A student looking at art piece at the FNB Art Joburg held at Sandton Convention centre. Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA)
Johannesburg - There was a great prominence of women artists at the two art fairs that took place in Sandton, Joburg last weekend, which the organisers said was an organic result of their focus on the best quality artists they could find.

Veteran fine artists such as the great Helen Sebidi were featured alongside emerging artists such as Mmabatho Grace Mokalapa. Other artists who exhibited were Gina Waldman, Zanele Muholi, Claudette Schreuders, Sungi Mlengeya, Angela Ferreira, Maja Maljevic, Karin Daymond and Bev Butkow.  

Lucy MacGarry, one of the five co-founder and directors of Latitudes Art Fair which inaugurated its first edition at the Nelson Mandela Square said: “We didn’t intentionally show more women or men, it just happened quite organically.”

“From a business perspective, if you expose people to work they grow to love it, to trust it, and to think it’s a good investment. So, it’s about growing provenance, to be able to do that more and more for young artists,” said MacGarry. 

She meant buyers, dealers and collectors will invest more in young emerging artists if they know more about their life history and the origins of their artworks.  

A art piece from Aint - Patra Ruga is exhibited at the FNB Art Joburg held at Sandton Convention centre. Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA)

She said the “unforseen women’s march” against gender-based violence last week, “led to a decrease in visitor numbers”.  

She indicated that she was in support of the march. 

“You lose one fair day with visitor numbers and that can really knock a fair,” said MacGarry. 

Makgati Molebatsi, a well-respected established art consultant and co-founder and director of Latitudes Art Fair said it was “not at all true” that no new and spectacular artworks and approaches had emerged from the two fairs.  

“Remember that when something comes to an art fair, it would have been seen somewhere private, created a buzz there, and then it slowly, over time, made its way to a fair.”

Butkow, a South African artist, featured at the Latitudes Art Fair said: “The bottomline is to understand the gendered experience that women have in our contemporary world.  Not only from my white privileged body, but also looking at layers of socialisation.”  

Mlengeya, a Kampala-based Tanzanian artist who exhibited at Latitudes said her painting, After Tomorrow, an acrylic on canvas, depicted young black girls with bright eyes with an expanse of white space around them because “the blank white space is the representation of a vision of the imagination, a longing and I am trying to make you see their vision, which they can only achieve after tomorrow”.   

Mokalapa, a Wits University fine arts graduate from Soweto said: “My art is contemplative, spiritual, philosophical and experiential, to create experiences rather than something just on the wall.”  

Mandla Sibeko, the owner-director of the FNB Art Joburg said the fair fared “quite good” and he was “overwhelmed” by the public’s response.  

“The women’s march did affect the fair. It was quieter than usual. People just didn’t come.”  

Thandiwe Kumalo making a linocut at the FNB Art Joburg held at Sandton Convention centre. Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA)

He said the fair made “R48 million when we last declared two years ago” and that most of the galleries “did very well”.   

“Quite a lot of artists were women. Some works were risque.”  

Mokalapa, who is from Diepkloof, Soweto said she showed an inclination toward fine arts since she was four years old and that she has been a career artist for “four years now after  graduation at Wits University in fine arts”.

“A one-year bursary I won in August 2015 for a residency at the Assemblage to have my own studio space was like the starting point for me,” said Mokalapa about her breakthrough in the art space. 

“Initially I was just at home, sketching, trying to get my work online, but it proved at bit tricky because it was something new to me,” she said. 

She featured at the Latitudes fair. She described her artworks, which include futuristic-type installations, as “contemplative, somewhat spiritual, philosophical, and experiential” while she said she is someone “that’s very deep, I like to think quite a lot, big thoughts, and I like to imagine”.  

“I would like to create bigger installations, that really take on the physical space and viewers can explore art in a different way, rather than something that is static on a wall. I am looking to create experiences. The work itself suggests an experience but it is important for the viewer to experience the work for themselves, it’s the most important element of the work.”

Butkow, a trained accountant, explores the experience of the labouring female body. She creates woven, painted, entangled sculptures and mixed media works to pronounce on the meaning of gendered labour and the experience of life that encodes into female bodies, uncovering layers and layers of socialisation of the female body, which she foregrounds, in contemporary life.  

“The work is looking at labour relations, thinking about the invisibility of labour, female labour, how much more work women do in the household, and in that environment, without actually recognising it. And, it started speaking out of the work itself,” said Butkow.  She said her work is mainly about “the gendered experience that women have in our kind of contemporary world now”.

She said “the gendered experience” is about work, and the coding of such work into the bodies of females.   

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The Sunday Independent