Brenton Maart is new KZNSA Director
by Carol Brown
I waited for my interview with Brenton Maart, the new KZNSA Director, in the warm winter sun and sub-tropical greenery of the gallery's outdoor café. Under these circumstances, perhaps my first question to him was rather redundant. I asked why he had left the buzz of Jo'burg to come to Durban. His immediate enthusiasm for the environment of the gallery was contagious as was his admiration for the architecture and positioning of the gallery, which all made me realize just how we take this venue for granted. It is probably the only contemporary art space in the country in a park-like setting with an indoor/outdoor permeability exactly in line with the latest international gallery/museum design trend, where the intention is to break down the perceived barrier between art and the world outside. Maart also pointed out the excellent light quality of the building which combines natural and artificial light, as well as a natural climatic adaptation which works with the environment rather than needing artificial controls - all factors designed to bring out the best in anything on display.
The KZNSA has a history spanning over 100 years and, as a membership-based organisation, has to cater for a wide constituency while maintaining the reputation, established by Storm Janse Van Rensburg, of a gallery which provides a venue for contemporary art as well as a platform for young artists. Maart aims to build upon this and at the same time bring some of his own ideas to the fore. He is particularly keen to foreground Durban artists of whom Greg Streak, Doung Jahanageer, Langa Magwa, Thando Mama, Paul Sibisi, Dineo Bopape, Simmi Dullay, Angela Buckland, Hennie Stroebel, Andrew Verster, Andries Botha and Sfiso Ka-Mkame interest him. There are others as well and his aim is to create a greater awareness of Durban's homegrown talent and to confound the critics who say that art is not thriving in Durban.
Maart is also excited about the prospect of engaging with social issues and linking with other institutions in this process. He cites the current exhibition at the Durban Art Gallery - 'Breathing Space' - where photographer Jenny Gordon, a lecturer in photography at Rhodes University, has collaborated with historian Marijke du Toit from UKZN. This cross-disiplinary approach is one which interests him, which is not surprising as his initial studies were in Biotechnology, obtaining an M.Sc at Rhodes University. He subsequently completed a Master's in Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand. His scientific background has obviously influenced his opinions and art practice.
Maart has held five solo shows including at Gallery Momo and Bell-Roberts. He is a frequent exhibitor on group shows (one of which was an exhibition I curated for this year's Grahamstown Festival called 'Positive 2007'). Others include 'Of Want and Desire' at the João Ferreira Gallery in Cape Town in 2006; 'A Decade of Democracy: Witnessing South Africa' which travelled the USA in 2004/5, and '10 Years 100 Artists' at Bell-Roberts Gallery in Cape Town in 2004. His current art production focuses on how new emotional systems influence and change social systems.
Maart also talked about reinforcing the historical relationship between the KZNSA and the Durban University of Technology which could be a fruitful one, bringing more students into the gallery. Recognising the challenge presented by the diversity of cultures and clearly defined communities in Durban, he aims to embrace all of these and involve many different activities in the gallery. These will range from walkabouts of the exhibitions, workshops, academic partnerships and a programme of keeping the restaurant staff well-informed about the exhibitions. Some years ago, a survey at the KZNSA proved that a large number of visitors to the restaurant and shop didn't know what exhibitions were showing in the gallery. This potentially captive audience needs drawing in and Maart has plans afoot.
After a career which has spanned being a practicing artist, a curator at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, consultant on both the new Freedom Park museum and Gauteng Legislature Art Collection, as well as a writer contributing to several publications, Maart is ready for a new challenge and we look forward to the future under his curatorship.