The South African National
Funding crisis at the National Gallery
The South African National Gallery in Cape Town, the country's most important and widely visited art museum, is in crisis. It is running on empty, using its financial reserves to keep going - reserves which will not last past March 1999. No new acquisitions can be made. Costs have been cut to the bone, and even the museum library is cancelling its subscriptions to art journals.
Under the government's new policy, museums will fall under a flagship institution - in the Cape, this will be the Robben Island Museum. However, although the Departments of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) is advertising for nominations for the councils of this flagship, and the launch date is way overdue, there is still no clarity on how these flagships will be managed and financed.
These points emerged from a statement written especially for ArtThrob by Marilyn Martin, Director of the SANG.
"Early on in the feasibility studies (for the new system), it became clear that virtually the entire combined subsidies of the future flagship museums would be spent on salaries," writes Martin. "It will impossible to implement the proposed new management structures without a massive increase in government support. This, it has been clearly stated by DACST, will not be forthcoming, and in the meantime the individual institutions are only functioning because they had reserve funds and are able to raise money for projects and activities. Reserves are now being depleted on running costs and maintenance. The SANG has money to keep the doors open until March 1999 but there is nothing for museological, curatorial and educational functions.
"National museums in South Africa have always been underfunded. The SANG has never, in its entire history, received adequate funding - the papers delivered and the articles published by directors and staff over the decades bear witness to how the national art museum has fallen behind other institutions in this country, not to mention those abroad, in every respect. For years we have raised funds in order to augment the government subsidy; in fact we have not been able to organise any major exhibitions, education programmes or produce publications without support from the private sector, trusts and foreign sources. From 1984 to 1997 our budget for acquisitions remained at R200 000,00; now we have nothing.
"What is going wrong in the new South Africa? DACST has initiated policies which are strong and speak of political will and commitment. Yet there is a huge gap between rhetoric and reality, and between paper and implementation. In the first place, we need to see the problems in the broader socio-economic perspective. The government's new macro-economic policy, Gear (Growth, Employment and Redistribution), which has been in place since June 1996, seeks to make South African capitalism competitive in the international arena, and arts and culture are feeling the impact. Increasingly government is reducing its expenditure on arts and culture and shifting responsibility on to the private sector. There is a real danger that museums may be denuded of their social role by becoming institutions that are driven by the profit motive, or are constrained in their activities by the need to minimise costs to the state. Privatisation - selling off parts of the national heritage - is the logical outcome of Gear.
"The shadow between the vision for arts, culture and heritage in the new South Africa, which is enshrined in the White Paper, and the reality of what is happening, also needs to be considered in the light of the inability of government departments to deliver. DACST and the Ministry of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology have been criticised for being inefficient, inexperienced and over-ambitious, for launching new projects and new legislation without considering the financial implications and for turning their backs on existing responsibilities. The National Arts Council (NAC), which forms the cornerstone of official cultural transformation, has been put in place at great expense and with much publicity. But there is not enough money - R15-million for seven disciplines - to carry out its mandate.
Priorities seem to have changed. Existing museums are bleeding to death, while huge amounts are being allocated to the Robben Island Museum, and newly appointed staff earn salaries far in excess of that of people who have been in the museum world for decades.
"The plight and position of the SANG have been chronicled in Bonani, our quarterly newsletter, which can be found on our website
Back on track: African participation in the São Paulo Bienal
After a long period of serious inattention on the part of the Department of Arts and Culture, Lorna Ferguson, curator for Africa for this year's São Paulo Bienal, has finally received the departmental mandate for South Africa's representation. This is a big relief not only to Ferguson and all the artists involved, but also to the South African art world in general, which thought that this Bienal might go the way of the last Venice Biennale. The invitation to that one never got past some unknown official's desk.
The central theme of this year's Bienal is anthropofagia (cannibalism). "Anthropofagia in this context," writes Ferguson in her proposal, "is understood to be a modernist process formulated in Brazil, in which artists and writers attempted to understand the configuration of Brazilian identity amongst its forming cultures (African, Indian and Portuguese) which cultivated a symbolic practice - cannibalism - of incorporating the Other's value to construct its own. The Manifesto Anthropofago by the Brazilian writer Osvaldo de Andrade, written in 1928, proclaimed anthropofagia as a process of absorption and blending of other cultures. In Brazil, anthropofagia is a trans-historical concept of art which challenges and goes beyond the Eurocentric conception of art history.
