Archive for March, 2019


True confessions of an Albino curator…

It was back in the 1980s that we started our sleep ritual. The thing was to prepare our selves for history.

That was in the beginning, and then a perverted needless greed stepped in.

The first step in the sleep ritual: find yourself an underprivileged African artist who has had little or no contact with Western civilisation.

At first it was exciting to go out and find a new artist. A new artist was one that was underprivileged and African. We were the first to go out and find artists and a content that was ‘real’. The ‘real’ being disadvantaged artists who were working in conditions that were culturally different to those of the Eurocentric. This may sound a bit like a retro idea, the old 19-century re-exploitation of the exotic, and the re-introduction of the exotic, the condescending glance of the colonisers revisited. We didn’t feel like those Palaeolithic recorders. What we were doing was exposing the ‘others’, in a truly deconstructivist sense.

It started like that; and has always remained so but in retrospect it has seemed as if we manipulated the situation. The concentric focus on the ‘otherness’ of the ‘other’, although predated, is the effect rather than the focus.

The plot was timely with the world focus on sanctions. Our artists could not see beyond the barriers of apartheid logic. The country was frozen into a concentric convolution that perpetrated a re-mastering of the 60s ethos. The artists in the 1980s were, or seemed, unaware of the universal message. The best they could do was to re-image Eurocentric motifs from the 1930s – Duchamp, conceptualism and the rest.

The second step in the sleep ritual: sell the objects as contemporary and radical.

So we went into the rural areas and found artists that had had no contact with ‘Art’ and the Western world. I mean the potential was fantastic for making money. This was truly African; this was the dreams realised that Battiss and Skotnes had had. A content that was as Esme always claimed was the dream of Africa, the result of the “Search for Africa”.

Of cause the European market lapped this up. I know of curators who were purchasing rural black artist’s works with the aim of International sales. I mean this is not unique, we’ve seen it in Australia. No, the exploitation was not queer. The searching for marketable items was not queer.

It was good for South African art. The world needed something from the colonies. There was a feeling amongst post-colonisers that the colonies owed them. And amongst the unfortunate non-colonisers there was a sense that they needed to be exposed to the world, that they had something to contribute.

The third step in the sleep ritual: make everyone involved feel as if they are unique.

The handshake was great. We the colonised had something to offer. We the exploited were going to show the world. And the best thing about this exchange was that what we had to offer was truly our own. What we had to offer was an exotic, an exotic that reeked of 19 century Victorian idealism and of Germanic exploitationism. What we had was the curio.

Then it was all past. What had taken a century to arrive at as non-regard happened? The artists that were truly African. Those artists, those African artists, which were the cutting edge – which we chose to represent as our edge. They continued to make the nebulous images that they were initially selected for over and over again. [As if history does not move on]. They could/would only repeat the result of the last sold item as if the item was significant in itself and the production was a re-occurrence of the sale.

The fourth step in the sleep ritual: re-educate the natives into making high art.

So we began to educate the artists that we were manipulating.

We/I knew that the country was politically charged so we made requests on the artists. I mean I would not accept any work that did not engage the political climate. This was a necessity. I mean no one would consider anything different. The climate was political; we were faced with apartheid and the new order. The new order was trying to establish itself. So we/I requested political figures and policemen things that were contemporary.

The artists were so gullible; they were locked into a sense of reality that could be easily manipulated. No I didn’t feel like an early 18th century ringmaster.

I was just trying to…

Post Script: At this point the sleep ritual has taken effect. The author has fallen asleep. Tomorrow the sleep ritual will be re-enacted.