'For me this work involved a lot of going backwards and forwards in time. I only understood the relevance and impact of all that movie-watching and discussing long after the actual event, so it was important for me to portray time in my homage. People like Polley have an immediate impact but also very long-lasting effects. Both timelines are relevant. This mirrors the process of the construction of consciousness or indeed of a cultural identity. People often ask whether contemporary art is of any value, and of course the answer is yes, because it slowly builds a sense of a people's heritage and hence affirms their existence.'
Ângela Ferreira's Cape Town Film Festival has two components - the video A Woman like Polley, and a number of cabinets designed to display photocopies of programmes of the eponymous festival. The work pays homage to the late James Aubrey Polley and acknowledges the seminal influence of the Cape Town International Film Festival, which Polley founded and directed for 21 years (until his death in 1999). The festival emerged at the height of apartheid South Africa's isolation from the rest of the world, spanning the violent struggles of the 1980s and the country's subsequent transformation into fledgling democracy. During this time, it provided intellectual stimulation to numerous Capetonians - among them Ferreira, a student at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, and lecturer at the Cape Technikon.
In the video, Ferreira enacts Polley's transformation from Baptist priest (and flag-flying member of the then banned ANC) to purveyor of alternative culture. Like Polley, she dons and then discards the white collar, closing her eyes momentarily in an attitude of prayer. The camera spins around, time accelerates and Ferreira ages before our eyes, her hair lengthening and whitening until she is recognisably the man bending down in a field of grass, captured for posterity in a photograph. Ferreira inhabits Polley's persona, the 'prominent visual personality', as she describes him, with his flowing hair and hippie attire; at the same time she is possessed by his spirit, her consciousness transformed through his belief in film's potential to foster the type of discourse that gives rise to social, political and personal change
In Ferreira's cabinets, the photocopied facsimiles of programmes are testimonials to the array of films screened at the annual festival, most of them unlikely to be shown in the country's mainstream movie houses due to reasons ranging from lack of popular appeal to subversive content. As Trevor Steele-Taylor noted in his obituary for Polley in the Mail & Guardian (21/01/1999), the festival did a great deal to establish an audience for 'cinema as art' in South Africa. Shown in Cape Town for the first time on this exhibition, Ferreira's work confirms the enduring influence of Polley on her own increasingly widely regarded oeuvre, as well as the power of film in exposing viewers to worlds apart from their own.
© 2007 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.