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Upcoming curators and artists shine in KKNK Virtual Gallery

The visual arts programme of this year’s Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK) included curated exhibitions by various upcoming South African art curators and features work by young visual artists. 

“Although we could not host these exhibitions in Oudtshoorn for the festival this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are proud to present the hard work from these curators in our first ever virtual gallery”, says Hugo Theart, Artistic Director of the KKNK.

According to Theart, four young curators to keep a close eye on in future are Amé Bell, Suen Muller, Tammy Langtry and Tlotlo Lobelo.

Another Kind of Blue, curated by Bell, is a group exhibition with works on paper, sculptures, paintings, and installations by artists who have collaborated with, and are associated with David Krut Projects in Johannesburg. According to Bell, artists were chosen for their practices or unique ability to tell stories through their subject matter, which related to the overall theme of blue. “I also wanted to focus on our young stable of artists, alongside a few established artists who had interesting ideas for this particular collaboration. For example, Heidi Fourie, who has explored representations of water through an experimentation of paint applications to imitate water. Through her applications of thinned painting which resonates with the application of watercolour in the monotype process, she was able to achieve a sense of the distorted view seen when you open your eyes under water.”

“Lynda Ballen explores the history of pigments. Ballen is not only an exceptional draughtswoman, but also makes her own paper which she then tints with watercolour pigment and laminates grid of thread which is used as a surface for her gouache and coloured pencil drawings”, Bell continues.

“In Neville Starling’s interactive and somewhat poetic installation, he recontextualises the universal visual, gnostic and temporal dichotomy of the blue of the dusk sky and the bright warmth of the sun, addressing the battle between light and dark that through the ages has deeply moved us through tales of fear and hope”, she concludes.  

Bell’s curatorial practice is aimed not only towards translating processes, works and exhibitions of artists but also to establish and communicate the histories of these collaborations which often include a multitude of voices “My exhibition-making process is aimed at storytelling that connects an audience with the artist and their ideas as well as the overall input of the printmakers and other collaborators who have played a part in the creative process.”

Langtry is the curator of The Possibility of a Journey. She explains that having worked in a variety of spaces, NPO’s, commercial art spaces, independently and within institutions, her practice has evolved and somehow carries a little bit of each mode of practice. “In a way it deals with cultural synthesis and our contemporary reality. I am interested in the art historical context and how we define that for ourselves to shed light on contemporary reality. How can art further serve as a community lexicon, building visuals, new words, new ways of seeing and then putting those worlds into action”.

For The Possibility of a Journey Langtry worked with the contemporary South African artist Manyaku Mashilo. “Mashilo’s work explores complex associations with a journey. Defining the environment in a language of possibility, Mashilo creates an ongoing relationship with topographical patterning and constellations. Writing a black history to land is a tricky and deceptive task. Thinking the Anthropocene is our only history would be just as deceptive. Drawing black journeys through maps is the process of tying dimensions of time. Created as a series of triptychs, the works emphasise the process of walking in a fictionalised landscape, in a dream space. Here, the land is the DNA thread of the dreamworld”, Langtry explains.

“Mashilo’s work has such an insightful perspective on spiritual or ancestral mappings and how this tie into our contemporary make up. At the same time this speaks very much to the multiple pandemics we are experiencing and how the work centralises these important conversations between artists, curators, festival managers and then the broader community of the Karoo. I understand the festival theme as a call to hold this community and facilitate conversation and knowledge production” Langtry concludes.

Vanishing Act, curated by Muller, draws focus to the beauty of foliage and flora, whilst attempting to memorialise plant life as we know and understand it today. Due to climate change, plant life is rapidly changing. This exhibition aims to visually capture the fragile beauty of various types of plants, while bringing to light the effect climate change has, and will have on our biodiversity. In this sense, Vanishing Act serves as a time capsule and keep-sake that commemorates plant life.

Muller explains that this exhibition showcases the work of nine artists. “My choice in selecting artists was simple. Because the narrative is rather specific, I wanted to include artists whose work would enrich the exhibition and narrative. The artists included in this exhibition are mostly young creatives and it is interesting to see their voices come together in one space”.

Muller’s interest in creating exhibitions that can engage with audiences through new platforms is evident in her approach to selecting artworks. “I tried to select works in a variety of mediums and sizes to offer the viewer an engaging and textured viewing experience. It is wonderful to see Ian Marley and Gawie Joubert’s monotone drawings in the same space as Adele van Heerden, Maria Lebedeva and Kobie Nieuwoudt’s colourful impressions of plant life. JP Hanekom’s experimental photographic complements Ronel de Jager’s ethereal paintings. Jo Roets’ sculptural pieces and Keneilwe Mokoena’s collage works bring different textures for the viewer to engage with”, she says.  

Looking to the future Muller explains that she views art “as a fantastic tool for education and that society in general develops alongside the accessibility to art”.

In Kicking Up Dust, co-curated by Tlotlo Lobelo, three artists from Oudtshoorn who formed part of the 2019 Absa mentorship programme, Zietske Saaiman, Colin Meyer and Earlyn Cloud collaborate to evoke emotional and sensorial responses through the representation of their experiences of the drought in the Klein Karoo. The naturally arid environment imbued with qualities of perseverance, hardship and strength forged the backbone of an agricultural community inherently and primarily responsible for sustaining their local economy. The life of every Oudtshoorniet is intricately intertwined with what their landscape has to offer. “Using various techniques of drawing and materials taken from their immediate environments, the three artists rely on the viewers’ sense of awareness to elicit a collective response.Kicking Up Dust singles out immediate experience of one place, with the intention to evoke awareness and engage with narratives of the impact of global climate change” Lobelo explains.

Regarding his curatorial practice, Lobelo says: “as a contemporary curator and as a black body existing in space, I am always in pursuit of finding meaning, investigating and interrogating narratives and concepts that result in unique dialogues that reveal thought process, reaction, intellectual meaning and evoke immersive experiences”.

All these exhibitions, and many more can be viewed in the KKNK Virtual Gallery, where works can also be bought. Visit the Virtual Gallery here: https://www.kknk.co.za/virtual-gallery/.

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