Many people have given the trip long-term support, and this is the opportunity to warmly thank them for their advice, help and making things possible: Joost Bosland (director Stevenson Gallery Cape Town), Pauline Burmann (African Art & Theory and director of the Thami Mnyele Foundation), Chiko Chazunguza (director Dzimbanhete Arts Interactive) and his team, Raphael Chikukwa (Chief curator National Art Gallery Zimbabwe), Jabulile Chinamasa (Conservation/Education officer at the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo), Tandazani Dhlakamat (curator Zeitz Mocaa), Amy Ellenbogen (Curator Galleries & VIP Joburg Art Fair 2018), Barbara van Hellemond (Ambassador for The Netherlands in Zimbabwe), Georgina Maxim and Misheck Masamvu (directors of the Village Uhnu Crative Open Art Studio), Thato Mogotsi (freelance curator), Silenkosi Moyo (administrator and P.A. to the Regional Directorat the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo ), Gaudencia Muzambi-Hwenjere (Embassy of the Netherlands in Harare), Azu Nwagbogu (Chief curator Zeitz Mocaa) and the team at Zeitz Mocaa, Rooksana Omar (CEO of the Iziko Museums), Hayden Proud (Iziko Museums), Doreen Sibanda (director National Art Gallery Zimbabwe), Valerie Sithole (Curator National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare), Daniel Smit (Embassy of The Netherlands in Pretoria) and Claude van Wyk (Consulte of The Netherlands in Cape Town) and last but not least our driver in Harare and Bulawayo Mister Eddie.
Up until the last day (picture above: writing for the blog at Joburg Airport before departure) we have all tried to do our best to write for the blog. If you see mistakes please let us know so we can correct things.
The Gallery’s history dates back to 1970 at a time when local artists felt that they were increasingly isolated from the main institution in Harare. They lobbied and started their own gallery at what was then the Grand Hotel building. The National Gallery in Bulawayo attained its national status in 1994 when it moved to its current premises at Douslin House – a classic example of colonial Edwardian architecture. The Gallery operates under the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation and its permanent collection reflects the diversity of cultures and traditions which have contributed to the development of art in Zimbabwe ranging from traditional artifacts to modern paintings and sculpture.
Apart from pursuing excellence in the visual arts in Matabeleland and maintaining general outreach, the Gallery sees it as their mission to encourage, train and develop artistic skills – especially for emerging artists.
Stdio’s at Nationa Gallery Bulawayo
In the beautiful courtyard and sculpture garden one thus finds a great number of studios where local artists can be witnessed at work. The gallery also houses a research library as well as various workshop facilities. In other words, The Gallery is a dynamic – and very intriguing! – meeting point for artists, patrons and the community.
We were welcomed by Silenkosi Moyo – administrator and P.A. to the Regional Director – and Jabulile Chinamasa – Conservation/Education officer – who took us on a tour in the galleries, which hosted various exhibitions by resident artists (Talent Kapadza and Jeu Verbre) as well as a major group show with Zimbabwean artists curated by Raphael Chikukwa (Lost & Found – Resilience, Uncertainty, Expectations, Excitement & Hope) that interrogates the social and economic fabric in the country in light of its most recent political transition. From a certain perspective the show is indeed mourning Zimbabwe’s turbulent history, but it also seems to mark a turning point while reaffirming at the same time the position of the artist as the primary storyteller. “A new glimpse of hope for the healing of the nation and for moving forward” as one reads from Chikukwa’s curator’s statement.
Back: Valerie Sithole Front: Silenkosi Moyo
Afterwards we were also joined by Valerie Sithole (from The National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare), and Silenkosi and Jabulile provided generous information about the Gallery’s history and policies. A recurring theme was their emphasis on public programming, education and developing appreciation of the visual arts. Building partnerships is also very much on the agenda – both national and international, public and private as well as with NGOs. One of the serious challenges the Gallery is faced with is securing sufficient funds for conservation, acquisitions and operational costs, but loan fees and increased patronage from the private sector helps solve the problem to a certain extent. Furthermore, there is hope that recent developments in Zimbabwe’s administration will resuscitate the arts sector.
Farren van Wyk
Farren van Wyk
We then gathered with members of the artist community for a meet and greet which gave us an opportunity to learn more about their work. Also, the two artists in our group (Patricia and Farren) gave presentations. We were delighted that so many people showed up and shared their vision, which once again confirmed the tremendous generosity we’ve generally experienced on our trip, and it was only regretful that were not able to stay for long, but other appointments awaited.
How to experience the incredible art scene of Bulawayo in just one day? After the lively discussions at the National Gallery of Bulawayo with a full-packed room of local artists, Valerie planned for us a short but intense tour through various organizations, including three studio visits. Our first stop took us to the Arts & Crafts Center located in Mzilikazi, one of the oldest high density suburbs of Bulawayo. Established in 1963, the Mzilikazi Center is one of the oldest vocational arts and crafts institutions in the Southern part of Africa. Jabu tells us about the beginnings of formal art education in Zimbabwe and how it originated in the colonial era and in the context of the missionary schools founded by the Anglican church. Referring to Canon Paterson of the Cyrene Mission, Jabu tells us of the white Anglicans sympathizing with the black community through arts and music, installing a school within a black community in a time when they were not allowed to mix with the privileged whites. The Mzilikazi Arts & Crafts Center was not only built to foster professional art skills, but to empower unemployed school leavers and keep them off the street. Most of Bulawayo’s artists have since received their formal arts training at the Mzilikazi Arts & Crafts Center. Today the center functions under the municipal government of Bulawayo.
As opposed to the Bulawayo Polytechnic College, the center allows enrollment without academic qualification. Five disciplines are taught in a comprehensive 2-years training: fine arts (painting and drawing), commercial arts, ceramics, wood and stone sculpture, pottery and batik. Luckmore Muchenje, a former student and now a teacher for ceramics, guides us through the painting and drawing class, where we encounter a group of young students working with a wide range of techniques and motives. We move on to the pottery and ceramics class where two students demonstrate the crafting of pottery, their hands skillfully modeling the clay that is milled in their own school. After a six-weeks introduction into all disciplines, students can choose the discipline they want to specialize in. Mr. Muchenje tells us that fine arts is the most popular discipline.
Afterwards Mr. Ndiweni, who is in charge of the cleansing and selling of the ceramics products, takes us through the production spaces of the school as well as the school’s pottery shop. Whereas the products used to be marketed internationally, the arts industry has, like every other industry in Zimbabwe, been greatly affected by the country’s economic instabilities, and shifted more towards local markets. Mr. Ndiweni tells us that the pottery production is currently shut down for economic reasons with no funding to keep it running.
When I ask Luckmore Muchenje about the potentiality of adding a photography course to the curriculum, he tells me that even though there is great interest to include new media, the school currently has no funding for an expansion. Photography is still very absent in Zimbabwe’s art scene, in formal training and in actual practice. Most of the artists we encounter in Zimbabwe are painters and sculptors, among them Charles Bhebhe, who has exhibited at the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennale , as well as Tafadzwa Gwetai and Neville Starling, one of the very few artists we have encountered that work with the medium of photography.
So how to even begin to write about all of these tensions we’ve encountered on our trip? After all, we’ve only been able to scratch the surface of how the colonial and apartheid regimes continue to influence todays social (and mental) fabric, with many questions marks also with respect to how (western) capitalism will shape the current transitions taking place in the art world and throughout. The complexity of these issues can hardly be understood after just two weeks – despite the intensity and richness granted by the incredible (and incredibly humbling) privilege of meeting and speaking to so many inspiring and dedicated people in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Harare and Bulawayo. All we know for sure is that many of the personal stories, social realities and repressed voices remain to be told, disseminated, analyzed and heard as counter-narratives to the dominant history of the white colonial settler.
Bulawayo in one day: part three or is it four?
Not to be missed if you are trying to do all the important art venues in Bulawayo is the ‘Bulawayo Home Industries’. Located opposite of the Mzilikazi Art & Craft Centre it is a place which facilitates women in making a living. In a country where women emancipation is not as far as one should hope for, the Bulawayo Home Industries is an inspiring place. Manager Miriam Ndlovu shows us the premises.
Women as well as other unemployed people can enter the space and learn traditional skills to make all kind of articles. These articles are for sale on the spot as well in other places in Bulawayo. Annually there is also the Sanganai/Hlanganani Fair, an exposition for tourists where the pieces are on display and for sail. Part of the price is commission fee for the artist who made the piece. And the good news is: the centre is accessible for the women without having to pay for the facilities. The funding for the institute is by the Bulawayo City Council.
Annually 300 women make use of the facilities and adapt skills as weaving with cotton, wool and ilala palm. They make products as baskets, sandals, floor mats, floor rugs etc etc. At the end of the tour the group of course was tempted to make an investment. So I think all of us bought some souvenirs. But please don’t make the mistake to underestimate the dynamics of the place.
