The FNB Johannesburg Art Fair held last week is one of Africa’s biggest contemporary art fairs and Zimbabwe is always represented at the fair. In previous years the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, via its Chief Curator Raphael Chikukwa, has been invited for the talks programme.

At this year’s fair, booth number 73 proved popular as hundreds of people from all walks of life chose to pause and appreciate the Zimbabwean presence. The booth had a minimal layout showcasing three works by veteran artist Chikonzero Chazunguza. This exhibition was titled, Seuswa/Akin to Grass.

Chikonzero Chazunguza (right) in discussion with visitors to his art work
Chikonzero Chazunguza (right) in discussion with visitors to his art work

For one art enthusiast from Cape Town, the Zimbabwe booth made a profound impression: “This is the best booth I have seen so far, it is so touching. It reminds me of what I saw when I visited Robben Island. It reminds me of my history as a Xhosa.”

For an elderly couple from Europe, the Zimbabwe booth was a reminder of so many good memories of the country.

“Your booth makes us want to visit again,” said the elderly couple.

One of the visitors who fought back tears, observed: “It is so touching, it is so real and urgent.”

Every visitor left with a different interpretation of the work. A group of local school children debated about whether or not the work had undertones of race relations. Such pertinent questions for young people in South Africa, weeks after debates about hair, language and money in their school systems blew up on social media.

Three academics agreed that the Zimbabwean work at the art fair was meant to encourage Africans to document and celebrate unsung heroes from recent history. Later, a couple of writers saw the work as a provocation for people to unite. Chazunguza’s work consisted of two large silk screen prints and a two-screen video/performance piece. For the prints, the artist took archival images from the Herero Genocide that took place in Namibia between 1904 and 1907, as well as Ndebele leaders from the uprising which was one of the first forms of protest in the late 1890s again colonialism.

Within the video work, the artist performed. One saw his bare feet walking on a carpet of brown and white slices of bread. This was juxtaposed with his black silhouette being immersed in a makeshift throne of maize meal. The video work is titled, Tigere Muhupfu which means we are sitting pretty.

Chazunguza has exhibited on many international platforms, including at the Zimbabwe Booth at the 2015 Venice Biennale. He is the founder of Dzimbanhete Arts Interactions, a platform for local and international cultural collaborations and a space where artists are encouraged to tap into their inner roots for creativity. Most likely, his visibility and presence at the FNB Jo’burg Art Fair will birth many more opportunities for collaborations, exhibitions and exchanges.

Other Zimbabwean spaces present at the fair included Village Unhu, which exhibited for the second time in a row.

Other art spaces participating included The First Floor Gallery. Several South African and a British gallery proudly displayed Zimbabwean artists including Masimba Hwati, Virginia Chihota, Helen Teede, Moffat Takadiwa, Misheck Masamvu and Kudzanai Chiurai.

Helen Teede (center) in discussion with visitors to the First Floor Gallery Zimbabwe Booth
Helen Teede (right) in discussion with visitors to the First Floor Gallery Zimbabwe Booth

With the global art market gaze returning to Africa, this art fair attracts auction houses, dealers, renowned collectors, curators and creatives from all over the world.

The fair consisted of 90 exhibitions by galleries from 12 different countries and ran from September 9, 2016 to September 11, 2016.

These exhibitions were subdivided into Contemporary and Modern Art, Special Projects, Gallery Solo Projects, Limited Editions and Art Platforms.

Mandla Sibeko Co-Director of the art fair explained: “We are very clear on our Agenda; we are positioning the Fair as Pan-African. We want as many Africans to support this platform every year”.

As an international art fair, the FNB Jo’burg Art Fair focused on contemporary art from the African continent and the Diaspora.

FNB has always been passionate about art because it recognises that artistic expression involves creativity and imagination — both key drivers of innovation.

The annual FNB Jo’burg Art Fair provides a platform for more than 600 artists from across the continent and continues to draw a huge array of creative individuals and art connoisseurs from across the globe.

The FNB Jo’burg Art Fair continues to play an important role in harnessing the value that artists bring to society and has thus established itself as the meeting place for those interested in African contemporary art.


Source — Panorama Magazine.

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