Report from South Africa – September 2014

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

Bridget Baker, The Blue Collar Girl, (Cape Town), 2004 Kerry Chaloner, Too Fresh to Flop, 2014 Chad Rossouw, The Blombos Dragon Bone, 2014 Serge Alain Nitegeka BLACK SUBJECTS: Still II, 2014 Singarum 'Kitty' Moodley, Untitled 1972 - 1984, photograph

This month, in many ways, found ArtThrob in a self-reflective mood. With one of its editors exhibiting and its founding editor reviewing one of our frequent contributor’s exhibitions it felt like the little island, that is the art world in South Africa, got a little smaller. We have also seen a slew of painting exhibitions all of which seem heavily influenced by abstract expressionism (many of which will be reviewed next month). South African art has always worked to its own set of rhythms, slightly behind the times, slightly more influenced by craft and by a politics that was uniquely its own, it has now seemingly caught up with the current global trend in painting. Now most young painters are running with what has been referred to as the globalised ‘silver period’ of abstraction. This too has somehow made our art world a little smaller and perhaps a little less diverse.

Kerry Chaloner at blank project in Cape Town

The first artist influenced by abstract expressionism on exhibition was the young upcoming artist, Kerry Chaloner, at blank projects in Cape Town. Her ‘Black Dog White Bread’ is, as she says in this interview, a response to her environment and clearly a response the materiality of contemporary life. Her video Too Fresh to Flop, with its monotone reading of the back of product labels while she - dressed in a non-contamination outfit - creates a sand angel, acts as a mechanism for interpreting the gaudy and amusing works that hang in a scatter-gun shot of curation.

Serge Alain Nitegeka at Stevenson in Johannesburg

Serge Alain Nitegeka too is somebody heavily influenced by Modernism. In his exhibition ‘Into the BLACK’ he explores how the colour black has been used in art history. Much like in his previous exhibitions the artist from Burundi’s use of palate packing boxes as a material suggests something of his own itinerant history. Although largely focused on abstract forms, Nitegeka, as our reviewer points out, also makes a return to some figurative work in order to explicate his theme.

Chad Rossouw at Brundyn + in Cape Town

Chad Rossouw, who also happens to be ArtThrob’s deputy editor, had an exhibition of his own at the Brundyn + space in Cape Town entitled Planet’s Wake. Like the artist who showed with him, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Rossouw’s interests lie in the science-fictionalisation of history and culture. His cyanotypes, carvings, drawings and manipulated photography with crashed spacecrafts, dragon bones and a Cyclops skull placed in contemporary and suburban settings, were I think a triumph. But then again I could hardly say anything less. Anyway maybe it is best to check out the review.

A Brave New World at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town

The Iziko South African National Gallery, which is currently without a director, put together a celebration of the art of the last 20 years of democracy and rather chillingly called it A Brave New World (although whether they are aware of the reference to the dystopian fiction of Aldous Huxley is still a matter hotly debated in the ArtThrob office). Suffice to say, as Tim Leibbrandt discovered, the exhibition was, all told, considering the institution’s continuing difficulties, a success. What is more, he points out, it is in many ways a triumph for freedom of expression in South Africa.

Developing Characters at the Centre for Africa in Cape Town

Sue Williamson, our founding editor, went to the Centre for Africa at the University of Cape Town to check out the Columbia academic Steven C. Dubin’s exhibition of the photography of Singarum ‘Kitty’ Moodley. Kitty, who worked in small and sleepy city of Pietermaritzburg, was a commercial studio photographer whose work seemed all but lost. As Williamson reports this exhibition is the remainder of an archive that was discarded and was later discovered by Dubin in a private garage. It is the documentation of mid-apartheid life, of future brides sending their future migrant-labourer husbands their image, of end of the year jollers, of family mementoes and one intriguing cross-dresser.  

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

Online exclusive first published 19 September 2014