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Gavin Krastin explores extremity and vulnerability in his work as a performing artist

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Celebrated performing artist, scenographer and arts educator Gavin Krastin says he is humbled and honoured to be named the winner of this year’s Standard Bank Young Artist (SBYA) award for Performance Art.

This prestigious award serves as a badge of honour and recognition of creativity, originality, talent, hard work, ambition and imagination.

Reflecting on the moment the National Arts Festival shared the exciting news with him, months before the official announcement, Krastin revealed: “I remember everything being very quiet and very still.

“To be honest, I started to cry a little bit. Not like a huge weep, almost like a very high-pitched gasp that almost sounded like a squeal.

“My eyes teared up and the National Arts Festival was still on the phone, talking to me about what this means and terms, conditions, timelines and logistics, but I didn’t hear anything.”

He continued: “This award is so very meaningful to me that I was very taken aback and very excited and overwhelmed and quite literally didn't believe the news.

“This award is so coveted. As a scholar of the arts and research of the arts, I'm very familiar with the artists who win this award and how prolific these artists are.

“And I'm incredibly excited and honoured and humbled and very grateful to be included in this kind of pantheon of art stars who are such great ambassadors for our local art scene.”

Krastin says he owes this great achievement to his determination, hard work and sacrifices over the years.

“I'm incredibly committed to what I do, and I put it first all the time. And to have that labour, the sacrifice, the commitment, the unrelenting kind of discipleship that I have towards this crazy art form or approach called performance art, to have that acknowledged so publicly and to have that celebrated through a peer-reviewed system … I mean, that's just so incredibly meaningful and profound.

“I feel like it has catalysed a huge sense of even more responsibility and accountability and ambassadorship in myself. And so it's a huge adventure, and I'm very much up for the challenge and looking forward to the journey and the collaborations that this journey will entail.”

Some of the themes that he explores through his work include a sense of extremity and interactions or connections with vulnerability.

“I'm primarily concerned with the body as the meaning-making organism and as the energy of effect and labour. I don't like to use my body or performance as a means to transcend or reimagine a time or space or to reimagine the politics of the body, but rather use performance in the body to really sit in the messiness of what it means to be a complex human.

“And so, unlike other art forms, live art or performance artworks with very much a real body as opposed to a character, a real-time and a real space as opposed to imagined or suspended times or spaces.

“But as confrontational as my work is, there's a great sense of irreverence and silliness, which I think is the queerness coming through and that I think is present in my work.”

a man and a woman sitting on a bed: Gavin Krastin. Picture: Supplied © Provided by Independent Online (IOL) Gavin Krastin. Picture: Supplied

The Cape Town-based artist discovered his passion for arts, visual art, theatre, drama and dance very early in his life.

“I was very shy at primary school and in an effort to try and foster a sense of social awareness, a sense of confidence and connection, I was sent to an after-school drama club for children, and this did improve my confidence and that kind of social edge.”

In terms of his artistic influences, Krastin says he is inspired by anything visual or sonic.

“I love music and I love visual arts and moving images. There are very strong women in my life who I’m inspired and influenced by personally, professionally, and artists like Stephen Cohen, Tracey Rose, Nelisiwe Xaba, Mamela Nyamza, Boyzie Cekwana, Jay Pather, I absolutely love those artists.

“I’m inspired by drag queens and queer artists and musicians who gender bend and those kinds of total artists who sing and dance and perform and have visual aspects in their work.

“I'm also very much inspired by nature and the mundane things of everyday life the ritual-like behaviours that stem from the everyday behaviours, our everyday patterns that are not necessarily built into spirituality, but that comprise of our culture and our way of being nevertheless,” he said.

More than 160 artists have been recognised since the first Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1981, and the alumni of the programme have shaped South Africa’s arts landscape while boosting the creative economy.

“After all these years the SBYA Award is still an award that artists aspire to and one that the public recognises as a major endorsement,” said Monica Newton, the chief executive of the National Arts Festival.

“Standard Bank Young Artists represent the reward for years of hard work and determination and remind us that we have great talent in our midst,” she added

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