It’s now redundant to say that African art is on the rise. With a host of regional and international exhibitions dedicated to art from the continent at institutions such as the MAXXI in Rome and the MoMA in New York, art fairs like 1-54, dedicated auction sales, new museums and the list goes on, the scene isn’t new but the attention to it is. FNB Joburg Art Fair is Africa’s oldest art fair. Established in 2008 with just 22 galleries, the fair constituted a way to bring African art to a broader range of people in South Africa.
Ralph Chikambi. Gogo in the Mix. 2017. Photograph on paper. 84.1x59.4cm. Courtesy of Ralph Chikambi
With over 45 galleries from 14 countries across Africa, Europe and the US, as well as 15 new exhibitors, the 2018 edition showcases a strong representation of galleries from the continent. There will be exhibitors from Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, making it the largest fair dedicated to contemporary art on the continent. Taking place from 6-9 September at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, the fair aims to offer fresh perspectives on the African art discourse. New exhibitors from the continent include Namibian artist collective NJE Collective based out of Windhoek and Arte de Gema Contemporary gallery from Maputo, Mozambique. Another debut will be This is Not A Whitecube from Luanda, Angola.
“A definite highlight would be the 2018 featured artist Billie Zangewa,” says fair director Mandla Sibeko, who has been directing the fair since 2015. “After many years of celebrating great artists who reside elsewhere in the world as featured artists, the FNB Joburg Art Fair team felt it was time to focus on an artist who lives and works in Johannesburg and expresses lives lived here. Billie Zangewa’s quiet work has been included in many prestigious collections and exhibitions worldwide, and we are excited to, this year, present a large-scale work to our FNB Joburg Art Fair audience.”
Troy Makaza. Camo, (Division of Labour) Part 1. 2017. 150x350cm.
Another highlight will be a large-scale installation by Sue Williamson. Her Messages for the Atlantic Passage took the 2017 visitors of Art Basel, Switzerland by storm with its powerful narrative of the movement of slaves across the Atlantic Ocean,” adds Sibeko. “It is critical that this work is also viewed and spoken about on the African continent and it is for this reason that this installation will be presented at this year’s FNB Joburg Art Fair.
In mid-August the fair announced the winner of this year’s FNB Art Prize: Cape Townian artist and activist Haroon Gunn-Salie. Known for his collaborative art practice that translates community oral histories into artistic inventions, the artist’s multidisciplinary practice incorporates various artistic mediums placing the focus on collaborative artistic practices, dialogue and exchange. Salie receives a cash prize and will showcase his work in a dedicated space at the fair.
Florine Demosthene. The Stories I Tell Myself. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957. Photography by Nii Odzenma
In terms of the changes FNB Joburg Art FAir has sought to take include representing more African art galleries. “That’s been our main focus,” adds Sibeko. “We have made the content appealing to people who reside in Johannesburg. We have the whole world living here including 54 African nations represented in this city.” Two new team members have also been brought on: Amy Ellenbogen as Curator of Galleries and VIP and Kabelo Malatsie as Curator of the Talks Programme.
The art fair circuit is more jam-packed than ever and competition is high. Among the participating galleries is Accra's Gallery 1957 that will present gripping works by artist Florine Demosthene, whose The Stories I Tell Myself series remarkably reimagines the black heroine. "The works are special to us as they came as a result of a four-month residency Florine completed with the gallery earlier this year," shares Marwan Zakhem, founder of Gallery 1957. "They reflect on her time in Accra, and beautifully illustrate how this experience influenced the narrative of her heroine figures. It’s exciting for us to bring these now to Johannesburg, to continue their story."
Jone Ferreira. Untitled. 2017. Photograph. 60x90cm.
Zimbabwe-based First Floor Gallery Harare is among the African art spaces participating at the fair that lays special focus on promoting budding artists from the region. "This is our fifth time at the fair and it's genuinely a part of our gallery programme. We look forward to the fair every year, it's like an old friend. It's the place that offers a great opportunity to introduce new talents to the international audience and to be more experimental. For a gallery that focuses on developing emerging artists, this makes Joburg a really important partner," says Valerie Kabov, co-founder of First Floor Gallery Harare.
Dominick A Maia Tanner, managing director of Angola's ELA - Espaço Luanda Arte, which will be participating at the fair for a third year running, is thrilled to bring the dynamic Angolan art scene to the fore. "Modern and contemporary art from Angola is fairly unknown so to be able to show and promote a better understanding of our identity at the FNB Joburg Art Fair for the third consecutive year, is not only a privilege, but also a reason to be proud," he notes. "This is the oldest and largest Fair on the continent,” says Sibeko.
“Serious and new collectors can be sure of the high standard of curated work and offering brought every year at the start of September. The FNB Joburg Art Fair also hosts an annual series of non-commercial projects and events to create a holistic view of creative practice in Africa. By virtue of our positioning we offer the largest collection of contemporary art under one roof over one weekend.” Come the first weekend of September, Joburg will be where it is at.
FNB Joburg Art Fair runs from 6-9 September at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa. Fnbjoburgartfair.co.za