An art collector hosting a walkabout through an art fair

Art Fair Walkabout: A Collector’s View

Art fairs are a great platform combining a marketplace with a space for learning and growing as an art collector. One can do that by engaging with other participants, sharing knowledge and attending events like the talks programmes. I love art fair walkabouts after attending one of my first last year at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair. Hosted by Ugoma Ebilah, Director of BLOOM Art Lagos, courtesy of Arts School Africa, and it was an exceptional experience. This year, I had the privilege of being invited by Arts School Africa to host a walkabout, too, and it’s great to share some of the aspects of the art fair walkabout with you here.

Arts School Africa, founded by Julia Buchanan Swart, is a dedicated non-profit organisation providing a central hub for aspiring artists, curators, writers, and more to learn about art practice. They offer essential resources, including educational tools, a supportive arts community, and access to new opportunities in the field through their Ambassador’s Programme.

Let’s dive in.

Before we go on our art fair walkabout…

This year’s art fair was a large one- the art fair reported 30,000 visitors and presentations from 110 galleries and 500 artists! Fitting in a number of the great artworks on show in one hour was a feat. The walkabout spotlighted works from some 30 galleries.

The walkabout was a collector’s view. I underscore that it might not consider things from a technical or critical perspective. Instead, I highlighted some of what caught my eye at the fair and my considerations when thinking about buying artwork. I had the privilege of (amongst others) Zimbabwean artist Lin Barrie joining our walkabout. She shares her assessment of the works at the fair here. That post might offer an excellent technical selection of some of the pieces she saw over the art fair weekend.

Galleries in Kampala, Harare and Mitchell’s Plain

The first start was at Afriart Gallery to see April Kamunde’s works. I highlighted how I love the use of light and shadows in the works, which often represent periods of rest – they’re a good reminder to seek peace and rest, given our busy world. Next up was to highlight a work by Dion Cupido at WorldArt. I first saw Dion’s work at RLabs House, the first gallery in Westridge, Mitchell’s Plain, a suburb outside of Cape Town historically marginalised due to Apartheid-era spatial segregation. The gallery is also an Airbnb. The gallery is linked to RLabs, an award-winning South African non-profit established in 2009 in Bridgetown, Cape Town, and operates in 23 countries.

The next stop was the First Floor Gallery Harare space showing Helen Teede’s work entitled “Dust Devil” (2024). Helen Teede has just completed a residency at the acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin’s program. After that, we walked past the THK Gallery booths – on one side to see Samuel Nnorom’s work and highlight how he was one of our artists to watch in 2023. On the other side was THK Gallery’s solo booth for Mmangaliso Nzuza and his work entitled The Human Condition (2024) – scenes where I could relate to spending time with friends.

“The Human Condition” (2024) by Mmangaliso Nzuza

Talk about Editions and Commissions

The Editions section of the fair was next, and a stop at Artist Proof Studio to highlight how prints make up 70% of the corporate collection of the investment bank JP Morgan. There are often some incredible and affordable finds in this section of an art fair. For example, after the walkabout, I stopped there during a media interview and spotted a work by Mary Sibande that I loved!

We then walked to the Christopher Moller Gallery to enjoy the works by Ghanaian artist Michael Gah. We turned to the ALT section to Church Projects and their unique exhibition space that transports one to their project space in Church Street in the Cape Town central business district. The showing of works by Berni Searle, Alka Dass and Warren Maroon. I shared that while I generally don’t use commissions, commissioning Alka Dass for her style of pieces for a family portrait would be singular and stand out. I highlighted Berni Searle as a reflection of her acclaim now and that she was recognised earlier in her career by the Dakar Biennale and as a Standard Bank Young Artist Prize winner in 2003.

Contemporaries, Tapestries and Irma Stern (again)

Back to the Main section of the fair and a stop at Gallery MOMO to highlight Kagiso Gundane, who is getting a lot of attention, while Phoka Nyokong’s use of cubism-inspiration and traditional African masks a la those which inspired Picasso in his works is what stood out for me. The sculptures by Ben Arnold were also a great way to segue into the discussion of the South African phenomenon of contemporaries whom the industry might not view equally due to the country’s history and might represent an opportunity for astute collectors. Ben Arnold’s work reminds me of Edoardo Villa’s sculptures, but the latter is more well-known. One can say the same for Cecil Skotnes and Lucky Sibiya.

