19.12.00 Books for Christmas|
05.12.00 Wolfgang Tillmans wins Turner Prize
05.12.00 In Memory of Koos Malgas
05.12.00 New art gallery for Kya Sands
05.12.00 District Six Museum - A living memorial
05.12.00 Reykjavik/London diary
28.11.00 Save the Johannesburg Biennale/Sao Paulo and the Africans
21.11.00 No room at the SANG for Steve McQueen
21.11.00 Mudzunga in new "performance"
Books for Christmas|
by Sue Williamson and Sandra Brewster
For Christmas, or for your own bookshelf, ArtThrob presents a selection of the latest books and catalogues, some really hot off the press.
Hidden Treasures: Irma Stern
This slim volume is a delightful addition to the writing on expressionist artist Irma Stern, focussing as it does on what might be considered a minor aspect of her ouevre - the bookplates she painted to paste into the front of her own books, and the sheets of papers designed as individual covers for more than twenty of the books in her collection such as Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm.
Written by German art historian Irene Below, who has done much to bring Irma Stern back to the attention of audiences in the artist's country of birth, Germany, the book throws light on Stern's love of books, and their influence on her life and work. Numerous examples of her lively bookplates and covers are reproduced in full colour.
Hoerikwaggo: Images of Table Mountain
Surely one of the most famous natural landmarks in Africa, Table Mountain dominates the city of Cape Town, always in view by her citizens and the first sight to greet the traveller by land or sea as the city is approached. Thus it's hardly surprising that the distinctive physiognomy of the mountain is integral to the drawn and photographed records of the city, and has provided an ongoing source of inspiration to her poets, artists and writers.
The earliest known painting dates from 1636, entitled The Amsterdam in Table Bay, painted by a Dutch artist, Adam Willaerts, who never saw the mountain and relied on information brought back by travellers. Vergunst has been interestingly eclectic in his choices, which stretch from this first painting through 1960 tourist brochure images featuring blonde holidaymakers on what were then all-white beaches, the mountain in the background, to photographs, and works in a variety of media by contemporary artists.
Speaking in Cape Town a year or two ago, world wildlife expert David Attenborough gave it as his opinion that in spite of their anxiety, Capetonians had done a remarkably good job in preserving the natural beauty of their mountain. In selecting digitally manipulated images showing how development could have affected the city, Vergunst shows us what horrors could have been allowed to happen.
The generously sized catalogue is full of anecdotes and history of the images of the mountain, with several fold out pages providing panoramic views. In a masterstroke of juggled deadlines, the catalogue, produced in time for the opening on December 18, includes views of the installation of the show, for which the walls of the gallery have been painted the cool grey blue of the winter sea to background the images.
The exhibition looks set to prove one of the gallery's most popular offerings, and the catalogue, while a handsome accompaniment to the show, stands in its own right as an important addition to the literature of the city.
Norman Catherine was born in East London, South Africa in Sept. 1949. In 1969 he held his first solo exhibition consisting of oil paintings on wood, bone, wire and an assortment of found objects. His art has since undergone several metamorphoses, from the pristine airbrush paintings of the 70s to the frenzied, ritualistic mixed media works of the early and mid 80s; the wire sculptures and tin can works of the late 80s, and the primitive-futuristic paintings of the early 90s.
In the thirty years spanning his past and present output, Catherine's visual trademarks have included rough-edged comical and nightmarish forms rendered in brash cartoon colours. His idiosyncratic vision - a combination of dark cynicism and exuberant humour, as well as his innovative use of everyday materials, has secured his place at the forefront of South African contemporary art.
Material Matters: Appliques by the Weya women of Zimbabwe and needlework by South African collectives
Needlework made by collectives is a significant contemporary art form in South Africa. The outcome of initiatives directed at upgrading the economic position of women, these art works are devised as vehicles through which women can support themselves and, in the case of rural projects, attract capital into communities in which job opportunities are scarce or non-existent.
A detailed and beautifully illustrated book, Material Matters' writers explore the fascinating narratives in Weya appliques and provide important new documentation about the history of the collective in Zimbabwe. A focus on ways in which issues of gender have a bearing on both the production and reception of works in fabric can also be read.
Kim Lieberman: Blood Relatives
"Kim Lieberman's recent work", writes Colin Richards in a catalogue essay, "is exquisitely aesthetic. Pared and patient, worked but light, not laboured. Virtually each image in Blood Relatives gives itself all at once. Almost, Cadences of time and the definite, yet unbounded spaces of the works, in the works, suggest otherwise."
In earlier series of work entitled 'Home' and 'HitchHiker', Lieberman investigated the vagaries of the postal systems of the world, posting herself letters to foreign post offices to herself, Poste Restante, each envelope carrying her return address. The returned envelopes, with their stamps and notations, were the source of the work.
In 'Blood Relatives', Lieberman used perforated stamp paper and red silk thread criss crossing the perforations as a starting point for a new series of linked works, showed recently at Camouflage in Johannesburg. Lieberman carried the sheets with her on her travels, and the different places in which she worked on each become part of the title of that piece.
Collectors of small catalogues on South African artists, add this to your bookshelf.
Kay Hassan's remarkable paper collages reflect images of the world around him, in which he grew up and in which he lives. The street is his inspiration. He applies his gift for observation and perception to the whole spectrum of human co-existence. He studies people at work, talking, waiting, dancing, their gestures, their expression, their postures - sometimes he makes sketches, sometimes he takes photographs or records the voices and the sounds, often he just remembers the experience. This book represents the work exhibited in Berlin, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
Penpricks, The Drawing of South Africa's Political Battlelines
Ken Vernon has produced not only a fascinating and informative look at the world at South Africa's political cartoons, but also at South African politics and journalism - a world cartoons portray in a way words cannot.
In Penpricks the messages of political cartoons are revealed, and at the same time the reader will glimpse South African politics from the other side of the mirror that the South African press holds up to its unique society.
