African art placed on a pedestal

By Nontando Mposo Time of article published Feb 24, 2017

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The Cape Town Art Fair took place last weekend, bringing together an amalgamation of artists, art collectors, art buyers, gallerists and art lovers for a three-day art feast.

Held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from Friday to Sunday, the fair showcased some of the best contemporary art by emerging and established artists.

At the moment, South Africa boasts a vibrant and growing art scene with young artists such as Nelson Makamo, Tony Gum, Jody Paulsen and Zanele Muholi reaching international recognition.

With the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa , the biggest contemporary museum in Africa, opening its doors at the V&A Waterfront in September, Cape Town is a melting pot where the art scene is in the spotlight.

I spoke to London-based art dealer Ayo Adeyinka , the founder of Tafeta , a private art dealership specialising in 20th century and contemporary African arts. Adeyinka’s previous projects include advising on Africa Now, the annual sales of contemporary African arts at Bonhams, and gallery clients have ranged from individual collectors to established institutions like the National Museum of African Arts (Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, DC.

Adeyinka was responsible for bringing the sculpture Champagne Kid:Fallen by Yinka Shonibare MBE, a world-renowned British-Nigerian artist living in London, to the Cape Town Art Fair. The image was one of the most photographed artworks at the fair, with it doing the rounds on social media and various publications.

Yinka Shonibare MBE explores cultural identity in various media such as installations (such as the one on the cover), painting and screen prints. A private welcome event for Adeyinka and Tafeta was held at the Aguele home in Bantry Bay before the fair with some South African artists in attendance.

Why art? I always loved art, and I started out as a collector early which came in handy when I determined to switch from my previous career in finance as a accountant.

What are your thoughts on how the world views and understand African art at the moment?

It’s certainly on an upward trend, but we still have lots to do. Contemporary art is getting a lot of attention, and the classical arts are well documented - but there is still a knowledge gap with the early to mid-20th century works. We certainly need more publications focused on the modernist space.

Yinka Shonibare MBE's signature includes using mannequins with no face or head and also beautiful batik fabrics such as that worn by the Champagne Kid: Fallen. Why is this important so important? (Ayo Adeyinka answers on behalf of the artist) The absence of a head was done deliberately to make it difficult to read racial identity into his artworks. The fabric, which today is generally accepted as “African”, was inspired by Indonesian design, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to the colonies in West Africa. It was in the 1960s that the material became a new sign of African identity and independence. Having described himself as a “post-colonial” hybrid, Shonibare’s use of this fabric questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions.

Your thoughts on the current African scene and artists? Quite impressive, and the quality and diversity of production across the continent is refreshing. We just need to follow that up with the institutional support required so that these works are seen by a much wider audience.

Tell us about your experience at the CT Art Fair. I loved spending time with some of the artists. That was actually a highlight of this visit. Thanks to Onibespoke founder Lungi Morrison for hosting the private welcome event where Tafeta got to meet and interact with young leading artists from South Africa - Nelson Makamo, Tony Gum and Atang Tshikare.

I was also pleasantly taken aback by how incredibly young some of the South African artists were it made me wonder what I did with my 20s. The presentation of our booth was made easier by the fact that we had one of Yinka Shonibare’s iconic sculptures, so we gave it as much prominence as possible. We really enjoyed the fair.

How important is the act of collaboration in the arts industry to you? Collaboration in the industry is of utmost importance, in my opinion, especially across the African continent. We’re currently working with one or two artists - we’ll let you know when the time is right.

What is integral to the work of an artist? Consistency

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