A new fair for African art in international times

The inaugural edition of LATITUDES Art Fair took place at Nelson Mandela Square, Johannesburg, South Africa, from the 12th until the 15th of September – just four months after its conception

LATITUDES – a niche-focused art fair that seeks to expand and strengthen local art audiences and promote African art – is the first African art fair that is 100% owned by women. The founders – Makgati Molebatsi, Lucy MacGarry, Nokwazi Zimu, Roberta Coci and Anthea Kemp – combined the core element of a traditional art fair – gallery-run exhibition booths – with a curated programme to put together an offering that showcased 24 exhibitors from 9 countries and featured a rich programme of artists, exhibitions, children’s activities, critical talks, walkabouts and film screenings.

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According to Makgati Molebatsi, the Business Development Director of the fair, “The vision for the fair itself was articulated by five women working in the South African art scene. But the hope, which is really the backbone of this initiative, belongs to artists, curators, collectors and art lovers who have felt for some time that the art market as it exists today does not yet have a place for them.” To this end, LATITUDES Art fair comes at an apt time as South Africa’s oldest art fair – FNB Joburg Art Fair, now relaunched as FNB Art Joburg – underwent a fundamental change in structure this year, a change in ownership has also seen a shift in approach. More than 45 galleries exhibited at the 2018 edition of the fair. This year that figure is significantly reduced as FNB Art Joburg only featured nine galleries in their main section, and nine more emerging galleries displayed work in an ‘incubator space’. This reduction meant that many galleries that exhibited at the fair in the past were left out.

In an interview with the Mail and Guardian’s Zaza Hlalethwa, Molebatsi said, “Art Joburg has its galleries. We don’t want those… we want those artists and galleries who are saying they’ve been trying to get into Joburg Art Fair but they cannot.” However, LATITUDES insists that its formation is not meant to disrupt the established Johannesburg art scene but to strengthen it. They believe that adding another art fair to Johannesburg in September – a month dedicated to celebrating art in the city – will contribute to the growth of the economic hub of the country and complement the efforts made by others to turn the city of Johannesburg into an international cultural hub.

The 10 international exhibitors at LATITUDES were Suburbia Contemporary Art (Spain), First Floor Gallery Harare (Zimbabwe), ARTCO (Germany), Arte de Gema (Mozambique), Afriart Gallery (Uganda), Weekend Server (Norway), Gallery Tiny (USA), and This Is Not a White Cube (Angola). The South African contingent consisted of Warren Siebrits, Guns & Rain, Artist Proof Studio, The Artists’ Press, LL Editions, Kalashnnikovv Gallery, KZNSA Gallery, Dale Sargent Fine Art, The Melrose Gallery, TMRW Gallery, Centre for the Less Good Idea, Strauss & Co, Ebony/Curated, The Emerging Painting Invitational Prize and Stephens Tapestry Studio. These exhibitors contributed more than 100 artists and seven projects to the fair.

Mmbatho Grace Mokalapa (Suburbia Contemporary Art), Maja Maljevic (Kalashnnikovv Gallery), Gideon Mendel and Marcello Brodsky (ARTCO), John Muafangejo (Warren Siebrits), and Wycliffe Mundopa (First Floor Gallery Harare) were the artists who had solo presentations at the fair. During their consultation process LATITUDES discovered that many galleries who were keen on participating in the show could not afford the financial risk of a full booth in South Africa, where collectors have traditionally hesitated to buy work from artists unfamiliar to them. Thusly, the fair implemented ‘Spotlight’, a section which prioritises artists from Africa and the diaspora whose work is underrepresented outside their own regions. It also enabled galleries to test the market and introduce their work to South Africa by showcasing a smaller, more focused, presentation of only three works by an individual artist instead of a full booth. According to Lucy MacGarry, the Executive Director of LATITUDES, “This provides audiences with a somewhat rounded introduction to an artist while minimising risk for the gallery.” Kimathi Mafafo and Patrick Bongoy (Ebony/Curated), Bouvy Enkobo (Gallery Tiny), Derrick Nxumalo, Cameron Platter and Sthenjwa Luthuli (KZNSA) and Cristiano Mangovo (TINAWC) were the artists ‘Spotlight’ focused on this year.

The curated programme was highlighted by the ‘Essay’, ‘Independent’ and ‘LATITUDES Limited’, as well as slick Talks and Kids presentations.

‘Essay’ – which is intended to be an annual feature – presented the work of an emerging and an overlooked established artist in conversation with each other. The inaugural essay artists were struggle veteran, poet and artist, Pitika Ntuli and early-career artist, from Durban, Sthenjwa Luthuli. Nthuli is a transdisciplinary artist whose work includes sculpture in a variety of media and poetry, while Luthuli’s practise is inspired by the importance of circular form in African cultures.

‘Independent’ is an exhibition platform, in the centre of the fair, that displayed independent artists without traditional gallery representation. Lucy MacGarry commented that independent artists usually have no place in an art fair, saying, “We are breaking with this convention because we recognise the need for independent artists, audiences and galleries to have access to each other in lateral ways.” She also feels that galleries and independent artists can learn from each other, adding, “The global gallery landscape is shifting, and independent artists are playing a more serious role in the market… we are embracing it and offering a platform where mutual benefits can be teased out and explored.” The South African Mint presented this section – which featured work by Zen Marie, Khotso Motsoeneng, Lwando Dlamini, Unathi Mkonto, Natelie Paneng, Magnhild Oen Nordahl and more.

‘LATITUDES Limited’ saw artists Sthenjwa Luthuli, Pebofatso Mokoena, Clint Strydom, Mbali Tshabalala and Adejoke Tugbiyele create a limited edition print of their artwork in collaboration with the David Krut Workshop. Master printer, Jillian Ross and Roxy Kaczmarek aided the artists with the production of five original silkscreen prints. These prints were also displayed on the bodies of a McLaren 650S, McLaren 570S, Aston Martin Vanquish, Aston Martin N400 Vantage and a Roll-Royce Wraith at a sophisticated VIP after-party in Melrose Arch hosted by luxury vehicle manager, Daytona.

Overall, the fair was a resounding success, particularly when one acknowledges how quickly everything came together. With more time to prepare the 2020 edition will, undoubtedly, be even better, as LATITUDES grows and continues its efforts to make the fair a bastion of art appreciation, education and acquisition. According to Molebatsi, “As we grow, we will always remain in close dialogue with African galleries and artists – they are the true innovators and they will always be at the very centre of our programmes and of our business.”

 

Storm Simpson