It seems there’s an indefinable, almost magical force that brings balance to the zeitgeist, preventing it from tipping into the abyss. Very often, just as corruption, inefficiency, brazen bullying, and wanton abuse of power become almost suffocating, a crack of light appears, casting a warm glimmer of hope. At the start of 2019, a year already buckling under the weight of oppressively bad news, this illumination comes from our wonderfully incisive South African artists. Their growth and influence is incandescent, reaching all corners of the globe; a bright counterpoint to the madness that appears to be engulfing our world.
A quick glance at the upcoming calendar reveals a number of highlights, each a catalyst for increased support and sales of local art. Kemang Wa Lehulere will be exhibiting at the Tate Modern in London, and Robin Rhode at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. William Kentridge will feature at the Kunstmuseum Basel during Art Basel, and a retrospective of his work will be shown at the Norval Foundation and the Zeitz Mocaa in Cape Town in September. The Venice Biennale — to be curated by Ralph Rugoff, director of London’s Hayward Gallery — will feature a Ghanaian pavilion for the first time, and my personal passion, the FNB Joburg Art Fair, promises to continue exposing excellence from across our continent. I’m intrigued to see how local galleries get involved with the inaugural Frieze LA, and excited for the new Stevenson Gallery in Parktown North, and Gallery Momo’s fresh Cape Town space.
More than just being big names on the global stage, our artists are actively promulgating narratives that subvert a fairly homogenous, stagnant status quo in the art world, an often-infuriating island propped up by blue chip white-male perspectives. African artists are changing this with far more nuanced and complex statements informed by heritage, identity politics, and a rallying cry for greater inclusivity. It’s a bit like the 1960s all over again, a representative revolution where artists such as Thania Petersen and Hasan and Husain Essop lead the charge for greater visibility.
There really is no denying this growing presence. In addition to populating pavilions and gallery spaces, our artists have hit the front pages. Nicholas Hlobo’s striking, limited-edition cover for the January issue of Wallpaper made its way into homes, boardrooms, and outlets around the world. And American film director Ava DuVernay chose a work by Nelson Makomo to be on the cover of the issue of Time for which she was appointed guest editor, and which went on shelf last month. The special issue was titled, somewhat serendipitously, “The art of optimism — 34 people changing how we see our world.”
It’s through eyes like these that I choose to view 2019. Too often, our vision for the future is clouded by a cynical veil of pessimism; bad news that precludes us from seeing the incredible beauty, power, and potential that exists in the world. It’s a challenge to keep those influences out, but as long as our truly great artists continue to shine their light, I’ll have a beaconwith which to stay on course, buoyant and hopeful.
• Sibeko is an entrepreneur and the director of the FNB Joburg Art Fair
- From the March edition of Wanted 2019.