Wednesday, May 12, 2010


As we count down the days, as we get closer to the end its a time for contemplation.

What did you think?

What did you feel?

What caused the biggest reaction?

What was your favourite thing about the exhibition...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Less than two weeks left

Spier Contemporary 2010 has reintroduced the relevance of contemporary art to the daily lives of its visitors. Since opening, the Exhibition has made over 15,000 people laugh, startle, marvel at the ingenuity of the artworks and ponder the controversial topics.

There are less than two weeks left to see, contemplate and digest the many facets of this remarkable exhibition of the South African condition.

Spier Contemporary curatorial team member, Farzanah Badsha will conduct three tours of the Exhibition at the City Hall before it closes. One this Wednesday, 5th May, and next Wednesday, 12th May, at 11am and also on this Saturday, 8th May, at 2pm.

Don't forget that the final bumper weekend of performance happens on the 8th and 9th May. Performances will run from 11am to 12pm and 3pm to 4pm on Saturday the 8th, and from 3pm to 4pm on Sunday, the 9th.

On the 8th & 9th May the performance schedule will include:

* Washa and Gnasha by James Clayton,
* Lullaby: A hair dance to the music of ‘Kalimba Lullaby’ by Mr. Cat and the Jackal by Lean Coetze,
* My Life As A Suitcase by Roxandra Dadagan Britz,
* How A Dead Dog Explains Soccer To Sonja Smit by Nicola Elliot, Brink Scholtz And Sonja Smit,
* Newspaper Persona by Phillipe Wayumba Wa-Yafolo, and
* Walking Together by Philippe Kayumba Wa- Yafolo.

Please note that Phillippe Kayumnba Wa-Yafolo's two performances Walking Together and Newspaper Persona will be not be included in the afternoon session on Saturday.

For more information on the actual performances, click on the links above, or visit the Exhibition page of the Spier Contemporary website.

Spier Contemporary is open from 10am to 6pm every day until the 14th May 2010. Admission is Free. • 0860 111 458 • join our group on facebook and follow us on

Thursday, April 22, 2010

5 reasons to re-visit City Hall

Once you've seen an exhibition, you've seen it ... right? Wrong! At Spier Contemporary 2010, there is always a different way to see the art on exhibition, and there is always something different to see, or do.

Here are four irresistible reasons (besides the art) to re-visit City Hall.

The Imagine City Hall Concert Series continues on the 27th April from 8pm (tickets R50 at the door) with the Akoustik Knot with Sixteen Reasons String Quartet. Expect an intricate fusion of experimental jazz and contemporary classic music – this is a must see. Acoustic Knot is led by SAMA award winner Mark Fransman on the Sax. Strings are a string quartet from the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.

On the 30th April at 8pm is the VANDALIZIM concert featuring major talents Zim Ngqawana and Kyle Shepherd. Tickets are R70 (at the door)or R50 (pre-sold at Africa Centre).

Spier Contemporary curatorial team member, Farzanah Badsha continues her tours of the exhibition at the City Hall every Wednesday at 11am and every Saturday at 2pm until the 14 May 2010.

The weekend performance sessions continues at Spier Contemporary 2010. With two live performance weekends before the Exhibition closes on the 14th May. The performance weekends are:

* 24 and 25 April; and
* 8 and 9 May.

Performances will run from 11am to 12pm and 3pm to 4pm on the Saturday, and 3pm to 4pm on the Sunday.

On the 24 & 25 April the performance schedule will include:

* Voices by Maurice Mbiyaki
* Lullaby: A hair dance to the music of ‘Kalimba Lullaby’ by Mr. Cat and the Jackal by Lean Coetze
* Newspaper Persona by Phillipe Wayumba Wa-Yafolo
* Elcarim: Turning Wine Into Water by Nina Liebenberg
* Walking Together by Philippe Kayumba Wa- Yafolo

For more information on the actual performances, click on the links above, or visit the Exhibition page of the Spier Contemporary website.

