Report from South Africa – March 2015

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

The Grain Silo Building at Cape Town's Waterfront Igshaan Adams, Plate 10 from the series Neoscope, 2014, found fabric, thread, brass-plated rail; 120 x 152 cm Penny Siopis, Pinky Pinky series, 2002-2005. Kemang Wa Lehulere, To whom it may concern, 2015 (installation view)

Four months of working with a web developer... I have never heard good words follow those opening words. But I have a few. ARTTHROB_ has a new look and a new ‘back end’ and we still end the missives with our developer with the happier spectrum of emoticons. Okay there are some issues to iron out over the next few weeks but it is up and running and we are all much happier for it. In this time too South Africa has had some excellent exhibitions by a unique range of artists. And the city Cape Town seemingly has had as many art fairs as it has mountains. With all of this happening and the bright sunny summer climbs of Cape Town to keep you jolly one could almost be, what some refer to as, happy. That is if there weren’t some dark clouds, admittedly far in the distance, blowing in over South Africa’s art world.

An Open Letter to Jochen Zeitz and the Director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa Mark Coetzee

I think I speak for most people in the South African arts when I say that we have all been waiting with anticipation for the development known as the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa to open in 2017 in Cape Town’s Waterfront. However, the Cape Town Art Fair was punctuated by the dismay of the ‘Zeitz MOCAA Ball’. What was meant to be a sumptuous affair got me to thinking as to what might be wrong with this picture. I went home and began a letter to Jochen Zeitz and the Director Mark Coetzee.

Kemang Wa Lehulere at the Stevenson in Cape Town

This years’ Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Kemang Wa Lehulere had his second major solo exhibition at the Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town. I first encountered Wa Lehulere many years ago when he came up to me as a young man. He nonchalantly informed me that the vinyl that I had just stuck on the window of my project space was, in fact, skew. After a short exchange he walked away with a shrug. And although I was struggling to keep my temper through the few words that passed between us I did know that I had met somebody who might do something interesting. This, our reviewer Tim Leibbrandt, confirms, has certainly come to pass.

Igshaan Adams at blank projects in Cape Town

Igshaan Adams, quiet and unassuming, is in many ways the binary opposite of Wa Lehulere. However his work is no less interesting. In Parda Adams put together an exhibition of extreme subtlety and depth. As our reviewer Lloyd Pollak says: ‘Adams boldly cuts against the grain of South African art and rejects its predominantly figurative bias. Instead of embarking on representation, he cunningly subverts the formal iconographies and sacred artifacts of Islam in order to voice his discontent.’

Penny Siopis at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town

When William Kentridge gave the speech at the opening of Penny Siopis’s retrospective at the Iziko South African National Gallery he talked of how they once competed for an art prize held in a small Italian pizza restaurant in Johannesburg in the 1980s - an award that Siopis won. She has certainly won a great deal more since then, including a huge amount of respect. The exhibition entitled Time and Again is certainly, for me, one of the best I have ever seen in the National Gallery. Not only does it document Siopis’s extraordinary development as an artist over the last four decades but, as Anna Stielau points out, it brings into focus Siopis’ major concern.  

Online exclusive first published 16 March 2015.