List of other recent additions to the books on South African arts available at Clarke's:
WASH, issue number 5, 26pp, paperback, Johannesburg, 1999, R50
Bliqnaut, C., WAYNE BARKER, artist's monograph, 55pp, collour illus., paperback, Johannesburg, 2000, R80
Fransen, H., A CAPE CAMERA, the architectural beauty of the old Cape, photographs from the Arthur Elliot collection in the Cape Archives, 224pp., paperback, Johannesburg, 2000, R160
Fuller, N., Thompson, G., FNB VITA ART PRIZE EXHIBITION, catalogue 2000 Sandton Civic Gallery, 18pp., colour illus, paperback, Johannesburg, 2000, R85
Hefuna, S., NAVIGATIONXCULTURAL, 96pp., b/w and colour illus., hardback, Catalogue of exhibition at the SANG, Heidelberg, Germany, 2000, R80
Jones, R., COLLABORATIONS, 31pp., colour illus., paperback, Catalogue of exhibition, Cape Town, 2000, R50
Kentridge, W., POSTER, William Kentridge, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, October 1999, R400
Magubane, P., AFRICAN RENAISSANCE, text by Sandra Klopper, 168pp., colour illus, hardback, Cape Town, 2000, R220
Oberholzer, O., RACONTEUR ROAD, shots into Africa, 179pp., colour illus., hardback, Cape Town, 2000, R250
Oquibe, O., Enwezor, O., READING THE CONTEMPORARY, African art from theory to the marketplace, 432pp., illus., paperback, London, 1999, R295
Parenzee, D., WORDS IN THE HOUSE OF SOUND, the writer's floor of the District Six Museum, 76pp., b/w and colour illus., paperbck, Catalogue of the exhibition, Cape Town, 2000, R86
Stevenson, M., Viljoen, D., SOUTH AFRICAN PAINTINGS, 1880-1990, 25pp., colour illus., paperback, Catalogue of the exhibition, Cape Town, 2000, R65
Walker, M., A BIGGER PICTURE, a manual of photojournalism in Southern Africa, 346pp., illus., paperback, Cape Town, 2000, R150
Wlliams, G., THE INNER CITY, 53pp., paperback, Johannesburg, 2000, R130
Zaya, O., Godby, M., Macri, T., ZWELETHU MTHETHWA, 62pp., colour illus., paperback, Torino, 1999
Just how controversial is the Turner Prize, really?|
by Sue Williamson
Probably the best known art prize in the world is the Turner Prize, awarded annually to an artist living and working in Britain. It certainly has the highest news value, with the press jostling each other to write disparagingly on the most extreme aspects of the work of the artists on the shortlist. The sub-text of these stories: Art is just a big con, perpetrated by cynical and lazy artists onto a gullible public. Predictably, the elephant dung incorporated as one element in his work by 1998 winner Chris Ofili is mentioned every single time, yawn, yawn, as are the dirty underwear and used condoms that surrounded the slept-in bed which was part of the installation of last year's finalist Tracey Emin.
Last week, German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans was named this year's winner, with most of the popular press focussing on the 'shaved genitals' of one of his subjects, seeming to imply either that Tillmans had deliberately tried to achieve maximum shock value in his work in order to win the prize, or that the judges were thumbing their noses at the art establishment by awarding the prize to Tillmans. In reality, as Kathryn Smith points out in her London diary, below, Tillmans was highly favoured to win the prize with a masterful exhibition of photographs of a wide range of subjects including landscapes constructed from kitchen objects.
"Copycat artist row hits Turner art prize", was the headline of another story pbulished locally by one Giles Elgood, this time about the work of another finalist, Glenn Brown. "Science-fiction fans visiting London's Tate Britain gallery could be forgiven for thinking they have seen it all before", began this story. "Among the favourites to win the £20 000 (about R156 000) Turner Prize, Britain's most controversial art award, is Glenn Brown's huge canvas, The Loves Of Shepherds (2000), which depicts a giant spaceship orbiting a mysterious planet. The image is an almost exact replica of the cover of the 1974 paperback edition of Robert A. Heinlein's sci-fi novel Double Star, illustrated by Tony Roberts." The truth of the matter is, Brown is an artist who works by very deliberately copying the work of other artists, radically changing the scale.
According to Elgood, the director of the Tate, Sir Nicholas Serota, chairperson of the judges has defended Brown as a "rather remarkable painter and artist. We certainly know that Glenn Brown has frequently used the work of other artists in developing his own work. But that's true of Picasso, who borrowed from Rembrandt, it's true of Roy Lichtenstein who borrowed from Matisse," he told BBC radio. "Anyone who was to confuse the two would have to be extremely short-sighted". Indeed.
Silly as many of the Turner prize stories seem to those in the artworld, perhaps it is neccessary to take the view that all publicity is better than no publicity, and it is precisely the element of controversy which guarantees the Turner prize exhibition such good audiences.
In Memory of Koos Malgas|
by Helena Doë Kingwill
The Owl House in Nieu Bethesda has become a national treasure: a place of beauty, pain and mystical metamorphosis which draws a constant flow of pilgrims to see it. The story of the Owl House has intrigued and inspired great writers such as Athol Fugard who explored it in his play, The Road to Mecca. The play took the story out to sophisticated international audiences and was turned into a film. Books and thesis' such as The Owl House by Anne Emslie and This is my world by Sue Imrie Ross tried to unravel its intricacies. Yet Koos Malgas (63), who passed away early Monday morning, November 20, remained in the shadows of Helen Martins' legacy for most of his life. He was Martins' right hand man and collaborator without whom most of the art work in and around the Owl House would not exist. Martins had the passion for a vision, while Malgas was the craftsman who made it materialise. She paid him for each piece, bargaining a price according to the work. Malgas was a humble but sparky man with a deep knowledge of nature who was proud of his San ancestry.
