‘KWAAI Vol.3’ is this year’s contribution from Eclectica Contemporary in their ongoing quest to create a larger platform for artists of colour. Curators Christina Fortune and Kirstin Warries put together a collection they felt, “speaks to the climate we’re in,” and, “is testament to the creative blocks many of the artists went through, [illustrating] how art-making became a tool of relief during this time of confusion [amidst] the overwhelming sense of listlessness brought on by the lockdown.” The impact of the lockdown also informed the format of the exhibition, as like many other galleries have had to do, Eclectica presented their show in a virtual format.
The gallery creating a space that emulates the passage and experience the audience would have with a physical exhibition for Vol.3, does more than confirm the effects of social distancing necessary at present, it also challenges the art and artists with this new formula. Seeking ways to present a collection evolves with every show, and led the artists to lean more toward 2D artworks for ‘KWAAI’ this time around.
Each collection under the name ‘KWAAI’ seeks to welcome more perspectives onboard the platform they’re building, as it’s being built. The gallery’s decision to make this show annual, to stay in pursuit of each voice seeking a stage, and using this show as a means to make constructive contributions to the community, are evidence that at its core, ‘KWAAI’ is still very much in honour of black and brown artists and their communities. ‘KWAAI’ is putting in the work and emphasising the value that archiving these stories has on shaping the future, and the space black and brown people will occupy in it.
A testament to this is the inclusion of Jabu Nadia Newman’s photographs of her grandmother, Edith MacQuene. Jesus is Love, 2018, and Untitled, 2018, “[looks] at questions of coloured identity, and the African identities that were given up by coloured individuals in order to survive or live in certain areas,” according to Eclectica. Reprised from Newman’s first solo exhibition, ‘Mokwena, Macquena, Mac Quene’, the portraits occupy the space left vacant by so many consequences that followed the displacement at the hands of racial injustice forced upon black and brown families. In archiving these stills of her grandmother, Newman reclaims her legacy, and starts an important dialogue about assimilation and gentrification.
Sara Jardine’s Dala Wat You Must consists of miniature, site-specific installations based on our sneaker culture, placed around the Cape Flats. The aim of the work is to inspire imagination and spark a sense of joy for finding something out of the ordinary. She goes on to say, “I hope, as creatives, we are able to observe and listen to our surroundings while being aware of how we got here,” Jardine asserts, “and to be able to imagine a space we are creating, an enabling environment in which we can ask each other for help, learn new skills from each other, and support each other.”
Dion Cupido, who was also featured in the first exhibition of ‘KWAAI’, adds another portrait to his collection, putting the audience in the direct line of the loaded gazes of his subjects. The self-taught artist hones in on his unique style that marries the graffiti technique with the template of portraiture. Into the Unknown, 2020, is a foreboding, pensive piece where the subject is surrounded by floating objects, as they’re all drawn out to sea together. The child’s face is neutral amongst the debris, and upon closer inspection, the audience sees the carrying out of this “calm” through other people lounging on floating devices shaped as rainbows and birds in the background. This purposeful addition frames the child’s stare with an eeriness, as the audience debates context and metaphor; all the while a word rises to connect all the pieces of the artwork together: normalisation. Into the Unknown, 2020, may not have been made to comment on the expectations put on black people to perpetuate society’s pretenses that overarch oppression and racism, but, once the thought occurs, it persists.
In conversation about normalisation, and notions of “influence” fueled by popularity in the digital age, Gary Frier mulls over the elitism still prevalent today, saying, “The nature of the internet has changed since those heady gatekeeper days. There are many platforms to create and find an audience. However, there are still the competitions and various events being perpetuated by those in “influence”, (private galleries, financial institutions, art trusts, etc.) that dangle the carrot of financial/popular success to professional creatives but the true value, at least in my point of view, lies in creative collaboration rather than competition.” Robyn Pretorius adds that, “aspiring artists from low-income communities, especially from the cape flats area are not only struggling to navigate racial stereotypes but are also demotivated by the lack of developmental support within their areas. I believe there is room for more voices in an art industry that encourages growth and dialogue, however most of the barriers to representation are found in its accessibility.”
Prefacing the show, the words of Nadia Kamies lingers; “By connecting the lines between all of our stories whether they are auditory, visual or written, we may recognise our common humanity: we break down the walls that were constructed around us to separate us from the other. When we reach out to each other we move beyond the process of othering and towards freedom and equality.”
The value of ‘KWAAI’ lies even beyond the immense talent curated each year, but rather in the conversations had in pursuing the creation of such a project, and in its specific form. While the burden of overturning the country’s past should not lay at the feet of the oppressed, there are important steps to be taken, and conversations to be had within the reality of these lived experiences that can only be done by black people, and people of colour. There is a world of dialogue waiting, and so much more room to be made, and ‘KWAAI’ seems dutifully dedicated in its efforts to play its part in this process.