South Africa

Transforming the arts sector: Dr Ismail Mahomed breaking stereotypes

Dr. Ismail MahomeKYKnet Awards

In the realm of arts and culture, a common misconception prevails: disorderliness. However, the remarkable career of Dr Ismail Mahomed, spanning over four decades, challenges this stigma.

With more than four decades of administrative experience in arts and culture, Dr Ismail Mahomed‘s career is testament to what the sector can achieve when organised.

Together with seasoned thespian Tobie Cronjé, Mahomed will be bestowed with the Lifetime Award at the 14th kykNET Fiesta Awards, for their contribution to the arts.

“I accept this honour with great humility and an understanding that the successes I’ve had are testimony to the many inspirations and support that I have received from stakeholders in South Africa’s very vibrant and dynamic creative economy,” Mahomed told The Citizen.

The Fiestas award the best work that was presented in the previous year at the country’s six largest producing Afrikaans arts festivals – Innibos, KKNK, Momentum Beleggings Aardklop, Suidoosterfees, Toyota US Woordfees and Vrystaat Kunstefees.

Dr Ismail Mahomed‘s consistency

A former Mathematics teacher who fell in love with the arts, Mahomed has grown a solid reputation as one of the country’s most sought-after administrators. He seamlessly reflects on the last decade, when asked what his fondest memory has been in the 40 plus years.

“Each decade has brought me great joy and new learnings,” he said, adding that his first decade was marked with working mainly as a freelance writer, director and producer.

“My second decade was marked by being the first Black person to be appointed at a non-Metro theatre. I cherished the role that I could play in transforming the theatre to meet with the challenges and opportunities that came with the dawn of a new democracy,” averred Mahomed.

In his career, he was, among other things, director of the Creative Arts Workshop in Lenasia (1995-1996), artistic director of the National Arts Festival in Makhanda (formely known as Grahamstown) and chief executive officer of the Market Theatre Foundation.

“My third decade was marked by working as the Senior Cultural Specialist at the US Embassy and as the Artistic Director of the National Arts Festival: Makhanda. Both positions allowed me to play a dynamic part in internationalising opportunities for South African artists,” averred Mahomed, who currently holds the position of Director of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“My fourth decade is marked with holding an extremely vital position at the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and guiding the institution to re-envision itself to meet with the challenges of our present times.”

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Theatre’s role: then and now

Having lived through the different periods of the arts sector, Mahomed is better positioned to give a clear juxtaposition of theatre today and decades ago.

“In the 70’s and 80’s theatre played a powerful role protesting about apartheid and contributing to South Africa’s liberation struggle through the voices and bodies of artists,” said Mahomed.

He said that theatre still plays a role in post-apartheid South Africa, albeit the stories have changed “… but the impact that theatre has on our lives has not diminished”, Mahomed averred.

“The disappointment that artists often times express is with the failure of government to strategically support the arts so that it grows an economy that can support the careers of artists. Currently, government departments focus on doling out grants for once off projects rather than investing in building sustainability.”

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