Investec Cape Town Art Fair
16.02 - 18.02.2024
Leading up to the 11th edition of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (16 – 18 February 2024), Artthrob embarked on a series of interviews delving into the conceptual underpinnings of various presentations at the fair.
The inaugural instalment features a discussion with curators Natasha Becker and Amogelang Maledu who curated a new segment of the fair, GENERATIONS.
GENERATIONS is aimed at creating dialogue among artists from different generations, facilitating exchanges between 10 individuals at varying stages of their artistic journeys to illuminate discontinuities, intersections, and evolutions within their practices. The roster of artists includes Esther Mahlangu (The Melrose Gallery) in dialogue with Bonolo Kavula (SMAC Gallery), artists from Rorke’s Drift (Riaan Bolt Antiques) in conversation with Terence Maluleke (Southern Guild), Lulu Mhlana (Jonathan Carver Moore) engaging with Sedireng Mothibatsela (Ora Loapi), Barry Salzman with Emme Pretorius (both from IS Art Gallery), and Kimathi Mafafo (EBONY/CURATED) in conversation with Ayobami Ogungbe (Rele Gallery).
What questions were you interested in exploring about “Generations” and its potential?
Natasha Becker: We knew from the very beginning that we wanted to do something different with this new platform. Instead of generational agism, we wanted to spark intersectional conversations among different generations of artists and artist collectives. We are interested in exploring the potential of intersectionality for shaping visitors’ experience of art and the art fair.
Amogelang Maledu: This is in consideration of the fact that curatorial frameworks of pairing younger and older artists in exhibition-making are nothing particularly new. Thus even though the idea emanates from that kind of exhibition history it was important to have some elasticity with that idea where confluence as a configuration of thinking about artistic practices in Africa became a lot more important as well as the material histories that influence such conversations. In the booth and with all the artists selected, there are intersecting dialogues even outside of the pairings where conceptual concerns about material cultures, particularly within an African context, are foregrounded in the entire booth. From Bonolo Kavula, to Dr Esther Mahlangu, Ayobami Ogungbe, Emme Pretorius, Sedireng Mothibatsela, Kimathi Mafafo and the cohort of the Rorke’s Drift artists to name a few – there are intersectional and common dialogues happening both conceptually and materially.
How would you describe your curatorial approach for this particular project and how has that differed (if at all) from other projects you have undertaken?
NB: I like to consider the context, audience, location or site before I select or propose artists and artworks, and shape the ideas for an exhibition. With this project, the context is a commercial art fair, there’s a diverse audience (art world, the general public, students), and the location is the convention centre. But we are thinking of the art galleries too: the galleries applying to the platform, the local galleries, galleries that are under-represented at such events, galleries that are loyal supporters of African artists and the art fair, etc. So, the big difference with this project is that we are working with artists and their galleries, and you are curating the artists’ presentations together.
AM: We’ve both had experience working with the Investec Cape Town Art Fair in terms of the ecosystem and community that it has cultivated as Natasha has outlined. What has been important throughout the process has been centring conversations with the artists in having their support and input, not just in the presentation of the curated section at the art fair, but also in the discursive engagements of seeing their practice in relation to another artist and what potential collaborations and idiosyncrasies can come out of that. As a curator who tends to lean more into the discourses of art, working at a university research centre, I am always attuned to the ability of art to create meaningful dialogue through and beyond the artworks themselves.
Why is this conversation around cross-generational intersections important right now?
NB: We need new ways of seeing and understanding artists and their work across time and space. Artists are always looking in various directions for inspiration, innovation, materials, and growth. They are engaged in conversations that transcend age, time, place, culture, and history. So, many intersections combine to shape their, and our, experiences.
AM: I think it will always be an important conversation merely because as the adage goes; “there is nothing new under the sun.” And truly we can all learn from being in community with each other, with the world, with other entities – known and unknown. It creates empathy, curiosity and understanding if it is leaned into through being committed to knowledge in its vastness – something artmaking is incredibly good at encouraging. There is so much to learn from cross-generational intersectional discussions across the board, not just in the arts.
The premise of the segment (or at least one of them) is this dichotomy in practice; established vs emerging artists. Can you tell us how you negotiated these notions?
NB: This was the initial premise but we knew from the beginning that we wanted to change it in favour of platforming fresh intersections and unexpected cross-generational conversations.
AM: When I first got asked to work on this new section called GENERATIONS with Natasha, as a pop culture babe, my first intuitive response was to think about one of the country’s most beloved soap operas also called GENERATIONS — its significance in South African popular culture. The soapie’s creative impulse and socio-political context, in its junctures and revisions, was one of many catalytic visual cultures that cultivated a zeitgeist of possibility in South Africa. As a kid, I was always fascinated by its multicultural, multilingual ease and especially about how it was such a unifier for my working-class family and many others in South Africa where we could all – different ages: cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents – sit and enjoy this tantalising soapie about us, South Africans in their locality and global situatedness, essentially capturing our aspirations, follies and all the in-betweens. Given that families are inadvertently intergenerational, the soapie became a resonating constant somehow in how it occupied our daily lives. Throughout this entire process of curating the section, that has been a metaphor for how I approached thinking about the criteria and its tangential possibilities.
Is there something that surprised you while working on this project?
NB: Yes, the most exciting surprise is that almost all the artists made new work for the show! There are some historical artworks but most of these are being seen for the first time. It’s like Christmas.
AM: Artists are dying to have conversations in relation to one another. There is so much they have to share outside of the competition of how the art market can be perceived. We all know that the idea of the ’genius’ artist is an established mythology. There is truly a hunger to create artist networks where artists can learn from each other and just be able to play, experiment and test ideas – chit-chat – outside of curators, art critics, gallerists etc. I was so touched by one of the artists in the section, Terence Maluleke’s revelation about how, while he was on an artist residency sometime last year, some of the things he was thinking about loosely and conceptually were religion (without any particular impulse to do anything about it immediately). When we proposed the pairing with Rorke’s Drift, reflecting on the art school’s evangelical founding, the idiosyncrasies just started crystalising in organic ways, which is essentially what this section nudges at.
This project is interesting because both the content and the form take seriously the question of intergenerational dialogue (both of you as curators who started at different times and have worked in different contexts in each of your careers). What would you say, working together has revealed for you?
NB: It is so rewarding to be a mentor and to support others in their growth and success. I deeply appreciate the relationship I have with Amogelang. She has a brilliant mind, she is incredibly empathetic and supportive and has a terrific sense of humour. A real warrior woman; she must have eight arms and hands for all the amazing multitasking she does!
AM: I love working collaboratively and I thrive in environments that encourage a horizontal way of working where trust and mutual respect for what we all bring to a project is foregrounded. I am so privileged to constantly be working with Black women, in all the different trajectories of my career, that have constantly held me down and I have done the same for them in ways that are healthy and affirming, especially as an independent curator. Natasha has been such one Black woman. From being part of the UNDERLINE projects that she initiated in 2019 with two other curators (Lara Koseff and Londi Modiko) that I took part in with a curatorial collective Re-curators (that I co-founded with Luvuyo Equiano Nyawose and Thembakazi Matroshe) to working with her at this inaugural section for the fair. It feels like a journey in our careers’ meeting points and I look forward to how our relationship continues to blossom even after this co-curation for the fair.