guest cu­ra­tor dr zoe whit­ley

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The re­search cu­ra­tor at the Tate Mod­ern in London, Dr Zoe Whit­ley is guest cu­ra­tor of spe­cial projects for the 2017 FNB JoburgArtFair. Here she ex­plains some of the think­ing be­hind her project Truth, or some other ab­strac­tion

how did you come to be the guest cu­ra­tor of spe­cial projects at the FNB JoburgArtFair 2017? I ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion from [the Fair’s di­rec­tor] Mandla Sibeko, hav­ing been in­volved in the talks pro­gramme for the past few years. I’ve also co-cu­rated a sea­son of South African artists’ films at Tate Mod­ern and led a talk at Venice 2015 for The Johannesburg Pavil­ion. I con­trib­uted an es­say on Candice Bre­itz for the South African Pavil­ion at the 2017 Venice Bi­en­nale.

The idea for this project took shape in Penny Siopis’ stu­dio at Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town. We talked about how his­tory am­pli­fies some voices while si­lenc­ing oth­ers. Agree­ing to take on this project means ac­knowl­edg­ing the sources of what I’ve learnt and recog­nis­ing just a handful of artists for whom I have tremen­dous re­spect. What makes the Fair dif­fer­ent from oth­ers around the world? Joburg has a won­der­ful cre­ative en­ergy and is home to so many com­pelling artists who live and work here, as well as be­ing wel­com­ing to artists who live else­where. The Fair taps into the cross­sec­tion of the lo­cal and global com­mu­nity of artists and is un­afraid to give space to them, as it does this year with Robin Rhode. You men­tion that you’re ‘in­ter­ested in pro­vid­ing a mo­ment of re­flec­tion where the fo­cus is on South African artists as truthtellers and his­to­ri­ans’. Which artists will you be high­light­ing? Ev­ery project I un­der­take pro­fes­sion­ally starts with artists. Truth, or some other ab­strac­tion, the ti­tle of my FNB JoburgArtFair project, comes from Doris Less­ing, who wrote in a pas­sage of The Grass is Singing, ‘it is ter­ri­ble to de­stroy a per­son’s pic­ture of him­self in the in­ter­ests of truth or some other ab­strac­tion’.

Art his­tory has largely been told about those who

had crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess. This project fo­cuses on artists who were ac­tive be­fore the end of apartheid. We can­not ig­nore its dis­tort­ing and de­struc­tive im­pact, which is still re­ver­ber­at­ing. Black and coloured artists and their white al­lies chal­lenged the dom­i­nant sys­tem of op­pres­sion. What artists did al­tered the fabric of so­ci­ety. They did it not as so­cial sci­en­tists or his­to­ri­ans, but through their beau­ti­ful, unique points of view.

I’ve se­lected works from artists’ stu­dios and from FNB’s cor­po­rate art col­lec­tion. I’m also hop­ing to draw fair­go­ers’ at­ten­tion to won­der­ful pub­lic col­lec­tions, such as Wits Art Mu­seum (WAM) and the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). What are some of your must-see cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions in Joburg? Bai­ley’s African His­tory Archives for Drum magazine at Arts on Main, the Cen­tre for the Less Good Idea in Mabo­neng, WAM in Braam­fontein and JAG in Jou­bert Park. And in London? The Na­tional Art Li­brary, Lib­erty depart­ment store and Ritzy Cin­ema. What draws you to spe­cific works of art? Not un­der­stand­ing them com­pletely. If a work makes me ask ques­tions and lingers in my mind, I’m hooked. What pieces of art do you have in your own home? Not very many. I have a beau­ti­ful print by the late graphic de­signer Paul Peter Piech, which his fam­ily gave me after I wrote a book on his life and work. The first pub­lished text I ever wrote was about US artist Jina Valen­tine, and she gave me a work on pa­per called ‘Sang Froid’. But mostly, my home is full of art books. Who is your all-time favourite artist? I’m of­ten asked this – and I al­ways say my daugh­ter. And art­work? My daugh­ter, at three years old, drew a pic­ture of a lit­tle girl inside one half of an old pas­try box. In the other half, she scrib­bled a rain­bow of colours. The two halves live on our kitchen wall and bring me joy ev­ery sin­gle day. zoe­whit­ley.com

Dr Zoe Whit­ley, re­search cu­ra­tor at Tate Mod­ern and spe­cial projects guest cu­ra­tor of the FNB JoburgArtFair 2017.

Paul Peter Piech’s ‘Soweto 76’; Sam Nh­lengethwa’s Mzansi

Le­gends’ ‘Miriam Makeba’; and Penny Siopis’ ‘Weep’. Works by all three artists will be on show at the FNB JoburgArtFair 2017. CLOCKWISE, F ROM FA R LEFT

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