The languid summer weather following February signifies high-tourist time in the Cape. This year, a special visitor’s attraction, the largescale power of contemporary African art, is inventive in its variety and appears throughout the city of Cape Town.
A number of events have fallen perfectly into place for what may well turn out to be the most memorable recent cultural happening in the continent’s southern region.
It could be, the organisers and collaborators say, the foundation of a new drawcard – one which appeals to a specific tourism sector: international visitors in search of an energising cultural fix.
If the Mother City has always had a substantial offering to such guests, coincidence and coordination among local cultural institutions have upped the ante for a dense, delicious programme, starting this month.
They are breaking new ground, making the Cape a meaningful centre for a growing international trend of art appeal.
The economic significance of cultural tourism is obvious. The results of the 58th Venice Biennale, which closed in November, hosted 24 762 VIPs during the opening week, 593 616 official visitors overall and 5 235 journalists. Imagine the impact on the Cape and vicinities with a dynamic, coordinated cultural ecosystem.
An anchor component is the first Stellenbosch Triennale. It opens this month for a three-month run. Anticipation has been great, and it’s punted as a unique showcase for current African art production.
The opening days precede the eighth and increasingly popular Investec Cape Town Art Fair at the Cape Town International Conference Centre. This is followed by the globally-respected Indaba Design Conference.
Meanwhile the blockbuster overview of South Africa’s most famous artist, William Kentridge, Why Should I Hesitate?, continues at the Zeitz MOCAA at the V&A Waterfront and the Norval Foundation in Steenberg. These are on view until March.
Most commercial galleries too will pull out all the stops, while institutions like Cape Town’s A4 Foundation, the Iziko’s South African National Gallery, and the revamped Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch, are ready for what might be the most significant local art jamboree in memory.
On a smaller scale, but equally punchy are places like the Irma Stern Museum where so much of this famous painter’s work can be admired.
An African Art Gathering
For all purposes, and especially for overseas visitors, culture summer 2020 is an African art gathering. Starting with the Stellenbosch Triennale 2020 (ST2020), a common thread is the dynamic talent rising from all over the continent. Contemporary African art, as international fairs and auctions go, is very much in vogue.
The uniqueness of the current season is how it fuses commercial and non-commercial art production. Collectors go to the galleries and art fair to acquire. To the Stellenbosch event, curated to highlight best and new talent, they go to look and be informed. Through all runs the vibrancy of youthful artistic invention.
The ST2020 has been conceived as a groundbreaking art adventure. The result of years of investment in public art by the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust (SOST), it has sourced enthusiastic sponsors for an inclusive, all-African affair.
Towards this, the charming, enigmatic chief curator, Khanyisile Mbongwa, has worked with a handpicked team. Various components provide visitors with a range of experiences, making visits worthwhile and extensive, with the town’s and winelands extending fine leisure offerings.
The ST2020 overall title, Tomorrow There Will Be More of Us, suggests a stimulating, poetic theme about the futures, the present and the past. For the main curators’ exhibition, the repurposed Woodmill hosts 20 African artists. Seven South Africans join others from Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, the DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
Wider context is provided by the On The Cusp, a show at the Little Libertas in Dorp Street with upcoming African talent and ‘From the Vault’ which draws on university art collections at the Stellenbosch University Museum.
All international art events boast a pavilion and the historic Die Braak in the heart of Stellenbosch is presently the home to a most unusual one. An extended programme of music, talks, film and performances continues until the conclusion at the end of April.
Walkabouts and talks are also established components of the Cape Town Art Fair. So too are sections of the exhibition. This year ‘Solo’ consists of mini-shows by artists who the fair believes deserve more attention, while ‘Tomorrows/Today’, focuses on emerging artists.
Adding African Value
Up-coming design and innovations motivate the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives on the side of the international design conference. This year 40 young people will be showcased to an international audience.
Of course, these audiences have been flocking to the two Kentridge retrospective exhibitions where the V&A focus is on his two-dimensional art, and in Steenberg on his sculpture. Both the Norval Foundation and the Zeitz MOCAA have added African value in additional shows in its venues.
The latter is hosting a survey of work by Nigerian-born Otobong Nkanga and a grand installation by the esteemed Malian Abdoulaye Konaté. At the Norval a special show features Michael Armitage from Kenya who is currently also showing at MoMA in New York.
In these exhibitions artworks are often not traditional painting and drawing. (Armitage paints on bark). In many, the media comprises fabric, domestic materials and ‘stuff’. The ST2020 was announced with a massive hand stitched ‘tapestry’ that covered the entire facade of a Dorp Street house.
At the South African National Gallery the theme of textile, material, crafts and the handmade is taken up by an exhibition called Matereality. Here too local and African artists explore issues though industrial materials and methods, consumer throwaway products and reinvented craft skills.
With all this and more on the cultural tourist agenda for the next few summer months, the Cape’s newly established art ecosystem promises pure magnetism.
The chief curator of ST2020, Khanyisile Mbongwa, explaining the impetus of the Stellenbosch project Tomorrow There Will Be More of Us, gives visitors a golden key:
“It asks us to think about tomorrow in intersectional ways through remembering, the ancestral, the imaginative and becoming. And so, art is a lens, a course correction, a stimulus around curiosity and imagination.”
ST2020: 11 February – 20 April 2020
Why should I hesitate?: 29 August – 23 March 2020
Investec Cape Town Art Fair: 14-16 February 2020
Design Indaba: Design Indaba Emerging Creatives
Iziko SA National Gallery: Matereality
Rupert Museum: Various
Irma Stern Museum: Various
SAA flies daily from Johannesburg to Cape Town and offers daily code-share flights from Durban to Cape Town operated by Mango Airlines. Book your tickets today.
Words by Melvin Minnaar