When Malgas was 26, Martins, who employed his father, asked him to make her a little statue. Malgas, who had previously only worked as a sheep shearer, collected some clay from a nearby dam and modeled a delicate frieze of a woman's face which he humbly presented to Helen Martins in a sardine tin. Martins was pleased, asking him to make "a much bigger one on that wall" and so began a unique creative partnership. There were already a number of cement owls, camels and wise men in the garden made by previous helpers but Martins liked Malgas' style and they worked together for 12 years. She would show him a postcard of an image or describe something in her mind, and he would create it in concrete. "She was very clever." Malgas often said of Martins. He admired her and missed her terribly. Martins gave Malgas a piece of land which had belonged to her father, but without papers, and he grew vegetables and kept his horse there while she was alive, but it was claimed by the town council after she died , (as was the Owl House itself, which they threatened to bulldoze.) When Helen Martins decided to die she gave Malgas a note to present to the police, giving permission for him to have her radio so that they wouldn't suspect him of stealing it. Two years after Martins' suicide in 1976 , Malgas left for Worcester to find work. Sixteen years later he was persuaded to return to Nieu Bethesda where he was employed by The Friends of the Owl House to restore sculptures.
He once told me that his dream was to create his own garden of sculptures. With so many mouths to feed, however, he did not have the time or the money to carry out this dream. He was the main breadwinner of a large family. He taught his son Johannes the technique he used and together they made copies of owls and some of the other characteristic Owl House figures to sell to tourists.
In 1993, artist Beezy Bailey gave Malgas some drawings he had done and asked him to make them into sculptures, providing for the cost of the materials. Malgas made them in his style and Bailey decorated them. They were exhibited in Cape Town as a collaboration. Unfortunately, none of the sculptures sold and Malgas did not get rich as he had expected.
A few years later Bailey called on Malgas again to collaborate, this time as a commission. This time, Malgas decorated the exterior of a building Bailey had purchased in Bloem Street, Cape Town, as an art factory with rooftop sculptures and low relief wall pieces. Malgas used the money to buy a bakkie. In the extreme isolation of Nieu Bethesda and the utter poverty that Malgas and his family had lived in all their lives, having ones own vehicle was the ultimate ticket to freedom. In his last years Malgas struggled to get a vehicle going and to get a driver's license. He overcame alcoholism but battled with his health. Breathing in the fine dust from mixing cement and grinding glass had damaged his lungs, but Koos Malgas always had a bright twinkle in his eye. One wonders whether if his circumstances had been different he would have been a great artist in his own right. He was a humble craftsman who played a role in the history of outsider art in South Africa, and should be remembered. His wife Joanna and his many offspring won't forget. The funeral was held in Nieu Bethesda on Saturday, November 25. If anyone would like to help the family, who have been left in dire poverty, they could call Boksie Malgas on 0498411 621
See Website of the Month for more info on the Owl House and Koos Malgas.
New art gallery for Kya Sands|
by Kathryn Smith
The Mukondeni African Art Gallery, situated in the semi-rustic area of Kya Sands, specialises in art and cultural objects from the Northern Province, better known as 'the Venda Tradition'. Representing an impressive array of well-known and acclaimed Venda sculptors and potters, amongst them Albert Munyai, Jackson Hlungwane, Noria Mabasa, Owen Ndou, Johannes Maswanganyi, and Lilian Munyai, the gallery is the most recent initiative of a series of endeavours that have, until now, been more or less based in the Northern Province itself.
Mukondeni Arts and Crafts was started in 1995, in order to "stimulate the incredible diversity and creativity of the artists and crafters of the Northern Province". Mukondeni, run by Neill van Kraayenburg, Johannes Lepheane and Kristine Melville-Roussouw, reopened a defunct arts and crafts shop at Ditike, near Thohoyandou, in 1999, which provides some 35 artists with a retail outlet for their work. The shop is currently staffed by Joyce Mabasa, daughter of Noria. The organisation is also closely affiliated to The Mashamba Gallery, initiated by Van Kraayenburg and artist John Boloyi in 1996, in Venda.
While one can be forgiven for thinking "not another curiosity cabinet that caters for tourists", Mukondeni seems more invested than most. It's not simply about acquiring stock for the Northern suburbs-based gallery, as well as associated outlets in Sandton Square - and a permanent display at the Sandton Convention Centre. The Kya Sands three-hectare location provides working space, facilities and tools for artists, many of which spend weeks in the gallery grounds producing work. In addition to this, the organisation has been doing extensive fieldwork around Venda and Giyani, trying to compile a comprehensive list of artists that work there, many of whom are notoriously difficult to track down, but whose histories need to be written as they inform such an integral part of Southern African cultural tradition and history. The research will be compiled and published as a book.
Other projects include drumming and dance workshops at Mukondeni and in Venda, various self-employment projects, and a huge pottery initiative that has recently completed a large order for the abovementioned convention centre. But their idea to create what they term "an authentic Venda village" at Kya Sands should be quashed immediately. While their hearts seem to be in the right place, it is this kind of action that starts to perpetuate all kinds of problems, not least of all objectifying the very people that they aim to support, both creatively and financially.
That said, the gallery celebrates one of its first temporary exhibitions titled 'Spirit of Legends', opening on December 8. The exhibition runs until December 22.
Installation at the District Six Museum
District Six Museum - A living memorial|
by Sandra Brewster
The recent announcement in the press that more than 1 700 people who used to rent property in Cape Town's District Six decades ago have succeeded in claiming their land back has been met with jubilation by those on the list. All tenant claimants will receive R17 500 for compensation, and those agreeing to rebuild their home would receive an additional R9 060 to do so. On November 26, President Thabo Mbeki and Land Minister Thoko Didiza addressed a crowd of people on the grounds of District Six to celebrate and sign over the land back to the people.
The announcement has once again focussed attention on the District Six Museum in Buitenkant Street, recently reopened and extensively redeveloped. In 1966, when the Group Areas Act was passed, 60 000 people were forcibly removed from District Six after it was declared a "whites only" area. In 1989 ex-residents started to develop the idea of a museum to commemorate the area and to honour the people who fought against the unjustly removal. On December 10, 1994 The District Six Museum opened - its first exhibition entitled 'Streets - Retracing the Past'.
Described as a "living memorial", by ex-resident Vincent Kolbe of The District Six Museum, the space is beautifully filled with all types of memorabilia from photographs, fine prints and paintings, to physical remains such as street signs (the original signs,secretly collected and kept by official David Elrick who had the job of overseeing the demolition of the area). The floor in the main area is covered with a hand painted map outlining streets and buildings and surrounded by quotes and poetry by artists like James Matthews and Langston Hughes. The walls are layered with newspaper documentation, old photographs of ex-residents, quotes of their stories, and all types of relevant information.