Bulawayo Home Industries is not only empowering women and conserves the traditional arts & crafts techniques, it is also a hidden gem for artists who are inspired by those techniques. So if you are an artist who is lingering on for instance weaving techniques … you might go to the Textile Museum in Tilburg (the Netherlands) but one could also consider flying to this place. Make a financial commitment to the place and in turn learn al about local skills and their hidden heritage. For sure manger Miriam Ndlovu would welcome you . Curious? Send her an email : email@example.com.
And off we went to our next stop. Never thought Bulawayo was such an inspiring place to be.
Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions On Thursday 13 September we traveled from Harare to Bulawayo. After having moved in the ‘international way’, hopping from city to city, the upcoming six-hour bus drive would allow us to get a sense of distance and scale. This was well prepared for by an intense experience of space and place during our visit to Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions, located 25 kilometers outside of Harare. Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions (Dzimbanhete meaning “light footstep” in Shona, and according to our guide Jonathan Dube a quality you need to become a healer) was established in 2008 and has many facets.
Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions
The first is that it builds architectural structures of different African villages: huts from the Zulu, an ethnic group of South Africa, the Shona, an ethnic group of Zimbabwe, and for instance a Himba hut from the nomadic people of Namibia. In the photos you see the interior of a Shona hut with its clayed interior zones, stove and cupboards, each element in the space to be used or occupied by different groups within the community. The aim is to represent “Africa without borders” and to eventually have 54 African villages represented with its 155 structures (!). One could compare this endeavor to an open-air museum, like for instance the Netherlands Open Air Museum in Arnhem, but better is its comparison with the Venice Biennial (thank you Helena) as the first connotes folklore, while the latter is more in line with the undertone of DAI’s activities, aiming to actively introduce indigenous approaches and methods in cultural practice. It’s about preserving but with an emphasis on collecting and offering a spectrum of typologies: founder, artist Chikonzero Chazunguza, refers to DAI as an arts and culture “resource center”.
Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions
The huts are also used to accommodate artists in residence, the second facet of DAI. It invites artists from the region, as well as international artists, to study, work and stay at the premises of DAI.
The third facet of DAI is that it offers mentoring projects, inviting young artists from Harare to use the workshops and available materials, and get feedback from DAI’s director and other (visiting) artists and curators. Chiko Chazunguza, founder and director of DAI, explains that he aims for a “mentoring in our own culture, introduce them to a thinking that is found in indigenous culture.” A big house, with a couple of rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, an exhibition space and a veranda, is the central gathering point, situated on a lawn surrounded by trees and rocks, and with several huts, workshops and an open-air kitchen plotted around.
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
About five kilometers from DAI, the collection of African domestic architectures finds a pendant in a collection of exhibition structures, the fourth facet of DAI. This collection is in progress, with a first pavilion realized. It is situated in a vast open field, designed by artist Rachel Monotov and produced by the CTG collective, an initiative of the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery based in New York. It is a concrete pavilion in the white cube tradition, with a big round window opening to the landscape, unpolished walls, and a wooden door. It is an elegant space (small scale and one room ground plan) with a robust touch (textured sturdy walls) protecting the art works from the impact of the elements (it reminds a little of Insel Hombroich). Chiko explains that the pavilion is financed by the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, that also curated the exhibition currently on show, outcome of a residency of the artists Xavier Robles de Medina, Andrea Abbatangelo (high chair), Felix Kinderman, Rani Bam, Caucine Gros, Rachel Monosov, Terrence Musekiwa (golf club snakes crawling in the sand around the pavilion) and Justin Orvis Steimer. The idea is that this is the first of more architectural structures to come, built and financed by external partners that can programme it as a branch of their institution and after a four-year lease hand it over to DAI. The pavilion is open during the opening, occasional live events, and upon request.
What made the visit impressive and made me introduce this report referring to the intense experience of space and place, was our introduction to the sacred space of the Nharira Cave located on DAIs premises. After a walk uphill on terrain covered by light green leaves with cocos scent, Jonathan led us to a space hidden by massive rock formations with 500-year-old paintings made by bushmen of the animals found in the area. During our visit, witnessed by a troop of Baboons, Jonathan, who’s healer name is Samaita, told us about the seven-day (no rest, no going home) rituals taking place in and around the cave, appeasing the spirits through offerings, drumming, clapping and singing. He explained us the principle of ancestors and guardian spirits: the ancestors, totems represented as animals, are in mother (left leg) and father (right leg) lineage and can’t quit you (parents), while the spirits can (friends).
On our way to and from the gallery pavilion, we passed the dwellings of local inhabitants, almost all working for either the adjacent Lion Cheetah Park or Snake World, both owned by Bristol. The whole area is under huge pressure: many Chinese corporations, Jonathan mentioned the number 26, have their eye on the area as it is rich with metals they would want to mine, meaning that the sacred rocks in their magnificent forms and formations would be destroyed. The pressure is huge as the new government is eager to get developers on board, but as Jonathan states: ”we don’t have a seed to grow another mountain.”
Catinca Tabucara Gallery CTG Harare/ Zimbabwe – A cool Art Space in the middle of nowhere, like a white cube gallery, but definitely different, meant to form precedent for collaborations with international high score galleries.
Chiko Chazunguza (the director of Dzimbanhete Art Interactive) followed us to the project Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, located in the countryside surrounded by bushland and small villages 3 km from Dzimbanhete.
The gallery, which is designed by artist Rachel Monosov, is the first step of a larger project.
It is co-founded by the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery in NY, a contemporary art gallery founded by the Romanian-born curator Catinca Tabacaru. The project is more than just a gallery, under the names CTG Collective and CTG (R), it includes a traveling art residency program initiated in collaboration with Dzimbanhete Art Interactive back in 2015. Through an Open Call artists from all over the world can apply. This year they had over 120 applications from artist from 40 different countries. Of these, 8 were selected to participate in the 1-month residency.
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
Catinca Tabacaru Gallery
The current exhibition consists of works as a result of the residency – a group exhibition with the 8 artists; Xavier Robles de Medina, Andrea Abbatangelo, Felix Kindermann, Ranti Bam, Rachel Monosov, Terrence Musekiwa and Justin Orvis Steimer from respectively France, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Surinam, USA and Zimbabwe. The exhibition is open for the public every day, but I doubt that there will be that many visitors due to the far distance location. On the other hand, their events attract many visitors from the creative crowd around Harare. I don’t assume that reaching a large number of visitors has been an ambition, but instead to create a unique and prestigious project profiled as anchored in the local art scene. But as Chiko Chazunguza explained, the project is under continuous development. On a longer term the aim is to get more international galleries to follow, so that the area in the future will have several pavilions to create income and be able to buy the land and hopefully a get a more sustainable economy.
Up to Bulawayo – Hotel N1 After many hours of driving, some stops and even a road fire we arrive at our hotel in Bulawayo.
Gallery Delta, at the heart of Zimbabwe’s art world since 1975. Our first stop of the day is Gallery Delta. We are welcomed by the fantastic and hospitable Derek Huggins and Helen Lieros on the front porch of this idyllic ‘Robert Pauls’s Old House’, 110 Livingstone Avenue. The path towards the complex runs through the first part of the beautifully done sculpture garden in which Helen and Derek welcome us.
Derek Huggins and Helen Lieros
Gallery Delta, Harare
Helen Lieros introduces us to the vibrant history of the gallery filled with numerous collaborations and enthusiastic stories she had experienced since their establishment in 1975. In the forty-three year’s they’re running the place they didn’t only present a series of exhibitions and numerous public events (they hosted plays, poetry nights, music) but also educated a lot of students. A humble but passionate story packed with collaborations artists that studied there and now found their way into the canon of contemporary Zimbabwean art. But also stained by the difficulties the country has faced.
Helen, also practicing artist, understands better than anyone how you can help an artist to develop a practice. And of course what kind of assistance is needed in Harare with the slowly developing art scene in Zimbabwe and the continent.She works from an -in her words – ‘anti gallery system’ approach. A passionate, personal approach in which she does not draw up contracts with the artists, giving them a lot of freedom. The main reason to do this is to give every artist the freedom to exhibit where they want and to make their own choices along the way.
Right from the start Gallery Delta offered room for young, talented and aspiring African artists to explore the boundaries of creating. This gave a lot of artists over the year the freedom to step away from being traditional sculptors, the only art form that was populair at the start of the gallery, and focus on becoming painters. Something they found very important but a kind of practice that was non-existing since they didn’t have art schools in the country.All stoled under a personal preference. “I’m not interested in pretty pictures, I’m looking for innovative work.” Helen explains.
Now, over four decades later they have an amazing line of artists they’ve worked with and it’s save to say that the biggest chunk of the contemporary artists in Zimbabwe all were students at Delta, studying under Helen at one moment or another.
Which logically made the yearly exhibition of young artists a very big part of they program. Creating single handed a market for them and turning Gallery Delta into a real institution in Zimbabwe and I think even the entire continent. Since it’s inceptionover 360 artists studied there and many more showed works.
It’s not for nothing that they’ve been closely involved as advisors and in the development of Zeist Mocca’s catalog for the current exhibiton FIVE BHOBH. An exhibition of contemporary painting from Zimbabwe, featuring twenty-nine artists that all stept foot in the gallery.
