MATTERS OF OBSESSION

The Arts in 2021 – a fight for survival

By Karel van der Vyver 3 February 2021

Photo supplied by the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art

Museums and art spaces continue to battle to stay open, especially as Covid-19 continues to lumber ahead. Yet, few galleries are putting up thought-provoking and exciting exhibitions. Here is the lowdown.

Art galleries are struggling. Few tourists are visiting and, at Level 3, many of us are still hesitant to get out, let alone to go to the museum. Nevertheless, across the country and on the continent, art spaces are planning exhibitions and installations for the year. Here are some that will grace the halls of some of the continent’s preeminent art spaces and galleries.

Rupert Museum (Stellenbosch, Western Cape)

This renovated space – which reopened in 2019 after a short upgrade – hosts some of the most famous and exclusive pieces of South African art, accessible to the public for free.

Photo supplied by the Rupert Museum.

Until 21 February, check Active Archive: Unveiling Collections Management, an exhibition that goes behind the exhibition. Ever wondered what it takes to create and manage an art installation? This will show you.

The Johannesburg Station Panels is a permanent display featuring JH Pierneef’s famous 32 panels that were commissioned for the Johannesburg Train Station and completed between 1929 and 1932.

On until 22 August, Nature Morte – The Still from Life focuses on artworks portraying still lives, inanimate objects and interior scenes, a sober allegory for our times, and a pandemic that kept us all indoors. Discover or rediscover works from artists such as Irma Stern, Penelope Siopis and Derrick Nxumalo alongside works from 17th century Flemish painters and contemporary still-life photographers.

Tatum Cogan, marketing and events coordinator at the museum, explains: “We are continuously working and developing our exhibition content so that our visitors have an opportunity to view and learn about these exhibitions via our website and social media pages.

“We are in the process of digitising all collections managed by the Rupert Museum, as part of our current exhibition, Active Archive. This is an ongoing project we will be working on throughout lockdown.”

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Cape Town)

Opening on 3 March and running until 29 August, Shooting Down Babylon by Johannesburg-based South African artist Tracey Rose. Rose is a revolutionary artist who focuses on performance art that explores themes of gender, sexuality, race and repatriation. Ahead of the exhibition, the auction house Christie’s notes: “Whether pummelling a punch bag naked, or urinating on the West Bank wall that separates Israel and Palestine, her provocative, lo-fi video works are not for the easily offended.”

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA). Photo by Hufton Crow.

This large-scale mixed-media installation will explore works from 1996 to 2019, looking at exorcist and cleansing rituals from non-Western societies and communities, in line with the themes of her work such as post-colonialism, stereotypes imposed on the body and performativity.

On until 2 May 2021, Waiting for Gebane, a solo exhibition by South African artist Senzeni Mthwakazi Marasela. An installation made up of multidisciplinary works of art, such as paintings, textiles and photography, it is also a sobering and powerful exploration of what it means to belong, our relationship with and to others, as well as womanhood. Maverick Life’s Malibongwe Tyilo spoke to the artist about her work.

Don’t miss Chilean-born and New York-based artist Alfredo Jaar’s exhibition, Alfredo Jaar: The Rwanda Project, a series of multidisciplinary works inspired by his time in Rwanda in 1994. It runs until 23 May.

Palais de Lomé (Lomé, Togo)

The Palais de Lomé is a contemporary art center and park, situated in the former residence of the German and French governor and Togo’s prime minister.

“Because of Covid-19 we extended the duration of our opening exhibitions, as we wanted more people to enjoy them for longer. However, we decided to enrich them by adding, for example, digital content that was not part of the original exhibitions, and we are planning new events around the exhibitions not only in the Palais, online, but also in the city of Lomé” says  Sonia Lawson, director of the Palais de Lomé.

The construction of the Palais de Lomé was completed in 1905. Photo supplied by Palais de Lomé.

There are four exhibitions on display at the art center.

3 Borders deals with the themes of materiality, migration of objects and the invention of visual languages, featuring work by artists from Benin, Ghana and Nigeria. It’s an ode to the continent and the role of the museum in bridging conversations between Pan-African countries. February is this exhibition’s last month.

Infinity: Tribute to Kossi Aguessy is dedicated to the works of Togolese designer Kossi Aguessy. Some of his pieces, complete with photos, sketches, portraits and quotes, display his distinctive style. The designer, who died at the age of 40 in 2017, was known for his industrial and futuristic designs that often had African figures as a point of departure. For example, his Zoo and Loo masks are an unflinchingly modern take on the ritual African masks. The exhibition will finish up in April 2021.

Togo of the Kings goes deeper into Togo’s history. A display of artefacts belonging to kingdoms, chieftaincies and traditional communities, many of which are from private collections, shows the rich history of the country. Spread over 400m2, the exhibition explores the specific kingdoms and civilisations that influenced the country until its independence in 1960; by focusing on these artefacts the museum hopes the exhibition will be an opportunity to tell a story and document a history that has received limited exposure. The exhibition is due to close in September 2021.

LOME+ looks towards Lomé’s past, present and future. Through archival footage (video and audio), postcards, and visuals, the installation takes the visitor through decades of its history and into the future that awaits it. A three-piece video, These imminent impossibilities, will dive into the origins of the city, its journey towards the present while foreseeing Lomé as a soon-to-be technologically advanced smart city. The exhibition runs until December 2022.

Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art (Lagos, Nigeria)

Named after Nigerian prince, art collector and donor to the institution, Yemisi Shyllon, the museum is on the campus of Pan-Atlantic University.

The Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art is home to a collection of artworks from contemporary Nigerian artists. Photo supplied by the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art.

You can view the current exhibitions virtually here.

Mirroring Man: Society and Politics in Nigerian Art shows how Nigerian artists explored themes such as nationalism, indigenous cultures and the coming together of old and new.

Making Matter: Materiality and Technology in Nigerian Art is all about materials. With works in clay, wood, fibre and beads, this exhibition tries to show how different materials can be used in art and how it reflects the conditions of the artists and mirrors their civilisations.

Both exhibitions are on indefinitely.

Advancement manager at the museum, Chidera Ifechukwu, says: “We look forward to an exciting 2021 and are presently working on developing two new exhibitions to be displayed on each of our two exhibition floors, one of which will be focused on female Nigerian artists.”

The team at the museum also launched programmes for secondary schools in Lagos State, where they will use the museum’s collection to engage students in history. The school tour will use artworks from the four pre-colonial societies of Ife, Nok, Igbo-Ukwu and Benin to teach students about significant historical events, periods and social systems that continue to influence Nigeria.

Since the pandemic, Ifechukwu explains that “we have in place online resources through which our audiences can stay engaged. We have developed a virtual tour of our exhibitions, available on the museum’s website and can give guided tours via video conferencing. We also have active social media platforms for continued interaction with our audiences and we periodically publish information sheets on artworks in our collection which our audiences can view or download from our website.”

Goodman Gallery (Johannesburg)

The Goodman Gallery has been on the South African art scene since 1966, with galleries in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London.

In Johannesburg, a group exhibition called Everything fits to our daily needs runs until 24 March. It explores climate change and environmental threats, with works by Alfredo Jaar and William Kentridge.

Also in Johannesburg, a solo exhibition by French artist Paul Maheke starts on 1 April. “This will be Maheke’s first exhibition on the continent and we’re thrilled to be hosting this artist working at the forefront of performance and installation in contemporary art,” says Robin Scher, the gallery’s head of communications.

In Cape Town, Did you ever think there would come a time? is on until 12 March 2021. The exhibit explores this time in history and the role art does and should play in it.

Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. Goodman Gallery is an international contemporary art gallery which also has locations in Cape Town and London. Photo supplied by Goodman Gallery.

Iziko Museums (Cape Town)

Iziko is an isiXhosa word meaning hearth – a spirit of togetherness and interaction that Iziko aims to replicate in its 11 Cape Town museums and galleries.

Two are indefinitely closed due to renovations, but the remaining nine offer interesting and affordable visits, boasting exhibitions that draw on some of South Africa’s most extensive art, natural history and historical archives. It includes the Groot Constantia Manor House, South African Museum and Planetarium, South African National Gallery and the Castle of Good Hope.

At the Slave Lodge, Singing Freedom: music and the struggle against apartheid showcases the role freedom songs played in the fight against apartheid. The exhibition explores some of South Africa’s most famous historical events, allowing visitors to listen to the songs that would have been heard then. The exhibition is on until 30 April 2021.

In the world of natural history, Sentinels of the South is open at the South African Museum and explores South Africa’s role in Antarctic and Southern Ocean exploration. The exhibition is on until 31 March 2021.

Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (Johannesburg)

The Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation is a new kid on the block. Read more here.  

The Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF) was founded in 2013. Photo by Graham De Lacy.

JCAF will host one exhibition a year; in 2021, they are focusing again on an all-women exhibition titled Liminal Identities in the Global South, bringing together artists from Latin American, the Middle East and South Africa.

It is the second of three exhibitions, following the hugely successful Contemporary Female Identities in the Global South which explored the role of female identities.

Liminal Identities in the Global South reflects on a pandemic world and combines architecture, art and music, and will open tentatively on 20 May until 20 November, with exact dates to be confirmed closer to the time.

Norval Foundation (Cape Town)

The foundation’s current art installations, Alt and Omega: Jackson Hlungwani and iiNyanga Zonyaka: Athi-Patra Ruga, will remain until 26 July 2021.

To learn more about Alt and Omega read Kathy Berman’s review.

Located in Cape Town, close to the Table Mountain National Park, the Norval Foundation is home to the research and exhibition of 20th- and 21st-century visual art. Photo supplied by the Norval Foundation.

From 13 February to 31 May, don’t miss The Reunion: Georgina Gratrix, a display of the artist’s 27 artworks – her first solo exhibition at a museum. The colour paintings are still lives, self-portraits and portraits.

In addition to exhibitions, the foundation has “started a family-focused event… Family Weekend, with the aim of inviting families to enjoy our space and experience art and nature. Activities include self-guided family art ‘treasure hunts’, yoga for all ages, artist talks, botanical tours and other children’s creative activities. It is our goal to host Family Weekend once a month going forward,” says Elana Brundyn, Director of Norval Foundation.

Safety precautions

All museums and galleries mentioned follow Covid-19 precautions, which include mask wearing, sanitising, physical distancing and a limited number of people allowed indoors.

If you’re hesitant to venture outside there are ways to support art spaces on the continent, through donations, shopping at museum shops or simply following and sharing their social media content.

The richness of our continent’s art cannot be overstated. In 1998, then deputy president Thabo Mbeki spoke in a debate in Parliament on the African Renaissance.

He said: “I speak of African works of art in South Africa that are 1,000 years old. I speak of the continuum in the fine arts that encompasses the varied artistic creations of the Nubians and the Egyptians, the Benin bronzes of Nigeria and the intricate sculptures of the Makonde of Tanzania and Mozambique.” DM/ML

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