In October of last year, Cape Town Art Fair announced Tumelo Mosaka as the curator for CTAF ’17. Currently working as an independent curator in New York, Mosaka has had an illustrious career in the United States, with positions as Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and Contemporary Art Curator at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois. His curatorial projects have explored global and transnational artistic production especially from Africa, the Caribbean and North America, examining themes such as racial injustice, migration, and identity, some of the most urgent social concerns of our time.
ArtThrob sat down with Mosaka to get the inside scoop on his curatorial vision for CTAF ’17.
ArtThrob: First and foremost, congratulations on your appointment as curator of CTAF 2017! It must be gratifying to be working in the country of your birth again. When was the last time you were involved in curatorial projects here?
Tumelo Mosaka: It’s been a while, I’m not sure exactly, but it was for the Joburg Art fair if I recall. It is wonderful to be back doing some work. In these many years I’ve been absent in South Africa, I’ve remained connected and have worked with many artists most recently with Ledelle Moe in a project in Miami.
AT: From your vantage point in the United States, how has it felt watching global artworld attitudes to South Africa shift in recent years?
TM: At times it has been exciting and changing all the time. I think after the euphoria and excitement surrounding the democracy, cultural production from South Africa came into question about what comes next? How does the burden of apartheid translate in contemporary South Africa? What role has art played in the transformation of culture? How is identity being reconstituted in SA? These and other questions have caught the attention of many curators who are looking at conversations across the world and making relations between artists. Of course the increasing number of art fairs and biennales has also contributed towards a more global dialogue about art and society. It has been exciting to see younger South African artists making work that is personal, unapologetic, and demanding of viewers to be engaged.
AT: You’ve been hugely prolific, working primarily with museum shows over the last decade as well as undertakings such as the International Pavilion at BIAC Martinique in 2013. What fresh curatorial opportunities and challenges does CTAF represent for you?
TM: CTAF is a different kind of platform that requires a lot more attention to galleries given its for-profit status. In most of my work, I’ve mostly focused on the creative aspect working directly with artists. On this occasion, the challenge has been balancing the commercial interests with more social concerns. One way has been to expand the cultural institutions platform as well as introduce other sections such as the Unframed and film section to broaden the conversation beyond the marketplace and to support local culture on the continent.
AT: How would you define your curatorial vision for CTAF 2017?
TM: My vision for CTAF is simple, make Cape Town the preeminent destination in Africa for viewing contemporary art. One way we aim to achieve this is by showcasing provocative art and creating opportunities for exchange and education. I look forward to working with all the galleries, artists, curators, and educators who will be contributing to a large conversation about what it means to be making and consuming contemporary art.
AT: It’s been reported that CTAF 2017 has attracted the highest number of applications in the Fair’s history, from local and international galleries. What do you feel is unique about the fair specifically from a local and international perspective? How do you plan to build on that?
TM: Cape Town Art Fair on the continent of Africa is important politically and historically. The city of Cape Town as site of trade continues to offer challenging perspectives about place and heritage. For too long Africa has been thought of as being in the dark, but now people are beginning to pay attention. To be on the continent is a huge pull even because it does offer a different lens to engage contemporary reality. It also offers access to the many galleries and artists located on the continent that may not have the opportunity or access to foreign markets. Over the years, the fair has become a vehicle for presenting what is happening both locally and regionally. It seems to serve the purpose of being a convergent point of exchange between artists, curators, galleries and collectors. We would like to see more cultural institutions represented from the continent as this provides a window into what artists are doing both in Africa and the Diaspora.
AT: Tomorrows/Today in particular is going to be your baby, featuring approximately 10 solo presentations by emerging artists from Africa and the African Diaspora. ‘Emerging artists’ seem to have been a recurring source of interest to you, what is it that draws you to working with artists who are less well-known?
TM: My thought is that it may have to do with thinking together. I tend to work this way, which allows me to take risks and be vulnerable. From my experience, emerging artists seem more open to taking a lot more risks? On a serious note, I am interested in the process of formulating primary research on artists. Being a curator also means having the responsibility to shape, frame how public views the artist work. So working with ideas and forms that have not become fixed is exciting for me because it allows room for exploration and exchange. This process is organic and requires a level of trust in the process. I’ve done this enough times now to know when it might not be going well.
AT: How have you been deciding on who to include in this section? Did you start with a clear idea of which artists you wanted to work with or has the selection emerged from research?
TM: It is never clear what comes first, I tend to go back and forth. For this project, I started with the works submitted for consideration, then looked at other artists from the same galleries. Then I began to see patterns and themes such as the construction of urban mythologies reflected at the margins of daily life. While subject of bodies remained obscured and fragmented, it mapped a concern of unchartered territories on the verge of disappearance and recovery. These artists deal with uncertainty and ambiguity, which largely remains unspoken or hidden in contemporary life.
AT: At present, artists from South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar have been announced for Tomorrows/Today. What are the unique challenges with working trans-continentally?
TM: The biggest challenge working trans-continentally has been translating concepts. Even though some meaning is always lost, the challenge is what else you can bring that has relevance both locally and internationally. Other challenges are more practical such as economics, which limit what is possible. One has to take all theses into consideration when working across long distances.
AT: This fair has a large contingent of special projects and platforms. How do you balance the commercial needs of the fair with a more cultural role?
TM: It’s a continual struggle, which is healthy given the limited resources. Of course the commercial needs take precedence, however given our unique position on the continent we make a big effort to incorporate the special projects to offer an experience that is more of a broad cultural experience. Since Okwui’s biennale, the fair model has become the next best thing offering dynamic artistic experience on the continent. We hope to become preeminent fair for Contemporary African Art, transforming Cape Town into a destination place for art.
AT: The Unframed section sounds quite exciting as an art fair feature, could you tell us a bit more about it?
TM: Unframed can be understood as something that is not containable. We felt the need to offer something beyond the booth experience, something that could not be hung on a wall. This section hence, caters to installations and large sculptures. It is also a section, which has the greatest potential to be interactive depending on the artworks. In short we intend to offer visitors multiple experiences when visiting the fair.
AT: At this stage, can you offer any juicy titbits about what you have planned for the Cultural Platforms section and Talks programme?
TM: In the Cultural Platforms we have projects focusing on a single artist such as Espaço Luanda Arte from Angola, who will be presenting the work of Kapela Paulo, a “Spiritual Father” of artists’ collective known as the Nationalists in Angola. Other institutions are considering performative and interactive engagement such as AVA and Black Collectors Forum who will showcase several local artists. In the Talks program, I’ve tried to balance conversation between artists, curators and collectors. The themes range from building collections to reflecting on curatorial strategies regarding greater inclusivity. Furthermore, we have included performance and film to expand visitor experience.
AT: How do you see Cape Town Art Fair growing within Africa in the future?
TM: The fair has great potential to establish partnerships throughout the continent that will allow meaningful exchanges as well as encourage and develop appreciation of art from across the world. The future of the fair lies not only in how we are regionally positioned, but more so in the support we can build transnationally.
Further information can be found here.
Tickets are available from Computicket.
The CTAF runs from 17 to 19 February 2017. Tickets are R140 for adults, R100 for students and pensioners and free for under-12s. For more information, visit capetownartfair.co.za.
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