"The exhibition which I have been asked to curate forms part of the Roteiros section of the Bienal in which the world has been divided into seven geographic regions, of which Africa is one. Each regional curator has been asked to respond and seek specific resonances with de Andrade's Manifesto and the concept of anthropofagia, underlining parallels, similarities, areas of dialogue, clash and friction, thus integrating the entire segment globally."
Representing South Africa will be William Kentridge, Moshekwa Langa and Candice Breitz, who is now living in New York. The work of four Malian photographers will be shown. They are Abdoulaye Konaté, represented by an installation entitled Genocide; and three generations of Malian photographers - Seydou Keita, Malick Sidibe and Makki Kante. The other artists are: Georges Adeagbo (Benin), Soly Cissé (Senegal), Fernando Alvim (Angola) and Touhami Ennadre (Morocco). Thomas Mulcaire (South Africa) and Joseph Kpobly (Benin) are working jointly on a project in which a "set" will be constructed in the style of a reading room containing texts (discourse) on Africa by Africans, dealing in varying depths with the expectation, production and reception of African art.
One of the most successful long-term aspects of the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale, of which Ferguson was the artistic director, was the trainee curatorial programme. This year again Ferguson is introducing four young people - this time from West Africa - to the curatorial process of the São Paulo exhibition in a role of hands-on involvement. The four will spend 10 days in South Africa learning to write curatorial proposals and budgets, visiting studios, art museums, community art centres and meeting young artists in Johannesburg and Cape Town and then fly to Brazil with Ferguson. There they will help with the installation of the exhibition, which opens on October 2, and make their own video documentation.
Next month: The projects of the artists for São Paulo
Demise of The Cultural Weapon|
That extraodinarily useful journal of art information in its characteristic bright red cover, The Cultural Weapon, will no longer be finding its way to art addresses around the country. Editor Mike van Graan has decided he's had enough (see ArtThrob No 11). Two e-mails last month announced his decision. The first, on August 10, read: "Kaput! The CW is no more ... Have decided to discontinue. Don't have the energy for all this stuff at the moment; business and personal priorities shifting elsewhere. Thanks anyway for your great support. Maybe when I feel refreshed again..."
On August 17, a fuller explanation was issued:
Dear Subscriber to The Cultural Weapon
Following my letter and editorial of July 1, this is to let you know that The Cultural Weapon will no longer be published. Other business interests and personal priorities have collectively contributed to this decision.
This, then, is to thank you for your support and for your subscription to The Cultural Weapon in the past. I would also like to use this opportunity to thank our sponsor, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, who made the publication possible in the first place, enabling us to distribute it to you, the reader, at heavily subsidised rates.
The June editorial left some subscribers with the impression that the Embassy had withdrawn funding for The Cultural Weapon. Quite simply, this was not the case. In setting the record straight, I would like to emphasise that the Embassy was willing to facilitate funding of the publication regardless of it being viewed as controversial in some quarters.
Unfortunately (I wish there could have been another way of doing it), in raising what I considered to be an issue of critical importance to the country's cultural constituency, the Embassy and some of its officials were implicated. I understand, and accept that the editorial might have embarrassed, hurt and impugned the integrity of the Embassy and its officials.
While their record speaks for itself - irrespective of what I or anybody else says or writes - I have too much history with and respect for the work of the Embassy and its staff to leave this unadressed. Accordingly, I would like to unreservedly apologise for causing the Embassy and any of its officials any embarrassment or hurt. This was certainly not the intention of the June editorial.
In conclusion, thank you for being part of The Cultural Weapon's history.
Mike van Graan
Brett Murray wins public sculpture commission|
By Paul Edmunds
Winner of this year's ongoing public sculpture programme in Cape Town is Brett Murray, chosen from a field of entrants enticed by the purse of R30 000 and a figure of up to R50 000 for the production of a work. Selection took place at an exhibition of one-tenth scale maquettes. If the truth be known - and this does not detract from the strength of Murray's proposal - the overall standard of entries was low. It seemed possible that the judges could have exercised their reserved right not to declare a winner.
Murray's work, however, was part of a standout group of four or five maquettes including a detailed narrative steel cutout proposed by Nicholaas Vergunst and a re-working, by Kevin Brand, of his well-known Drommedaris, Goede Hoope, Reijger of 1991, this time entitled Klop, Klop, Klop. Brendhan Dickerson's beautifully finished, emaciated piggy bank begging Any Change? was excluded for fear of offending the Muslim community.
Needless to say, as with all projects of this nature, the winning work has raised a few hackles. Murray's maquette entitled Africa was one of the few works that stood as resolved sculptures in themselves. It depicts a carved wooden Colon-type figure sporting, in various places, garish Bart Simpson heads in the fashion of a "fetish".
