NATIONAL Arts Festival in Grahamstown is basking in e glory of another successful year, with ticket sales totalling 218 236, marking an 8.7 percent increase in attendance at its 38th edition. This is up from the 200 771 who attended last year However, it is was not only the ticket sales which were an indication of the festival’s success - the weather was mild and encouraged lots of day trippers, and the programme, especially on the Main, was very strong this year There was a significant international presence, mostly because of the 2012/2013 French Season, as well as the Making Way programme of contemporary art and installations from China, and productions from other festivals. The dedication and tenacity of the Grahamstown Foundation chief executive officer Tony Lankester, festival director Ismail Mahomed and the festival committee has enabled the event to make its mark to rival its counterparts in other countries. Often one’s choice of productions at the festival, by pure chance or design, takes on a thematic life of its own, but it certainly seemed as if the SA arts world was unpacking issues that grapple with the complexities of origin, identity and ownership. Within this context there were some astounding works, such as Brett Bailey’s harrowing art installation piece, Exhibit A. Originally created for a European market and restaged at the festival using mostly people from the local community who are on exhibit, it echoes the collective horror epitomised by Saartjie Baartman and others, taken for display to their colonial masters’ homelands. Steven Cohen’s haunting Cradle of Humankind, featuring 92-year-old Nomsa Dhlamini, the woman who brought him up, was a respectful and honouring work that held a mirror to the objectification of humans in colonial Africa. Staying with the origins theme, Neil Coppen, Vaughn Sadie and Tina le Roux did Durban proud with their dark and haunting set and lighting design of the Market Theatre’s Little Foot, set in the Cradle of Human Kind. While there were mixed reactions to this highly anticipated work written by Craig Higginson and directed by Malcolm Purkey, there was no doubt that the design and lighting were quite superb. There was a sense that Durban has finally made it on the festival , after many years and with Coppen, the recipient of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award last year, having produced his fine Abnormal Loads on the Main, it was encouraging to see The Playhouse’s solid production of Race, KickstArt’s outstanding Red, and Flatfoot Dance Company’s double bill of Skin and Mapping Nostlagia selected for this year’s Main bill. The KZNPO, also on the Main, dominated the classical music scene and worked flat-out, with many performances. There were many fringe productions that reported varying degrees of success and the Durban and KZN presence was strongly felt. In recent years the festival has introduced Ovation Awards to encourage excellence and innovation on the Fringe, and Durban’s Guy Buttery won a silver for his collaboration with Nibs van der Spuy in the music category LOCAL HERO: Durban’s Neil Coppen did his hometown proud at the recent National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.