Meeting Derek and Helen is truly humbling. And just walking through the gallery and sharing a Greek coffee with them on the porch only gives us a small idea of what happend. But it became very clear that the history is rich. I would have loved to stay there for hours, talking about their history.
First Floor Gallery Harare: Welcome to the Family Oddly enough, First Floor Gallery Harare (FFGH) is located on the second floor of a large office building. Business has been going well and the gallery recently moved from their 1st floor (tiny) front room to their current location which also houses a few artist studios and a huge terrace boasting impressive city views.
Valerie Kabov and Marcus Gora founded the not for profit trust space in 2009 as a response to the total lack of artist-run experimental spaces in Harare. They follow what they themselves coined an environmentally responsible model, meaning that they want to invest heavily in the local art scene, and bolster visibility of the Zimbabwean artists internationally as well as locally. Valerie also refers to the gallery and its artists as “the family” since they go above and beyond to support their artists and creating the circumstances for them to continue working, be it by helping them out with paperwork, providing studiospaces, or even taking them or their family members to the hospital. It’s also a way to involving the bigger support structures of the artist (parents, spouses, friends, children) and growing the local audience.
They pride themselves on not being a UFO but instead are looking at the cultural imperatives on the ground. The challenges are plentiful in Harare, and artist are lacking funds and access to materials, decent art education and technical skills. But even though the artistic community might be cash poor, they are resource rich and FFGH and their artists are getting things done through collaboration, trading and asking senior artists to coach the younger ones.
With a fierce objective to accelerate this whole process, they developed two programs for kickstarting young artists’ careers. The first one being a three week, by invitation only, bootcamp residency for emerging artists from all over the continent. This fully funded immersive experience pushes the artists to get out of their comfort zone and freely explore the boundaries of their chosen medium. At the end of the bootcamp, the work is presented in the gallery. The second program involves FFGH’s own artists (all of whom are under 30!) who are regularly invited to present solo exhibitons, with the aim of propelling their practice and speeding up their development as artists.
It’s a far cry from the increasing urgency in the West to slow down and look for the more sustainable approach to developing an artistic practice. But in an environment where even the basic standards of arts education are not upheld one wonders if in fact FFGH is not onto something.
FFGH’s need to experiment is imperative and they are consciously staying away from Western funding, which is almost always ideologically conditioned and usually comes with strings attached, to avoid compromising their independence. Under these circumstances it took them about 8 years to become economically sustainable. Only five years ago they were the first ever Zimbabwean gallery at Berliner Liste and they’ve been doing well on the international art fair circuit since.
They are hopeful that the change of regime will attract more international visitors and curators and with their new space and ambitious program they are ready to accelerate.
Studio visit Portia Zvavahera After our visit to First Floor Gallery we drive with our wonderful chauffeur Eddie to the outskirts of Harare. The urban landscape is changing in a rural area. New homes are being built with a barbed wire fences.
Our driver: Eddie
Why? I wonder, because the road is not easy going and as a potential thief you have to endure quite a lot of pits to get away with your loot. In addition to the large houses, small shacks are scattered here and there. Children in school uniforms wave and smile happily at us. Women in colorful clothes with their children tied behind their backs look surprised. Followed by a big smile showing their beautiful white teeth and they wave back. The landscape is arid with here and there a tree of which the blossom in exuberant colors purple and red does its best to contrast in the yellow arid landscape.
Halfway up a golden sand road Portia Zavahera is waiting for us in her shiny red pick-up. She is the artist we are going to visit in her studio. Immediately a part of our group wants to leave the stuffy van to sit in the back of the pick up and feel the wind through the hair and the sun on their skin. The landscape has changed. Large granite boulders are scattered in the arid landscape. We wonder if this is the same material from which the sculptures were standing in front of the National Gallery of Harare, which we visited a day before. The pits become deeper and the road becomes more impassable. We look at some of our colleagues who shoot up one by one in the back trunk like little pull puppets.
We arrive at a beautiful large house built from granite stones of the area with a thatched roof. In the yard are beautiful sculptures carved from the boulders that we saw on the way. Everything radiates peace and harmony. Portia opens the door to her studio and in choir we release a sigh of admiration.
The studio is very spacious and cool. Works in progress are hanging on the wall. Portia is a gentle shy woman. the conversation starts cautiously and I suspect it is because a group of 14 people in jolly voices are invading a place where peace and harmony predominate. Then the energy has to find a place. And it happens too. Soon there is a silence and I feel the peace descend into the group.
Portia is currently working on new works for 2 shows in Joburg and San Francisco respectively.
Portia is inspired by her dreams. She makes sketches of her dreams as a starting point for the further elaboration of her paintings. She works entirely from her emotions and intuition. Her work is literally built up in layers. She designs her own templates which she stipples in her work. This refers to fabrics that are decorated by women of her culture, through traditional block prints. Religion is an important aspect in her work. She believes that God gives her messages through her dreams. In her sleep she deeply connects to Him. I have rarely seen a person so much in balance with herself and her surroundings.
Portia loosens up and starts to talk more and more enthusiastically about her work and her sources of inspiration. She explains the importance of Totems in her culture. Everyone has a totem which represents an animal. The animal symbolizes a character trait. As a person you can not eat your own totem and you can not marry into the same totem. This is to keep the bloodline clean. The totem is passed on via the father line. Portia is an Elk that symbolizes hard work, but also prostitution. She giggles softly when she says that.
That she is a hard working mother of two beautiful children is clear. Success gives her the freedom to purchase materials and mix her colors. That is a luxury because many artists in Zimbabwe can not afford to buy expensive paints and colors and therefore depend on cheap synthetic acrylic paint in screaming colors that barely mix. On the kitchen counter stands a bottle in containing bright orange liquid, representing orange juice. Annet enthusiastically starts filling up glasses and some of us drink thirsty. Portia turns around and starts to laugh. It turns out that the the content needs to be diluted with water. We all laugh hilariously and the last remaining reserves disappears like snow in the sun.
Together we drive back to our next appointment on our way to Unhu gallery.
Zimbabwe has stolen my heart. Artists who, despite the limited infrastructure with so much creativity and few resources get so much done. Goethe once wrote that in the limitation the mester is recognized. I have already encountered many potential ‘masters’.
Portia says that she is happy and grateful voor everything in her life. She is a living example of living a life in love peace and harmony.
Village Uhnu Creative open art studio After riding on a jeep’s trunk from Portia Zvavahera’s studio in the countryside nearby Harare, we arrive at the so-called Village Uhnu. Just moving in to their new place, in a residential house of Harare, this art space run by Misheck Masamvu(successful artist represented by the Goodman Gallery in South Africa) and Georgina Maxim (his wife) feels like home. They are using the place to host exhibitions, as well as workshops, art lessons, residencies (and as a participation, the artists invited have to give one of their work in return to support the open art studio as well) and Misheck’s studio as long as he doesn’t need “another place to finish the paintings, with another light and another environment”. In the future, they also want to invest the garden, which is now hosting a container hanging on an iron structure. The idea is to build a terrace, a library, a studio, and a bar, making the place even more friendly and welcoming for artist to experiment and visitors to discover artworks. Regarding to the specific artistic landscape of the city of Harare, and the well-respected work the Delta Gallery is aiming, Village Uhnu intends to be an additional art space and wants to push the artists on more experimental projects and hangings. “Helena and Dereck are the foundation of all the artists in the country” they say (about Delta’s directors), whilst with Uhnu they want to extend the possibilities of experimentation in the area.
Georgina Maxim and Misheck Msamvu, directors of the Village Uhnu Crative Open Art Studio.
After the warmest welcome and around a delicious meal shared together, we discover the practice of Tawanda Takura, Evans Tinashe Mutenga and Epheas Maposa who we also have the chance to meet and talk to. When the first one uses trash (especially cigarette butts) and found objects from the street to build figurative sculptures, the second creates aleatory paintings on carton superimposing them and then snatching the multiples layers. The third, Epheas, uses the canvas as a way to condense several elements of the condition of life in Zimbabwe, and the composition of the paintings is particularly balanced. Feeling the atmosphere of Harare, and also the lack of facilities for the artists to be able to work, one can also relate these works to this specific context. Found objects reveals their poetic meaning, while an iconoclastic approach reminds of the publicity or propaganda imposed in the streets, and of gestures of vandalism being badly seen.
Village Uhnu depends mostly on selling the artworks of the artists they present, and the directors invest all their energy and dedication to be able to propose this space as an experimental place for the artists who want to benefit from it.
“Philosophically, the term Hunhu or Ubuntu emphasizes the importance of a group or community. The term finds a clear expression in the Nguni/Ndebele phrase: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons)”. Misheck and Georgina, trying to distant themselves from the indivual approach in the artfield, definitely are building a community of solidarity in the arts around their place, and hopefully will acquire the building in the future.
At the very day that an exhibition with 29 contemporary artists from Zimbabwe opens at Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, we visit Zimbabwe’s National Gallery in Harare. Chief curator Raphael Chikukwa is not only responsible for exhibitions here, but also founding curator of the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the Venice Biennial. He explains how his success in raising international funds for the first edition in 2011, provided the leverage to convince the government to launch the pavilion. It is evident from his stories that he has been a true ambassador for Zimbabwean art. Exhibiting at the Venice Biennial pavilion has been a turning point in the careers of artists such as Portia Zvavahera and Charles Bhebe.
