Day 6. Johannesburg

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.
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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. 
Florian Weigl

BKhz

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.

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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.

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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.

Florian Weigl

BUBBLEGUMCLUB
After BKhz we visit to the headquarter of the  Bubblegumclub the self proclaimed ‘cultural intelligence agency’ that consist of six members with background in graphic design, fashion, politics, film and journalism.

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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.

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We visit their exhibition space in which they present a beautiful selection of Zines. The outcome of their current research around zine-making in Cape Town and Joburg
To Zine or not to Zine? – The cultural significance of self-publishing

Florian Weigl

Sabelo Mlangeni
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.

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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?

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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.

A short History of the South-African Photobook

Patricia Kaersenhout

Art21

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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

For more information, visit www.art21.org
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 Anders Gaardboe Jensen

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