Fresh Produce Presented by RMB Talent Unlocked is a mentorship programme and exhibition that provides a vital platform for young, upcoming artists. To find out more about this incredible development programme, Creative Feel spoke to Louise Van Der Bijl of Assemblage and this year’s curator, Rolihlahla Mhlanga. Fresh Produce Presented by RMB Talent Unlocked is an extension of the long-standing relationship that Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) has had with the arts in South Africa, and with Assemblage in particular. The project is a four-way partnership between Assemblage, RMB, TAF and the Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA). ‘Fresh Produce is a mentorship programme accompanied by an exhibition at the Turbine Art Fair,’ explains Van Der Bijl. ‘The project was started by Assemblage in conversation with RMB and the Turbine Art Fair… In the second year, VANSA was brought on board to help with the curatorial side of the project. ‘Assemblage’s focus has been on growing the mentorship and training side of the programme. 2016 and 2017 have seen the mentorship programme expand into a six-month programme consisting of professional practice workshops and Assemblage’s peer mentorship programme. A group of young emerging artists who particularly need mentorship or training are chosen and participate in the workshops for the entire period.
‘The end point is a group exhibition of their work at TAF, titled Fresh Produce. The exhibition is currently curated by Rolihlahla Mhlanga. RMB is the main funder of the programme and without them, it would not be possible,’ says Van Der Bijl. ‘The workshop programme is eight sessions over six months,’ she explains. ‘We have titled the programme the Artist Career Development Programme. The workshops cover a range of professional practice topics including artist statement writing, funding proposal writing, treating my career as a business, project management, art law, documenting your artwork and so on. In addition, the programme includes peer mentoring. Assemblage’s peer mentoring has been happening for seven years. The concept is simple, a group of artists is mentored by a more experienced arts practitioner, meeting regularly and sharing ideas around their concept and art making. The emphasis is on group participation and growing and improving your body of work.
‘A programme like this is vital for developing artists as most artists are simply not receiving any of this training through the numerous degrees or courses they complete and in order to function effectively within the arts industry they need to understand the business side of the arts as well as receive critical feedback on their actual artworks in order to grow their practice. ‘The main aim is to choose artists who are young and/or emerging who have little to no support or training. This programme is for artists who have a lot of potential but need a leg up, further support or direction in their practice.’ Mhlanga, who was invited by VANSA to apply for the role of curator in 2016, has previously worked with VANSA and Assemblage before, having taken part in their Artist Career Development Programme. Before taking part in the programme, he had already been ‘using unconventional methods’ working as a curator and gallerist in Soweto. His role as curator for Fresh Produce includes choosing artists who will benefit most from the project. ‘Because the programme is an opportunity for candidates to improve their professional practice,’ says Mhlanga. ‘It is important to assess the artist’s aptitude and commitment to this intense workshop-orientated process around professional practice and participating in the unique peer mentoring geared to assist the conceptual development of their individual work.’
The benefits of this programme are evident in the calibre of artist that comes out of it. Says Van Der Bijl, ‘The artists we are working with are very young and we are working with them at a very early stage of their career and so to measure the full impact is hard. But several of the young artists who have gone through this programme have seen almost immediate results in their practice. This is mostly because they take to heart the information shared in the programme and grow and adjust their practices. Previous participants who we have seen grow in obvious ways include Audrey Anderson, 2016 SA Taxi Foundation Art Award winner; Thandiwe Msebenzi, now part of the collective iQhiya who have been gaining much local and international attention; Setlamorago Mashilo, who won the first TAF & Sylt Emerging Artist Residency Award; and Zanele Mashinini, who has exhibited in Dakar, Senegal. Also, the programme definitely helps artists to figure out whether they actually want to be artists, and what other options may be available to them as well as understanding better how to pursue these options.’
Fresh Produce Presented by RMB Talent Unlocked plays a ‘disruptive’ role, says Mhlanga. ‘This is an artist-focused and outcomes based operation aimed artists being able to assert themselves with regards to their business (administrative and creative) and protecting the integrity of their work. By so doing, building the overall understanding of each artist’s value proposition.’ While this is an artist-focused programme, Mhlanga has curated an exhibition for TAF17 that will not only show the immense talent that is being produced by young South African artists but has also ensured that ‘there are works that will cater to every palette. From sculptural pieces, innovative media to striking imagery that informs social commentary, identity and the ever so complex South African colonial history. ‘This is a show not to be missed.’