Church founders Shelleen Maharaj and Hoosein Mahomed.
Church founders Shelleen Maharaj and Hoosein Mahomed.
Image: Supplied

Church is the name of an intriguing new art space that opened this week in the central city street in Cape Town from which it takes its name.

The compact, street-facing project space is in one of the many heritage buildings in that part of the city, and joins a cluster of new and not-so-new art venues in close proximity to each other in what is becoming an organic art precinct in Cape Town’s CBD. Among these are the galleries Eclectica, WorldArt and Nel, and even the heavyweight Goodman Gallery recently opened a new Cape Town gallery a short distance away in Greenpoint, having relocated from Woodstock.

The nexus of galleries in the area are having an innovative impact on the city’s art scene. Nel, run by practising artist Luan Nel, is in a repurposed 19th century haberdashery in Long Street, and has staged several thematic exhibitions showcasing talented emerging artists. Charl Bezuidenhout’s WorldArt Gallery, also in Church Street, was SA’s first gallery to sell a work of art along with an NFT-certified digital version, joining the growing trend in digital art worldwide.

Church is something of a different art animal to these neighbouring galleries however, bringing a different kind of edgy urgency to its proposed events and programmes. First, in what is sadly still an unusual phenomenon in the SA art world, the space is wholly black-owned. Its founders, Hoosein Mahomed and Shelleen Maharaj, are interested in establishing a fluid platform that is responsive to the needs of the art community. Second, it’s not a straightforward gallery space with conventional exhibition programming. Church is intended to offer artists, curators, writers and other cultural agitators a platform to experiment. New works, works-in-progress, ideas or statements that might not be viable in a more commercial space can find a home at Church.  

Church's gold facade at 58 Church Street.
Church's gold facade at 58 Church Street.
Image: Supplied

In a cute policy decision based on their name, Church exhibitions will open on Sundays and will look to replace sermons with salon-type arts and culture discussions, public addresses or performances in its Sunday Sessions. The space launched this week with an exhibition that provides a clue to the agendas and approach it will take to the questions raised through visual culture in contemporary SA. Artist Thania Petersen’s “garden of passion gaps” — artificial foliage dotted with models of mouths parading missing front teeth (the passion gap) — has been installed in the striking gold façade of the building. Petersen is drawing from iconography associated with the Cape community, disentangling the layers of oppression, complicity and liberation.

Founder Hoosein Mahomed elaborates on the vision for his Church: “The dialogues we want to create around art are driven by our positioning as a black-owned and run space. We want the art community to be more inclusive, to investigate questions of post-colonial and post-apartheid identity through art and writing, and we want to provide a platform where that can happen. We want it to be a space where artists and their publics can engage in politically urgent discourse without necessarily requiring the kind of white-owned institutional validation that has characterised SA’s art world in the past.”  

To these ends the space will be from the outset geared towards multimedia installations and projects. The glass frontage of the building doubles as an exhibition vitrine or performance space open to the street, and a state-of-the art video viewing room and equipment adds to the multimedia mix.

“The space is beautiful and very resonant with SA’s past, and we’re repurposing that for the realities of our cultural present — we want Church to be one of the most Instagrammable and talked-about art spots in Cape Town,” Mahomed says.

• Church is at 58 Church Street, Cape Town CBD and is open to the public from October 8, from Fridays to Sundays. Email: info@churchprojects.co.za

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