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The importance of international and local recognition for South African artists

By Creative Feel

In a new episode of Africa Avant Garde, CNN explores the importance and value of participating in international art fairs, following several African galleries and artists as they prepare for and participate in Miami Art Week.

Miami Art Week
Watch the new episode of Africa Avant Garde featuring African art

According to South African artist William Kentridge, who expresses his creativity through theatrical and visual arts:

“In the marketplace, there’s been a big interest in African art in artists either living in Africa or part of the African diaspora. There’s a big, theoretical academic interest in it. There’s also interest from many galleries and museums which is fantastic.”

Artists like Kentridge are enabling collectors and art lovers to experience art in a diverse storytelling scope, from drawings at Art Basel, to live theatre performances.

For Kentridge, “It’s key to have a great gallery in South Africa where work is made not just for export but is seen and shown in South Africa.”

Liza Essers, Founder and Director of the Goodman Gallery, says, “It has been an absolute honour and privilege to represent William for thirty years.” She adds, “What constitutes a good fair is focusing on the broader projects that may come. The interesting curators that one meets the conversations that start relating to further projects.”

“Without the market, none of these projects are possible,” continues Kentridge.

  • South African artists at Miami Art Week
  • South African artists at Miami Art Week
  • South African artists at Miami Art Week
  • South African artists at Miami Art Week

Essers explains the process of packing pieces for the Goodman Gallery, “We would select the artist’s work six months in advance and shipped for a fair like Miami Basel at least six weeks before.” However, challenges do occur, and include expensive transportation costs, which can often equate to the same amount as the artwork itself.

At the Adrienne ARSHTC Centre during Miami Art Week, Kentridge displays The Head & The Load, a stage performance about hidden histories in Africa and the First World War. One of the key features is a charcoal drawing of a colonial landscape. “The title comes from a proverb from Ghana, the head and the load of the troubles of the neck. I’ve understood that people are carrying a historical load,” he explains.

The play encourages the audience to make a choice on what they watch. It consists of a collage of images which depict history over time and it includes various artists such as singers, dancers and actors. “I’ll definitely be very attentive to how people are watching the performance and which sections people are engaged in,” he adds.

  • South African artists at Miami Art Week
  • South African artists at Miami Art Week
  • South African artists at Miami Art Week
  • South African artists at Miami Art Week

For Cape Town-based artist Zizipho Poswa, creativity is carved in ceramic.

“I specialise in large scale work through which I explore my cultural heritage as an African and of course a woman. My work has been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art. I’m proud of seeing my work at the Met Museum.”

Poswa believes that it is very important to exhibit her work internationally, as “we are very far from the centre of the arts world.” She is presenting two pieces inspired by traditional African hairstyles at a solo show with Cape Town-based gallery, Southern Guild.

“Seeing my creations sent out to the world feels great. I’m extremely proud of myself, because I’m not only doing this for myself, I’m doing it for my family, my community, and the continent as a whole,” she shares. Poswa believes that artists need to sell to sustain themselves and continue making art, “I would need to make money to be able to make more work. It’s also a great feeling to know that people love their work, and they want to appreciate it.”

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