Murray explains, simply and accessibly, that the work comments on the hybrid and parallel cultures which are characteristic of contemporary life in South Africa. The work deals also with the myths that inform these cultures, from ancient African traditions to the Western myths of deepest, darkest Africa to present day cartoon icons and the strange mix of fantasy and reality that arise therefrom. Declaimers lament its Amerocentricism or its unfortunate yellow protuberances and its rootedness in a very particular era. It certainly seems a concise and appropriate idea which Murray will execute, in bronze, with his customary integrity.
Photographic art in Sweden|
Twelve South African photographers and artists are participating in an exhibition entitled 'Democracy's Images: Photography and Visual Art After Apartheid', which opens at the BildMuseet in Umeå, in the north of Sweden, on September 6 and will run until November 8.
The exhibition examines the visual art that has emerged since 1994, the year of the first free elections, and explores the new themes which began to arise in post-apartheid years, themes which were often expressed more personally than before.
This is the first of two major exhibitions featuring South African artists to open in Sweden in the last quarter of 1998, and the photographers/artists represented on this show, presenting work from documentary photo-essays to film and video installations, are Jodi Bieber, Jean Brundrit, Kay Hassan, Senzeni Marasela, Santu Mofokeng, Ruth Motau, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Cedric Nunn, Tracey Rose, Joachim Schönfeldt, Penny Siopis and Minnette Vári.
South African Ambassador to Sweden Raymond Suttner will inaugurate the exhibition at 2pm on September 6, and on the two following days there will be an international symposium on the theme 'Bending Towards Freedom: Conditions and Contradictions of Cultural Production in (Post-) Colonial Societies' at the Aula Nordica, Umeå university. The programme includes lectures and discussions, with scheduled appearances by Rory Bester (South Africa), Okwui Enwezor (Nigeria/USA), Jean Fisher (England), Michael Godby (South Africa), Raoul Granqvist (Sweden), Stefan Helgesson (Sweden), Gordon Metz (South Africa) and Moa Matthis (Sweden). The proceedings will be in English.
A 144-page bilingual catalogue in full colour will accompany the exhibition.
For more information, contact Katarina Pierre, BildMuseet, +46-90-786 96 32, +46-90-786 52 27, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The programme of events
The façade of Bailey's art factory
Fabric by Bailey
An image from Bailey's book,
The house that Beezy built|
Effervescent Cape Town artist Beezy Bailey has turned a long-held fantasy into a reality with his conversion of an old building just off Long Street into an art factory. Working with Koos Malgas of Nieu Bethesda's Owl House fame, Bailey has plastered, moulded and mosaiced the fašade of the building with flying figures, glittering butterflies and cat faces. It certainly brightens the street up, and should tempt many to look inside.
Beezy believes that art should sell, and that everyone should have access to it. In his new art factory, his designs have been printed onto fabrics which can be bought by the metre, or already turned into such items as clothing and housewares. That's on the ground floor. One floor up is the printmaking studio, producing silkscreens and etchings, and a coffee shop and gallery - there'll be a new Beezy exhibition every two months. Also on this level is a ceramic studio which will produce tiles, bowls, platters and original pieces. The press relase describes the new shop as a place "where Andy Warhol meets Sir Terence Conran on the southern tip of Africa". Well, not quite, Beezy. But go for it.
Beezy can be contacted at email@example.com.
A workshop in session
An Outskirts art project
Outskirts - An ongoing community programme
"Have things changed for young black artists?" is often asked by overseas art people curious to know what is happening under the new dispensation. One initiative which is seeking to give a positive response to that question is the Outskirts programme initiated in 1997, in an attempt to involve art institutions on the geographic outskirts of Johannesburg more fully into the art life and opportunities of the city.
Under the auspices of the Rembrandt Gallery, in 1997, workshops and four exhibitions were held involving students from the Vaal Triangle Technikon, the Funda Community Centre, the University of the Orange Free State and the Manu Technical College. Students not only learned new ways of approaching art, but were able to exhibit their work and receive training in the professional way to go about mounting an exhibition. Discussion groups around the Johannesburg Biennale were held.
This year, Moretele College in North West Province near Hammanskraal was the focus of a workshop which involved 10 community artists and five students from the art department, the results again exhibited in the Market Theatre Photo Gallery in July.
Outskirts is an ongoing programme, and will continue to reflect work produced by artists, communities and institutions functioning outside the mainstream.
For more information contact Storm van Rensburg or Stephen Hobbs on (011) 832-1641, (011) 492-1235 (fax) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.