Cover credit: Andrew Tshabangu, Man Washing Clothes.
Cover credit: Andrew Tshabangu, Man Washing Clothes.

Ed's Letter | To be young, gifted, and vital

To be young, at least in theory, is to be blessed with the kind of fearlessness that is unencumbered by the calluses of lived experience. To be vital, like good art, is to be unavoidable: not an option, but a necessity. In formulating Wanted 21: Young and Vital Artists — which we carry for the first time in this, our annual Art Issue — we looked to some of the very best young artists working and living (even partially) in South Africa, chosen as much for their technical ability and imagination as for their socio-cultural import. 

Youth, unfortunately, also tends to be burdened with being talked over, spoken on behalf of, or dismissed. Very often it is all of the above. It should be no mystery then that young people’s voices heave with a seismic force that, like their art, knows no other route but straight to the heart of the matter — whatever the matter, all matters. This is why young people matter; this is why their creations are vital.

Globally, there are formal and informal artist lists aplenty, often accompanied by the “emerging” qualifier. We deliberately avoided this, with all its problematic connotations — “Emerging from where, to whom?”, as one young art professional mused during a recent conversation — not least because, depending on whose lens is applied, artists could still be emerging 10 years after their first group show. In last year’s issue, our colleague Zodwa Kumalo-Valentine profiled six young trailblazers. This year we take it to 21, to mark the year we are in.

The Nature of Women, Lulama “Wolf” Mlamba.
The Nature of Women, Lulama “Wolf” Mlamba.
Image: Supplied

In choosing only this number, out of scores of working young artists, we are also fully aware of the self-inflicted set-up here: lists like this one are inexorably contentious. For many, its strengths or shortcomings will be as much about who is on it, as about their missing faves. It is by no means definitive; it could never be. Our original list emerged from within and, as we surveyed art professionals, knowledgeable friends, curators, collectors, and some of our art contributors, it ebbed and flowed with the debate that ensued. To help us along, we confined it to those born in the ’90s; a cruel blow to Wonder Buhle Mbambo, Kimathi Mafafo, Aviwe Plaatjie, and others whose accident of birth placed them on the wrong side of 1990. To help trim the list further, we left out less “traditional” artists — again, contentious, because on another day there would have been room for, among many, Karabo Poppy, Rendani Nemakhavhani, and Nkhensani Mkhari.

Those featured in last year’s issue, such as Puleng Mongale, Katlego Tlabela, and Zwelethu Machepa, are also missing; to accommodate our constraints, not because of lesser ability. The upside of all of this is that with each new year we will be able to accommodate more. And there are already many learnings to be applied to Wanted 22: Young and Vital Artists, 2022, with — if our vaccination drive will allow — a vital party to mark the occasion. For now, enjoy the issue and the list. Look into the artists, talk about them and, most importantly, buy their work. 

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