Spier Contemporary is open from 10am to 6pm every day until the 14th May 2010 (including public holidays). Admission is Free. • 0860 111 458 • join the facebook group and follow us on

Monday, April 19, 2010

Danger for Art? Is it Art?

Sometimes you have to seize the moment. Take the initiative. Live a little.

On the 21st April two thousand and ten at 1pm sharp, put down whatever you're doing, and pick up a pair of scissors and come join us at Greenmarket Square. We're defying our parents. We're running with scissors.

Making art means taking great personal, emotional and creative risks. The 101 artists at Spier Contemporary 2010 have bared their creative souls. We are staging this audacious and dangerous performance piece in solidarity with all artists around the world. Bring your friends, colleagues and your sense of daring as we run (walk / jump / dance / crawl) a short distance to break the rules in the name of art.

For more information join us on Facebook - search for Running with Scissors.

But is it art?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Slow Art

In ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound stresses the importance of approaching poetry through a "careful first-hand examination of the matter." He illustrates his point with the anecdote of Agassiz and the fish:

A post-graduate student equipped with honors and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.

Post-Graduate Student: 'That's only a sunfish.'

Agassiz: 'I know that. Write a description of it.'

After a few minutes the student returned with the description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.

Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.

The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

Phil Terry at A Reading Odyssey advocates a similar approach to looking at art, and he has organized the Slow Art initiative to encourage museum visitors to take the time to really look at art and see it in a new way.

There were Slow Art events at sixteen museums in the U.S. and Europe on October 17. Participants were invited to look - really look - at a number of artworks (ten minutes minimum per piece) and then gather afterwards to discuss the experience.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Art in bite sized portions

101 artist's perspectives should be savoured in delicious, bite-sized portions. Throughout its residence at Cape Town's City Hall, the Spier Contemporary continues to offer different ways of seeing the artwork.

Farzanah Badsha – a Spier Contemporary curatorial team member - is conducting free tours at the City Hall every Wednesday at 11am and every Saturday at 2pm until the 14 May 2010.

Live performance art sessions will be held on the following weekends before the Exhibition closes on the 14th May. The performance weekends are:

* 10 and 11 April;
* 24 and 25 April; and
* 8 and 9 May.

Performances will run from 11am to 12pm and 3pm to 4pm on the Saturday, and 3pm to 4pm on the Sunday.

On the 10 & 11 April the performance schedule will include:

* Newspaper Persona by Phillipe Wayumba Wa-Yafolo;
* Shift by Mamela Nyamza;
* Elcarim: Turning Wine Into Water by Nina Liebenberg; and
* Walking Together by Philippe Kayumba Wa- Yafolo.

For more information on the actual performances, click on the links above, or visit the Exhibition page of the Spier Contemporary website.

Spier Contemporary is open from 10am to 6pm every day until the 14th May 2010 (including Easter and public holidays). Admission is Free. • 0860 111 458 • join the facebook group and follow us on

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Is Photography Art?

The debate about whether photography can be considered as art or as a purely mechanical process has been raging ever since the first permanent, printed photograph was produced by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1825.

In 1932, a group was founded that believed very firmly that photography should not be defined by any traditional conventions of art and aesthetics. The group, f/64 was founded by US photographers Willard van Dyk and Ansel Adams.

According to their manefesto, quoted on Wikipedia:

“Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the "Pictorialist," on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.

The members of Group f/64 believe that photography, as an art form, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.”

We posed the question to a group of local photographers and these are a selection of their responses:

“Anyone can point a camera a take a photograph, but when someone with a creative eye takes the same shot, you can see the difference - it becomes art.”

“A creative photographer often “sees” the pic where most people would simply walk/drive past.”

“Photography in itself is an art form but it depends very much on who is pressing the shutter.”

“Most definitely. Art is a form of expression - and photography can be used as a tool for expression.”

“Not all photography is art, but I know of at least one photographer whose
images I would happily hang on my wall as "art". He uses shape, light and
shadow to create mood; he uses colour; he uses abstraction; he takes the
brain's natural assumptions and turns them on their head. How can someone do
all that and not be called an artist? He can't produce good drawings or
paintings, but he paints with light.”

