Installation view: Berni Searle, Shimmer (2012–13).
Installation view: Berni Searle, Shimmer (2012–13).
Image: Graham De Lacy

The Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF) is the closest thing the city — and perhaps even SA— has to an international-standard contemporary art museum institution. Yet many people, even art lovers, are unaware of its programmes and its unique approach to curating and exhibiting art.

This is partly by design. Privately run, the JCAF operates from an impeccably restored provincial heritage building in Forest Town near the Johannesburg Zoo, which was once a tram maintenance site. Its huge volumes, modernist angles and interplay of red brick and high glass walls make it the antithesis of a traditional white cube gallery — and very stylish.

JCAF runs only one carefully curated exhibition per year — usually with international representation and strongly focused on questions around artistic and sociopolitical identities in the “Global South”, a philosophical antidote to the centuries of cultural domination by the northern and western hemispheres. The foundation’s work has a strong educational focus and collaborates extensively with similar institutions around the world.

Installation view: Sumayya Vally/Counterspace, After Image (2021).
Installation view: Sumayya Vally/Counterspace, After Image (2021).
Image: Graham De Lacy

Its latest exhibition, Liminal Identities in the Global South, opened on June and runs to Jan. 29, 2022 (online only during lockdown). Organised to follow the movements of a classical symphony, the exhibition explores the political and pandemic body, through the concepts of hybridity and resistance in the artistic practices of seminal women artists and architects from Latin America, alongside those from the MENA region, the African diaspora and SA.

Headlined by stunning work from the hugely influential Cuban-American feminist, Ana Mendieta, this is the first time that renowned artists from elsewhere in the Global South — among them Lina Bo Bardi, Lygia Clark, Kamala Ibrahim Ishag and Lygia Pape — are on show in SA. They join local luminaries Jane Alexander and Berni Searle, whose magisterial multimedia installation Shimmer features a dispersed and gold-leafed elephant skeleton. Also on display is a brilliant work by shining new SA talent, Sumayya Vally, whose architecture practice, Counterspace, recently secured the prestigious commission to design the pavilion of the Serpentine Galleries in London.

Installation view, from left: Jane Alexander, Harbinger in correctional uniform (2019), Lygia Pape, Divisor (Divider) (1968).
Installation view, from left: Jane Alexander, Harbinger in correctional uniform (2019), Lygia Pape, Divisor (Divider) (1968).
Image: Graham De Lacy
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