I pointed out Thania Petersen’s work and my love for tapestry, with my first view of tapestry (in the context of fine art) having been a work by Athi-Patra Ruga at FNB Art Joburg when he was the Prize Winner; next was to look for the work on show by Ruga at What If The World, which I suspected was from his residency at the Irma Stern Museum in 2023.

Tomorrows/Today – a hint at the future

The Tomorrows/Today section provides a platform for emerging and underrepresented artists. It acts as a forecast of future relevant practices and ideas. Our first stop in this section was Boeme Diale, represented by Kalashnikovv Gallery. It was essential to stop here, given that the art fair had announced Diale as the prize winner for 2024. The booth had linoleum on the floor reminiscent of that at her grandmother’s place in Rustenburg. I was also transported to my grandparents’ house. Diale’s visual narrative explores identity, generational trauma, spirituality and desire. What drew me to her works, before knowing of the prize which makes her work further desirable, was the wooden carved frames in her artworks, which were named Zambia Frames after the Zanzibar frames used in Irma Stern’s works too.

We also stopped at the Bode x USURPA booth. Bode is a gallery in Berlin, Germany and Havana, Cuba. At the same time, USURPA is the first Digital African Fine Art NFT (Non-Fungible Token) Gallery in Africa. Their presentation was of Cinthia Mulanga’s paintings and an NFT on a Samsung screen to take in this new medium.

Our last stop in this section was Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s booth with Goodman Gallery, given that Sobekwa’s work was recognised with an award at the FNB ArtJoburg 2023 prize, a rarity for an artist whose medium of focus is photography.

Artworks with a personal meaning

Back to the Main Section, our next stop was at Southern Guild to view the three glazed earthenware, granite and steel sculptures by Andile Dyalvane, given the symbolism and script on them communicating something unique. Circle Art Gallery from Nairobi, Kenya, had to be a stop for two reasons: 1) they run the East African Art Auction, held typically once a year, providing a key marketplace for art from the region, and 2) for the works by Tiemar Tegene with their works which are anchored in their training in printmaking.

British-Nigerian artist Yina Shonibare’s work entitled “The Beekeeper” has special personal meaning. I also used the opportunity to spotlight their magnificent Wind Sculpture series, which I saw In Boston at Harvard Business School and the 2023 Frieze London Sculpture Park. Also at the Goodman Gallery booth was a work by Pamela Phantsima Sunstrum from Botswana entitled, ‘Ke a gae (“I’m going home”)’ from their exhibition entitled “You’ll Be Sorry” from October 2023, with several museums acquiring the works from the rest of the show.

Moments that evoked nostalgia and memories

At the blank project’s booth, we stopped at Igshaan Adam’s work, where I spoke about seeing their works using prayer carpets embellished with pearls and beads, in a similar way to the work on the show at the Islamic Arts Biennale in March 2023. Another piece to highlight was by Asemahle Ntlonti. I benefitted from having attended the walkabout with the artist the day before. I had learnt how “her process refers to the acts of digging/excavating and mending/repairing which speak to the scars of intergenerational trauma caused by the effects of economic subjugation and displacement of black people under colonialism and apartheid with particular reference to the cultural alienation…” which resonated with me and also the Capital Art mission.

A photograph of an art collector next to the artist with their artwork in the background
Karabo Morule and Asemahle Ntlonti at blank projects in Cape Town

Black figuration

After a quick stop at SMAC to discuss Frances Goodman’s works and the transition from using acrylic nails to ceramics and the pills sculpture, we discussed Nedia Were’s works in the context of the challenges with homophobia across several countries in the African continent. The human figure is a recurring motif in Were’s work as it reflects on beauty, taste, politics and society – it is one of the reasons I have an image of a painting by Were from the 2022 Cape Town Art Fair as a wallpaper on my phone. In addition to Were, Eclectica Contemporary’s booth also included works by William Chechet entitled “Wake Up, We’re Still Dreaming”, using collage to remake history by inserting images of nobility in traditional Hausa attire riding horses into paintings after those from the Renaissance or Victorian periods.

