Q&A With Mandla Sibeko, Director Of The FNB JoburgArtFair In South Africa
Propelling the arts landscape forward in Africa is the FNB JoburgArtFair in Johannesburg, considered the most important exhibition of contemporary African art on the continent. For its 11th edition in 2018, over 60 galleries from 14 countries participated. The increasing number of artists and the diverse audiences reflect the robust state of the arts in Africa, as the fair has been instrumental in changing the perception that galleries are white, elitist and discriminatory, and now affluent blacks figure among the patron class, composed mainly of bankers, mining tycoons, winery owners and corporate executives. The fair’s partners include BMW, as the BMW Group had opened a car plant in Rosslyn, South Africa, in 1986, and as a strong proponent of the arts, it has initiated and engaged in over 100 cultural initiatives worldwide for close to 50 years now. We sit down with fair director, Mandla Sibeko, to discuss South Africa’s art scene.
How would you describe South Africa’s current burgeoning art scene?
The South African art scene is flourishing and growing. We celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) and welcomed the establishment of the Norval Foundation in Cape Town. The South African collector base is becoming more astute, and each year we see new collectors emerging. The secondary market is very healthy and we have seen multiple artists achieving sales records. South African fine art galleries are also growing from strength to strength, and as international museum acquisitions are made from their stables, new local collectors are emboldened to start more considered collections.
Why is the local and international art community finally turning its long overdue attention to South Africa? Was there a specific turning point for this period of artistic growth?
With the increasing arrival of the next generation of culturally and politically aware artists, we are experiencing a well-deserved focus on emerging South African artists. Personally, I saw a shift around eight years ago when the international market first started to seriously sit up and take note of new African artists. South African artists’ works were being included in international exhibitions and the African voice became louder.
How would you describe the art that South African artists are creating today – what themes are they exploring and what mediums are they using?
This is a very difficult question to answer definitively… There are certainly trends emerging whereby certain artists are focusing on specific mediums. For example, right now the use of materials such as fabric and the repurposing of found materials layered into work are highly expressive and being used frequently. However, I think the bold and multi-dimensional approach to the lives of African artists, either through sexually-orientated work or through culturally-specific works that focus on sociopolitical paradigms, are strong prevailing themes setting South African artists apart and firmly in the minds of the global art market.
Which are the most interesting art districts in Johannesburg?
The new workshops opening in Troyeville and the August House immediately come to mind. Artists are extremely resourceful and these locations house the studios of exciting artists that are established such as Nicholas Hlobo, as well as new female-run residency programs such as The Project Space.
Why is there a focus on public art?
Public art allows for the man on the street to be directly impacted by the importance of art. It allows for engagement with the wider community and the shifting of perception outside of the gallery space. “Good” public art can act as a catalyst for positive transformation, not only of the public space it occupies, but also the community engaging with the work. Public art matters!
Which three emerging South African contemporary artists are the ones to know and collect today?
Mitchell Gilbert Messina, Donna Kukama and Dale Lawrence.
Which South African galleries are the ones to watch?
Stevenson, Smith and Blank Projects.