Following two years of a COVID-19 induced online existence, FNB Art Joburg will be taking place from September 2 – 4 at the Sandton Convention Centre again this year. As Africa’s leading and longest running contemporary art fair, FNB Art Joburg’s mandate is to sustainably support and grow the continent’s contemporary art market. In “Art in Urban Spaces”, Mehrdad Karimomoshaver, Bahare Eris, Farshid Aram and Amir Mosavi make the argument that:
Contemporary art has widely entered the public spaces of cities since the 1960s, however, its role in urban space, its relationship with space, and its users have always been controversial. Malcolm Miles referred to the dichotomy between the role of the aesthetics of the art in a space, and its semantic function, and believed that an attitude beyond aesthetic judgments should be considered in order to determine the role of art in the social and value areas of public spaces.
With the launch of initiatives like Open City — which had its first iteration in 2021 — and the expansion of their programming, FNB Art Joburg seems to be committed to imagining a fair art ecology that expands “beyond aesthetic judgements” through supporting Africa’s gallery infrastructure. Speaking about this year’s fair, Head of FNB Brand Experience Bongo Sebesho says:
We are excited to continue our journey of empowering African artists through FNB Art Joburg. FNB’s 15 year involvement as a sponsor of the exhibition demonstrates our commitment to supporting the creative economy which is an important economic pillar of our economic recovery. Our continent is home to world-class talent and there’s no better platform than FNB Art Joburg to showcase this.
This year’s fair has been curated into six special sections — HUB, gallery, LAB, MAX, ORG, AUX and ETC — all rooted in their own specific focus and intention. Referred to as the HUB, the fair’s central section presents the best in contemporary art from across the continent in line with the objective to be a quality rather than quantity focused fair. This year, FNB Art Joburg is proud to have the following galleries present: Afriart Gallery, blank projects, Eclectica Contemporary, Everard Read, First Floor Gallery Harare, Gallery MOMO, Goodman Gallery, Guns & Rain, Kalashnikovv, SMAC Gallery, Stevenson, and WHATIFTHEWORLD.
The MAX section of the fair houses installations or works with challenging scale, while the ETC section will give fair attendees the opportunity to engage with print and publishing houses. The ORG section is described a representation of Joburg’s seminal art institutions. Whether museums, universities or private institutions, the section looks to refine how people engage with organisations said to be established for the good of the public. Spanning talks, public lectures and audio essays, the AUX section will explore a plethora of topics including magic realism as practice, biennale reflections, the role of arts writing, and art’s place in the metaverse.
Adjacent to the HUB, and looking to the future of contemporary African art, is gallery LAB. An incubation to develop emerging galleries and hybrid art spaces, gallery LAB will present and test new ideas and business models aimed at transforming the contemporary African art landscape. Co-curated by Kim Kandan and Aida Esi Hayfron-Benjamin, the LAB pavilion will see West and East Africa connecting with the Sub-Saharan African region.
Exhibitors featured in gallery LAB include Bubblegum Gallery, Church Projects, Citizen Projects, Ebony Curated, Ora Loapi, Pacers Gallery, Modzi Art Gallery, Saint George Projects, Suburbia Contemporary and Village Unhu. “There aren’t many lines of communication between us and that disconnect is not ignorance… As curators, gallerists, artists and people who put together fairs, it is our job to think about how to bridge that gap by facilitating connections through interventions like gallery LAB,” explains Hayfron-Benjamin.
Surrounding the in-person fair, from 25 August to 9 September, Open City’s programme will open up the city with a 15+ days programme of art, music, performance, food, and fashion across the city. Together with the three-day fair, Open City fulfils our quest for economic stimulation, inclusivity, and better access for all in how it encourages Johannesburg’s visitors and inhabitants to immerse themselves in Johannesburg’s rich and layered cultural offerings to the point where it becomes a part of their everyday. Last year, thinking through FNB Art Joburg’s announcement and laugh of Open City I wrote:
I’m interested to see what possible conversations and interrogations about arts in cities, cities in arts, and their future(s) could come out of FNB Art Joburg’s Open City Programme. I’m interested to see how the ‘opening up of the city’ for art impacts who will be moving through, and in these space(s) of art consumption and engagement — whether the institutions who also form part of its fold, will call into question their own roles in the art ecologies of our cities, or if it will just end up mirroring more closed white cubes?
Those questions still remain — perhaps even more pertinent and urgent in our “post” COVID-19 realities — and the profound material, social, political and cultural impact the past two years have had on Joburg, South Africa and the African continent at large.
More details on the Open City programme to follow. We look forward to seeing you there.