A fair for the arts

In Low Murmurs it Began (Matter Gallery) is a three-dimensional work by Jake Singer, a young South African artist who has exhibited in London, Toronto, Basel and Venice, among others.

In the mists of time, local folks anticipated nothing more than the thrill of an exotic circus. The excitement of colour, fun, tricks, humour, high-wire, the exotic and the unusual made the event the best entertainment in town.

A couple of generations down the line, art fairs are the go-to version of such social and cultural elation: all those visual and visceral pleasures in a different mode. If the heyday of analogue amusement was the Big Top, our digital age has turned the Cape Town International Conference Centre into the White Cube for the art fun of the fair.

Undiscovered (Gallery This Is No Fantasy) by photographer Michael Cook comments on European colonisation.

The seventh iteration of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (ICTAF), which ran from 15 to 17 February, was a polished affair, consolidating, according to the organisers, the project’s “dynamic vision” and “bringing innovation to exhibition on the African continent”. Yes, a new kind of circus came to town that weekend.

Just like last year, when a rambunctious audience of 15 000 followed nearly 3 000 invited guests through the entrance, visitors to the 2019 fair were enthralled by the weird and wonderful. Many of the well-to-do took home mementoes in the form of rather expensive paintings, prints, sculpture or even video.

Ah yes, the video. The media information about ICTAF put it like this: “In order to elevate art practices above the expectations of visitors and collectors, this year’s Solo platform has taken a turn to the left-field.” In other words, it went digital.

Solo was one of the groupings – individual small shows – within the big tent of talent. And this year the organisers concentrated on an emerging generation of artists who use resources beyond the media of the past. Under the subtitle ‘Digital Directions’, the artists selected for Solo explored how the digital world influences real life and reality. Their means and media include what’s cutting edge but also traditional. Investigating the insecure connection between physical and digital space, the real and the hyper-real came into play.

Much of this kind of contemporary art practice is founded in the aesthetics of commodity and the personal, marking a refreshing contrast to the globalised world.

Ibrahim Mahama’s installation Non-Orientable Nkansa II (Apalazzo Gallery) explores the themes of commodity and globalisation

This made a good space for artists from the African continent and Solo was set up to give an engaging glimpse of the current state and future of African art practice, said project manager Khanya Mashabela. “By exploring the impact of new media on traditional media and vice versa, visitors’ visual art experience is enhanced. Emerging practitioners and collectors will hopefully start to think more analytically about how the digital world impacts on art.”

The Solo artists’ line-up was excitingly young and certainly very different. It included 27-year-old Jake Singer, a multidisciplinary artist whose dystopian landscapes are especially powerful. Kyu Sang Lee, Korean-born in 1993, works mainly in photography, ‘constructing the realm of the metaphysical, the spiritual and the surreal’.
Sitaara Stodel graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, where she now teaches. Her art uses photography, collage, video and print.

From elsewhere in Africa came Ibrahim Mahama, who hails from Ghana. Already with an established international career, Ibrahim delves deep into the African connection and caught art lovers’ eyes in an exhibition at the Norval Foundation last year.

Tabita Rezaire is based in Cayenne, French Guyana. She says her work is cross-dimensional and that she sees the arts and sciences as healing technologies to serve the “shift towards heart consciousness”.

Dreamscape (Smith Gallery) by Sitaara Stodel is characteristic of the artist’s use of photographic collage.

If these artists turned the spotlight on the digital conundrum, another grouping, Tomorrows/Today, placed emerging and under-represented artists in the public eye. The fair’s curator, Tumelo Mosaka, selected the contributors. “These artists will be tomorrow’s prominent names in contemporary art,” he said. “Their presentations are thought-provoking and experimental, and reiterate the fair’s support of artists who may otherwise be overlooked by the market.” Four of the 10 artists selected hail from South Africa, while the others are based as far afield as Brisbane, Lagos, Abidjan and Luanda.

Of course, the greater part of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair comprised stalls by the well-known commercial galleries, and this year another new bunch from the far corners of the arty world joined the big show in the shadow of Table Mountain.

So, yes, the cultural circus with a thoroughly international flavour came to town.

For more information, visit www.investeccapetownartfair.co.za.



Jonathan Bloch, joint head of Investec Wealth & Investment Cape Town, is a keen supporter of the arts in the Mother City. He sees art as a way to connect people with a common passion. For him, the art fair is the focal point for a number of activities to bring art lovers and people in the art world together to share experiences and build relationships.

“Our business is about relationships and I’ve always found art to be a wonderful platform for people to bond around something they love,” said Jonathan.

To this end, Investec hosted a number of art-themed events with clients and people in the industry during the build-up to the art fair. Last year it hosted a series of lunches with gallery owners, artists, curators and collectors, as well as the screening of an art documentary and a breakfast in London that was well received by clients.