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A Review of 21 Icons: The Story of Great South Africans

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A Review of 21 Icons: The Story of Great South Africans

21 icons is a multi-media exhibition, commemorating 21 South Africans and 20 years of democracy. This collaboration between 21 Icons and Mercedes-Benz brings a series of short films and portraits to the Museum of African Design (MOAD) in the Maboneng Precinct for two months.

Expect to see portraits and shorts of South Africa’s most loved and influential people such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Nadine Gordimer and Yvonne Chaka Chaka. You’ll also hear about some great South Africans whose stories often go untold.

The curatorship leaves a lot to be desired. The exhibition is currently being held in a basement of sorts, amidst on-going construction. It’s the not the greatest mid-winter venue and the chill is enough to make you hurry your way through the exhibition to avoid the cold.

Unfortunately, you’d be missing out on what I think is the best part of the exhibition, the short films. The short films show the icons as very real people, telling their stories. They tell stories that inspire, entertain, amuse and excite. In their ordinary humanity, we get to see how very ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

I had seen some of the portraits before viewing the films and felt that generally they weren’t impactful. After watching a few of the short films, the portraits made more sense. Although I found the composition posed and the rationale cheesy – which is matter of personal preference – the images (especially the close-ups) are striking.

The short films would make for a great documentary of South Africa’s greats, or a series of shorts for television. This probably won’t happen, so make sure to layer up and check out the shorts to find out more about the lives of ordinary South Africans doing extraordinary things.

The exhibition also includes an interactive component, allowing you to watch the short films on your phone as you walk through the exhibition. Unfortunately, I didn’t give this a shot because of my near hypothermic state. The exhibition will be showing until 17 August and is free to the public.

MOAD is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10h00 to 17h00.

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