Art IN FLAMES

CityPress - - Voices - Ste­fanie Ja­son voices@ city­press. co. za

On the eve of the most pres­ti­gious art fes­ti­val on Cape Town’s cal­en­dar, the framed faces of mainly white peo­ple went up in flames nearby. Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) pro­test­ers dis­turbed the tem­po­rary peace at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT) to chal­lenge the struc­tures of racial in­equal­ity as the Cape Town Art Fair pre­sented a press con­fer­ence which, on the sur­face, looked like the very thing the stu­dents were up in arms about: lack of trans­for­ma­tion.

Those seated at the head of the art fair’s press con­fer­ence panel man­i­fested the sore state of racial in­clu­sion in Cape Town. Parched of melanin, they in­cluded newly ap­pointed fair di­rec­tor Matthew Par­tridge, cu­ra­tor and aca­demic Ruth Sim­bao and even ex-rugby cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar. As six com­pe­tent and highly skilled (white) in­di­vid­u­als ad­dressed the me­dia, it was abun­dantly clear how Cape Town Art Fair had missed the op­por­tu­nity to bring to the fore the di­ver­sity that South Africans within and out­side the art world con­tinue to fight for.

As stu­dents con­tinue to be cat­a­lysts for ig­nit­ing nec­es­sary con­ver­sa­tions, Tues­day night’s protest was a po­tent elixir of fury and the col­lec­tive-con­scious en­ergy of a frus­trated stu­dent body. Un­for­tu­nately, this was at the price of works of art, in­clud­ing that of painter Kere­se­mose Richard Ba­holo. But as RMF mem­bers and stu­dents protested against what they say is the ex­clu­sion of black stu­dents at UCT, the art blazed on in the face of racial ex­clu­sion in other sec­tors of our so­ci­ety. “From the ear­li­est days of set­tler pres­ence in the Cape Colony, art was in­deli­bly iden­ti­fied with Euro­pean cul­ture and her­itage,” writes Mario Pis­sarra in Cast in Colour: To­wards an In­clu­sive South African Art. And like the ef­figy of Ce­cil John Rhodes that was brought down last year, maybe the an­ti­quated works of art that fea­tured in the hall­ways of UCT res­i­dences also rep­re­sented th­ese colo­nial ties. But how do we en­sure that to­day’s artis­tic land­scape be­comes rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the de­mo­graph­ics of this African state?

In an art world that at­tempts to be pro­gres­sive (Mandla Sibeko was named the Joburg Art Fair codi­rec­tor; the Cape Town Art Fair has a ro­bust pro­gramme of black prac­ti­tion­ers talk­ing on its line-up; and the coun­try con­tin­ues to pro­duce a va­ri­ety of black artists, arts jour­nal­ists, cu­ra­tors and academics), we should ask how far we have ac­tu­ally come in pro­duc­ing truly im­mer­sive, in­clu­sive art spa­ces. One where press pan­els and or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tees of ma­jor African art fairs do not ap­pear as white as they did on Wed­nes­day evening.

The im­ages broad­cast of the pile of art in flames di­vided the coun­try. Some be­lieve it a non­sen­si­cal act to de­stroy what is deemed as his­tory; oth­ers view it as vi­o­lence be­got­ten from the struc­tural vi­o­lence pro­jected on black bod­ies. For me, nei­ther is in­cor­rect.

But as I con­tinue to hear the opin­ions ex­pressed by those in the art world against the pro­test­ers at UCT, I do hope to hear an art so­ci­ety that equally goes to war on so­cial me­dia and in pub­lic to chas­tise the con­tin­ued marginal­i­sa­tion of black peo­ple where it mat­ters.

Ja­son is an art critic and prac­ti­tioner

PHO­TOS: LULEKWA MBADAMANE

IN­CEN­DI­ARY Works of art set alight by stu­dent pro­test­ers

THE GREAT UNIVER­SITY

STATE OF ART UCT stu­dents pre­pare to burn a paint­ing

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