The National Gallery does not only engage with contemporary art but holds a collection that runs from Chris Offili back to the 17th century, stored and presented across three venues, in Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare. Significant historical donations were made by British textile magnate Stephen Courtauld (who spent the last 15 years of his life in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe), including works by Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Lucas van Leyden and many other key figures in European art history. But the majority of the collection involves art from Zimbabwe since the Gallery’s establishment in 1957. Raphael strives to make the museum as “a living organism”, rather than a depository, where curators and artists interact with the collections and bring them alive through exhibitions as well as collection mobility.
The National Gallery has two exhibitions on display, which each deserve special mention. One is the exhibition ‘The Equalities of Women’, which was assembled after an open call to women artists from Zimbabwe, South Africa and Nigeria for works addressing the position and experiences of women in society today. The exhibition includes powerful and gripping works, which touch on topics ranging from motherhood to what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated context. Over the days in Harare, this proves to be an urgent topic that comes back again and again. The open call principle is a fruitful tool to reach out to more established artists such as Portia Zvavahera, as well as less-know and younger artists, even students. Olivia Botha, for example, presents an impressive installation with textile and bloodlike liquid, in response to the illegality of abortion and its consequences for women’s lives.
Doris Kamupira shows us her installation ‘I Will Be Late for Work’. With a fashionable handbag and pair of shoes on a bedding made of sweeping brooms her work points to growing class divisions: as some women manage to enter the middle class and can afford a life with personal luxuries, the simple fact that they now do their domestic work with vacuum cleaners means that women who earn a minimal income by making simple wicker brooms are increasingly deprived of their livelihood. What if the growth of one group of women is to the detriment of others?
The participating artists we encounter at the opening, and later in Bulawayo, are very happy to be part of this all-women exhibition where they can give these topics visibility collectively.
The second exhibition, entitled ‘Meeting of Minds’ features Zimbabwean artists related to the Netherlands. Our visit was seized by both the museum directorship and the Dutch ambassador in Zimbabwe, Barbara van Hellemond, as a strategic opportunity to highlight international connection and collaboration. Having the directors of the Dutch and Danish national funds for the visual arts present at the opening of the show, sends a diplomatic message to the government that art and museums are worthy of public support.
The exhibition features Zimbabwean Rijksacademie alumni Patrick Makumbe, Admire Kamudzengerere and Gareth Nyandoro (who still lives between Harare and Amsterdam), as well as artists Terrence Musekiwa and Option Nyahunzvi who participated in the Thamy Mnyele Foundation residency in Amsterdam. It is great to see their works, but also great to see Pauline Burmann’s Thamy Mnyele Foundation acclaimed for the role it plays in fostering the careers of African artists, something which is well-known on the African continent and internationally, but often remains undervalued in the Netherlands.
A third point of connection is Tengenenge (‘the beginning of the beginning’), an artists’ community initiated in the 1960s by Tom Blomefield, a tobacco farmer from Dutch/South-African descent, who turned his land into a sculpture farm. With the help of artist Crispen Chakanyuka, Blomefield encouraged his workers to make sculptures with the stone deposits on his land. Tengenenge continues to thrive, allowing artists with and without previous training to develop a practice and use the village as an open-air gallery and as a home for their families.
Tengenege sculptures became renowned, and the village is now hub for artists interested in stone sculpture from all over the world, as well as a popular tourist attraction. ‘Meeting of Minds’ features works by Josi Manzi, Kilala Malola, Amai Manzi, Sylvester Mubayi and Paulo Meza.
With their collection and exhibitions, the National Gallery deserves a larger audience than it is receiving now. The audience mainly exists of other artists, tourists, and school children. Others we meet in Harare confirm that music and poetry are popular art forms, but that Zimbabweans have a troubled relationship with the visual arts and museums. Raphael sketches in no uncertain words why this is the case. Historically, art museums were colonial institutions (this museum opened in 1957 as the National Gallery of Rhodesia) and a no-go area for black people. Signs on the building said: ‘no blacks, no dogs’. Museums still suffer from that colonial legacy today.
To build new audiences, and help build an art scene, education plays an important role in the museum. Not only does the museum reach out to schools, but it also provides talented youngsters with primary art education. Since there are no independent or university related official art schools in Harare, the National Gallery has taken over part of this role, with financial support from HIVOS and the Norwegian government. The entwinement of the Gallery with young talent ensures that the institution can help artists convince their families that being an artist is a respectable profession, offer them a platform with a grad show and other exhibitions, and connect them with other practitioners and professional contacts. Many go on to develop their artistic voice at Delta or Village Unhu (see elsewhere in this blog). Some also come back for further support: when Portia was selected for the Venice Biennial, for example, she was given the museum’s meeting room as a studio, so she could produce new works at a scale her own limited means at the time would not have allowed. The Gallery thus encompasses much more than what the European understanding of the term ‘museum’ would suggest and plays multiple key roles in fostering art in Harare.
Njelele Art Station
Njelele Art Station is an independent project space that focuses on contemporary, experimental and public art run by Dana Whabira and her team. The name Njelele is based on a sacred shrine in Zimbabwe and it is located in one of the oldest streets in the city of Harare. Next to engaging with local artists in the neighbour-hood, international artists can also apply for a residency.
Nancy Mteki is a Zimbabwean artist who collaborated with Njelele on her project ‘Looking for Love’. Nancy dressed herself in a wedding dress and asked a couple of men in the streets to marry her. By doing this, Nancy was reacting to the male dominance in the street in a most direct engagement. She had beautiful reactions from the people interacting with her during this project and everybody wanted to have their picture taken with Nancy.
Joyce Jenje Makwenda is an archivist-historian, researcher and author. Joyce participated in the Njelele residency exchange programme. With the help of Njelele, Joyce published various books about the influence of Township Jazz music in her hometown.
Farren van Wijk
Motor Republic Hub Moto Republic is a space dedicated to the practice of diverse creatives that have as their shared aim, speaking truth to power. It is a cultural activist organization that promotes freedom of expression via different platforms: youth activism, music and satire, tv program’s, new media conferences, and festivals. Next to traditional funding, they finance their activities through outsourcing the expertise in house, for instance assisting in making music video clips, and hiring out their venue.
One of the platforms is Magamba TV (magamba means heroes) that provides social commentary and satire in the form of online video reports spread on social media. In a country where there is only one national TV broadcast that is connected to the state that governs all outings, Magamba TV wants to contribute to an alternative narrative. One member of Magamba TV shows us a sketch with a man seen from the back impersonating Mnangagwa (to recognize by his trademark scarf) who is in the process of selecting his ministers for the cabinet who all turn out to be friends. During the previous government one would be arrested for this kind of work, even a re-tweet could be enough.
The current government allows for more freedom, but it is still risky as the government can force social media blackouts or even arrest people at home. As a means of protection, their strategy is to put as much content online as they can, and be as public as possible, so in case things happen international media and the public are aware of it. The fact that they are ‘watched’ became overtly clear last year, when one of the buildings they are in, constructed out of sea containers, on higher order of Harare officials was tried to be demolished. Because the community demonstrated, the city managed to tear down only the 3rd layer as after the “save Moto Republic’ action they pulled back.
Bus stop TV is another, and according to our guide, most disruptive and popular (the Bus stop TV team members are “celebs”) online platform making satirical programs. Here the focus is on featuring events or topics that are taboo, through documentary stories interviewing citizens. Bus stop TV wants to create a platform for every day struggles, create a dialogue, get people’s opinion as they otherwise don’t get their voice heard.
Another initiative is Citizens Manifesto that aims for bringing citizens together and feed them with ideas how to create movements so they can have more impact. When we visit, a member of Citizens Manifesto is busy wrapping cards with USB sticks containing instructions for how to build a movement: they will be handed out for free, a physical and untraceable way of distribution.
The effect of these on- and offline activities is big: they have millions of followers both in the country but far more international. During the last elections youth contributed to the highest vote registration and also the Facebook and YouTube statistics show that there is a big group of diaspora followers.
Magical performance by William Kentridge and his team This morning we set out for our last meeting in Johannesburg before we fly to Harare (Zimbabwe). We are heading for The Center for the Less Good Idea. As is often the case in Joburg, the street decor is constantly changing. One moment we drive through a rough-looking neighborhood. Then the van takes a turn and you are suddenly in a different world. A world of refurbished old factory halls and stylishly decorated cafes where people sit online behind their laptop. In short, comfortable locations but you can find them anywhere in the world.
The Center for the Less Good Idea is located in Maboneng Precinct, in the eastern part of the city; a neighborhood where gentrification has created not only places for artists but also hipster spots for coffee and food.
Bronwyn Lace is visibly busy but receives us friendly and efficient. Great is the surprise when the founding father of this place appears on the scene: William Kentridge. Both tell about the identity of the venue. The Center is in fact the ideal playground for artists and curators. Or as the website says: ‘an interdisciplinary incubator space for art’.