“I have seen some "art" recently (oil paintings) that I wouldn't give the
time of day. Art is in the heart, not in the tool.”

What's your opinion? Does the f/64 definition of photography have any credibility?

And should the lab where the photograph was developed be credited along with the photographer?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

beauty is available

Is contemporary art accessible to the general public?

The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art's audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.
Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903)

The idea that art is not accessible to its contemporary audience is certainly not new, as this quote by the painter Gauguin implies.
But what causes this disconnect? Is the problem with the audience itself? Gauguin certainly believed it was: “There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite,” he said.
The judges of the Spier Contemporary are given free rein to choose the works that speak to them most clearly. As N'Gone Fall, a judge in the 2008 competition explained, “I am looking for artists who are able to give me keys to understand the world”.
The Turner Prize, the UK and arguably the world's best known contemporary art exhibition, recently announced its shortlisted artists. Three out of the four either draw or paint, in stark contrast to recent years. According to Stephen Adams, arts correspondent for the London Telegraph newspaper, previous Turner awards “have been dominated by video installations and hard to understand "sculptures".
Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, denied the choices were a reaction to the competitions of recent years, which have been criticised for rewarding art that only a small elite of curators can appreciate.
It is, of course, impossible for any judge to be completely objective about the work (s)he is examining. Art, by definition, calls out for a response from its audience. The artist, according to Camille Pisarro, “defines the society he lives in because he sees further and deeper than other men”.
Or women.
But do public tastes and expectations influence the judges of contemporary art competitions?
Are judges under pressure to present more accessible works?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Excerpts from the front

Ashraf Jamal:

With all the talk of freedom, the society is ghettoized, and art, apogee of privilege and taste despite its banalization post-Pop, has barely conquered the imagination of the country's citizenry. Tretchikoff remains the one artist that has crossed racial and class divides. That Tretchikoff was blacklisted by the cognoscetti as bad art or kitsch says a lot about just how segregated taste is. That the South African National Gallery will host the first major Tretchikoff retrospective in 2010 says worlds about the long overdue demystification and deregulation of taste, a move symptomatic of an entirely new moment in South African art history. The Spier Contemporary 2010 promises to reinforce this move. Spier Contemporary is no Turner Prize with front page tabloid coverage, national televisual airing, and the likes of Madonna as master of ceremonies. Uneasily positioned between a rarefied and popular imaginary, Spier Contemporary has no model to fall back on, which is all to the good because art, today, allows for no final arbiter or gauge. If accessibility and awareness is one key objective, the other far greater objective is to redefine the very nature of the event, the better to generate a more hydra-headed aesthetic and more lateral pulse points. So, while there is no clear agenda, there is, nevertheless, a hunch that by widening the net, breaking down the art cartel, and doing so without paying knee-jerk homage to a phantom democracy, one could be in for a surprise come March 2010...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Off of Creative Cape Town's Facebook page, a salient comment:
The wives of the President get R15m for their households, while the National Arts Council's entire budget for distribution to artists and arts projects around the country is R14m. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010



Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ambassador Collective

Spier Contemporary 2010 hosted a group of enthusiastic participants of the Ambassador Collective Program on the 27th February to talk about art in South Africa, touching on some of the debates and giving participants an preview of the exhibition space. We also spent some time imagineering about crazy inventive ways to expand the audience for art.

On looking and not looking - Response to Minister Lulu Xingwana's Comments

Response to Minister Lulu Xingwana’s Comments about the Innovative Women Exhibition

Dear Minister Xingwana

To place yourself before a work of art is a complex and potentially transformative experience. Sometimes that means looking at something you’d rather not see. But as the Minister of Arts and Culture, you preside over a realm in which that line between what you’d rather not see and what you need to look at is an ever-present factor, and a theme of much art.

Minister, I invite you to look at art that challenges you, like that of Nandipha Mntambo and Zanele Muholi. That looking is an active and complicated experience that includes all the discomfort, shock, unsettling of established notions, new ideas and feelings that you appear to have had at the Innovative Women exhibition, and that together can amount to illumination. That is what art does. The problem with walking out of an exhibition is that you miss the many meanings that the works evoke, both separately and together. You miss what they create and unsettle, and therefore the possibility of transformation.

