Collectors' View: South Africa
Keeping it local
Lindelwa Farisani spoke with our writer Daniel Hewson about how her school teachers inspired her interest in art, how she became a collector and why she thinks it is important to invest in African arts
14. September 2016
Daniel Hewson: Please tell us when and how your love for visual art began.
Lindelwa Farisani: When I went to school in Italy, there was a strong focus on art. While other kids spent weekends at the movies, my school sent us on guided tours through the Sistine Chapel, Pisa or in small churches in Perugia. I fell in love with the art and the architecture of the churches in Italy. However, I regret that I got the sense then that art was something European. That I didn’t really learn much about African art until my return to South Africa in 2005.
Daniel Hewson: Can you name some of your favorite African artists?
LF: Well, two of my favorite South African artists – both whose works I own – are Zanele Muholi and William Kentridge. I love art for the sake of it but I also love the socio-political aspect of it. At Art Basel I got the opportunity to view Kentridge’s latest opera and was surprised by how much it spoke to me as a young South African woman who is concerned about the state of affairs in the country. To me, his work spoke so much about what South Africa is currently going through, especially the tensions between government and the private sector. I was very moved by it and kept asking myself – how do we make things better?
As for Zanele Muholi, outside of her activism; her work is just phenomenal. I am particularly in love with her latest work, for which she has taken pictures of herself in different parts of the world and speaks about the different “personas” that people see in her, depending on where she is. It is quite powerful, especially when you can relate. I also really like Mary Sibande with the Superwoman maids; Deborah Bell’s sculptures and Mohau Modisakeng. Another absolute favorite of mine is Wiz Kudowor. I actually visited his house and studio when I went to Ghana for the first time, taking a few investors around the country. I love how Kudowor captures the African female body, it reminds me of Picasso’s paintings of the female form. It’s interesting how, in most cases, art represents women in very curvy forms, but today’s magazines show the complete opposite.
DH: You were at Art Basel this year. Are you pleased with the way art from Africa is being showcased there?
LF: I must say that I was quite disappointed by the sparse representation of African artists. From what I could see, there were very few African galleries to start with, which automatically meant that there were fewer works by Africans. Even international galleries that carry African artists didn’t have much. I understand that Art Basel needs to do what makes business sense, but there was certainly a glaring absence of “Africa.” At one point I spent more time looking for African artists than actually looking at art.
DH: What did you see though, that caught your attention?
LF: The suitcases hanging from the ceiling by Chiharu Shiota were mind-blowing. They were called Accumulation: searching for destination, and to me they spoke volumes about the culture we live in, accumulating things, sometimes rather aimlessly. We are constantly in search for identity, destination – always looking for the next best thing. And to what purpose?
DH: Why do you think it is important to collect art, especially as a young African businesswoman?
LF: Art has always been a great part of our culture as Africans – from cave drawings to the actual storytelling culture that many of us grew up with. Art was a means of bringing people together, giving them a sense of common ground, a space of comfort. All that is still relevant today. We have seen what Zanele Muholi has done by using her art to serve as a voice for the LGBT community as a black woman in Africa. It is a difficult space and art has a role in not only documenting that space, but also exposing the atrocities that people suffer for being different
For me, collecting art is an imperative. There is nothing more beautiful than being part of something that represents who you are and where you come from. Claude Monet and his water lilies are cute, but there were no water lilies outside of my house in Soweto. Not that all art should be local, but I can’t complain about a lack of representation of African art when I myself do not support it. These things start at home. My dream is to see more Africans investing in African art.
DH: What are your views on gigantic venues like Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, opening in February 2017?
LF: I am very excited at the prospect of the Zeitz MOCAA. One of things I used to lament over was that we didn’t have a central African museum similar to those that one finds in Europe and the US. I hope that the world will come to learn more about and appreciate African art better through the Zeitz MOCAA. I also hope that it is only the beginning and that we will see many more big spaces being dedicated to art from the continent.
DH: In relation to that: How can we get people to view “craft art” in the same light as “fine art”?
LF: I think the Chinese have done very well in promoting their own ceramics as “fine art” and from what I have seen, a lot of this has to do with how we promote those artifacts and the stories behind them. We have many “crafts” as Africans but we don’t tell the stories behind them. We do not give these crafts the value that they deserve locally and therefore it becomes difficult for the world to render the pieces concerned the same amount of respect.
We have seen artists such as Athi-Patra Ruga gain recognition for his tapestries with various international exhibitions of his works. Nicholas Hlobo is another artist who uses embroidery in his works. I am hopeful that as we see more of these and link them to our stories and how they are part of our culture, the world will start recognizing them as valuable art pieces.
DH: And how can we get more South Africans to visit galleries and museums?
LF: I think we need to encourage art at schools and make cultural visits part of a child’s timetable. Galleries have a responsibility as well to position themselves as art education centers. There is no reason why any of the leading galleries cannot have a Saturday or two in which they invite their artists and a local school, so the kids can interact with the artists and view their works. Perhaps these things exist already – but I have not seen it in any of the publications I get from the galleries.
Daniel Hewson is a young curator, writer and cultural collaborator from Cape Town, South Africa. Since graduating from Rhodes University, he has specialised in curating in the visual arts field and in arts education, with a particular focus on printmaking.