The beautiful name of the institution is a reference to the idea behind the original plan. Lace: “The less good idea is not a bad idea, but the idea behind the initial plan, the idea peripheral to it”. Artists must submit plans and account in the regular system for financing their work. There is little time in that system for the experiment and certainly too little room to deviate from the submitted plan if the process requires it. While very interesting things can happen there. Once again Lace: “This is a safe place for artists to fail; failure is a thing which is very important “. And Kentridge adds: “… giving the impulse the benefit of the doubt and what happens; that is in the core of this center “.
The center has a number of studios where artists from different disciplines work together for a period, learn from each other and make discoveries. Their is no open call; an artist must be invited. The period of research is finished with a final presentation. “To put some pressure on them” says Kentridge. The interdisciplinary nature of the institution is evident. Only this morning we meet visual coasters, a puppeteer, dancers (urban and classical educated), musicians (jazz and classical educated) and spoken word performer.
We are welcome in the studio of Gerard Marx. Under his hands a car has been reconstructed into a sculpture. Using electronics, ‘the car’ has been transformed into an instrument with, for example, the doors as sound boxes for strings. Marx is curious about the performative quality of musicians; to the relationship between looking and hearing. Today is the first time that the sound that is ‘captured’ in the instrument is discovered during an improvisation; with our group as an audience. After a few ‘knor, beeps, scratch’ sounds, some time later, the electronic potpouri creates a certain rhythm and a harmonious sound. A blessing for the ears.
But also exciting to experience how that moment arose from the improvisation of the musicians. Then we are treated to a short but powerful performance by an actor who, through an intervention by the director, sees his physical space limited to a round moving disc with a diameter of 1.5 m. And last but not least we see the pianist with the monkey, actually the collaboration between a classically trained pianist and a puppeteer.
The biggest surprise is yet to come: a gig has been arranged for us in the large hall of the complex. Kentridge was inspired by the Ursonate by the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters. We hang on his lips while he recites this aburdist text from 1932 with a beautiful diction and at the same time look at the parallel video projection. The ensemble is addressed in that part of the Ursonate where improvisation is prescribed. An explosion of sound, image and movement follows. The whole is certainly not inferior to the original performance, it is at the same time disruptive and moving.
Another moving conclusion is the knowledge that Kentridge is the financier of this beautiful place. In a country with few public funds for the arts and private financiers that seem to be more likely to go for ‘ power’ institutions that generate international visibility, Kentridge supports the experiment and the artists. The Center for the Less Good Idea is therefore unique and exemplary. How beautiful would it be if there were such playgrounds in other places in the world?
On the way to Harare After this amazing visit to the Center for the Less Good Idea the bus takes to the airport and we are on our way to Harare (Zimbabwe).
VANSA (Visual Arts Network of South Africa) is a support and development agency for contemporary arts practice in South Africa. It operates as a network of artists with over 8000 members; membership costs the equivalent of one euro. The urgency of VANSA’s activities is outlined by its new director Kabelo Malatsie (who has worked as a curator in both independent and commercial contexts, and has explored alternative funding and institutional models that are rooted in their viability in the South-African context). There is a lack of independent, public institutions for the arts in South Africa; and where public infrastructure for the arts fails, she says, it fails the artists. Yes, there is a growing commercial arts scene, with galleries and private museums; and yes, a group of South-African artists features prominently on the world stage of biennials and fairs. But behind this story of success and glamour, hides a structure that is structurally not supportive and often exploitative, whether deliberately or not. VANSA aims to look beyond the few dominant players, and beyond discussions about which artists are good, which themes are popular, and which critical debates are given a symbolic stage, to advocate structures across the entire field of art that are more fair and safe.
An important tool is VANSA’s website, which is a resource for information about resources, funding and job opportunities, residencies, internships, and networks. VANSA also offers legal advice, about contracts, copyright issues, collectors who fail to pay for their acquisitions within reasonable time. VANSA also lobbies with governments and institutions, for example for artist’s fees and resale rights.
The kind of fair practice VANSA advocates, is an issue everywhere. But the predicament of the majority of South African and other African artists, Kabelo explains, is extra harsh because of the massive gaps between the international ‘scramble’ for African contemporary art, and the real material conditions behind the scene, which tend to remain unspoken. Discursive programming and supposed criticality are part of every biennial, exhibition, even commercial gallery show these days. But we don’t talk about the artists who did not make it to the selection because they could not afford to travel abroad. We don’t talk about the artists who did not manage to meet the international curator in their own town because they could not afford to front the taxi fare and fancy latte macchiato for a vague ‘get together’ with no clear purpose or intended outcome. Kabelo’s examples are confronting, because they are so very recognizable, and they also implicate all arts professionals engaging with (South)African artists, including ourselves.
In order to help build opportunities and equity across the country, one of VANSA’s focus is to support independent practice outside of the main city centres, fostering diverse local opportunities and networks, so artists are less pressured to relocate to the urban centres where their chances at a career and at a life are actually not necessarily better. At the same time, VANSA is part of an international network of independent arts organisations, like KUNCI Cultural Studies Center in Yogyakarta (Indonesia) and lugar a dudas in Cali (Colombia), which share knowledge and exchange strategies.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Today we went to the Johannesburg Art Gallery, a beautiful building from 1915, surrounded by a sculpture park. If you search for JAG – Johannesburg Art Gallery on Wikipedia, you’ll read this: ”The Johannesburg Art Gallery is an art gallery in Joubert Park in the central business district of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is the largest gallery on the subcontinent with a collection that is larger than that of the Iziko South African National Art Gallery in Cape Town”.
Unfortunately it was not the experience we had (or I had). It seems that a large part of the museum was closed down. Only a very small selection of the collection was on display, almost hidden away in the lower floor. However, there were some very good works, e.g several photo series by David Goldblatt, one called “Going home” or “Going to work”, featuring the time the black working class spent every day on busses between home and work. And a painting by Mmakgabo Mapula Helen Sebidi, which we saw at the Noval Foundation, tiled “Modern Marriage” (1988-1989). In an additional exhibition space a small collection of heritage items from the KwaZulu-Natal region from 19th and early 20th century (a collection acquired in 2013) were shown. It didn’t catch my full attention, which may as well be because of my state of mind and the limited time.
But impressively, they had this very beautifully installed comprehensive solo presentation titled “Fragile” by Wolfgang Tillman on display. Even though you may have seen a lot of him during the last twenty years, it still works. The on-going concern with issues about intimacy, relations and minority community, seems as relevant as always. The well balanced shift from close-ups and small details to depictions of situations from everyday life and communities. The characteristic way to compose the layout of his works and the way you, as a viewer or recipient, have to shift position watching the images. Sometimes you have to go really close to see the motive and then step back to get the needed distance to capture the content of the big scale photos, and then again kneel down to get close enough to se the small snapshot-like photos.
We were supposed to meet with the director Khwezi Gule, but unfortunately he didn’t show up, being too busy with the JoburgArtFair and the Art Week. A pity because it could have been very interesting to hear something about future plans and hopes for the museum. We heard that he was newly appointed and therefore must have a lot of ideas of what’s to be done. It was clear that the whole building needed restoration. Already from the outside it looked dilapidated. Of course, to finance such a massive renovation project and to build up a sustainable economy must be the biggest challenge. I wish him all the best of luck. There really is a potential to create a great institution.
In Good Company
Our final night in Joburg is spent in good company. In Troyeville Hotel, located in one of the eldest suburbs on the eastern edge of Johannesburg, we are having an informal dinner with a few local artists and curators, some of whom we’ve met in the previous days.
Thato Mogotsi, who was instrumental in getting the whole crowd together, in the grey hoodie, is an independant curator and researcher, a teacher at the Market Photo Workshop and currently in the process of obtaining her masters’ at Wits University.
We also spoke to Molemo Moiloa, to Thato’s left, the founder of Vansa, and a member of the artist collective “MADEYOULOOK”.
Speaking to Anders Gaardboe Jensen is Rangoato Hlasane, an artist and scholar and a founding member of Keleketla! Library, a space that addresses issues of heritage and the danger of one story. Instead, it proposes to be a place where multiple stories and multiple narratives can exist parallel in order to challenge dominant narratives. Keleketla! Library was also part of the last Berlin Biennial.
We also spoke to Thenjiwe Nkosi (front left), a South African/Greek artist based in New York. In her work she deals with the questions second generation exiles face. Victoria Wigzell (back left) is an artist and researcher who recently started an artist run film production company called News From Home. Chlöe Hugo-Hamman, seated in the back right, is an actress and artist working in mixed media. She’s talking to Jamal Nxedlana whom we’ve met the day before at Bubblegum Club.
Seated between Rangoato Hlasane and Frederique Bergholtz is Minenkulu Ngoyi, an artist and founding member of the print collective Alphabet Zoo, affiliated with Danger Gevaar Ingozi. Anna Rubbens is seated on the right. We bumped into her at Stevenson gallery and it turned out she was a recent animation graduate from LUCA Ghent travelling in South Africa. So we invited her to join the program for two days.
