Clinks of champagne glasses and soft murmurs reverberated around the lofty sky-matrix of steel beams and prefabricated walls. The tenth annual edition of the FNB Joburg Art Fair, located in the aspirational opulence of the ever expanding Sandton central business district, boasted over 60 exhibitors from 12 countries across Africa, Europe and the US. The three-day event held an extensive array of public programming.
On entering the space, a large panel displayed the 25 partners and sponsors of the Art Fair. Patronage has always influenced the economics of art. Historically art was supported by the likes of kings, popes, the wealthy class and other institutions. In the contemporary moment, it appears that commercial brands have adopted a similar strategy.
In the centre of the labyrinth exhibition of the Art Fair was the Cartier Lounge, the FNB private wealth lounge and Esther Mahlangu’s display presented by BMW. These particular brands positioned their relevance at the Art Fair under the auspice of collaboration. Collaboration can take a multitude of forms within artistic practice. However, more important is to consider the level of reciprocity this kind of trade really entails – as with all forms of patronage. One hopes that artists are always one of the beneficiaries of the cultural capital they produce.
As typically the nature of Art Fairs, there was too much to see. However, some personal highlights included the clambering figures embodying the fierce flame of Lady Skollie’s exhibition Fire with Fire. “This is my opportunity for collective catharsis, ‘Fire with Fire’. A divine interpretation of grief, so bright, so gory, that we cannot and will not look away. Let us be cleansed with fire. Let us not light candles in remembrance. I’m done with being remembered. Instead, I see a burning phallus, melting, bubbling, its demise signalling our own rebirth.”
Another of the affecting exhibits was FORTIA by storyteller and digital artist Keyezua. The series of red-robed woman clad in beautifully articulated masks – constructed from recycled matter to articulate identity beyond anonymity. The series utilises, “a female body to portrait the stories told by Keyezua, a daughter of a disabled man through the hands of a group of disabled men that are alienated in their own society. The project is based on personal experiences that explore sorrow.”
Both of these artists channel a personal narrative and interesting mode of storytelling to visually articulate their process of catharsis and agency.