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I was just sitting in my visual art class,
totally relaxed, like a straightener on a big top performer’s hair, when the
image of the iconic painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, appeared on the
smartboard. I felt as paralysed as a patient having an MRI scan. My mind
mercilessly recalled one of my most haunting memories. The time I cupped my
ears and shielded my brain from the raucous cacophony… That was the first and
last time, I attended the circus!

Let me explain…

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It was an epic night, as I gazed out the
car widow, fixated. The dusk had created a sky of flaming colour. Mesmerising swirling,
curving lines etched into it like a lithograph alive with movement. Continuous
red and yellow lines of the enormous tent alerted me to the fact that we had
arrived. As we exited the vehicle, I was engulfed by the scare of sound. I hung
onto my mom like a bungee jumper, while hordes of very loud people shuffled us
towards the front where a stilt walker yelled for tickets.

Now inside facing the arena I looked around
at the tiers of seats, filled with spectators. They were all talking at high
levels in order to be heard over their equally noisy neighbours. More hollering
by the popcorn and candyfloss pedlars took the ear-piercing levels to an
unnerving height. It was without warning however, that a frightening distorted
figure, the central focal point who was made up with a thick white paint, just
descended on me and filled me with fear and anxiety. The protagonist rushed
towards my front row seat, now face to face, lifted a hand and with extreme
emotion, screeched a wailing sound into a microphone. I felt suppressed,
terrorized and persecuted by my surroundings. So I screamed! An awful,
bloodcurdling shout… but absolutely no sound came out.

I thought to myself, I feel like I’m in a
horror movie, that hunted character in a dramatic book, a pathetic actor in a
tragic play or an emotive image in a famous artwork. Did these characters all
scream to create the atmosphere and evoke an audience response?

Then I began questioning myself. Am I a
screamer? Well yes, I did shriek, that time that lightning struck me and I was
separated from my parents, for an eternal few minutes. Soon after, I cried and
wailed when I was re-united with my folks as I finally felt safe again. On
another occasion, from overwhelming excitement, I yelped, just before I
ralphed, on the “Tower of Terror” ride at Gold Reef City. Then there was the
time I mistook a security guard’s help and scened in the Sandton City parking
lot, as I thought I was being abducted.

See a scream is the sublimation of pure
emotion into speech expressing one’s various feelings simultaneously. If screaming
is innate, why are there displayed signs, prohibiting us from expressing
ourselves in a hospitals, contradicting the birthing mothers and trauma
patients, who are constantly screaming? Is this normality or insanity?

My nightmare continued when a miniature
yellow car accompanied with a giant human outfitted with a red nose and polka
dotted body, raced around hooting uncontrollably, adding to the noise polluted
environment. Tight rope walkers and acrobats performed daring stunts and the
crowd were crazed with applause. Then the most shameless and heiness acts
followed. The dogs jumped through hoops of fire barked instinctively. Their
displeasure was evident. The feisty yellow and orange felines roared throughout
this unnatural display and the large grey beasts trumpeted obscenely. All these
animals shouting their innate battle cries usually protect them from predators.
Sadly, to no avail, prodded into submission with bull hooks and whips, it is the
audience who seems to be positively dangerous and wild. Are mortals’ life
perspectives distorted?

Animal exploitation is a perfect example of
how society chooses to be deaf. Turning off the radio to the prolonged pleas
for the world to eradicate genocide. Plugging in earphones to drown out the protests
against anti-Semitism, racism, poverty and climate change. It is so much
simpler to be hard of hearing to the frustrated outcries of the rebellious, overlook
opinions, twist tales, curb communication, power the politicians and mute the

A scream is universally personal to the
listener it effects. Something every creature can relate to and identify with.
This is partly why Munch’s artwork “The Scream” has universal appeal. It has
been ripped off and used in the Slasher movie, caricatured, lampooned and
cartooned in the Simpsons, making it even more famous than its creator. It has
transcended through time and has become a masterpiece of Art history and a
touchstone of pop culture. It also displays a shift in 20th century
thinking. Munch defined how we see our own age wracked with anxiety, man
cutting loose from certainties, traditions, habits and customs – proving we are
all unique. Everyone’s perceiving, thinking and reacting differently, while
both participating and spectating in the circus of life.

Munch, a Norwegian Expressionist, had lead
a tragic existence. First his mom then his sister died of tuberculosis and then
already living in a state of poverty, he lost his grief-stricken, radically-religious
dad to depression. He was very unlucky in love and just like the circus animals
forced to live in cages and deal with their situations, Munch isolated himself for
27 years and struggled to fight his inner emotional demons. Torn between sanity
and madness Munch wrote in his diary, “I was walking down the road with two
friends when the sun set, suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped
and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakingly tired. Tongues of fire and
blood stretched over the bluish Fjord. My friends went on walking while I
lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous infinite,
piercing scream of nature”

Does this image mirror and reflect our own
society of what can be considered sain and what is marked as madness? Are the
lines visual metaphors of sanity and madness respectively? Normality is represented
by the two men on the straight lined bridge, in the distance, safe in the swell
of the Art Nouveau lines. Similarly, we take our children to the circus, a
fantastic way to be entertained by a large array of the world’s most
magnificent animals, brilliant displays of horsemanship, exhibitions by
gymnasts, aerialists and comic pantomime clowns. Juxtaposed with the distorted,
sexless, depersonalised creature, out of place on the bridge, central are the
crazy undulating lines in the foreground, highlighting the horror of insanity
and the world assimilating him. We again attend the circus with our families
exposing them to theatrics that distort their view of reality.

Sitting in my classroom, I realised that
life is just so complex, nothing is black and white, just millions of hues of
grey which often makes it so difficult and frustrating to navigate.

Sometimes it is so out of control that…

I just want to scream

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