Launch of 9 More weeks by Sinazo Chiya at STEVENSON. Publishing conversations like snap shots
Today we start by joining a public conversation in Stevenson gallery celebrating the launch of Sinazo Chiya’s 9 More Weeks. A publication containing a series of artists interviews done by Sinazo. Joost Bosland, director of Stevenson Cape Town, leads the conversation in which he will try to give some insights in the interviewing process and the choices that have been made.
The project ‘9 weeks’ started when Belgium curator and writer Hansi Momodu-Gordon documented the conversations she had during her a nine-week visit to South Africa turning them into the first publication by Stevenson of which this is the sequel. It’s great to immediately read the different approach by both authors. It’s amazing how embedded and knowledgeable Sinazo is. In the conversations it becomes -between the lines- clear how invested she is in art historical theory and she explains that she choose to keep away from this knowledge making it vocabulary absent in the interviews. One way of stepping away from this was starting the conversation with common references like populair culture as shoes and music but she also referred to local history.Creating an interesting read anyone can pick up. Something that worked in all interviews she did, wether it was via Skype, e-mail, talks in the gallery or the conversation over beers in the bar. In all of the interviews she managed to create a strong verbal portrait that she likes to call a ’snap shot’.
The base of every interview is extended research of the artist’s body of work and previous interviews, aiming to make the document part of the discussion on the continent, something that can be the root of the conversation about art and explaining the context. This is also the reason why she always narrows down hour long conversations trying to not only create a journalist document but also adding to the art-critical discourse.
The conversation ends with the search for an overall theme within the interview, which could be intuition. A state of mind all the artists in one way or another work from, as feeling or spiritual idea of ancestry. But, maybe even closer to all of the art practices, the continuously changing story… that even throughout the creation of work and the long interviews end up far away from where it started. Maybe with hidden inside it ‘a revelation or two’. About 9 More weeks.
By coincidence we bump into a dreamy pastel coloured minimalistic gallery on the hip Smith Road, close to Stevenson. With it’s pink and purple walls something we need to explore. Right away we find out it’s not your every day traditional gallery but the artist-run exhibition / studio- space BKhz. Run by the 23 year old artist Banale Khoza. His work, ghostly soft watercolours in which the same dreamy pastel hue is present als seen everywhere in the space.
Funnily enough Khoza found his way to painting through the encounter of the work of Marlene Dumas in his preteen living in Swaziland. Dumas, an artist well known to many readers of this blog, is an South African artists based in Amsterdam that painted Moshekwa in 2006. A bruise-colored expressionist study of artist Moshekwa Langa. Khoza saw the portrait in 2008, the same year he moved to South Africa, and credits it with inspiring him to be a painter.” He is clearly inspired by Dumas but has it’s own signature that can be seen in all of the paintings.
The reason we got excited about the space and it’s approach is the mission it has. It doubles as both personal studio and exhibition space. The backroom, his fully equipped studio, is the place you can find him working on a daily base while the front room is a place where in the first place his first solo exhibition is presented. The artists founded the space because of the lack of places for young artist to exhibit. Right after this current exhibition he planned a photography exhibition with a group of young local artists that isn’t being represented by a gallery yet. Reason enough to peek into this ambitious gallery space between your flat-white and visit to Stevenson Johannesburg.
BUBBLEGUMCLUB After BKhz we visit to the headquarter of theBubblegumclub the self proclaimed ‘cultural intelligence agency’ that consist of six members with background in graphic design, fashion, politics, film and journalism.
Although all of the individuals have multiple projects and practices within Bubblegumclub they are active in two domains. They work, to quote them, to help brands and organizations understand and engage with contemporary South African youth culture. Creating video’s and editorials in which they are apart from the brief completely free to make the work they want. “Conceptualizing within this commercial work the broader social context of trends and activations to help out they’re clients to organically access youth culture.” Besides offering advertorials and video’s they are also regularly invited to curate night programs that usually have a musical layer.
On the other hand they create autonomous personal work and publications and exhibitions and work by others. This came after the frustrations they also have about the lack of prevention platforms for young emerging artists. And the lack of local African context that goes further than the gallery context.
They created an approach in which they can offer a residency of 8 weeks, with a selection made from an open call on Instagram. Offering a place to create and exchange. During this time the young artists got mentorship, acces to their network and a publication and exhibition at the end. Aiming to create a group of new artists that are able to self organise. You can see this as an long turn project that can evolve or develop in closer collaboration with the artists.
As criteria for this residency they mainly look at how artists approach their practice. It can be fashion, poetry, photography, paint, design. With the lack of support in the arts in general they find the need of inclusivity most important. It’s all about the proposal. Are they proposing to create something new? Are they making a new step in their practice? The main focus is to be open for something new, broadening their approach.
Umlindelo mama Kholwa ( the vigil nights of believers)
Those who assume that a people have no history worth mentioning are likely to believe that they have no humanity worth defending. A historical legacy strengthens a country and it’s people. Denying a peoples heritage questions their legitimacy. – William Loren Katz
Umlindelo mama Kholwa is an ongoing photographic series by Sabelo Mlamgeni. Focussing on Zionist churches in Driefontein and Johannesburg.
The Zionist church is one of several prophet-healing groups in southern
Africa; they correspond to the independent churches known as Aladura (q.v.) in Nigeria, “spiritual” in Ghana, and “prophet-healing churches” in most other parts of Africa.The use of the term Zion derives from the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, founded in Chicago in 1896 and having missionaries in South Africa by 1904. That church emphasized divine healing, baptism by threefold immersion, and the imminent Second Coming of Christ. It’s African members encountered U.S. missionaries of the Apostolic Faith pentecostal church in 1908 and learned that the Zion Church lacked the second Baptism of the Spirit (recognition of extra powers or character); they therefore founded their own pentecostal Zion Apostolic Church. The vast range of independent churches that stem from the original Zion Apostolic Church use in their names the words Zion (or Jerusalem), Apostolic, Pentecostal, Faith, or Holy Spirit to represent their biblical charter, as for example the Christian Catholic Apostolic Holy Spirit Church in Zion of South Africa. These are known in general as Zionists or Spirit Churches. Since the 1920s the racial and political concerns shared with Ethiopianism (an earlier movement toward religious and political autonomy) have declined, especially in South Africa; the better
established Zionists have become Ethiopian in type, or more like white evangelical or revivalist churches. These tendencies are apparent in the two largest South African groups—the Zion Christian Church (founded 1925), whose membership is estimated at 80,000 to 600,000, and Limba’s austere Church of Christ (founded 1910), which had about
120,000 members in the 1980s.
For believers life on earth is seen as a waiting room where the congregants prepare themselves for a happier live. But waiting is also a way of connecting to each other. Whilst one waits stories are shared and it’s a way of creating the communal. Although the waiting seems to be a passive act, it is by no means because in the moment of standing still, other paradigms can be opened to the world. Love in relation to being black is often an overlooked opportunity to think creatively in an open discourse about life and new possibilities for another world and another humanity. It is not about a repetition of love within the dominant moral and religious languages. Not love in the theology of the West inherited from modernity and stalked by the trinity who have traveled over sea’s namely Christianity, capitalism and colonialism. They gave us a bible and told us to close our eyes and when we opened our eyes the land was gone Sabelo says. He questions himself on how he can one be a Christian and at the same time be woke. There are a lot of contradictions in the way stories in the bible were brought to him.. For example they were not allowed to connect with their ancestors, but who are the characters in the bible? Aren’t they ancestors as well?
Entering the exhibition we see cobalt blue walls the color of his church.
A blue cloth with a cross and a white stripe attached to it, which makes the cross look like a star, hangs from the ceiling . It is the flag of his consecration. When Sabelo speaks about his church and his community, it is modest but also full of passion. The photographs in the exhibition are a loving and intimate portrait of a large part of his life and of the people with whom he has shared a lot. Initially, the thought came to my head why he in God’s name embraces Christianity, while it is precisely the missionaries and the church who share responsibility for bringing so much misery into the former colonies. But when I ask further it turns out that Sabelo and his community experience a different form of believing than we know in the West. African spirituality is mixed in the daily rituals and the ancestors are always honored through rituals. Sabelo also had inner struggles and turned his back to the community for a period of time. He had many questions which were never discussed within the community, such as the position of women and homosexuality. The latter is certainly present, but it is not openly discussed. The role of woman is subservient and subject to a rock-solid tradition. Her position is still such as that it is written in the Bible. I find it courageous of Sabelo to question these positions and to investigate these in his work. He doesn’t do this in a loud and confrontational manner, but modestly and with respect for the others of his consecration. However, it also shows the terror which lies hidden within tradition when one is not allowed to question it. Life and the people who live it are in constant change. Traditions sometimes need to be questioned in order to stay in tune with the music of life.
