Jade and Coco by Basil Joel.
Jade and Coco by Basil Joel.
The Loner by Basil Joel.
The Loner by Basil Joel.

DURBAN’s BAT Centre is launching an initiative to unearth KwaZulu-Natal’s hidden artistic treasures, giving undiscovered artists a professional platform to showcase their works.

Fortune Bengu, visual arts co-ordinator at the BAT Centre, said the aptly titled Hidden Treasures initiative sought to give older artists who had never exhibited their works a chance to exhibit in a professional space, the centre’s Menzi Mchunu Gallery.

“This came about after Nise Malange (BAT Centre director) discovered Basil Joel, a retired graphic designer. He, like many hidden treasures, has a dazzling display of artistic talent. But because he was never exposed to the fine art industry and how it worked, he never took his gift seriously – and perhaps never thought he could make something out of it.

“This initiative seeks to unlock those hidden treasures… and showcase them to a wider audience. Not only will they get a chance to do that, it will put something in their pockets,” he said.

Launching the initiative will be Joel’s Colour Explorations, a solo exhibition of his new work.

Bengu said Joel presented a body of work that traced the understanding he had of colour.

“Joel’s work comprises various subjects; landscape, portraiture and cityscapes. He explores the use of colour on regular familiars and puts more emphasis on the background of his paintings.”

Joel was born in Randfontein near Joburg. After high school, he went to work at an insurance company while receiving commercial art lessons. After studying commercial art, he started working as a graphic designer for various printing companies in Joburg before moving to Durban. He then took fine art lessons under Italian artist Carlos Doya.

“While working as a graphic designer he started painting in oils as a hobby, but after he retired he painted portraits, mostly of friends and people around him. Joel currently stays in Newlands East with his family… like many accomplished artists in South Africa he had reached a point of giving up on his art. This opportunity has reignited his passion and we hope the public’s support will remind us all of what talent lies hidden at our very doorstep,” added Bengu.

The BAT Centre has already identified the next artist who will be honoured, but public support is crucial to drive this initiative.

“We have earmarked Sanna Naidoo for the month of August, since it is Women’s Month, and for the forthcoming months we are putting out a call to older artists… The deserving artist will produce works for solo shows. We will supply all the materials and, as part of the package, the artist will do a walkabout and a workshop to impart his/her skills to the younger artists.

“Initiatives of this calibre are very important in improving the lives of struggling artists, because they get to feel their worth… and to do a solo show is also an achievement.

“The project will promote social cohesion within communities. The inclusion of young people as meaningful contributors in the social and economic aspects of community building must not be overlooked and cannot be left to schools and parents. Hence the workshops by these artists (hidden treasures) are also targeting the youth so that skills and expertise may be passed on and not die,” he said.

“We urge the community to support these kinds of initiatives, because support is vital to the success of these exhibitions and the arts. The success of socially engaged art projects depends on the relationships developed between artists, communities, project organisers and the organisations which provide services in those communities.”

• Basil Joel’s exhibition opens at the Menzi Mchunu Art Gallery at the BAT Centre, Durban Harbour, on July 22 at at 6pm and runs until August 8. The gallery opens Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm. Entrance is free. Older, undiscovered artists can sub-mit proposals and portfolios to the Bat Centre by e-mailing [email protected] or delivering them to The Bat Centre (45 Maritime Place, Small Craft Harbour, Durban).