The recent FNB Art Joburg fair took a different approach this year, under the pressure of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent reordering of social lives and spaces. Interestingly, the organisers looked to the fair’s home city for inspiration, styling it as a citywide event called “Open City”.
Rather than the usual gallery booths in an event location, participating Jozi galleries opened up for longer and staged Art Joburg-specific exhibitions and events across the weekend of the fair. The object was to open up city spaces and regenerate the urban creative economy made moribund by lockdowns.
Two group exhibitions, both focused on portraiture in different mediums, were the exception to this format, created and staged specifically for the Fair. One of these was an intriguing show of new photographic work, all in the documentary, verité or so-called “vernacular” idiom.
“Of Blood Sweat and Data/On People, Place and Photography” was an exhibition of contemporary documentary photography by established and new voices, which sought to engage the many and sometimes problematic identities of Joburg.
The show was staged in a temporarily available shopfront space in Rosebank’s Zone, providing an interesting interface with the bypassing shoppers, and an interesting curatorial choice to engage with photographic responses to the city. The “data” of the title refers to the stream of information constantly available in any large city like Joburg, and the exhibition space was laid out with large, temporary prints of some of the show’s works affixed to the floor, making navigation through it part of the data viewers had to negotiate.
The curatorial team for the exhibition comprised two interesting art organisations, Studio Nxumalo Contemporary and the Through the Lens Collective. Founded by artist Musa N Nxumalo and writer Shandukani O. Mulaudzi, Studio Nxumalo contemporary initiates and curates projects with local organisations, artists, writers, and thinkers.
This is a Joburg studio that has quickly become known among local exhibition-goers for its careful and considered curation. Their collections typically bring together unusual and engaging artworks that diverge from what can sometimes seem to be ubiquitous local art trends. Through the Lens Collective is a photographic educational and developmental space created by SA visual artists and educators, Michelle Loukidis and Michelle Harris, who share a commitment to, and appreciation of, the photographic medium on the African continent.
SA is, of course, a country well-served by a roll-call of illustrious documentary and fine-art photographers. The medium is shown to be in rude health in this fascinating show, which offers a view of Joburg’s changing, dynamic and often poignant social circumstances and people. The collection is particularly strong, often through the eyes of new and emerging photographers, at offering an insight into the unknown and neglected parts of the city’s underbelly.
The show uses portraiture, in the finest traditions of documentary photography, as a means to unite social commentary, acts of representation and artistic vision. Through the lenses of these various young artists, a different Joburg emerges, one steeped in poverty and neglect, but also vital and defiant in creating its own images and representations of its own street culture and on-the-ground life.
Featured artists: Tshepiso Mazibuko, Tshepo Moloi, Simphiwe Majozi, Lebogang Tlhako, Jack Markovitz, Sibusiso Gcaba, Matt Kay, Lindokuhle Sobekwa, Nonzuzo Gxekwa and Kgomotso Neto