One experiences a true sense of what it was like living in District Six walking through the museum, reading the walls, looking at the photographs and encountering all the elements that make it up. Nomvuyo Ngcelwane worked very closely to reconstruct Nomvuyo's Room, her family home in 22 Cross Street. She lived there for 20 years. This room is located on the ground floor. Not only does it serve the purpose of showing what a generic home in District Six looked like, it also records the fact that African people also made homes and lived there. Keeping up the oral history initiative of the museum, Nomvuyo's voice can be heard as she is being interviewed about the way her house looked and about her family. Old style cooking items and furniture décor bring back memories.
A series of other unique installations surround the upper floor. They are of Hanover Street, Bioscopes and Carnival, the Old Washouse, Working Life, Bloemhof Flats, Barbers and Hairdressers and Langarm bands. Stepping on the outlined feet on the floor will either begin a voice, informing of the particular area, or music and various other sounds or background noise to help develop a feeling towards that area. One can walk into a barber shop, listen to children playing or hear some music of the popular group of the time. The upper floor seems to merge all the elements that make up the museum.
The mission of the District Six Museum is accomplished. It has ensured that the history and the memory of forced removals in South Africa endures. By focussing on the multicultural nature of District Six it has provided a true sense of community a space where all voices of District Six can be heard, under one roof. This is a museum controlled by the people it represents, made up of their quotes, their photographs and their memories.
Although this is an exciting time and developments to rebuild are beginning, as one ex-resident said, on the November 26th celebration, "This place will never be like how it was". The District Six Museum remains the 'living memorial' of an area that possessed a rich sense of community, one that continues to grow as the people who make up District Six continue to add to its life.
The District Six Museum is located 25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
Spectacular Bodies promotional poster
Frozen lake at a hot spring
The President's summer house in the country.
Installing Stephen Hobbs' Grey Area Reconstituted
Frozen lake at a hot spring
The President's summer house in the country.
Installing Stephen Hobbs' Grey Area Reconstituted
by Kathryn Smith
Currently on at the Reykjavik Museum of Art in Iceland is an exhibition of contemporary South African art, called A.R.E.A. 2000 and curated by Gavin Younge. The show opened on November 19, and several artists - Terry Kurgan, Bonny Alice, Berni Searle, Angela Ferreira and myself - were lucky enough to travel to the land of the midnight sun to assist in hanging the show, and visit one of the most unusual countries in the world, about which not much is known this far south. As direct flights to Iceland are not possible from South Africa, I took the opportunity of spending a few days in London after the trip to take in some fabulous - and not so fabulous - exhibitions.
Day 1: Much excitement about boarding the plane - all I know about Iceland is Bj�rk, glaciers, volcanoes, a vibrant music scene, some unusual traditional food and a radical suicide and divorce rate. Not looking forward to a journey that will probably amount to over 20 hours of travelling and waiting for connecting flights - and worrying about having enough warm clothing. Getting emails from Gavin saying "it's four degrees and raining softly" doesn't do much to convince me that this ex-Durbanite who has never seen the snow, will cope comfortably.
Day 2: I flew in from Johannesburg (with Bonny, who I didn't even see on the plane) and tracked down Berni and Terry during the six-hour stopover at Heathrow. The sense of not having any expectations of Reykjavik was refreshing - I went determined not to have have any preconceptions whatsoever. Gavin had given us strict instructions to make sure we got seats on the right hand side of the plane - so we could get an aerial view of the world's largest glacier as we fly in. Icelandair was very obliging of the desires of a few mad South Africans. Utterly spectacular. Museum director Eirikur Thorlaksson collected us from the airport, and on the 45-minute drive from Keflavik to our hotel in Iceland, regaled us with Icelandic history, culture and anecdotes. He is a goldmine of information. English is spoken widely and extremely well, and from the moment passport control greeted us with our visa letters on file, we knew this is one sophisticated and well-administered country. Went for a pre-dinner drink at an 'art' caf� (a beer averages R50 and a whiskey R40), and dined at a superb fish restaurant between the lake and parliament square - the plaice with banana and blue cheese sauce is highly recommended. But potential travellers be warned - an average main meal costs between R120 and R250.
Day 3: Met museum staff, who are efficient, friendly and interested. Spent the day working and lunched in the museum cafeteria, which is fabulous - and cheap by Icelandic standards. They have an extremely well-stocked reading area alongside. Paging through NU - The Nordic Art Review reveals just how much is happening here and other Nordic countries. The work seems to have a very specific aura about it, without having any identifiable 'Nordic' style. Wonderful journal too. Looking forward to Angela's arrival tomorrow - and a promised trip out to the country. Had snow today, which is apparently unusual for this early in winter. Sun only begins to rise at about 9.30 a.m. - rather uncanny to eat breakfast and walk to the gallery in the pitch dark.
Day 4: Bonny and I were finished in the space, so we grabbed the opportunity to do some shopping. Almost bought out a music store downtown - I think Bjork's influence on Icelandic pop culture and its growing international profile can't be underestimated. Also found caviar at the local cornershop for the ridiculous price of R11, especially when a pizza can set you back R150. Our promised outing materialised - Eirikur took us out in his 4x4 all the way to Gullfoss - one of the two greatest waterfalls in Iceland. The landscape can only be described as majestic. Visited the ancient site of parliament - it's said that the Icelandic came up with the idea. Buried our hands in hot, black volcanic sand at the shores of an otherwise frozen lake. The hot springs and underground river that enter the lake results in the water on the shore being boiling hot. The smell of sulphur can get quite nauseating - even through the hot taps in the bathroom. Recent earthquakes rendered the geysers unreliable - one used to be able to time their eruptions to the minute, but we stuck around for long enough at temperatures well below freezing to see it.