Immoral, offensive and going against nation-building … there were children as young as three years old in the room … where do we draw the line between art and pornography.

Minister, where does this language come from?

When you turn to such justifications for your actions, it is our duty as artists, writers, feminists and citizens to point out how revealingly close your words are to those of the apartheid censors.

Artists and governments have always had a contentious relationship. Artists can reach into the minds of people and change them. That is a power that states are wary of and want to regulate. But to constrict art is to erase the capacity for imagining what does not yet exist. We need that capacity because our world is imperfect and we need visionary, epiphanic initiatives if we are to succeed in changing it. Art generates epiphanies.

So let us name what happened in that brief glance, that instantaneous assessment, that abrupt walking out, and the explanations from your office that followed. Let us name it and its dangers.

The name is censorship, and the dangers are reactionary ideas about art and the fueling of homophobia.

Fortunately, there is another language for thinking about art and artists.

Minister, what would you have seen if you had stayed and viewed the works of Nandipha Mntambo and Zanele Muholi alongside all the other artists in the Innovative Women exhibition and talked about them with other visitors?

You would have seen works that use the language of allusion, intimacy, beauty and pleasure.

During your brief glance, you may have mistaken the intimacy in Muholi’s images for pornography and the erudite allusions in Mntambo’s work for carelessness about sexual violence, but that mistake can only be sustained if you don’t truly look at their art. If you stood in front of Muholi’s photographs, you would see lesbian lives outside of the narratives of violation and pornography through which they are more commonly presented to us. You would see how her work opens up a discussion about visibility itself. For lesbians, visibility carries an immense cost - the feminist writer Pumla Gqola calls this a “hyper-visibility” that has been used to violate lesbian lives through a sensationalistic focus on suffering that has simultaneously made it possible to ignore that suffering. Muholi’s images confront such hyper-visibility and reclaim a space for the women in her photographs away from denigration and hostility and toward presence, pleasure and wholeness. Her work shows us there is no category of human being whom it is safe to despise and whose hurt it is expedient to ignore.

And once the photos existed and came into public view, other good followed. Some of the best new South African writing on art, citizenship and belonging has been sparked by Muholi’s work, including essays by Desiree Lewis, Pumla Gqola and Gabi Ngcobo. You might be pleased to know, Minister, that this new direction has also been traced by a vanguard of the African continent’s finest feminist scholars, among them Sylvia Tamale, Patricia McFadden and Charmaine Pereira.

No artist is afraid of being a dissident to conventional thinking. That is their role. Mntambo, Muholi and other artists continuously spark our creative, ethical and political responses, but also our personal and affective ones. We envisage ourselves anew after their art enters our imaginations. If we see someone’s wholeness, can we continue to ignore their violation? The most radical possibility of art is to generate change – and in the process create a more inclusive notion of community.

Minister, perhaps unintentionally, your words have generated a great deal of alarm in the world of the arts and among those of us who strongly support the rights of gays and lesbians. We wonder if we are entering “our George Bush years,” as Gender Commissioner Yvette Abrahams contemplated on hearing your comments, ironically at a conference on the contemporary meanings of Sara Baartman, where Abrahams and Muholi argued for the revolutionary possibilities of love and art for directly addressing racism and its violent legacies.

Minister, I would like to imagine a different outcome to this controversy. I want to imagine you will come back to the images you walked away from, and look deeply at what you thought you didn’t want to see. I imagine you rethinking received ideas about art and pornography (the great poet and activist Audre Lorde gives us some beautifully nuanced insights on this) and arriving at a hard-earned transformation. I think of you reflecting on your responsibilities as the guardian of the nation’s best impulses in art and culture – which is not to limit but to enable such work. Then perhaps this experience of looking again at the thing you didn’t want to see will have brought you closer to the most radical and expansive possibilities of art.

Gabeba Baderoon

Gabeba Baderoon is a poet and scholar. Details of her work are at