Pebofatso Mokokena's MARS, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 129.2 × 99 cm.
Pebofatso Mokokena's MARS, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 129.2 × 99 cm.
Image: Supplied

Studio Nxumalo and Aspire Art recently opened an exhibition, WAV, which brings together a selection of abstract inscriptions and compositions by Pebofatso Mokoena and Frederick Clarke. This partnership is part of Aspire Art’s commitment to growing the local arts ecosystem through collaborations and partnerships and forms part of a series of exhibitions that shine a spotlight on the work of both new and established artists. We speak to Aspire Art client advisory Kholisa Thomas and Studio Nxumalo artistic director Musa Nxumalo to find out more.

What is the thinking behind this collaboration between Aspire Art and Studio Nxumalo?

Kholisa Thomas: Aspire Art invests in the long-term value of collecting African art, and we are always looking for meaningful ways in which to create partnerships and programmes that energise the arts ecosystem and keep it buoyant. So when the opportunity to collaborate with Studio Nxumalo first came up, we loved the idea. We have been able to support two young artists who are both at exciting times of their careers, and to work with an organisation — like Studio Nxumalo — that is equally as committed to the development of African art. It has also been a great way in which to kick-start our annual calendar of events, and to put our beautiful gallery space in Johannesburg to good use.

Musa Nxumalo: We curate projects in collaboration with artists,  writers, commercial and non-commercial spaces and in 2021 when Aspire Art moved to its new premises on Bolton road we saw an opportunity to collaborate with them, so this exhibition comes as the first project that launches the partnership between Studio Nxumalo and Aspire Art.

What brought you in conversation with these artists and why the focus on abstraction?

KT: Musa N Nxumalo, the artistic director of Studio Nxumalo, was in conversation with both artists between 2020 and 2021, the concept of having both the artists in conversation together was born then. Later, in 2021, when Aspire Art moved into their premises on Bolton Road, Nxumalo proposed this concept to the team at Aspire Art. The idea of bringing abstraction into the space, highlights abstraction, encourages people to think about abstraction, and draws more interest to the genre. 

How would you describe you approach as curators of this show?

Pebofatso Mokokena's Cosmic Boogeyboards, 2021, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 155.5 × 142.9 cm
Pebofatso Mokokena's Cosmic Boogeyboards, 2021, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 155.5 × 142.9 cm
Image: Supplied

MN: As consulting curators, Studio Nxumalo proposed the exhibition, we discussed the concept with the Aspire Art team and once we are all on board with the vision, Studio Nxumalo continued to curate independently. Our curatorial approach is primarily informed by our curiosity to explore fresh approaches in conceptualising exhibitions and further exploring different relationships with traditional visual arts spaces, like galleries, to non-traditional spaces such as hotels and now in this instance, an auction house.

The same approach applies with the artists that Studio Nxumalo works with. We are constantly in conversation with various artists at the same time. Therefore, at any given time we have a possible exhibition that we are ready to propose to existing partner institutions or with new partners — and this is how WAV came about. Studio Nxumalo was already working with Frederick Clarke and Pebofatso Mokoena. We proposed the idea to Aspire Art and together, saw the idea realised.

How does each artist and their individual works, and the way they create, speak to the thematic thread of the show, and as a duo, what kind of impact are you hoping for, that may differ from a solo exhibit of abstract works?

Pebofatso Mokokena's Idle Iterations, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 128.5 × 98.5 cm.
Pebofatso Mokokena's Idle Iterations, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 128.5 × 98.5 cm.
Image: Supplied

MN: The concept of the exhibition WAV was realised by both the artists during the conceptualisation of the show. It specifically speaks to a wave (or waves) of inspiration and influences such as sound waves, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, global warming and even instances of civil unrest such as what is transpiring in Russia and Ukraine.

Pebofatso Mokoena’s work is formally underscored by precise mark-making and division of space, exploring ideas around politics, family life and the environment. While Frederick Clarke explores various mediums in both sonic and visual spheres. Clarke works intuitively and is inspired by mathematics, human/ tribal origins, nature and technology to name a few. Pebofatso Mokoena and Frederick Clarke come from two different backgrounds, both geographical and cultural even though they are both South African, the two artists have two meeting points when it comes to their influences and how they manage to artistically speak to various concepts including sociopolitical ideas through abstraction.

Therefore, putting them together in conversation does not only help us highlight abstraction by contemporary SA artists, but helps to break the over-saturation of figurative presentations that stands a danger of keeping contemporary visual art practice from the African continent monotonous.

Pebofatso Mokoena's Ace’s Evil Eye, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 66.2 × 67.2 cm
Pebofatso Mokoena's Ace’s Evil Eye, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 66.2 × 67.2 cm
Image: Supplied

What would you say is the tone you are hoping to set with this exhibition?

MN: This exhibition aims to bring abstraction to the foreground, as a response and perhaps as a distraction to the over-saturation of figurative work, mainly portraiture, that we have seen coming out of the African continent in the past ten years. We intend to conscientise a new wave of collectors who have come into the practice of collecting in the past 10 years about abstraction in Southern Africa and perhaps the rest of the continent. Subsequently, we hope to get younger artists to gain confidence in exploring abstraction and not only focus on figurative work because it seems to be safe to pursue commercially.

Exhibition dates: March 23– April 15 2022 

Visit the Aspire Art’s website for more information on the exhibition and artists: aspireart.net

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