Day 5: Opening is tonight and everything's looking great. Eirikur gave us a personal tour of the New Museum down at the docks. It's a converted industrial warehouse and one of the most superb museum buildings I've seen. There's a definite sense that the landscape dominates the subconscious of the artists here. They may not all image it directly, but a sense of space and the sublime seems to find its way into the visual art on some level. The exhibition opening was a great success, with Eirikur, Gavin and the mayoress of Reykjavik all speaking. Icelandic TV and newspapers were incredibly supportive of the show and us, and while they didn't seem to have any idea what to expect, they hadn't any preconceived ideas either (other than the usual stuff about 'Africa'), which was refreshing. To London tomorrow.
Day 6: Staying with Kate Fowle of independent curatorial team Smith & Fowle, who were on a recent trip to South Africa. Stayed in the East End, which has steadily transformed itself from 'the wrong side of the tracks' to super trendy. Jay Jopling's White Cube 2 is based here. And for small independent galleries, head for the area around Hoxton Square.
Day 7: Got the worst part over with and went book shopping at the Serpentine. Only bad because I can't decide on just one and have to risk starving for the next few days. As far as I'm concerned, it's a far superior shop to the ICA, and much easier to negotiate than the Tate Modern's hypermarket of a shop. Took in the Brice Marden show and 'Apocalypse' at the Royal Academy. Not fantastic, but a few utterly brilliant moments, namely Chris Cunningham's video Flex (he's better known for making promos for Playstation, Bjork and the Aphex Twin) and Mike Kelley's new video/installation. Smith & Fowle threw a bit of a party in the café below their studio, and the South Africans almost outnumbered the Londoners - David Koloane, Johannes Phokela, Terry, Berni, Jose Ferreira and myself! The world seems very small in moments like this. The independent spirit runs high in London, partly to do with Charles Saatchi's dominance.
Day 8: Spent the morning at Gasworks - it's funny how you end up connecting more with fellow Johannesburgers when you're halfway across the globe. Visited the Tate Modern in the afternoon. The hyperbolic press it has received is worth it, and the displays make good food for thought. Idled away hours in the current temporary show 'Between Cinema and a Hard Place' - brilliant. An installation and cinematic-projection based exhibition, it traces the switch that artists have made "from presenting a window onto the world, to presenting a world in itself." Artists include Stan Douglas, Douglas Gordon, Matthew Barney, Anish Kapoor, Mona Hatoum, Gabriel Orozco, Rachel Whiteread and others - a favourite was Cornelia Parker's Cold, Dark Matter: An Exploded View - a reconstituted garden shed blown up for her by the British army.
Day 9: Tate Britain for the Turner Prize today. Had money on Wolfgang Tillmans before I'd even seen the rest of the show. I should have taken a bet - the odds were apparently 5:3 in his favour. Yes, they do actually bet on this gig - art has finally reached the echelons of sport. The show itself really doesn't deserve the attention - or rather, not the kind of attention it gets, which is generally uninformed and scandal-mongering at best. Tillmans' installation of photographs that are variably banal, spectacular, abstract and apparently accidental is difficult at first, then desperately seductive. His arrangement is at once haphazard, as if he tacked them up with prestik hours before the opening, but on closer inspection you realise that it's incredibly calculated - almost Mondrianesque in its minimal design-sophistication. Glenn Brown's canvasses are technically astonishing and Michael Raedecker's have an uncanny quietness and menace about them. Tomoko Takahashi's done more interesting things in her time. Met Robyn Denny and Frances Goodman whose exhibition Juncture opens in Cape Town early next year - it will be a corker. Spent the evening at the Hayward at 'Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body from Leonardo to Now'. Bit of a mouthful, and the show was true to its name, but it struck me that despite a luscious catalogue and incredible display objects (17th century wax anatomical models and da Vinci notebooks borrowed from the Queen et al), the sameness of many of the items revealed something of a 'because we can' curatorial strategy. It's a pity as the show touched on issues like eugenics and hysteria without really interrogating them. Tony Oursler remains a firm favourite of mine, as does much of Marc Quinn's work, both of whom were some of the contemporary artists included on the show. Definitely worth seeing.
Day 10: Home today, but rushed around to catch Ron Mueck at Anthony D'Offay and an equally brilliant Martin Creed show at the Camden Arts Centre. Exhausted, but well satiated.
Okwui Enwezor at the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale
The Electric Workshop
where the flagship show Alternating Currents was held.
Photo : Ronnie Levetan
Shown on 'Alternating Currents' in the Electric Workshop
The Electric Workshop
where the flagship show Alternating Currents was held.
Photo : Ronnie Levetan
Shown on 'Alternating Currents' in the Electric Workshop
Save the Johannesburg Biennale/Sao Paulo and the Africans|
- an opinion piece by Rasheed Araeen
These two campaigns were launched some time ago, and I don't really know what has been their outcome. I was unable to respond to these campaigns and express my support at the time because I felt that although these campaigns were well-intended, they were misconceived and misguided. They showed no critical understanding of what actually was and is at stake in terms of the issues, and ended up making appeals to liberalism of the power-to-be, whether in the West or South Africa. The aim of my intervention now, which deals with both the appeals together, is to highlight the actual issues underlying both the appeals and their interconnectedness: 1) to show that the closing down of the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, despite its supposed "personal politics and hidden agendas", was not entirely without justified reasons; 2) and to argue, as a response to Olu Oguibe, that the mere representation of African artists by Africans themselves does not necessarily represent a radical position. White faces can easily be replaced with black, brown or yellow faces in order to serve and reinforce the institutional structures of the prevailing system.
I speak here as who was somewhat involved in both the Biennales from the very beginning: 1) as an advisor to the first; and 2) as a member of the Biennale Committee which was responsible for the appointment of Okwui Enwezor as the artistic Director of the 2nd. I've also been conducting, for more then 20 years, a campaign for the representation and recognition of artists from Third World as part of the mainstream discourse and history of 20th century art. I'm therefore well aware of the issues and I sympathise with the spirit behind both the appeals. However, the issues underlying these appeals are too complex to be left to the self-serving sentiments and wishful thinking of those who waste no time in presenting themselves as the true supporters and representatives of the interest of 'other' artists.
