Founding Donation by William Kentridge: Where Shall we Place our Hope?
Where Shall We Place our Hope?
46 x 63 cm
Drawing: Indian Ink, charcoal and red pencil on found ledger pages
Two days before the COVID-19 pandemic 21-day initial lockdown in Joburg, I received a very excited phone call from Lauren Woolf, a friend and director on the Board of Artist Proof Studio (APS) and founder and owner of MRS WOOLF, an innovative brand consultancy, to tell me about an exciting idea from a friend and colleague of hers, Carl Bates, who is not involved in the arts at all. He is the CEO of the Sirdar Group for BoardroomPerformance, an international entrepreneur and global expert on the implementation of governance. Carl and Lauren are both active in many professional and personal networks and are both committed social entrepreneurs.
The idea that Carl had shared with Lauren, and she, in turn, with me, was: how could we find a way to capture this historic moment in South Africa for future generations. Could telling the story of the lockdown be done by artists as a way to raise money for what would surely be a country and its people in crisis? The idea came to him while listening to President Ramaphosa’s speech announcing the lockdown, and pleading with us all to do our part. Father to a young son, Carl was struck by how he would explain these moments to his son in future years.
Carl suggested that we invite artists for each day of the lockdown, to respond to this extraordinary time of COVID-19; to inspire the country and encourage those that can buy works to support those that need it. Lauren and her design and concept team came up with the name and its extention (TLC), the design and logo for The Lockdown Collection, which was immediately registered with a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram account. I was brought on board as one of the co-founding partners to invite artists and use the APS network to identify vulnerable artists needing support.
On the Thursday afternoon, 26th March, before the lockdown at midnight, I drove to see William Kentridge and asked him if he would support this lockdown artists’ initiative and contribute a work. He immediately agreed, but he made it clear that he would not recommend a benefit auction model, as artists are fatigued by giving their work and risking little or no response or sell-through. This advice and his extraordinary generosity, helped us design a model to ensure every artist’s contribution was funded, and there was a guaranteed amount of money in the fund upfront by way of committed reserves for works. This generated R250 000 in the first few days.
The Kentridge drawing has subsequently sold for R500 000 to a private buyer in the USA who requested that the funds be equally shared by the President’s Solidarity Fund and the Vulnerable Artist’s Fund. This deposit enabled the TLC team to set up the equivalent of a Trust Fund. This meant that vulnerable artists could start applying and receiving relief funding immediately. The response has been overwhelming, and each artist who applies to the Fund can receive a maximum of R3 000 for each application (maximum of R9 000).
The concept of establishing a dedicated fund for visual artists, designed by the TLC team, has since caught on, and is being independently followed by a number of galleries, craft guilds, as well as the Department of Arts and Culture. This is good news for artists who have lost their means for an income due to the inability to trade.
From my experience, the journey has been remarkable. I have had such an insight into the efficiency and speed of how the corporate sector works. Within a matter of a few phone calls in the first two days, the team had raised on average R25 000/day to underwrite the first 10 artists, whomever they were. My part was to help identify and invite artists who could come up with a work for each day to the value of R25 000. Where I stumbled to identify an artist who could be ready in time, Carl or Lauren made a few calls and efficiently filled the gaps; making the collection more eclectic and unusual. The teams behind these remarkable people are also extraordinary. The TLC campaign has secured legal founding documents, opened a dedicated Fund bank account, has legal checks and balances; an auditing firm and shipping firm. Everyone has willingly volunteered their time and expertise though the belief that this project will make a material difference to hundreds of stranded individuals. The daily check-in with Zoom calls with the various teams, and correspondence and exchange in between has enabled this spark of an idea to become a blazing fire that is generative, well-managed and spreading positive energy across the sectors.
Sustainability of the fund has been at the core of the thinking behind this project from the beginning.
The indomitable Gordon Froud has agreed to be the curator for an Open Call to artists – so many of whom have shown an interest to participate in further collections – which will be co-curated, managed, hosted and sold by the APS team through online platforms. Many South African artists have come forward to use their own creativity as a fair exchange of support and income (https://artistproofstudio.co.za/pages/vulnerable-artist-fund).
The story of this TLC campaign is exciting and energising and, most of all, a beacon of hope in being able to respond to this wide-spread devastation and economic disaster for so many during this pandemic.
Why Should I Hesitate?
William Kentridge supports the Vulnerable Artists Fund with its first injection of funds
Where shall we place our hope? is the title of the drawing William Kentridge donated to the Lockdown Collection project, within minutes of being asked for support.
The question his drawing asks, speaks urgently and poignantly to our joint experience of the fear and uncertainty that accompanies the COVID-19 world pandemic and the subsequent Lockdown. The gesture in offering this work, a leap of faith and agency that asserts ‘yes we can’, provides the inspiration, leadership and agency for this initiative.
We place our hope in creativity, in the power of generosity, vision and resilience. We understand that we can and will transform the challenge of hardship into one of opportunity. Kentridge’s monumental exhibition in Cape Town, entitled Why Should I Hesitate, refers to the artist’s preoccupation with immediacy. Fundamental to his work is to capture the very process of thought. What is critical is “whether or not the synergy between the material, the method and the idea is able to seal the fusion of thought and action”. This immediacy is what Kentridge regards as vital to his creative vision. It is this kind of immediacy in which South African artists have responded to with such willingness to the TLC campaign established a little more than 21 days ago.
In a blog called Art Beyond Quarantine by Pamela Allara and Mark Auslander, they offer insightful commentaries on the collection of work made for The Lockdown Collection. Commenting on the work by Kentridge: Where shall we place our hope?, they acknowledge the resonance with one of the oldest of human plaintive laments, the echoes of the opening of the 121st Psalm, ‘Where does my help come from?’ (Auslander 2020).
The authors refer to the origins of the work, that are resonant and rich with immediate meanings and implications. This includes the more universal spiritual symbols of the tree as a source of healing and transformation.
“Where shall we place our hope?” Confined to our homes, largely separated from nature and our neighbours, this grand tree in full foliage gives us a glimpse of continued life and regeneration. Kentridge’s image, characteristically, offers us no definitive answers to the questions that now haunt us in the age of virus.
(Art Beyond Quarantine: https://artbeyondquarantine.blogspot.com/)
The Lockdown Collection team is grateful to be working with the inspired visions of artists that have found ways to place our hope for so many vulnerable artists at this time
 From the Introduction to the Catalogue: Why Should I Hesitate: Putting Drawings to work, (Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, Nwagbogu, 11: 2019)