Joburg Fringe. Picture: Supplied

The Joburg Fringe was born during a conversation on the way to the first Joburg Art Fair a decade ago. 

Claudia Schneider, a Berlin-based South African, asked artist and writer Sharlene Khan where the fringe was located and on discovering there wasn’t an alternative platform outside this fair, the duo felt compelled to set one up. 

The thinking was probably that any art fair ought to have a shadow event that could cater for those working outside the mainstream or who were excluded from it. 

The Joburg Fringe is not about pushing an anti-Joburg Art Fair agenda or challenging it, it is simply more artist-centric. It offers a space for artists to set up and run their own stands, choose which works they would like to submit for the event, make the sales and pocket the entire selling price. 

It’s also a place to test and learn about the art market. 

“The (Joburg) Fringe is all balls and no frills: a clear and basic learning curve for artists, visitors and buyers, for art professionals, instructors and critics,” says Schneider, director of the Joburg Fringe.

There is no way of bypassing art fairs. In the absence of a museum-viewing culture and sufficient funding to public institutions in which to stage, preserve and collect contemporary art, art fairs have become the main platforms for the public to view, buy and engage with art.  

For an unsigned artist this is challenging: if they are not aligned to a gallery they end up being left out of broader dialogues about art. 

They aren’t known to the public or  travelling curators, writers who would rather get a sense of what’s going in a country in a one-stop-shop setup than visit galleries one by one. 

Joburg Fringe. Picture: Supplied

As the Joburg Fringe takes place at the same time as the FNB Joburg Art Fair, it exploits the foreign and local audiences that gravitate towards Joburg in early September. With no barrier to entry, such as a hefty ticket price, it also attracts new audiences who might not be open to attending the main fair. 

As there is no middle-man in the transactions, the art tends to be cheaper than what you would find at an art fair and is more accessible for younger, risk-averse, cash-strapped or new art collectors. 

The work at Joburg Fringe is not always edgier than at the fair, but it is almost always set in an edgier art-centric setting. It has been set in all of Jozi’s popular art nodes, from Braamfontein to Maboneng’s Art on Main. This year it will take place in the city’s newest art development, Victoria Yards in Lorentzville. 

Fringe usually translates into a free-for-all in the sense that anyone can participate, but Joburg Fringe have established a few filtering processes that maintain standards. The jury of experts forms one of the main ones. The likes of Gordon Froud, Malcolm Payne, Marilyn Martin, Miriam Asmal and Thulile Gamedze vetted the art last year. 

A number of guest curators are also invited to shape and select works for curated stands such as the Young Capital, which invites a rising curator to present a selection of works produced by peers. 

This year Mbali Tshabalala will steer this platform. This one-time assistant to Wayne Barker, is also working on an exhibition of Pan African art at August House end of the month.  

“Young Capital is our space on the Joburg Fringe to show work that we feel is exciting, promising and strong, our space to give these artists an opportunity to benefit from an all-round experience of meeting other artists, chatting to the public and getting some nurturing – it is our way of spreading the love,” says Schneider.   

Joburg Fringe is inviting artists to apply to participate in this years event, which takes place from September 6.  The cost is R6 500 per stand. 

* Artists can share stands, performance artists can participate for a fee of R400. 

The organisers will help artists curate and price their work. Artists must submit up to 10 images, a statement about their art or project and a short biography by Thursday. Submissions are free. See www.joburgfringe.com