Celeste Theron and I have rolled in the same creative community in Pretoria for quite a while now. I’ve always been challenged by her determination in the face of great difficulty. She’s 25, she switched from a degree when she was almost done, had a baby with Down Syndrome and somehow through all this managed to finish her honours degree in Fine Arts and get selected as one of Design Indaba’s Emerging Creatives in 2015. She’s also taking on the event industry now and rewriting the narrative of Johannesburg’s inner city. You get to learn why Celeste Theron is part of the #womenatwork series.
Celeste, how did you manage to cope with all these things at once? And, what keeps you going?
I‘ve learnt not to wallow in my sorrows for too long and to use that energy to tap into something creative instead. It is really important for me to have a creative outlet; whether it is creating art, writing, or helping to execute a challenging project. Bjorn was in hospital when I had to leave to Cape Town for Design Indaba in my final year of Fine Arts. Leaving my baby in hospital for the first time to participate in Design Indaba’s Emerging Creative’s programme, was one of the most difficult calls I had to make – but I’m glad I used the opportunity. I have a fiancé that is really hard on me (in a loving way) and shows very little sympathy, he inspires me to move forward and to harvest negative feelings to create something beautiful from it instead. Whenever I feel overwhelmed I take on a new project, I don’t allow myself to become bored. Doing stuff is how I reach my zen and of course it helps to have a good bunch of people in my life.
Your projects, “Range One” and “SHE”, have had intersections between environmental awareness and women empowerment. Why do you care about both issues?
I care about women empowerment because men have taken advantage of women in the past for far too long and we still live in a patriarchal society. My gran wasn’t allowed to finish school because, “Why would she need an education one day?”. We still earn less money than men. We are still told when and how to have children, what to wear and where to shave. It’s still a mad-men kind of world, e-cigarettes have just lessened the chances of choking to death in an elevator.
When it comes to environmental awareness, I follow the ecological approach of Aldo Leopold: “Think like a mountain.” It is a holistic mindset where you try to consider where you stand with the entire ecosystem. To think like a mountain means to have a complete appreciation for the profound inter connectedness of the elements in the ecosystems. It is an ecological exercise using the intricate web of the natural environment rather than thinking as an isolated individual.
Which women have inspired you to be greater than you are?
I became whatever my mother allowed me to be, she never limited my universe by forcing me to confine myself to anything I didn’t believe in. She told me how to raise my voice and to speak my mind. In high school my sister exposed me to Ayn Rand and my beliefs were shaped around The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged and The New Intellectual. It was a mind blowing experience as a teenager. I was very focused on being a “creator” in the Ayn Rand sense of the word. Then I grew up and out off Ayn Rand and took more interest in Simone De Beauvoir, not because she was a feminist, but because she and her partner, Jean-Paul Satre, created a philosophy that rejected all absolutes and talked of freedom through accepting responsibly for your own choices, authenticity, and leading a purposeful life through creating your own meaning for your existence. I found that incredibly empowering. There are so many women that inspire me on a daily basis, but if I had to pick three it’ll be Sheryl Sandberg for teaching me how to be a girl boss, Cleopatra for being a shameless opportunist and Moonchild for sharing so much of her greatness.
You have described motherhood of Bjorn as otherhood. I think he’s a great kid and he’s blessed to have you and Henk as his parents. How has he changed your life?
I never knew that kids have these amazing healing powers until I had Bjorn. Now whenever I see a kid I stare at them in awe because I know their secret, they heal people, change family dynamics, and connect people. Bjorn has changed the way I love, opened up my vulnerabilities and made me feel permanently insecure of what sort of human I am, but most significantly he changed my relationship with Henk. Our relationship looks quite different from what it had a couple of years ago. Raising a kid together is a sacred bond, but raising a kid together that is “different” from other kids when you’ve barely dated for a year – is a bond on a whole other level. He showed me what kind of human Henk really is behind the scenes, and maybe I wouldn’t have stuck around long enough to discover that person if it wasn’t for Bjorn. For that I am immensely thankful.
You have a record of being able to reach forward and push against your circumstances. Why are you so different? Most people tend to just accept what life throws at them. Were you always surrounded by people who challenged you to think outside the box or did you have a moment of serendipity which changed how you looked at the world?
I’ve always been surrounded by people that think outside the box, perhaps that was my first challenge in life; learning to accept my eccentric family for who and what they are. There were instances in my life where acceptance would’ve meant that life would defeat me, and I learned how to deal with those curve balls. Those instances have made me strong I suppose. And then my son taught me that it’s also okay to let down my guard sometimes, and being touched by life is what makes it so beautiful.
What does an average day look like for you?
Henk and I usually wake up around 7am when Bjorn wants his bottle. Whoever gets up first will make coffee and feed Bjorn, usually Henk. In the meantime I’ll run a bath and have 10 minutes for myself to drink coffee and get dressed while Bjorn is being fed. When Henk has finished feeding Bjorn, I’ll get out of the bath and get Bjorn ready for school while Henk is getting dressed. When we’re all set, Henk will drop me off at the Gautrain station to catch the train to New Town and Bjorn of at The Baby Therapy Centre. I usually leave work by half past five and get home at 7pm, before I start preparing dinner. I love cooking. Henk will put on a feel-good vinyl while I start preparing supper with a glass of wine in my hand. The three of us will dance around in the kitchen until dinner is ready. After supper, we’ll spend an hour splashing around in the bath until the water gets cold. Bathing is an important ritual we have as a family that we’re very precious about. After our bath-time ritual we’ll spend another 10 minutes reading or singing Bjorn to sleep before we can get in bed like other people.
You live in the heart of Pretoria. In your vision, what does your ideal Pretoria look like?
I love living in Arcadia, and my ideal would be seeing the CBD gentrified. It would be great if we could create a bustle around Church Square again and utilise all of the beautiful heritage buildings around Sunnyside and Arcadia.
Following on that question, what small steps could you do right now, or are doing, to make that future happen?
I hope that through new initiatives and activations that we can see that dream realised. I believe that Cool Capital and Capital Collective has already made a difference, and that FOUND Collective has the potential to do big things for connecting and growing Pretoria’s art scene. There is also African Beer Emporium that will draw more people to the CBD. I used to host satellite exhibitions with local jazz performers in Pretoria’s CBD called “Borderline” when I was still a student. It was not a referral to mental health, but rather a suggestion that we intend to shift boundaries. Lately I’ve been more focused on my own art; doing public art performances and creating public art installations with waste in the city. I believe that public art has the ability to change people’s perception of a space and perhaps it could make people open up a bit more to Pretoria.
I want you to complete this sentence, “I have one wish and I wish…”
I had all the answers to life.
Photos by Yetunde Dada