What exactly is the issue here? Is it just about the re-statement of the Biennale or is there something important which is to do with the nature of the Biennale? Shouldn't we first ask why should there be a biennale, and of an international nature, in South Africa? This is the question which I in fact asked the organisers of the Biennale in 1992 when I was first approached for an advice. But, even with the two biennales in Johannesburg, this question has not been answered satisfactorily. It has not been answered because it could not have been answered without a profound concern and understanding of the specificity of South Africa, both in terms of its specific history and its prevailing socio-economic conditions and its aspirations for the future based on human equality. The importance of this question today lies not only for South Africa but for humanity at large, and this question should not be covered up by praising the success of the Biennale with exaggerated claims:
The fascination and enthusiasm now of "the international art community" - which really is the art establishment of Western Europe and North America, with its liberal but eurocentric perceptions and charitable agendas, is understandable. The Biennale has perhaps "changed the lives and careers of so many South African artists, both black and white", but my own contact with many people in South Africa - artists, art historians, cultural workers - gives me an entirely different picture.
There is no doubt that both the Biennals were well organised, managed and were of international standards, and they had indeed achieved exactly what other biennals around the world do and achieve. In this respect, the Johannesburg Biennale represents a successful achievement. But is it right to assess the success of Johannesburg on the basis of what other biennals do, and without any consideration of the specific historical conditions of South Africa and its post-apartheid needs? The purpose of a biennale anywhere in the world is first to address the needs of its own local or national constituency, its own art community, and if this constituency is not taken into consideration whatever one does will fail. This was particularly essential in the case of South Africa. But most of the work presented in both the Biennales, given the deprivation the black population suffered during apartheid, could not and did not address its own needs. As for the international art community there, it was so small that it could neither justify the kind of biennales we had nor their continuation. However, there was no public interest or enthusiasm for the 2nd Biennale, and one should not be surprised if the 2nd Biennale was closed down before the scheduled date. I'm not saying that this action of the Johannesburg Council was right and should be condoned, but it's important to see the nature of the specific problems public institutions faced in post-apartheid South Africa and the priorities they had to attend to. We cannot and should not therefore judge Johannesburg Biennale or assess its achievement only on the basis of what "the international art community" desires and wants. Art community in the West is now fascinated with art from South Africa, but we should not forget that it is the same community which showed little concern about apartheid and seldom raised its voice against racism within its own ranks and institutions. This is not meant to be a reproach to make the international art community feel guilty, but I wonder what lesson it has learnt from the struggle in South Africa.
Given the specific historical condition of South Africa, a country which had emerged not very long ago out of a long struggle against the most brutal form of white racism, and which is still struggling against its persistent legacies, how could we justify any biennale there on the basis on which other biennials such as Venice, Sao Paulo, and Kwangju are organised and justified? The perception behind both the Biennials was that its immediate priority after the end of apartheid was to open itself up to the world, so that it could have a dialogue with "the international community". But how could there have been a dialogue if the voice of the host community was over-ruled or suppressed on the basis that this voice belonged to the past and that even its echo was no longer necessary?
South Africa, with its struggle and achievement against the tyranny of white supremacist ideology, had something historically very special to offer to the world; so that the world could learn from its achievement. When Mr Enwezor was appointed it was hoped that he as an African would understand this and would pay special attention to South Africa's achievements, and would provide a platform for South Africa to have a dialogue with "the international art community" on this basis. But what he actually presented turned out to be the opposite. Instead of bringing "the international art community" to South Africa so that it could listen to what South Africa had to say and offer, Enwezor presumed that it was South Africa which needed to listen to the West. It was South Africa which needed to learn from what was going on around the world. It was also this presumption which brought "the international art community" to Johannesburg, particularly during the 1st Biennale when curators from western world arrived there to help "ignorant" South Africans know what was happening outside their country. The paternalism of white/European curators during the first Biennale was appallingly abundant everywhere [during the 3rd Kwangju Biennale in 1997, the participating European curators openly said that they were there so that Koreans could learn something from them] - and the way Enwezor treated South Africans was not much different.
Enwezor's own curated show, along with other shows particularly in Johannesburg, were the kind of shows which could have taken place anywhere in the world. What was the point of gathering all those artists in Johannesburg most of whom were already being shown around the world through international exhibitions and biennales? Instead of developing and asserting its unique identity, different from other biennials, formed by the dynamic of its own historical conditions, Johannesburg Biennale ended up mimicking what was happening in other parts of the western world. The Johannesburg Biennale, in my view, was a failure. It was a case of a missed opportunity for which South Africa had to pay a heavy price, in terms of its intellectual energy, efforts and economic resources which could have been used for much more useful purposes.
The issue is not whether we should have a biennale in South Africa or not, but what kind of biennale it should be. In fact I would support the idea of a biennale in South Africa, even the re-statement of the Johannesburg Biennale, but only if it can define its own terms which are linked with the dynamic of the historical struggle it waged and is still waging. This struggle was not just against white bigotry but also against an unjust system whose extreme brutality was although directed against blacks in South Africa, its ideology is part of what has now become global system. What is more important here to recognise that this struggle does not end, or that one should withdraw from it, when white faces are replaced with black faces. This brings me to the issue which Olu Oguibe has raised in his assertion that only Africans should represent Africa.
Sao Paulo & the Africans
Although Olu Oguibe's appeal specifically concerns Sao Paulo Bienal, the issue he has raised is of wider historical importance. The question of representation is not a recent issue; it goes back to the colonial times when the colonised was deprived of self-representation; it was only the coloniser then who could define and represent the colonial subject. The demand for self-representation is now based on a recognition that colonialism has ended, and those who were once colonial subjects are now independent citizens of the world. They should therefore represent themselves; Africa should therefore represent itself through its own people. In this respect I fully support Oguibe's appeal.
However the issue is not just about who represent who but how one is represented. If the nature of African, Asian or Latin American representation today is not much different from the way they were - or would have been - represented by the colonial discourse, what difference does it make who represents who? This is in fact the real issue today, and Oguibe does not take into consideration the context and framework within which Africa is seen and represented today by the dominant institutions in their international exhibitions and biennales.
