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ARTsouthAFRICA 13.1 is the ‘Interview Issue.’ In it, we engage in conversation with a number of carefully selected artists, curators, writers and organisations who we know are truly committed to transformation, to changing perceptions about contemporary African art practice, and promoting the integration of communities that might otherwise not be exposed to the wealth of talent from the continent and the ways in which art can change lives. We published a number of excerpts and now present the full interview with Siphiwe Ngwenya and Theo Ndindwa, co- founders of Arts Township International. 

Is there such a thing as ‘African art’ and does the label “African Art” enable or limit artists from the continent?
What qualifies an artist to call himself or herself an ‘African artist?’ Are the issues of labels and identity still valid?
ATI: Art is art, but there are nuances in the esthetic that relate to a specific style, era, continent, or even technique that inform and influence the identity of the artist or art. We try to think without limiting or boxing it, but there is still a notion of ‘African Art’. As people, we don’t emerge from thin air, for lack of a better way of expressing it. We all come from somewhere and ‘African Art/ist’ is frame of reference and point of departure. That should not necessarily imply a negative or a positive connotation; it is just what it is. Being African should no longer be associated with being tribal, primitive or even black, more and more we live in a global village as citizens of the world and our perceptions are broader and more integrated, which is great for the artist’s creative expression and freedom.
Africa is a new economic frontier where young people are shaping Africa’s future. What do they want to see, hear and read that will inspire them to embrace African arts and culture?
[They want to see] that artists are no longer demigods from a particular background that is either privileged or primitive; that to be recognised in the mainstream you have to be somewhat Eurocentric or even traditionally African to be considered great, because that makes you understandable and relevant or even, sometimes, ‘out there’!
It can be argued that Africa’s time is now. How do we prepare to take full advantage of the opportunities that are constantly unfolding in front of us. More importantly how does the African contemporary art establishment position itself to emerge as a ‘global player’ whose voice can be heard and respected?
The time is now! We need to nurture and invest in our people to realise the greatness within them. It is the combination of holistic development and conversations between different cultures, races and regions, the passing and sharing of information and learning from top to bottom, old to young, great to emerging that will make our continent more rich and powerful.
There is a perception amongst some on the continent that South African contemporary art is more ‘Western’ than ‘African’. How do we bridge the divide geographically and culturally, between the north and the south?
The perception of development (in a country like South Africa) is associated with being more ‘Western’. We have a lot to share with, and learn from, each other. Globalisation forces us towards having more interaction with one another, and through this we will have a stronger African continent that will grow and develop together. Economics, education and infrastructure will play a huge part in this.
Is a new trans national ‘African art dialogue’ needed to foreground the various conversations, challenges and successes from other African centers of culture and thinking?
Absolutely! The need for a new African thinking, executing and harnessing space has never been more critical as we move towards a more integrated African continent.
If Africa can leave behind its idea of Africa as a geography, or as a post colonial reaction, or as being defined by blackness, can it then be defined rather as a new dynamic energy?
Africa is a new dynamic energy indeed, and of course, at end of the day, without the colour issue we are all just striving to be good people or good artists.
There is a new generation of Africans whose minds are not shackled by a past of oppression or power dynamics. How do we engage and inspire them to embrace art and culture?
It is by reinforcing their individuality, as they have a lot to offer and bring to the table, that we will inspire them to dream big and understand that the sky is the limit for their ideas to grow. They have inherited a rich history and there are many diverse cultures that they should embrace, learn from and use to succeed and be great.
How can we avoid bad historical precedents and pigeonholing from framing our future discourse?
We need to recognise who we are and where we come from, while also understanding that it shouldn’t become a future limitation or the end of us. Even with all the bad history we have emerged as a strong continent that still, however, needs to be unified and work on a collective support for success.
What new stories of identity are revealed for this Africa through its art?
We need to be equipped. We need to support and invest in communities and people that should be at the forefront of realising the next stage of our development. “It takes a village to raise a child” is an African Proverb that reminds us our children and young people are our future.
What is ‘African Art’ when it is no longer called ‘African Art’?
As Africa emerges, transforms and gains energy, what will African contemporary art represent?
It will represent excellence and individuality. It will be dynamic because of our various cultures, places and languages, our connection to nature and each other.
What are the deepest provocations that art should pose for Africa today? And how do you think these will influence Africa 15 years from now?
The redistribution and sharing of wealth; learning about, preserving and protecting what we collectively agree is important i.e. people, cultures, places and methodologies; and ultimately unity amongst all, working towards the same goal.
As the old ideas of North and South – East and West deconstruct, what approaches will be reflected through its art practice and discourse?
Through sharing and open platforms we will have more unique voices coming out, as they will no longer be seen as the ‘other’. This will open up more spaces where people feel free to step out of themselves or the little boxes that are created by ourselves because we want to identify and keep the status quo.
As a confident transnational Africa emerges, what do we see as the most progressive approach that ‘African art’ can take and what does this approach represent and what new qualities does it possess and pose?
Art from Africa will be mixed genre, heavily influenced by people, culture, places and the natural landscape and all its inhabitants.
For a new generation not willing to be co-opted into the dramas of the past nor defined by a previous generations concerns, art challenges new orthodoxies to create a new platforms for art practice and discourse that brings together creative, and intellectual minds.
Are the current voices and media of today’s ‘art establishment’ still relevant? Are they able to capture the current zeitgeist? How should we be engaging the new generation to inject a sense of edginess into our discourse?
The approach is multifold and the development of ITC in Africa will play a huge role, provided that basic needs have been met across the borders. There is an urgent need to have more interaction from everywhere and for all voices to be heard in order for the current discourse be successful.
Who is the new African art hero?
The person down the road who understands the value of art and has a chance to express themselves in a way that is nonjudgmental from within and without.
Theo Ndindwa and Siphiwe Ngwenya became partners through the collaboration of their social enterprises, iKapa Dance Theatre and Maboneng Township Arts Experience. These are some of the vehicles that support the work of Arts Township International. Founded in 2013, ATI strives to make a change through the arts, youth and communities empowerment by setting up Creative Districts around the world.
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