Art and design lovers, South Africa's the destination to watch
With a world-class museum (the biggest public art space to open on the continent), annual art fairs in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and vibrant gallery scenes that have been steadily growing over the last decade, South Africa has become the continent’s art and design hub.
Compared to art capitals like Dakar (in Senegal) or Lagos (in Nigeria), where West African artists have had a far greater presence thanks to proximity to Europe, and as a result of the global boycott of South Africa’s economy and culture due to apartheid that ended in 1994, the nation has had to play catch up. Since then, its market has become more professional, with rising numbers of commercial galleries that are more visible at international art and design fairs, and museums and collectors locally and worldwide increasingly acquiring South African art and design.
Pictured: Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA)
Text: Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle
The opening in 2017 of the 9,500 sq m, nine-storey Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) in Cape Town drew international attention and further cemented the country’s status as a focal point for artists.
Commissioned through a public/private partnership between the V&A Waterfront development and German entrepreneur and art collector Jochen Zeitz, the world’s largest museum of contemporary African art was designed by celebrated British architect Thomas Heatherwick, who carved out galleries and a central atrium from the monumental structure of Cape Town’s historic grain silo.
Its recent exhibition Five Bhobh – Painting At The End Of An Era (pictured) explores contemporary paintings from Zimbabwe, featuring artists like Richard Mudariki, Charles Bhebe, Gareth Nyandoro, Portia Zvavahera and Duncan Wylie.
The museum also has access to Jochen’s extensive personal art collection. Playing a key role in allowing Africans to tell their stories, the museum aims to propel the African perspective to the forefront within the global art community.
Supporting the art landscape in Africa is the FNB Joburg Art Fair in Johannesburg, considered the most important exhibition of contemporary African art on the continent.
For its 11th edition last year, over 60 galleries from 14 countries participated. The increasing number of artists and the diverse audiences reflect the robust state of the art scene in Africa, and the fair has been instrumental in changing the perception that galleries are white, elitist and discriminatory.
Today, affluent blacks figure among the patron class, composed mainly of bankers, mining tycoons, winery owners and corporate executives.
Pictured: Richard Mudariki, one of the artists featured in Five Bhobh, and his colourful creation.
“The South Africa art scene is flourishing and growing,” notes fair director Mandla Sibeko. “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 global museum acquisitions are made from their stables, new local collectors are emboldened to start more considered collections.”
The WoodStock art district In Cape Town, the Woodstock Design District in particular, a suburb located between Table Mountain and the harbour, has become a key cultural hub.
Once a farming hamlet that developed into a lively multicultural suburb in the 1800s, before turning into an industrial area in the early 1900s that led to a mix of Victorian row houses, semi-detached townhouses, factories and warehouses, Woodstock is a hotspot with the highest concentration of design stores and art galleries in the country.
Over the past decade, the cheap rentals for unusual spaces, proximity to the city and high crime rate in Johannesburg have enticed creatives to move to Woodstock, and today it is filled with shops, showrooms, eateries, design studios and high-end contemporary art galleries.
Southern Guild (pictured), the continent’s most celebrated collectible design gallery founded in 2008 by Trevyn and Julian McGowan with its first permanent home in Woodstock, has been critical in supporting world-class, locally-made limited-edition design and giving South African design a voice.
It champions creatives such as Gregor Jenkin, who works in flat, mild-rolled steel that he laser cuts and welds beautifully – the first designer it took to Design Miami – and Justine Mahoney, who mixes native and pop culture iconography with issues like circumcision and child warriors, and whose bronze sculptures are acquired by some of the world’s top collectors.
Having represented South Africa with Southern Guild at the inaugural 2016 London Design Biennale is Porky Hefer (pictured), who embraces and preserves traditional indigenous techniques and crafts that focus on handmade rather than mass production.
Johannesburg-based Dokter and Misses examines a contemporary, urban street culture and comments on what it means to be a young South African.
In terms of art galleries, there is Stevenson with spaces in Cape Town and Johannesburg, which represents some of the most avant-garde contemporary artists on the African continent, including international names Zanele Muholi and Nandipha Mntambo.
Pictured: Works by Nandipha Mntambo
Pictured: Artist Zanele Muholi
Blank Projects works with young artists from the region, while SMAC represents emerging and mid-career South African artists and established global artists, with large-scale historical exhibitions and projects that re-evaluate South African art history.