The mainly black and white photos of Sabelo give me the opportunity to look through other windows without glass to a partly unknown world. I say partly because in my youth I was taken to various church services. My mother did not take it that strict with religion. Which meant that I sometimes attended services of the Pentecostal church, then sat in a Catholic church and was fascinated by their rituals and the overload of images and painting or to an empty Protestant cold church. The sense of community, as Sabelo imagines in his foo’s, I have therefore not known. As also goes for the deep spiritual experience of being a believer. I discovered my spirituality later and learned to experience Christianity in a different way. Entering the intimacy of his world and even being allowed to touch it if I wanted to do so, is an incredibly generous act, because as a child of a diaspora, but brought up in the West, I always had this desire for that secure intimacy of a community. Being allowed to touch the photo’s is also a way to de-sacralize them but also art in general. Contemporary art is about money and therefore the object, art piece gets value. Money is the ‘religion’ of Capitalism. Art should take a turn and move to another direction. With his photo’s Sabelo is leading the way. I just have to follow the path.
In late afternoon the group went to the monumental and somewhat overzealous Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton to visit Theatre on the Square, which hosted a special preview screening of the new “Johannesburg” episode of season 9 of the Peabody Award-winning documentary television series Art in the Twenty-First Century. The series is produced by Art21, which since 1997 has been recognized as a celebrated global leader in presenting high-levelled content about contemporary art. It remains one of the non-profit and New York-based organization’s beliefs that artists are role models for creative and critical thinking. Its mission aim, moreover, is to inspire a more tolerant world through the work and words of contemporary artists. Through a continuous digital presence, publications, various educational initiatives and a video library with over 500 videos all open and free to the public, Art21 reaches audiences worldwide.
Season 9 is presented in three parts, drawing upon artists’ relationships with the places in which they work: Berlin, Germany; Johannesburg, South Africa; and the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA.
Throughout 2008 and 2009, Art21 worked closely with artist William Kentridge (who was also among the audience) on the production of the feature film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible, and thus represents a continuation of the organization’s relationship with South Africa.
The new “Johannesburg” episode features David Goldblatt, Nicholas Hlobo, Zanele Muholi, and Robin Rhode, charting not only the city’s emergence as the artistic capital of sub-Saharan Africa, but also telling the story of four artists from a diversity of South African ethnic backgrounds, identities and generations working across photography, painting, sculpture, and performance. The episode gives an impression of the creative processes as well as the physical and visual challenges of achieving an artistic vision in the face of Johannesburg’s urban fabric, its value systems and (sometimes) brutal landscapes. On their own specific terms, the artists presented are dealing with race, history, and de-colonialization, while demonstrating at the same time the immense possibilities arising from Johannesburg’s cityscape and its artistic communities.
After the screening event, which was arranged in partnership with the FNB JoburgArtFair, the theatre hosted a conversation and Q&A session with artist Nicholas Hlobo, who was joined by Art21’s producer and director, Ian Foster, and moderated by Dr. Same Mdluli, Manager of the Standard Bank Gallery.
The new season 9 of Art in the Twenty-First Century broadcasts online and on PBS on 21 September.
The sound of Johannesburg is different from that of Capetown.
Joburg generates the sound of a metropolis, grand and dynamic. There are also no fewer than 4.5 million people living here. That sound is not the only difference. The architecture is higher and people in the street walk differently; more self-aware. If Capetown is Europe, then Joburg is Africa. However different, both cities are marked by the history of Apartheid and the way in which history now influences the present. Also the cultural infrastructure of Joburg is different than in Capetown. It feels like the system of galleries, workshops and artists groups has become more detached from the stifling structure of Apartheid.
One of the places that undoubtedly contributed to this is the Market Photo Workshop. Founded when the Apartheid system was still very powerful: in the year 1989. The recently deceased, committed photographer and activist David Goldblatt is the founding father. Back then, MPW was an illegal organization and one of the few non-racial spaces where people could meet.
This morning Lekgetho Makola, recently the new director, receives us with his team in the gallery space of the complex. Makola says that the white Goldblatt did not just want to photograph the black youth he met in the townships. Goldblatt created for them a training facility with help of some friends. By training the youth and learning them to tell their own story with the camera, the Market Photo Workshop grew into a haven for talent development. A place where young people from the townships with their own photographs made the experiences of so-called marginalized groups imagined. An empowering force.
From the start in 1989, students themselves have found their way to the institution. Without specific PR but just because of word-of-mouth advertising. The most famous alumni of the MWP is probably Zanele Muholi who in November 2017 presented the eleventh edition of ‘Faces and Phases’ in the gallery of MPW; a series that has been running since 2006 with : “documenting black lesbian and transgender individuals from South Africa and beyond”.
Almost thirty years later, the ethos of the place remained the same: socially committed and critical. The organization has grown despite the fact that financial resources are not always easy to find. Fortunately, the institution is now partly financed with public money. Nevertheless, private funding remains crucial. There is now a phased curriculum with different programs for beginners and advanced students. Short term and long term. Attention is paid to the ethics of photography. There is a gallery and an extensive image archive. Moreover, there are international collaborations.
Makola is proud and excited. Justly. Because this morning it became known that the MPW is the winner of the annual Prince Claus Award. This means that new dreams can become reality, such as the desired international scholarship program.
As a cultural meeting place, the Market Photo Workshop has always been a non-racial space. You can still see and feel that now. Take, for example, the composition of the staff and board members present. A delicious mix of diversity when it comes to gender, age and color. The other institutes that received us were more of ‘kind of looking kind’. MPW is really different from, for example, Zeitz Mocaa with a completely black staff or the Noval Foundation with a white director and white curator. Also look at the way in which Makola replaced the chairs prior to our meeting. We are not facing each other. No, we are in a circle; staff members and we – the visitors – alternate. In this democratic setting that facilitates the conversation, stories are easily shared, questions quickly asked and answered.
The last part of this morning is filled by a meeting with photographer Dahlia Maubane who talks about her exhibition ‘Woza Sisi’; a visual study of informal economics, urban planning and employment for women – in particular women hairstylists – in Johannesburg and Maputo (Mozambique).
The title of the exhibition refers to what is called by the hairdresser to her potential client. We see how women literally claim their place in the public domain so that they can earn a little money. This exhibition also fits in with the profile of Market Photo Workshop. The gallery affiliated with the training institute shows engaged photo documentaries with social information relevant to the viewer.
Some of us want to walk on foot to next the location. But moving this way in Joburg is not recommended, again and again. As an outsider it is difficult to interpret the context properly. Are our hosts perhaps not overly worried? Yesterday I was even advised not to take 50 steps from the theater to the opposite café in a car-free street – with cheerful drinking and gender mixed people. At the same time everyone has read about the high crime rates especially the virulant violence against women. So in the end we are happy with our own mini-van with the doors neatly sealed off on the way.
Bag Factory The Bag Factory, located in an old bag manufacturing warehouse in Fordsburg, is the mother organisation of Greatmore Studios which we visited earlier in the week in Cape Town.
The Bag Factory is primarily a studio and residency space for artists from South Africa and broad. The building contains seventeen artists’ studios, a gallery, a lithography printing studio and project space. It was founded in 1991 by David Nthubu Koloane (°1938) and Kagiso Patrick Mautloa (°1952) as one of the first studio spaces which made it possible for black and white artists to work together on a professional level, despite the Apartheid legislation of that time. Up until today, David Koloane and Pat Mautloa continue to have their studio at the Bag Factory.
Next to studios spaces for local artists, the organisation also runs an international visiting artist programme, a curatorial training programme, as well as outreach programmes and specialized skills workshops. The international programme enables artists from Africa and other continents to spend time working in Johannesburg, creating networks, and learning about the South African culture.
The bag Factory plays an important role in Johannesburg’s artistic scene as it allows for artists, young and old, to have affordable space where they can work and meet with peers. As director Candice Allison puts it, ‘looking for space in South Africa is like looking for gold‘.
Richard ‘Specs’ Ndimande (°1994) is the youngest artist at the Bag Factory. He studied Fine Arts at the University of Johannesburg where he graduated in 2017. Richard tells us that he works in the evenings because he has a day-job as assistant in an auction house in Johannesburg. He likes spending time working in his studio at the Bag Factory because it enables him to focus on his work but also to talk to other artists and get feedback from them. For the moment he is not interested to work with a gallery. He enjoys the fact that there’s no commercial pressure at the Bag Factory even though the place is reputed to be a breeding house for artists.
Richard’s practice looks at themes of oppression. servitude and exploitation and he’s fascinated by the human-animal hybrid. Most of his works are self-portraits depicting the oppressed as prey and the oppressor as predatory beast.
Pat Mautloa is one of the founding members and oldest artists at the Bag Facorty. After working in a bank, he decided to devote all his time to his artistic work. In his work Pat uses found objects from the street in downtown Johannesburg. Gleaned objects from everyday life like wooden leftovers, worn out cotton rags or plastic jerry cans are combined with newsprints, stencils, color painting and drawing, creating abstract textures and figurative elements. As you can see here in his ‘Trump’ painting!
Finally, it’s important to mention that the Bag Factory is also very much engaged in local community life through daily care and specific outreach programmes. Candice told us that every morning they start with sweeping the whole street! By doing so they get in contact with the local people, talk about their activities and invite them to join their educational workshops, art classes and tours together with other schools and youth groups. Resident artists are also invited to participate actively in community activities and outreach programmes in the Gauteng-area as part of their residency. Thumbs up!
