Report from South Africa – August 2014

Ahead of the Johannesburg Art Fair, Matthew Blackman, editor of online South African art publication, ArtThrob, rounds up the best of this month's magazine's news and reviews

By Matthew Blackman

Kiluanji Kia Henda, As God Wants and the Devil Likes It (O.R.G.A.S.M Congress), 2001-2014, Courtesy of Brundyn +, Cape Town Portia Zvavahera, Ndokumbirawo Ishe, 2014, Courtesy of the Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg Ian Grose, Study for a History Painting, 2014, Courtesy of the Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town Jackson Hlungwane, Installation view of 'A New Jerusalem', University of Johannesburg Art Gallery. Photo: Nessa Leibhammer Deborah Poynton, Installation view of  'Model for a World: A Survey of 25 Years of Painting', 2014, Courtesy of the New Church Gallery, Cape Town

This month is Johannesburg Art Fair month, a time when Cape Town’s art world ascends like a salmon out of water up to the financial capital. For one week, at the very least, all is calm, and artists and gallerists alike walk about in a state of fraternal love, speaking in pure iambics. Well at the very least they all stand in one convention centre together and put their opinions and prejudices aside to select one artist who they feel to be worthy of celebration. This year they have selected the Zimbabwean painter Portia Zvavahera whose recent exhibition was reviewed in the electronic pages of ArtThrob. We also had a rare visit from friends from Angola and America as well as a flurry of painting shows and a feature on one of South Africa’s greatest sculptors.

Portia Zvavahera at the Stevenson Gallery in Johannesburg

Winner of the Joburg Art Fair Prize, which was selected by all the gallerists exhibiting at the Fair, Zavahera recently showed off her rare talent at the Stevenson Gallery in Joburg. As our reviewer Percy Mabandu pointed out, in light of her country’s troubles her exhibition, Wayfinding, is both an exploration of grief and catharsis. Zvavahera, along with her studio partner, Misheck Masamvu, are at the forefront of a painting revolution in Zimbabwe that is now making regular artistic incursions across the Limpopo River.

Kiluanji Kia Henda at Brundyn + in Cape Town

The Angolan artist Kiluanju Kia Henda came for the second time to exhibit in South Africa. This time he brought to Brundyn + gallery his latest work, the video Concrete Affection – Zopo Lady, 2014, with which he showed what a unique and inventive talent he is. Kia Henda has always been a master at appropriating and distorting existing forms, twisting them into new and fictitious narratives. In Concrete Affections he creates an extended video of a peopleless Luanda and its eerily deserted harbour. In his limited time here we also caught up with him on his O.R.G.A.S.M Project.

Ian Grose at the Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town

The painter Ian Grose has swum against the current for most of his short painting career. Unlike so many artists working in South Africa today Grose has steadfastly concentrated on painting as a means of expression leaving political utterance to others. As Chad Rossouw says of his exhibition, Some Assumptions, he is ‘a painter who is experimental, uncertain and insecure, but who is conversely masterful at the act of painting.’

A feature by Dr Steven C. Dubin on Jackson Hlungwane

The Columbia based academic Dr. Steven C. Dubin was another visitor to our shores. Primarily he came to install his exhibition, Developing Characters, but he also found time to pen us a feature on the work of Jackson Hlungwane whose retrospective was recently held at the University of Johannesburg. Dubin’s fascinating retelling of the mysticism of Hlungwane’s practice is simply a must read for anybody interested in South African art.

Deborah Poynton at the New Church Gallery in Cape Town

Amy Soudien took a relatively firm view of Deborah Poynton’s painting review exhibition, Model for a World: 25 years of Painting, which was on show at the New Church Gallery in Cape Town. Soudien questioned whether there is room in South African social and artistic discourse for merely diving into pools of childhood escapism and notions of utopia. The review goes on to grapple with the idea of whether an artist, who grew up in South Africa, does have to face up to, in some regard, the issues that are the quotidian experience of the majority.

Johannesburg Art Fair runs 22-24 August 2014 at Sandton Convention Centre

See here for more ArtThrob news, reviews and features from South Africa

Online exclusive, first published 20 August 2014