“How can art without an audience survive?”Asks Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Senior Specialist Art Curator.
The coronavirus pandemic had a sudden and substantial impact on arts and culture. Very suddenly and without warning, by March 2020, cultural institutions worldwide had been closed indefinitely, with exhibitions, events and performances cancelled or postponed.
In line with our newly declared National State of Disaster, the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) – which is a highlight on the South African arts calendar and which Absa sponsors – was called off. Around this time, our Absa L’Atelier competition winners were due to fly to Paris for their long-anticipated residencies, but this too was postponed.
African art and artists will face challenges.
As economies and arts and culture organisations the world over struggle during this time, we’re seeing societies change and adapt, with new business models being explored and millions allocated to saving the arts. Our own Department of Sports, Arts and Culture set aside R150 million to help artists left without jobs, during this period. But we’re lucky. The rest of Africa isn’t quite so fortunate.
The challenge we have on the continent is that we face barriers in embracing technology, unlike the more developed countries, so our galleries and artists are likely to enter uncertain times.
As a community of artists, curators and gallerists, we have a duty to provide access to art and the heritage and history that comes with each piece of work. And with physical access to art now strictly limited, our mission must become to find new ways to do so and support and grow our African artists.
Testament to this, leading local curator Sarah McGee of MStudioCommunity, who manages Absa L’Atelier 2019 winner Nkhensani Rihlampfu, moved away from a physical brick and mortar space, successfully using technology to showcase her stable of talented artists. It’s more thinking like this that we need.