also curate the Mzantsi Club Night component of the cultural programme attached to the conference, including:

  • artist and singer Manthe Ribane collaborating with Swiss duo Kami Awori, performing minimalistic electro soul merged with hip-hop and Afro-Caribbean beats,
  • queer performance duo extraordinaire FAKA comprised of Fela Gucci and Desire Marea,
  • the duo Dirty Paraffin, consisting of beat craftsman Dokta SpiZee and renowned rapper Okmalumkoolkat,
  • and DJ Lag, a giant from the South African house scene, is flown in to celebrate the country’s Gqom house variety together with DJ Prie Nkosazana.

The Centre for African Studies curates a jazz programme which features a selection of exceptional talent from the younger generation of contemporary jazz from South Africa, collaborating with an exceptional constellation of Swiss musicians, many of whom are now also veterans of the South African scene through the programming of Pro Helvetia Johannesburg:

  • rising star, pianist Thandi Ntuli leads a sextet which includes Florian Egli, Domin Egli, Andreas Tschopp and Martina Berger.
  • past Pro Helvetia artist in residence, drummer Kesivan Naidoo leads the formation Zachusa featuring Swiss piano maestro Malcolm Braf and Larry Grenadier on bass.
  • guitarist Vuma Levin, currently on a Pro Helvetia residency in Lausanne, collaborates with upcoming Swiss artist in residence in South Africa Benedikt Reising, Baenz Oester.
  • trumpeter Mandla Mlangeni (also a past Pro Helvetia artist in residence) producers an iteration of the Afrikan Freedom Ensemble together with Kesivan Naidoo, Ganesh Geymeier (tenor saxophone) and Sebastian Schuster (bass).

The programme also features a rich collection of video, theatre and performance art:

  • Ntando Cele, South African theatre and performance artist now based in Bern, performs «Black Off», an exploration of racism that is by turns surgical and hilarious.
  • Berlin based visual artist Lerato Shadi (also a Pro Helvetia artist in residence in 2010) realises the performance piece «Basupa Tsela» linked to a video programme curated by Kadiatou Diallo of SPARCK, a long-time partner of Pro Helvetia Johannesburg and curator-in-residence in Basel in 2016.
  • the collaborative project Pink Dollar arising from the 2016 residency of theatre director Antje Schupp, working with choreographer, Kieron Jina, performance poet Anelisa Stuurman, and DJ and visual artist Mbali Mdluli.

Finally, the on-line project of Mats Staub (who staged the Johannesburg edition of the project 21 – Memories of Growing Up in Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Johannesburg last year) explores the professional turning points in the lives of former Pro Helvetia artists in residence from South Africa, Egypt, India and Switzerland.

For more info about the programme and registration details, go here.

Passages 43

India and Switzerland


The 43rd edition of Passages published in January 2007 marked the opening of the Swiss Arts Council’s liaison office in South Asia. We revisit the issue to look back at views as Pro Helvetia New Delhi opened it’s doors to artists.

Passages 43: India and Switzerland
‘So Near – So far’
(Editorial of the special issue)
Pro Helvetia opens its first outpost in Asia at the beginning of January 2007: a liaison office in New Delhi. This new office will do more than assist Swiss cultural producers hoping to make inroads in India, it will also set new accents in mutual cultural exchange. And in the process, it will be able to build on existing cultural relations, expanding them through new partnerships.

Whether ashrams or Alps: India and Switzerland are not linked by their reciprocal yearnings alone, but equally by things they so obviously have in common, though perhaps in very different dimensions. We need only think of federalism, multilingualism and multiculturalism.

The present issue of Pro Helvetia’s cultural magazine Passages hopes to open readers’ eyes to these shared aspects, without resorting to rose-coloured glasses. But it also wants to highlight differences. All with a view to illuminating the backdrop against which cultural cooperation must prove itself.
You will receive a first-hand impression of what makes cultural life in India tick. From the standpoint of authors from Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. How does India’s multilingualism compare with our own quadrilingualism? What is the nature of India’s struggle for cultural identity between globalization and tradition? How does India view the legacy of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier?

But you will also find out about Swiss artists’ perceptions of India, why we enjoy Bollywood films, what intrigued Swiss artist Alice Boner about India, what connects Basle with Kolkata and, finally, what draws Indian tourists to the Titlis.

Take advantage of the fascinating opportunity offered by the Pro Helvetia liaison office in New Delhi and join Passages in observing perspectives shift between two partners with a genuine desire to know each other better.

The links below contain brief descriptions of projects held over the past ten years, and are being kept for reference and to show the function of Pro Helvetia New Delhi in the region.

Projects in 2007
Projects in 2008
Projects in 2009
Projects in 2010
Projects in 2011
Projects in 2012
Projects in 2013
Projects in 2014
Projects in 2015
Projects in 2016
Projects in 2017

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