Danger Gevaar Ingozi at Victoria Yard
Friday’s afternoon trip takes us to Victoria Yard, a newly emerging creative hub that appears hip and gentrified, yet whose social reality in the city of Johannesburg is of course only one part of a much larger, complex urban and social history and struggle for post-apartheid identity. Victoria Yard is located in Lorentzville in the east of the city center, and the creative and economic hub being put into place hosts artists, galleries, artisan and crafts makers, a brewery as well as urban agriculture and social community projects. Blessing Ngobeni, James Delanay and world-renowned photographer Roger Ballen have their studios here, and it’s scenery presents itself as a comfort zone remote to the social realities of the city.
Here we visit Danger Grevaar Ingozi (DGI), a printmaking and artist collective that moved their studio to Victoria Yards in February this year. Even though the place is “excessively romantic”, as Nathaniel Sheppard and Chad Cordeiro, the co-founders of DGI, tell us, it is attractive because of the low rents, the exposure and the overall vibrancy of the environment which aims to foster collaborative and collective practices, knowledge transfer and empowerment through an active engagement with the community. Chad and Nathaniel, who share the same passion for hip hop culture and critical discourse, took up their joint practice during their studies at the University of Witwatersrand. After leaving the safe spaces provided by the University, they decided to establish their own safe space, a printmaking studio that aspires to foster a non-elitist, collaborative approach and that provides the technical means for printmaking and its dissemination. DGI actively engages with the practices of print culture in South Africa and the socio-historical and political narratives they foster and are embedded in. The shared interest of DGI and its collaborators is the dedication to push forward print as an artistic and critical medium, as a means of knowledge production and a set of collectives practices of production, publishing and dissemination.
Nathaniel and Chad play for us a vinyl record that they produced within the framework of State Proof, an ongoing sonic research (and DJ) collective they form together with Johannesburg-based artist Simnikiwe Buhlungu. The project explores, through the practice of sharing, listening, conversation and exchange, private music collections and unravels the connections between the practices of music and print as sites of protest and resistance as well as the role they play as media for the production and dissemination of ideologies that can serve as counter-narratives to dominant regimes. As printing is always about questions of access and dissemination, printmaking has always played a vital role in the practice of protest. Chad tells us how in times of political upheaval and state censorship during the South African apartheid regime, printmakers would carry their silkscreens in a suitcase and disseminate among their communities important information withheld from the government. Printmaking became a powerful tool to disseminate ideologies that played a vital role in opposing the apartheid regime. The stories that DGI are invested in form part of a marginalized oral culture that still remains to find its place in the histories and heritage of South Africa.
The opening of the 11th FNB JoburgArtFair 2018 – some, more or less, random picks and an unexpected nice surprise
This year the Fair will feature over sixty exhibitors withing the cathegories in the catagories Contemporary, solo presentation, Limited edition and Art platforms.
The art fair landscape in the South Africa consists of two art fairs. Cape Town Art Fair and the more established Johannesburg Art Fair, which was the first international art fair on the continent. According to Elana Brundyn, the Director of Noval Foundation, the two Art Fairs have quite different profiles. While Cape Town Art Fair should be more internationally founded, Joburg ArtFair has the African continent as the overall focus, a view that fits well with the Fairs own sense of self. In the preface of the catalogue the very visionary director of FNB JoburgArtFair, Mandla Sibeko writes something like“(…) Creating a mirror for African contemporary art to the world(….)”
The high-profile Fair has all the ingredients you would expect from an Art Fair. Around 45 galleries, including large-scale Installations, special projects (with e.g. Billie Zangewa and this years FNB Art Prize winner the Cape Town-born artist and activist Harron Gunn-Salie), talks, Art platforms, solo exhibitions (Zander Blom at Stevensons is one), 8 limited Edition prints, and of course the hungry art buyers and the loyal, local art crowd. It seems like everyone we have met so far was there: The Goodman Gallery, The blank project, Stevenson (with, among others, a work by Mawande Ka Zenzile, one of his typical cow dung paintings titled “iatrogenic”, a term which refers to diseases or damage caused by doctors), Josh Ginsberg from A4 Art Foundation,
The people behind Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation. So – the place to be if you are in the art world. Well apparently Loyiso Qanya and Jill Trapper from Greatmore Studios, weren’t there, probably because they represent the non-profit part of the art world.
The staffs from the National gallery in Zimbabwe, that we’ll visit next week, was there (they are also the ones being responsible for the pavilion at the Venice Biennale) And the Villages Unhu which we also have the pleasure of meeting next week in Harare, had a booth. Overalll a nice round-off of our program so far.
At one point this fair could be anywhere, and has the look of any other fairs, in terms of the framing and the set-up. It pulls in all directions with all kinds of very different works, of course an excess of saleable works. You can easily decipher and recognize it as a typical art fair, but at the same time something is definitely different, at least from art fairs in Scandinavia. What pop into my mind, if I should point out some tendencies
is the overall colourism and a tactility that is very much present. What also seems very popular right now is the staged photography, either as straight staged photography, or as documentation of performances, all featuring issues of the black body.
There were unexpected and surprisingly some very interesting works between the usual. What was very unexpected for me, was to find an hommage to the Fluxus movement. I found it in the muliti-diciplinary edition and publication company Bad Paper. They work with multiples and editions and aim to make art more accessible and to offer an alternative to the current gallery system. Refreshing with some Fluxus influence in a fair like this!!
The fair might give you a good overview and a sense of what is going on at the African art scene. But since I don’t have the prerequisites – my knowledge about the African art scene is quite limited – I can’t know with certainty whether the representation is comprehensive for the whole continent.
FNB Art Price winner Haroon Gunn-Salie – For Senzenina
Immediately after entering the art fair I get pleasantly surprised by the visibility, scale and presentation of the contemporary section. Next to the entrance I find the large dark space in which the work of 2018’s FNB Art Price winner is presented. The Cape Town- born artists Haroon Gunn-Salie.
His work For Senzenina (2018) addresses the Marikana massacre, the most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since the ’60’s. A mass catastrophe that took place on August 16, 2012 when the South African Police Service opened fire on a crowd of striking mineworkers in the Wonderkop’s subdistrict of Marikana that were demanding an wage increase. In total the police shot and killed thirty-four, left seventy-eight seriously injured and arrested two-hundered-and-fifty mineworkers. They absolved some key political figures but families of the slain minders are still waiting reparations.
The work, an slightly lit black cube with roaring sound that’s already noticeable from far away, invites you to sit on the floor to experience a soundscape containing recent site recordings from Marikana, calls from the mineworkers to disamble peacefully, the entrapment of the workers by the police and chorus of anti-apartheid freedom songs lamented by the mineworkers moments before live ammunition was discharged. The audio-loop of 15-mintes and ends with a striking moment of silence. Intense. Touching. A stirring experience. Something I’d never expected to experience at the Joburg Artfair.
BAD PAPER – Creating Editions In one of the corners of the fair, dedicated to limited edition prints, I found an exiting booth hosted by artists Rodan Kane Hart and graphic designer Ben Johnson.
Under the name BAD PAPER they’re running a fresh alternative (or addition) to the South African gallery system. Trying to introduce Johannesburg to the idea of ‘editions’. Something that already has quite a successful place in the European art market and is already on many mayor art fairs the hip, fresh corner to socialize, hang out and take your first step towards starting your first art collection.
An idea that started while creating a personal artist publication for Rodan Kan Hart, the now first project of BAD PAPER. A limited edition book they’re very proud of. This result, made with care and quality, became the ambition to -at one point- offer every artists that they approach.
Conceptually, we’re interested in the idea of the multiple and all that it entails, including the lives of a single artwork in multiple locations, the preciousness (or lack thereof) in a copy, and the human elements of imperfection intrinsic to the process of repetition. (…) BAD PAPER collaborates with artists to concretize their existing ideas or to translate their prior experience into different modes of thinking. Ultimately, this results in tangible pieces ranging in medium from sculptures and designed objects to prints and artist books.
By creating affordable series of limited publications or object it becomes possible for young artists to sell, get noticed and make a step in their practice. Something that, specially since the lack of project spaces in South Africa, is essential. A very sympathetic approach that by previously working with Zander Blom, Cameron Platter, Jarend Ginsburg, Daniella Mooney and Bronwyn Katz will certainly be something to keep an eye on.
Sabelo Mlangeni at the Witz Art Museum and a work at the fair
Sabelo Mlangeni has been photographing the Zinest Church which he has been a member of for many years. Having beautiful intimate images of this community that he chose himself to be a part of.
Being able to freely move around this community and tell his side of the story.
His work has as timeless feeling, whereas this photograph was taken in 2016. If you look closer at the image, you see the cell phones in the hands of the unknown church members. Cell phones have been a symbol of the modern world, whereas the image has a classical old feeling to it.
This work relates to how long this church and its community has been existing. Sabelo shows that he has an open approach to the unexpected little flaws that can happen when using an analogue camera. Being open to the story that they still can tell and how it relates to the whole body of work.