Opinion

The JAG is the SANG

Mario Pissarra, 13 October 2007

I have long argued that transformation of the South African National Gallery has been badly managed. Thirteen years into democracy it has failed to produce a demographically representative pool of curators. Perhaps more importantly, it has failed to re-orientate its Eurocentric origins by neglecting to prioritise developing relationships with other African countries. Instead, in the name of transformation, the SANG has been absorbed into a seemingly dysfunctional, costly bureacracy called Iziko Museums, a top heavy administration that has few admirers, even amongst its own ranks.

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“Made in Africa” Biennale: Afrika Heritage and the Politics of Representation

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi, 13 June 2007

The baggage of post-coloniality continues to weigh-in strongly in the discourse of contemporary African art, moreso when this discourse is coloured by the politics and economics of representation. In the 1990s, the contest that ensued in the global art space with regards to African art was one of representation and authorial spokesmanship that was engendered as a result of the seminal but hugely controversial Les Magiciens de la Terre exhibition of 1989 curated by Frenchman Jean-Hubert Martin. The blockbuster show undoubtedly reconfigured the reception of modern African art in the West. But beyond that, it helped to facilitate the emergence and acceptance of contemporary African art on a large scale in major cultural institutions of the West. This to borrow from Olu Oguibe, set the tone for reclamation of author-ity and reversal of imposed anonymity on the native, perpetrated by ethnography that effectively bars claims to subjectivity and normativity.

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Dirty Laundry: Can we think beyond Venice?

Mario Pissarra, 7 June 2007

I have previously argued that Africa’s representation in Venice is irrelevant when compared to the need to develop alternatives at ‘home’. In essence my argument is that we should not judge the success of South African art (or African or ‘non-western’ art for that matter) by its presence or absence in the prime venues of the ‘international’ arena, of which the Venice Biennale is both a leading example and symbol. The health of a country’s art should not be judged by the number of international ‘stars’ it generates, since this may provide a false picture of the state of art in that country or region. Rather it should be evaluated on the quality and extent of its art practice, galleries and museums, art education, publishing, patronage, and all the critical components of art infrastructure that are essential for the development of art.

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Beyond current debates on representation: a few thoughts on the need to develop infrastructure for art in Africa

Mario Pissarra, 20 November 2006

The discourse on contemporary African art is a comparatively recent one, and has to a large extent been dominated by issues of representation: what image of Africa is or has been communicated to the world, and to itself? Who is or who should be representing Africa? And who and what is Africa? Much of the discourse has been led by Africans in the diaspora. This generation of intellectuals has taken on the critical need to address negative, sometimes racist constructions of Africa that have been dominant, particularly but not exclusively in the West. This need to address negative perceptions of Africa, coupled with the present location of a critical mass of African artists, academics and curators in the USA and Europe goes some way in explaining why there has been an emphasis on interrogating ‘Africa’ as a concept, and why issues of representation have been fore-grounded.

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Open the Gate

Olu Oguibe, 9 October 2006

[This letter was initially written in response to a letter from Salah Hassan and Okwui Enwezor to Robert Storr, Artistic Director of the Venice Biennale. It was copied by the writer to interested parties and is reproduced here with his permission.]

To Dr. Salah Hassan
Forum for African Arts

September 19, 2006

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Targeted Candidate II [Iziko’s response to Goniwe]

Jatti Bredekamp et al, 11 September 2006

[On 1 September 2006 Jatti Bredekamp, CEO of Iziko Museums, responded to Thembinkosi Goniwe’s concerns about the South African National Gallery’s notice for the position of trainee curator. Goniwe’s intervention was initially communicated by email to Emma Bedford of the SANG on 28 July (See “Targeted Candidate”). Bredekamp copied Iziko’s response to 27 persons, most of whom received Goniwe’s original mail. On 4 September I emailed Bredekamp requesting permission to reproduce Iziko’s response online. Later that day Khwezi Gule added his voice to the debate, followed by Mokgabudi Amos Letsoalo, who had been one of the first to comment on the issues raised by Goniwe. Subsequently Mark Hipper joined the debate. The discussion of Iziko’s response went online on 11 September, without Bredekamp’s letter since I had not received a reply to my request. Some of the respondents to the debate were familiar with Iziko’s letter, having been on the initial list of recipients of the email exchange; others were not. Permission to post Iziko’s response online was finally granted on 16 October 2006. MP]

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Targeted Candidate

Thembinkosi Goniwe, 29 July 2006

Dear Emma Bedford,

Please consider my concerns regarding your advertised Trainee Curator at the SANG. I am wondering how many potential candidates “from historically disadvantaged groups” that would apply given the stipulated required “Minimum qualification: BA Degree in Fine Arts or History of Art”? I am thinking of young black art practitioners who have no university or college qualification as required, for example graduates from Community Art Projects (now Arts and Media Access Centre), Ruth Prowse, FUNDA, etc – from community driven initiatives or organisations!

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Veneziano: Ventriloquizing Venice- a response to Malcolm Payne

Gavin Anderson, 04 July 2006

[Written in response to  “Viva Venice… Viva… Long live!” where “Malcolm Payne takes issue with Mario Pissarra’s objections to an emphasis on the importance of the Venice Biennale”, ArtThrob June 2006]
‘Veneziano’ is the local Venetian dialect, which ‘does not descend from the Italian language but has its own morphology, syntax and lexicon.’ (Wikipedia)
Malcolm Payne’s recent extraordinary and irascible contribution to ArtThrob regarding Mario Pissarra’s view of biennales deserves a brief informal response.

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Venetian Blind: A response to Malcolm Payne

Mario Pissarra, 18 June 2006

[This is a response to Malcolm Payne’s “Viva Venice… Viva… Long live!” (ArtThrob, June 2006). Payne’s piece was a response to my “Death to Venice” (ASAI, May 2006), which was a response to Marilyn Martin’s companion pieces “Death in Venice” and “Faultlines and Fumblings” (ArtThrob, September 2003), as well as to Sue Williamsons remarks on the Venice Biennale (ArtThrob, July, 2003).] [i]

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