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Lauren Beukes

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Zoo City Bare Charity Auction – Thank You for Making it a Huge Success

As midnight approached last night, a frenzied literary bidding war erupted online over five one-of-a-kind works of art inspired by my novel, Zoo City, as two independent buyers, genius photographer girl, @2point8photo, and an anonymous American bidder only just snatching two of the Bares (Muti Monster and Nonnetjie respectively) from the deadly serious Jo’burg collector who was clearly hoping for a Bare-ish flush.

I was hoping, optimistically, that the Bares would raise R10 000 for The Suitcase Project, a children’s refugee organisation in Hillbrow. But by the time the dust cleared after the official cut-off time, the bids totalled almost double that: R18 000.

The idea was inspired by remix culture; setting your work free in the world to let other people play. It’s about seeing how others reinterpret your work, what it means to them, how they riff off it.

It started with the writing of the book, where I approached other writers to contribute chapters that were perpendicular to the plot, but helped establish the world, from a series of prison interviews by Sam Wilson, to a psychological paper written by Charlie Human and an interview with a fictional music producer by real-life music journalist Evan Milton.

It was an easy jump to creative collaborations in the real world for the launch of Zoo City, including an official soundtrack I put together with African Dope Record’s DJ HoneyB and creating a range of collectible art toys we would auction for a charity that somehow reflected an aspect of the book.

I approached six Cape Town-based designers and illustrators who donated their time and talent to hand-painting five of Am I Collective’s huge blank collectible vinyl toy Bares. The brief was left open as long as it was in some way inspired by the novel, which is about animal familiars, crime and magic, music and refugees and the possibility of redemption.

The results were extraordinary, and, best of all, surprising. Carine NguzBia van Deventer’s Borne managed to be both daintily pretty and macabre, a bird perching on a ribcage, whorls of intestine.

Clem de Bruin’s Pretty Wise depicted a thug-life old man inseparable from his familiar owl (the steal of the auction at only R1500!)

Pretty Wise

Zoo City cover designer Joey Hi-Fi’s Muti Monster was a grisly collection of animal parts, broken wings and a dismembered tail and mercurial droplets of the Undertow, a seething darkness from the book.

Nonnetjie by Elise Wessels sparked off the idea of the feminine spirit of the barn owl captured in a West African mask design.

And Willeen le Roux’s Bi-Polar Bare captured the struggle of the book’s noir-ish heroine, caught between the light side and the dark, with a sloth on her back and mischievous demons cavorting in her shadow.

I found The Suitcase Project through their wonderful book, The Suitcase Stories, which documents Glynis Clacherty’s art-therapy initiative that helps refugee children to come to terms with the trauma of fleeing war-torn countries and arriving in Johannesburg without their parents or family or any kind of support system.

Trauma, hostile environments and refugees are all themes of Zoo City and decorating art toys inspired by a fictional story to help kids who decorate suitcases as a way of telling their real stories seemed a perfect match.

The Bares were exhibited in Cape Town, Johannesburg and at Forbidden Planet in London in time for the Zoo City UK launch to drum up interest for the auction. But I still never expected the phenomenal response we had.

Glynis Clacherty, who started The Suitcase Project back in 2004, sent me an email to say that the funds have been shared out among the original kids, now grown up. The money is helping for one to study civil engineering at the University of Johannesburg, for another to set up her own small informal cooking business and to help a third finally realise his dream of becoming a nurse. She says, “He is at Netcare college and he proudly came to show me his uniform and his watch.”

Thanks so much to Lana Stevnic and for hosting the auction, Danie Ware at Forbidden Planet, Mandy J Watson at Brainwavez, Paul Cornell, Charlie-Jane Anders at io9, Lee Harris at Angry Robot and Adam Christopher aka @ghostfinder, Hello Vinyl, Elizabeth van Rensburg at Chew the Magazine and everyone else for helping to promote the Bares through RTs or blog posts or word of mouth.

Thanks too to Forbidden Planet, Exclusive Books Kloof Street, the good people at The Book Lounge and Nechama Brodie at Rhinestone Cowboy for exhibiting the Bares and to Am I Collective for donating the blank slates and the kindness of strangers on Twitter who have offered to help deliver the Bares to their respective new owners, flying them round the country and to London.

Huge thanks to everyone who bid and the winning buyers – and most gratitude of all to the designers and illustrators who crafted the most gorgeous unique artworks.

(Want more pics of the Bares? Brainwavez has great close-ups.)


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Mandy J Watson</a>
    Mandy J Watson
    August 11th, 2010 @13:03 #

    I couldn't get online last night to join in the last-minute bid frenzy. I was particularly fond of Pretty Wise, too....

    Congratulations to all the new owners!


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