Dashiki Dialogues – Art.......................and ekasi

2011-10-07 09:51

There’s something counter progressive happening in the South African visual art market – or more specifically, not happening. We have close to 20 “Ivy League” art galleries servicing our nine provinces (about 50 million people), but less than a handful are black owned.

So I have a simple question: why aren’t any galleries being built or opened ekasi? Are people there not interested in art, or is too complex to consume? Put that against the number of young black men and women that graduate from art schools and universities each year. To me this means there’s no shortage of ripe young minds willing to consume the complexities that define art.

I must point out that the grand guru of the 70s Black Consciousness art movement, Lefifi Tladi, has been back from exile and home in Ga-Rankuwa, northwest of Pretoria, for some years now.

The man has been diligently producing his art, with rumours of him and fellow artist friends opening a centre circulating for a while now. But with the recent death of three of his inner circle, this doesn’t look very likely.

I remember reading an interview in which the old sage lamented that the work he was creating is “not seen by the eyes for which they were created”. He was far from home and wanted his people to play an active part in the meaning he was trying to create.

But the sun has set on legal apartheid. So why does it seem like Tladi and his class still have a real reason to lament? How is it possible that so much money is being exchanged in the ‘hood, but very little of it, if any, goes into buying art? Are black people really not interested in their art?

We know that in the 70s, community halls and black colleges hosted world-class exhibitions for the people.
These were well attended and set in the townships to complex, avant-garde jazz.

Getting back to the point, here is what I suspect is the issue we need to address. When the nation crossed the 1994 defining mark, a new art history was called for. We needed to “reposition” the country on the international scene (read Euro-American cultural tastes or agenda).

For us to matter, our cultural production had to address what was considered hot in New York, London or Paris; which is not necessarily hot in Harare, Lagos or Ga-Rankuwa for that matter.

Our post-1994 artists learnt to speak languages and produce art forms for these tastes from elsewhere. So we end up with a dashiki dialogue of the deaf – the creators not connecting with the pulse of their locale.

But what interventions should government and creative entrepreneurs be registering here? Somebody is sleeping on the job.

» I’m on Twitter: @Percy_Mabandu

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