Oguibe does not tell us what is wrong with the representation of African artists by non-Africans, and how he intends to correct the situation. Instead he indulges in the fantasy of his own and his friends self-importance based on what they all together have recently achieved. The examples he gives of their achievements are so disturbing that one would be inclined to consider them, on this basis, no more than the achievements of neocolonial functionaries. However, I know Olu well and I am also aware of his commitment to the continuing struggle of Africa against neocolonial forces; it would therefore be unfair to call him a neocolonial functionary. What has happened is probably due to his not thinking hard enough and allowing himself to slip into a state of naivety which blocks one's critical faculty. It's sad that a person of Oguibe intelligence, who possesses considerable critical grasp of things, should end up not only looking at the prevailing situation sentimentally and superficially but also self-aggrandising himself and his friends:
How childish and, at the same time, pompous! What has got into your head Olu? Sycophancy should be a private affair, so that one can avoid public humiliation. How could you use words such as "unarguably" and "undoubtedly"? Well, I'm going to argue against and doubt what you have said. Your story about the appointment of Enwezor as artistic director of Documenta X1 is not only factually untrue but total humbug; it betrays not only your naivety but also a total lack of understanding of what lead him on the path to Documenta. Without his job as artistic director of Johannesburg Biennale and what he did with it, Enwezor would have never (I repeat, never) reached the Documenta; and that may also explain the failure of the 2nd Biennale.
Who was mainly responsible for his appointment as artistic director of Johannesburg and with what expectation is a story I must tell some other time. What I find necessary to say now is that it's my personal disappointment that Mr Enwezor did not fulfil the responsibility which was given to him as an African to represent the true aspirations of South Africa - if not of Africa as a whole - at that particular historical moment. Enwezor's failure cannot be attributed to his lack of competence as a curator but his own aspirations and personal ambitions. It seems he was not concerned much with how the Biennale would be taken or received by its main audience (which could not be other than South Africans themselves) but the West. He knew very well what his next move would be, his next field of operation after the Biennale. After Johannesburg, there was nothing more South Africa - or Africa - could offer him. Realising that his future was in the West, he had but to address the West or the so-called "international art community". It was a golden opportunity for him to use the Biennale as a launching paid to secure his future career in the West. One should therefore not be surprised that "the international community" was very pleased with his performance. He proved himself to be a good boy, the prize of which was indeed the Documenta X1.
There is nothing wrong for an African or Asian being successful in the West, and one should not hesitate to celebrate it. But a successful career alone cannot be the measure of one's achievement, particularly when one claims to be involved in a radical struggle, to change things so that we may achieved a more equal and humane society. It would be stupid to speculate what Enwezor is going to do with Documenta X1, but if one can judge from what one has so far seen than the signs are not very good.
However, the situation Enwezor faces today is not of his making, and it would take a great courage on his part to deal with it in a radical manner. The situation today is no longer the same as it was some ten or so years ago. Before the "Magiciens de la terre" exhibition in Paris in 1989, there was hardly any African or Asian artist seen around in international exhibitions or Biennales. It would perhaps be news to Olu Oguibe that it was not African curators who introduced African artists to the international art circuit, where some of them are now well recognised, but the European curators such as Jean Hubert Martin, Andre Magnin and Mark Fisher.
The issue today is not that African or Asian artists are not being represented in international exhibitions or biennales, or who represent them, but what kind of work from Africa or Asia is being institutionally promoted and legitimised by and in the West. This is the question neither Oguibi nor Enwezor ask, because to ask this question would be to put themselves on the line, in confrontation with the system from which they seek employment. If the issue is only of employment, that is, if there are competent African curators around who cannot find employment because of racism, why does Oguibe not say so. I would in fact fully support him in this respect, without any hesitation or argument. But, instead, he is going around the bush to say how marvellous it would be if European and African curators could collaborate together; and the examples he puts forward of such a collaboration do nothing but totally discredit his position.
Oguibe cites, besides the Johanneburg Biennale, "Cities on the Move" as a successful example of a collaboration between a European curator (Hans Ulrich Obrist) and a non-European curator (Hou Hanru). This 'mega-exhibit' (Oguibe's phrase) travelled worldwide to about a dozen venues and was extremely popular with white/European audiences. It was a sort of 'Oriental' spectacle in which Asian cities were presented as a phenomenon of postmodernity, an exotica in which individual voices (including of artists) were submerged in its unending communal chaos. It was an example of neo-Primitivism or neo-Orientalism which is today the hallmark of the work of many African and Asian artists promoted by the West, but the 'Orientalism of 'Cities of the Move' was so explicit in defining the 'other', almost to the point of being a manifestation of racism, that it was denounced even by many Europeans. Here is what Richard Hylton says:
But Oguibe is full of praise for Hou Hanru, co-curator of this 'mega-exhibit':
Sorry, Olu, Hou Hanru was never a member of the board of Third Text. He did contribute, like yourself, to the journal. He is a perceptive writer on Chinese art, and there was a time when I felt he needed to be encouraged and supported. But now as a curator he does whatever is available without much consideration for ideological issues or commitment to what we at Third Text stand for. As a Chinese immigrant in France he faces the problem of survival, to which I sympathise. After all he has to earn his living, to support his family in Paris. But should this prevent us, just because he is not a white curator, from looking critically at what he practices. His contribution to the Johannesburg Biennale was the worst of the whole Biennale. It was the most stupid show I had ever seen, a silly joke, a mini version of what subsequently became "Cities on the Move".
The issue today is not just of representation, of the lack of presence and visibility of African or Asian artists, but about the nature of their presence and visibility within the western institutional structures. These structures still carry colonial ideas about 'others', which cannot therefore recognise the fact that we have contributed - and are contributing - to the mainstream of 20th century art not as Africans or Asians with cultural identity tags around our necks but as modernists who, by being liberated from colonialism and becoming subjects of history, have thus redefined modernism beyond its eurocentric framework. Instead of recognising this historical change, the dominant ideas are still persistent in their colonial view of 'others', which have now been given benevolent framework of multiculturalism so that 'others' could be accommodated as artists in such a way that these structures are not questioned or challenged by them.
