Mandla Sibeko, the new owner-director of the FNB Art Joburg. Picture: Supplied

Johannesburg - The Johannesburg city is abuzz with art fairs, and all matters fine art.

Recently, at the tranquil elegant Beechwood Gardens in Hyde Park, as the sun was descending with a rather callous, featherlight and languid caress of the trees and shrubbery with its much light-orange crimson shading, the evening to announce not only the winner of the FNB Art Prize, but to also spell out the ins and outs of the revivified FNB Art Joburg Fair was inaugurated.  

With a new polish of shine on its branding since its new owner and director, Mandla Sibeko, took it over this year, for the first time, the formal proceedings, compèred by SAFM radio anchor Phemelo Motene, required no click of cutlery to wine glass.  Motene’s voice is perhaps serious authority, hence her role on the evening. 

Bronwyn Katz was announced as the winner of the FNB Art Prize. 

Katz, 26, is a Kimberley-born artist of expansive ability in media such as installation, video and sculpture. The University of Cape Town honours graduate has exhibited locally in Cape Town, and globally in France, the US, Mauritius, Senegal, Greece, Italy and Germany.   

Katz could not attend the presentation ceremony.

“She is not here,” Motene announced.  

But an audio-visual recorded message was shown.  

Katz said she was “both honoured and excited for the support” and the confidence shown in her work.  She apologised for her accepting the award in absentia, as she was currently abroad, in France.

One of the three panelists who made the selection, Alissa Jenkins, a keen art collector, said they chose the winner based on “their ability to really talk about the issues that were relevant to Africa in a different way”.  

Jenkins said Katz presented “a broader narrative around land”.  

Land has been a topical issue, as well as acutely divisive debate in SA.  

At the centre of the land debate has been the transformation of the South African economy from a white-dominated enclave of minority wealth to a society where all races are treated as equal with equitable access to land as an asset of generational economic wealth.   

Sibeko cited transformation in the art space as a key driver of the reimagination of the fair, while he said his team, who “are all women”, sought to offer “what is unique about Africa”.  

Sibeko: “What we are offering is actually a shift to African art. We can’t have a complete narrative without Africa in the story.  We are engaging with the audiences of the future.”   

“In the last five years, we’ve seen a shift, fifty percent of the audiences were black. SA is always changing,” Sibeko said.  

“We’ve designed the art fair to be much smaller, focused, to create that platform for more African artists to have their works featured at the fair. There’ll be solo presentations and dialogues. My role is facilitation, ambience, a platform where galleries and artists can meet on issues,” he said. 

FNB Art Joburg, which “is now 100% black (owned), a first for this country” as Motene put it, was described as “reimagined” by Sibeko.   

Sibeko said: “We had to look honestly at what has worked and what has not worked. It was set around how to reimagine ourselves as a new fair, as a new brand, and what we want for a new South Africa.”  

He described the rebranding process as “a very difficult journey”. 

“Our partnership with FNB is an evergreen one,” he said.  

Aneesa Razack, CEO of Share Investing at FNB Wealth and Investments said the bank’s involvement in the fair gave it a platform to invest in social value. She said for the bank, the first investment was in social value.  

She indicated that FNB’s continued investment in the fair makes economic sense.  

“Art is an asset class you can invest in,” she said. 

 She said art was “less exposed” to the vagaries of macro-economic and stock market fluctuations and was therefore a reliable long-term store of value for investors.   

Liza Essers, owner of the only major gallery wholly owned by a woman on the African continent, and whose artists’ works will feature prominently at the fair said she was delighted with the new rebranded art fair.  

“The art fair needed to be reimagined. I am really excited about the rebranding. It’s fresh. We’re now aligned to what an international art fair should look like,” said Essers.  

The art fair has been changed from the FNB Joburg Art Fair to FNB Art Joburg.  

None of the organisers were able to clearly explain why the name change was necessary or made economic sense, aside from a claim that the fair was part of “this global ecosystem” and therefore needed to be “reimagined”. 

Galleries that represent hundreds of artists accross the continent and the world, will participate at the fair. They include Everard Read, Gallery MOMO, Goodman Gallery, Kalashnikov, Stevenson, WhatIfTheWorld, Smith and SMAC gallery. 

Among many artists who will exhibit prominent artists such as globally-celebrated photographer Zanele Muholi and Botswana-based painter-photographer-writer Anne Gollifer, alongside artists from ESwatini, Zambia,  Angola and Nigeria.

The FNB Art Joburg starts Thursday, for only collectors and partners. It opens for the public from Friday, September 13 - 15, 2019.

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Sunday Independent