Creative Feel’s Nondumiso Msimanga spoke to curator of Fresh Produce (supported by Rand Merchant Bank), Zanele Mashumi about her curatorial process and role at the Turbine Art Fair.
‘I started drawing at a very young age… All of us have done it, whether you do a very messy drawing or whatever,’ Zanele Mashumi demystifies the art of artistry. She believes in the power of art to communicate with anyone and share something of the artist in an unspoken and yet tangible way. A piece of art, she believes, should stand testimony to how enjoyable the act of creating can be. This mantra of the ability of art to ameliorate life’s diurnal tasks and allow anyone and everyone to be more sensitised to their surroundings is the vision through which she curates the Fresh Produce exhibition at the Turbine Art Fair (TAF) this year.
Hosted by the Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA), the Fresh Produce exhibition is one of the projects of the Turbine Art Fair that actively seeks out young artists with great potential and affords them the chance to exhibit at the massive event at Turbine Hall in Newtown. ‘We are looking for an artist who takes themselves seriously,’ says Mashumi. This is an artist who has a business sense about the art world and somebody with an exciting voice as an emerging young South African
painter, printmaker, sketcher, photographer or any other visual art form. And yet, they must also have a sense of colour that makes them stand out in the crowd.
The Turbine Art Fair provides people of all walks of life with the opportunity to engage with art in a way that is not as intimidating as the ascetic white walls of a gallery. South African art has shown a trend of recognising the need to be more inviting for the laymen who may want to own artworks but feel as though the art-world is elitist and exclusively for those who have studied it at tertiary levels. The growing popularity of art fairs in the country and the recent mobilisation of gallery-to-gallery evening-walks in the form of First Thursdays in Johannesburg and Cape Town stand testimony to this welcoming approach to visual art. Mashumi adds to this conversation by stating that, ‘We don’t want to make the curation of the show too conceptual. We are supporting professional artists but also being able to relate.’ She visited Port Elizabeth, Durban, Cape Town and Polokwane before returning to Johannesburg in search of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed artists who displayed an invigorating artistic voice and, significantly also showed a sense of entrepreneurship. After assessing the work of over 70 artists around the country, plus conducting interviews with each one to ascertain their aptitude for professional engagement, she selected only ten of the finest fresh young produce the nation has to offer. The artworks are varied but one of the great aspects of TAF is not only the breakthrough that it provides for these young ‘art-trepreneurs’ but also the chance for people to engage with them as they purvey their offerings.
She says that they are simply, ‘breaking boundaries’. And this is what TAF stands for as a leading contemporary art fair. When she describes the fine lines and watercolour paintings of buildings in Johannesburg city created by Audrey Anderson, she gently reaches out a hand as though to touch the soft images she’s seen. And Thandiwe Sebenzi’s new take on Xhosa initiates in their plaid suits just makes her smile; a wide gleam across her face. When one ponders that everyone drew something at some point in their lives it is eye opening to discover that all people are ingrained with the capacity to understand art. Mashumi, who has worked at the Joburg Art Fair, curated a number of exhibitions for agencies and also curates exhibitions for her own company Mashumi Art Project in Soweto, says that art was incredibly therapeutic for her as a young girl. She did not study art in high school (her formal art education only began when she enrolled at the University of Johannesburg) but she would visit established artist-mentor Kenny Nkosi after school and simply immerse herself in the environment. When she remembers her first sale in Soweto, she becomes bright eyed as she feels again the emotion of doing something that matters. She spends her weekends at the Locrate Market, in the famous township, painting with children and adults of all ages; enjoying the smiles induced by seeing a feeling made tangible through colour on paper, and sometimes on hands and clothing. TAF will also have art sessions hosted by STAEDTLER.
And, for Mashumi, this is the joy of TAF because ‘It goes beyond being an art fair’.