What do African or Asian (for that matter Latin American) curators do when they are allowed into this dominant system with its colonial institutional structures still intact? Do they challenge or reinforce them? We must ask these questions because without asking these question we would fall into the kind of anti-establishment rhetorics whose only purpose is to gain an entry into the system without a new vision and radical agenda to change it.
I believe the questions I have raised are of historical importance, not only for Third World artists but for the future of art, how it is institutionally (re)presented and legitimised, and they should be publicly debated. It is hoped that you would respond to this intervention and help push the debate beyond the self-interest of some individuals.
- Rasheed Araeen is a practising artist and the founding editor of Third Text, the journal of third world perspectives on contemporary art and culture, published in Britain
No room at the SANG for Steve McQueen|
by Sue Williamson
One would imagine when a curator came knocking on the door of the SA National Gallery with the offer of an exhibition of video works by an artist of the calibre of Steve McQueen, winner of Britain's top award, the Turner Prize, for 1999, the Gallery would jump at the chance of taking the show on board. After all, with the demise of the Johannesburg Biennale, it is not often that the really big names in international contemporary art are available for a show in South Africa, and the proposed works, which have been seen in such venues as the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, and the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo are powerful and resonant pieces and proven crowd pleasers. The requirement, said curator Tom Mulcaire to the National Gallery, was one room, suitable for video projection.
To the astonishment of many in the art world, including SANG curator Emma Bedford, who has publicly disassociated herself from the decision, the Gallery turned the proposal down, on the grounds that the room most appropriate for the installation had already been earmarked as one of three for the current exhibition on images based on Table Mountain, curated by Nikolaas Vergunst. One can understand that galleries plan their space requirements well in advance, but there certainly seems a regrettable rigidity in this decision. To the argument that the Table Mountain show would prove a major tourist attraction, Mulcaire responded this week, "I think the South African National Gallery should service the local community as well - it's not a great compromise to give up one room."
The Steve McQueen show will now take place in the Michaelis Gallery, on the fine arts campus of UCT, a much more out of the way and less visited venue. Mulcaire says that McQueen does not feel slighted by being turned down by the National Gallery, and is looking forward to interacting with the students and local artists. "All he's interested in is a good context", says Mulcaire.
The show marks the inaugural exhibition for Mulcaire's organisation, the Institute of Contemporary Art. Mulcaire, who worked on the production side of the 1st Johannesburg Biennale, went on to assist director Catherine David on the last Documenta in Kassel, and worked with Lorna Ferguson on an African Reading Room project for the last Sao Paulo Biennale, anticipates bringing three shows a year to this country in a circuit which includes Latin America and Europe. Visiting guest lecturers are also a part of McQueen's plan to build up a context for a new museum space for contemporary art in the city. The eventual objective will be to build or locate a physical space in Cape Town for the Insititute.
McQueen's show will run in the Michaelis Gallery from November 29 to December 22. For more about McQueen and the work to be shown, see Listings.
You are invited to
collaborate in a new performance by Samson Mudzunga at the Dopeni/Shanzha
Villages in the Northern Province|
by by Susan Glanville
"The first person to be buried alive Samson Mudzunga extends an invitation to the public and press: Come one, come all to witness the unveiling of Mr. S. Mudzunga's tombstone and museum." - Press Release.
Ratshilumela Samson Mudzunga, whose performances earlier this year when he was "buried alive" attracted considerable publicity, is once more inviting visitors to a public event. This one funded by the National Arts Council, will be held in Dopeni/Shanzha Villages in the Northern Province, starting at 10 a.m. on November 25.
Mudzunga is well known for his large-scale iron wood drums, embellished with figurative carvings and more controversially for his own brand of performance art, which incorporates both tradition and innovation. These performances enacted near his home in the Makhado valley in a rural area of the Northern Province, are essentially 'artistic statements' or 'interventions'; which bridge two worlds - the urban and rural, the traditional and contemporary - through site specific, re-invented traditional rituals.
As an artist working out of a diametrically different and relatively isolated context, Mudzunga is increasingly being recognized as an important artist whose art and life have combined into a real-life drama which has attracted media attention over the past few years. Mudzunga was again the focus of media attention and controversy on July 30, 2000 when his plan to be buried alive as both performance and protest went ahead despite police intimidation and various setbacks. Enacted in front a small group of witnesses, most of whom had travelled five hours or more to be there; the complex gravity of this ritual and the complicity of the audience provided a unique and challenging experience which evoked many questions and issues for all involved.
These were played out to some extent through the media and will be explored as part of a comprehensive monograph on Mudzunga which is currently in production as part of a series published by IFAS, MTN and Prohelvetia and edited by Brenda Atkinson. Mudzunga's monograph is co-written by Stephen Hobbs and Kathy Coates.
The performances and artist's comments are also being documented as part of 'seeing ourselves' project. A 10 minute artist profile and a 26 minute documentary on his work will hopefully be available early in 2001. Mudzunga's planned unveiling of his tombstone and opening of the museum in memory of his mother, a highly respected healer, marks yet another rite of passage for the artist and perhaps the end of a feud allegedly born out of a jealous rivalry instigated by the local headman Samuel Netshiavha. This feud has affected every aspect of the 66 year-old artist's life and production in the past few years and led to his repeated incarceration without trial.
Since 1997 Mudzunga has spent nearly 20 months in jail - and although the motivations for Samson's performance are clearly not entirely innocent - and often provocative (since his first exhibition in1989 confrontation and media attention have become an integral part of his work and strategy) - he has intensely personal and ritual motivations - and has perhaps paid a high price for his belief in artistic freedom.
Given the fact that nothing that Samson does lacks the element of surprise and funding is available for him to choreograph his vision it is certain that the effort and time to travel to this often neglected but remarkable part of South Africa to attend the performances will be more than worthwhile.
For further information contact:
Media and media exposure is an integral part of Samson's work and bringing it to the public forum. 'the project room' hopes that a few journalists out there will rise to the challenge and play a significant and integral role in collaboration with the artist.
Directions from Johannesburg to Dopeni / Shanza Village
Option one ( scenic and slightly longer)
Accommodation in this area is rather limited: