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FNB JoburgArtFair 2016: An interview with curator Lucy MacGarry

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In these pages Lucy MacGarry shares her vision for the ninth edition of the FNB JoburgArtFair, taking place between the 9th - 11th September at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. This interview forms the backdrop for a series of interviews conducted with artists and gallerists present at this year's fair, highlighting some of the key focus points and giving some insight into the work on show.

AA Newsletter 2016 FNBJoburgArtFair21Lucy MacGarry, curator of the FNB JoburgArtFair 2016. Image courtesy of the FNB JoburgArtFair.

ART AFRICA: This is the 9th edition of the FNB JoburgArtFair, and your second as curator. What did you learn from last year’s event and how has this been incorporated into this edition?

Lucy MacGarry: My approach to last year’s edition of the Fair could, in short, be described as inclusive. By further increasing the number of local creative stakeholders and corporate sponsors for the visual arts I wanted to strengthen the level of local investment in the Fair. By the same token, the visitor experience was invigorated by introducing a rich programme of live performance within a new central theatre. Under the directorship of Mandla Sibeko, the Artlogic team developed a special and memorable VIP experience and together we achieved a noticeably diversified audience with the view to widening the base of serious collectors in South Africa.  

While one of the challenges I faced was finding a balance between maintaining presentations of an international standard with providing a platform for emerging talent, 2017 is about further extending this inclusive approach. This time the focus looks further afield and onto the continent. Admittedly it is with dual objectives that my curatorial focus looks at East Africa. Firstly, it is to throw a spotlight onto the region’s thrilling art scene from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. Secondly, it is to attract new audiences from these countries and their diasporas to the fair. There is such excitement in the air and we look forward to hosting a large East African contingent this year. 

AA Newsletter 2016 FNBJoburgArtFair Lucy1Wangechi Mutu, Sleeping Serpent II, 2016. First exhibited at London's Victoria Miro Gallery in the exhibition titled 'Nguva na Nyoka.'Mutu's participation at the 2016 FNB JoburgArtFair is made possible by the sponsorship of Keyes Art Mile. Courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery and Victoria Miro Gallery.

This year’s Special Projects is invitational and aims to place a spotlight on the artistic landscape of East Africa. Who were the artists chosen and how does their selection achieve this?

East Africa is a vast geographical area with varied and often disparate social and creative perspectives and sensibilities. The curatorial intervention will give audiences a first step towards engaging in artistic developments and narratives arising from the region. Presenting both emerging and world-acclaimed artists, galleries and non-profit organisations, the intention is to provide a catalyst for ongoing research, transnational dialogue and future projects of significance. The focus will manifest through a range of solo exhibitions, site specific installations, and group exhibitions by contemporary art platforms and artists. 

First is the solo presentation by 2016 Featured Artist, Wangechi Mutu (Kenya/USA) presented by the new Keyes Art Mile in Johannesburg. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, educated in Britain and America and resident in New York since the mid-nineties, Mutu’s practice has achieved global acclaim. Visitors to the fair will also have the opportunity of seeing a new site-specific sculptural installation by Serge Alain Nitegeka (Burundi) presented by Stevenson, alongside new, large-scale works by Sanaa Gateja (Uganda) presented by Afriart. 

Further solo presentations by leading artists include Aida Muluneh (Ethiopia) presented by David Krut Projects, The Nest Collective (Kenya) presented by the Goethe-Institut Johannesburg, Jim Chuchu (Kenya) presented by Mariane Ibrahim and a video installation by Ato Malinda, Jackie Karuti (both Kenya) and Rehema Chachage (Tanzania) presented by Circle Art Agency. Furthermore, an invitational section will feature a selection of leading art spaces from Kampala, Addis Ababa, Bujumbura, through Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. 

AA Newsletter 2016 FNBJoburgArtFair Lucy2Wangechi Mutu, still from 'The End of eating Everything', 2013. Animated video (colour, sound), 8 minutes, 10 seconds. Edition of 6 Courtesy of the artist, Gladstone Gallery and Victoria Miro Gallery. Commissioned by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NC.

The number of countries represented at this year’s fair is double that of last year. What effect do you think this kind of representation is having beyond the fair itself, with relationships being developed at the fair and then leading to other projects externally? 

The FNB JoburgArtFair understands its leadership role in the contemporary art scene across the African continent. The way we curate and design the Fair is largely inspired by finding new ways to entice returning and new gallerists, collectors and artists from Africa to the Fair each year. As a natural context to engage, dialogue, collaborate and trade, the Fair continues help to grow the market for African art and in turn unlock its potential as a driver of economic growth. 

Also worth mentioning are the ways in which the Fair’s annual programming has become increasingly international in character. For example, the FNB Art Prize has not only celebrated the work of exemplary South African artists, but has also been awarded to ground breaking artists from around the African continent too. This year, the prize goes to Zambian artist, Nolan Oswald Dennis. It was adjudicated by the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s curator, Raphael Chikukwa; the Angolan architect and curator, Paula Nascimento, and myself. 

AA Newsletter 2016 FNBJoburgArtFair4Aida Muluneh, For All They Care, 2016. Edition of 7. 80 x 80 cm. © Aida Muluneh. Image courtesy of the artist and David Krut Projects.

This year’s talks programme will be held in partnership with TEDxJohannesburg. Does this partnership reflect and attempt to grow the conversation about artistic practice from Africa outside of artistic circles in new and different ways?

Yes indeed. This year we decided to shift our traditional Talks programme at the Fair into an independent programme by partnering with TEDxJohannesburg. Made possible by a new partnership with Ogojiii, the TEDxJohannesburg Salon will present a tightly curated programme of twelve speakers. Filmed and streamed live within the Fair, this will be the first ever TED talks themed on contemporary African art practice. Curating the programme with the curators of TEDxJohannesburg, Ithateng Mokgoro and Kelo Kubu, has been a rewarding experience defined by lively debate around shifting the traditional TED format to include conversation and live performance. Looking at Africa as a creative power station, the speakers will be responding to questions such as: How is art changing us? How is art changing our world? And most pertinently, how might those changes help to shape Africa’s future?

What strategies are in place to make the art/fair more accessible to much younger audiences?

The FNB JoburgArtFair is a family friendly environment for people of all ages. This year we have partnered with Lalela, an educational arts programme for at-risk youth to spark creative thinking and awaken the entrepreneurial spirit. Lalela will be offering self-guided educational tours for learners aimed at opening up the world of contemporary art.

Any final comments?

Congratulations to all the hardworking galleries and artists exhibiting this year. We look forward to welcoming new and loyal audiences and hope you enjoy this year’s Fair.

This interview was first published in the September 2016 edition of ART AFRICA magazine, entitled 'BEYOND FAIR'.

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