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A collective effort: Reflecting on 30 years of the Bag Factory

An incredible 30 years of South African contemporary art is currently being showcased through a new exhibition, Bag Factory 30 Years: So far, the future. Paying tribute to a rich legacy of art-making and collaboration, the exhibition features artworks from the Bag Factory’s archives, including works by David Koloane, Pat Mautloa, Sam Nhlengethwa, Penny Siopis and more. Here, we take a quick look back at three decades of the uniquely South African arts organisation.

Co-Founded by artist, curator and teacher David Koloane, British art collector and philanthropist Robert Loder, and arts administrator Sandra Burnett, the Bag Factory’s journey began back in 1991. A need for a space where artists could not only be nurtured, but share in the diversity of cultures and create works in a freely accessible environment served as the impetus for the organisation, which today boasts a rich and important legacy and has seen artists such as Deborah Bell, William Kentridge, and Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi pass through its doors.

  • Bag Factory David Koloane
  • Mark Attwood, Artists' Press, Paul Emmanuel, Tim Fold
  • Penny Siopis
  • Helen Sebidi
  • Kagiso Patrick Mautloa, Sam Nhlengethwa, Sandra Burnett, David Koloane
  • Kay Hassan, Patrick Mautloa, Basil Baqwa
  • Bag Factory David Koloane

Three decades revisited through 100 artworks

In Bag Factory 30 Years: So far, the future, a profound collection of artworks from the organisation’s archives, donated by its family of artists, comes together to tell the tale of the Bag Factory’s success. But how does one begin to mine such an extensive collection of artworks for a single exhibition?
     Director of the Bag Factory, Candice Allison, explains that approaching the archive as a celebration of a collective group of artists and events, as opposed to focussing on individual artists and artworks, was the way forward.
     ‘The Bag Factory has such a rich legacy, so it was quite an amazing process when we started going through the archive and looking at everything we have received from artists over the years,’ says Allison. ‘We selected quite a number of artworks, 100 to be exact, and this only begins to scratch the surface of the Bag Factory’s history. The gaps we have tried to fill as far as possible with material from our archive of photographs, pamphlets, and video interviews.’
     A print by Kagiso Patrick Mautloa titled Working Together (2011) is one that Allison believes sums up the Bag Factory’s 30 year journey, wonderfully, with the organisation’s success truly being a collective effort. Works by founding artists like David Koloane, Pat Mautloa, Sam Nhlengethwa, Ricky Burnett, Joachim Schönfeldt, as well as Penny Siopis, Bongi Mautloa-Dlhomo, Deborah Bell, Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi can all be seen in the exhibition, while archival photographs demonstrate some of the organisation’s early traditions.  
     ‘Another exhibit that stands out for me are three photographs from our archives which show the beginnings of the Bag Factory’s (in)famous lunches that are still an important tradition to welcome new artists into the space and the community,’ says Allison. ‘The Bag Factory’s history is also intertwined with international exchange and conversations, so there is a section which shows works by artists who have been in residence from the early 1990s till today.’
     Downstairs, audiences can catch a glimpse of what the future might hold for the Bag Factory – how can a non-profit contemporary art organisation stay relevant and continue to provide a supportive role within the arts industry for the next 30 years? Here, works by previous David Koloane Award and Cassirer Welz Award winners are on show.
     ‘We also wanted to include work by the Bag Factory’s current studio artists who have joined our community in the last few years,’ adds Allison. ‘Their voices are so fresh and vibrant – it is exciting to watch their careers just starting to take off.’

Bag Factory 30 Years: so far, the future exhibition walkabouts:

There is a limited capacity of 15 people per walkabout.
Please RSVP to to reserve your place.

15 May, 10:00 – 11:00

29 May, 10:00 – 11:00

05 June, 10:00 – 11:00

19 June, 10:00 – 11:00

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