Taking place at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre, Irma is a multimedia theatre play about the life and work of South African painter, Irma Stern, addressing the complexity of image-making. The play is a collaboration and dialogue between Iman Isaacs, a South African director, actor and theatre maker with Cape Malay roots; and Eva Bartels, an artist and theatre maker from the Netherlands.
Irma uses the life and work of Irma Stern as a point of departure ‘to reflect on themes such as extraction vs exchange, exoticism, political and non-political choices in art, cultural and ancestral knowledge, chasing the sense of belonging, a female future, the activistic power of art and theatre.’
While the two theatremakers are in the middle of Irma‘s run at The Artscape, we managed to secure some time with Bartels about the play, her current reads, best piece of advice and what she’s got planned for the future of Irma.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your current play, Irma.
I am Eva Bartels, a theatre maker and visual artist from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I am collaborating with South African theatre maker Iman Isaacs on this play about Irma Stern and the complexity of image making.
What’s your earliest memory of art or performance?
As a child my parents brought me to the theatre from a very early age. I saw how a sea came from the ceiling made by softly waving fabric and the actor threw a bottle in the ocean which was then disappearing into the waves. It was the most magical thing I ever saw and the image and the feelings that it evoked were imprinted in my soul.
What are you reading, watching or listening to at the moment? Any recommendations?
At the moment we are knee deep into the books on Irma Stern – her diaries are amazing and fascinating and sometimes disturbingly honest. But also, the amazing book LaNitra Berger wrote titled Irma Stern and the racial paradox of South African modern art, is mind blowing and gives such a rich insight on the art world through history and how women where weaving themselves into it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Visit the theatre! Hahaha! No for real, it is such a powerful medium and especially in this ‘new’ time after isolation it is overwhelming to experience art together with other people – a ritual almost. And on top of that: stay humble. It sounds corny, maybe, but it keeps one close to one’s core. To create with gratitude!
Which artists are on your radar at the moment?
Athi-Patra Ruga and Thania Petersen. Both South African artists who are asking questions openly and paving ways for their community. Creating the most amazing installations, tapestries, paintings and performances. If you didn’t know their work yet… Check them out!
One of your favourite places in the world?
Anywhere near the ocean surrounded with people who are dear to me having dinner together and celebrate the fact that we are together. And also in the theatre when I feel like something is worth being scared of, but I’m doing it regardless.
What’s next for you, and where can our readers find more of your work?
Irma will be played in Amsterdam in September so we are slowly bringing her overseas. I am working on a series of ten plays about ten female artists through history. So, I will be exploring and researching Valery Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol, for the third piece of this series. Later this year I will be writing on a feature film in co-creation with two South African script writers, Jason Jacobs and Devon Delmar. I’ll be sharing about these adventures via Instagram @evabartelsart.
This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity. Find out more about Irma here.