Breakout galleries had a great showing at the fair

The next stop for this art fair walkabout was also memorable, as 16 on Lerontholi is the first fine art gallery in Langa, another historically marginalised neighbourhood in Cape Town. The works by Mongezi Gum, a renowned South African artist, changed several times over the weekend. Still, all use the perspective of a bird’s eye view of the intricacies of township life, with many I saw representing celebrations and reminded me of the artwork “A night in Dakar” by Demas Nwoko, and might just as challenging to acquire given the popularity of the works by Gum. The paintings by Breeze Yoko were also a delight to see.

The next stop was at Under The Aegis and the works by Buqaqawuli Thamani Nobakada, which reflect regal performances of femininity and beauty, emphasised by the use of prepared lace on paper. It was also important to highlight that the founder of Under The Aegis also curated the Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition as part of the Stellenbosch Triennale, which I recommended to see if they could.

Final stretch of the art fair walkabout

As we got onto the final stretch, we stopped at First Floor Gallery Harare’s main booth and saw the works by Troy Makaza and Gresham Nyaude. Both are notable, and Makaza additionally so as he has been selected to participate in the presentation by Zimbabwe at the upcoming Venice Biennale, typically a great platform for even more global awareness about an artist and their work.

At the main booth of Ebony/Curated, we stopped by a work by Congolese artist Zemba Luzamba entitled “Again” and his works more generally, which feature very sharp dressers, interrogate and satirise social and political power structures in Africa.

A painting of a man climbing out of a manhole using a step-ladder
“Again” (2023) by Zemba Luzamba

The next stop was in the Generations section of the fair to facilitate cross-generational conversations between two artists. The first cross-generational conversation was between tapestries from Rorke’s Drift and paintings by Terence Maluleke represented by Southern Guild. The art centre at Rorke’s Drift has many famous alums, such as Bongi Dhlomo, Kagiso Pat Mautloa, and John Muafangejo.

Our penultimate stop was at Ora Loapi, a gallery from Botswana that presented works by Sedireng Mothibatsela. Mothibatsela’s exhibition is entitled MarthaFrancis: Mosi and highlights the use of fire in two ways: with works on paper and with ceramics using clay. And lastly, we ended with the paintings and painted clay pots by Esther Mahlangu. The art fair coincided with the opening of a retrospective of Mahlangu’s works, which one can see at the South African National Gallery until August. Afterwards, the pieces move to Johannesburg to the Wits Art Museum.

A poster which reads " 'Then I Knew I Was Good At Painting" Esther Mahlangu, A Retrospective. Curated by Nontobeko Ntombela. Iziko South African National Gallery. 18.02.2024 - 11.08.2024" with the logos of various sponsors at the bottom. In the middle of the poster is a set of women's court shoes painted in the characteristic Ndebele print, with each shoe facing in an opposite direction.
A poster for the retrospective exhibition of work by artist Esther Mahlangu at the Iziko South African National Gallery

Concluding the art fair walkabout

We covered a lot of ground on this art fair walkabout and undoubtedly made a severe dent in everyone’s daily 10,000-step goal. Still, it was enjoyable sharing many of the works with the audience and getting many beautiful questions from them, too.

You can donate to support Art School Africa here. Follow Capital Art on Instagram to see more videos and images from the Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2024.

Cover image supplied by walkabout participant Vuyisa Qabaka.
Karabo Morule is a member of the Art School Africa advisory board.

1 thought on “Art Fair Walkabout: A Collector’s View”

  1. Karabo, the physical act of viewing the art at Investec Art Fair through your. ‘Collectors eye’ was deeply inspiring. As a practicing artist (and smalltime collector!), listening to your thoughts on this walkabout with you, gave me fresh perspectives- it was a highlight of the art fair for me and many others I am sure ..

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