Nine years ago Africa’s biggest and now premier visual art event, the FNB Joburg ArtFair was established and has since gained tremendous momentum. This year will see local and international art lovers, makers and dealers converge on Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre from 9-11 September, with a curatorial special focus on modern and contemporary art practices from the East African region. Various cutting-edge art galleries and platforms will present solo exhibitions, site-specific installations and a number of group exhibitions by artists from Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Uganda and the larger East African area and their diaspora.
“It feels really good to be starting the count down towards our first decade as a premier art trading event on the African continent. We’re an accessible fair and our model has always been to open up the spaces for both established and emerging artists, so as usual, we’ve reached out to many art platforms around the continent and we have an interesting and strong collector base,” says Mandla Sibeko, co-director of the FNB Joburg ArtFair.
Art aficionados don’t necessarily subscribe to trends (or rather, don’t care to admit it), but trend or no trend, contemporary African art around the world has become quite popular and bullish. In some markets like London, global art auctioneer Sotheby’s is even launching its first dedicated auction for African modern and contemporary work in May 2017 as a result of contemporary African arts sales in the region. Auction house Bonhams, also in London, sold Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui’s 1999 sculpture Used Towel for £176 500 – a record for a wooden sculpture by the artist, earlier this year.
Sibeko however, doesn’t buy into the fad. “Yes, globally there is this talk of rising African art, but in my opinion we have always produced quality art that can stand on its own amongst the other international artists. This notion of a trend has to come to stop, I don’t buy into trends. We’re here to stay beyond the trend. I don’t buy into the notion that our African art is emerging, we’re always emerging then because we have excellent artists and art. In fact, I believe that every major gallery in the world should at least carry one African artist in its establishment. That should be the movement instead of headlines,” he says.
This year’s participating galleries include an exciting new player in Keyes Art Mile – an art-focused spatial development project in the lower Rosebank area built around the corner of Keyes and Jellicoe Avenues in Johannesburg – the first art precinct of its kind in Joburg. The building will host a set of handpicked, cream-of-the-crop art galleries, complemented with cafés and shops. There will also be a collection of East African art galleries that’ll help open up that region to art lovers, collectors and pundits at the Fair. These include the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery that will present Kenya’s Jim Chuchu, Joburg’s David Krut Projects will present Ethiopian artist Aida Muluneh, and group exhibitions by platforms like Kampala Trust, Addis Foto Fest and the like.
Considered one of the most important contemporary African artists of recent years, and definitely one to watch, is Kenya’s own global art superstar, Wangechi Mutu. She’s recently relocated her studio and family to Nairobi following 20 years living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She will present two exciting works; The Sleeping Serpent, an elaborate sculpture first shown at London’s Victoria Miro Gallery, and a second piece titled The End of Eating Everything – an animated short film Mutu created in collaboration with American singer-songwriter, Santigold.
The Joburg ArtFair attracted over 11 000 visitors last year and sold 26 million rands-worth of art. This year the vibrant three-day melting pot aims to do even better and make even more of a mark on the art industry. The Fair is able to build opportunities for industry players, art lovers and artists from across the continent, introducing people to and celebrating African creativity, while also unlocking mutually beneficial potential. The unique environment grows audiences and participants exponentially.
“The business of the arts in South Africa has such huge potential to really grow tourism, we have the ingredients and need all stakeholders to take it seriously. We can learn so much from Europe about what art has done to position cities. Also, I believe an education goes a long way in teaching creative problem-solving skills to young people, and we need leaders who’ll solve the complex problems we face in South Africa. The arts has the ability to shape new leaders.” says Sibeko.
Special features of the Fair include a series of curated Special Projects, a VIP Programme that has hosted top international curators and directors from institutions like the Tate Modern, Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou and CCA Lagos, as well as a Talks Programme that invites art-world figures, philosophers, and critical theorists to deliver key-note lectures and participate in panel discussions. The 2016 Fair will also see the sixth edition of the FNB Art Prize – a major opportunity for an artist to realise new work at the Fair.
A ground-breaking addition and highlight of the 2016 FNB Joburg ArtFair is the first ever series of TEDxJohannesburg Talks themed on the contemporary visual arts of Africa that’ll include a full day of talks presented by dynamic artists, curators and thinkers at the Theatre on the Square at Nelson Mandela Square. This year may be exciting but it’s certain next year’s decade anniversary will bring even bigger names, art lovers and greater exposure to African art.