Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Friday, 24 May 2024 12:55

Art comes to life at the RMB Turbine Art Fair this weekend.

By Jacob Mawela.

Caption: Lebo Kekana, Photo Credit: Jacob Mawela.

Ahead of its Friday opening, this year's iteration of the RMB Latitudes, its second, kicked off with a media walkabout on Thursday afternoon intended to give a good overview of what will be on display in each of the venues and some of the highlights such as Special Projects and featured artists – hosted by Lebo Kekana and Nina Carew.

One of the Fair's Special Projects – the Independent Artist Exhibition, a.k.a. INDEX, will bring together an exciting group of independent artists from South Africa, the African region, and the diaspora. Curated by Denzo Nyathi – who has been through the paces of the 2023 RMB Curator Lab programme – INDEX is an example of how Latitudes' focus on education is translating into career opportunities for youngsters throughout Africa.

In its second year as a platform, RMB Latitudes' INDEX continues to push towards subversion. Defying the common rules that require artists to be presented by a gallery at a fair, INDEX strives towards the breaking of those barriers to entry which exclude independent artists from art fair participation. This platform manifests itself as a group exhibition, and in an ironic twist of requirements, necessitates that the featured artists be independent artists. Nyathi, explores what it means to be independent, when'independent artists so often practice in collectivity, and form quasi-institutions of their own.

"What does it mean to be a part of a group exhibition, amongst a seemingly unrelated cohort of people, and thus highlighting differences?", asks Nyathi. "What does it mean for independent artists - who might occupy the margins of the commercial art sector - to occupy space in the beating heart of a commercial art event like a fair?

The exhibition, entitled The Orchid and The Wasp: Thin Lines of Becoming, nestles itself between 'us' and 'them', noting how those imagined entities might, and often do, touch. At its root, INDEX 2024 questions the idea of belonging, going so far as to ask if/where the curator(ial) belongs in the art fair. This issue of what it means to belong is taken beyond contemplating how it is we might all fit into the skew-built-boxes of art speak. The artists in this exhibition come from all walks of life (and across the continent), but are united at the point of contemplation around the complexity of where we belong.

For some, the contemplation is the complexity of belonging within racial identity (as with Chuma Adam and Nathaniel Sheppard). Some artists, like Thero Makepe and Ayanfe Olarinde, find themselves between the history and culture of the past, and how it fits with their contemporary experiences. Similarly, Sahlah Davids and Lorraine Kalassa consider this even more intimately, with family as reference.

In other artists' work, things as material as the glass of a cell phone (Chloe Shain) or hard edges of metal fencing (Ntsako Nkuna) are physical

manifestations of the paradoxes of belonging/division we are so entrenched in. And materialising the very self-referential basis of this exhibition, Kutti Collective produces work that thinks through the fact of being in collectivity.

"Such is the entice of the 2024 iteration of INDEX", concludes Nyathi. "The question of 'what are we all even doing here', is what likely continues to bring us together, as art audiences, curators, artists and organisers alike. At the very least, it would be far less fun to rave about or complain about art if we read in isolation a piece from its contemporary moment, our artists from their peers, and these practices from their industry. Such is the devilish, delicious entice of it all."

Apart from the collective of independent artists who'll be showcasing at the fair, featured also will be the works of a combination of established practitioners as well as those represented by galleries such as Nandipha Mntambo, Nelson Makamo, Atang Tshikare, Heidi Fourie, Abdus Salaam, Liam van
der Heever, et al.

This year, in addition to providing private chauffeured drives to RMB Latitudes Art Fair, Lexus presents the Lexus Critics’ Choice Award, which celebrates the Best Stand at RMB Latitudes 2024. Five exhibitions within the Fair will be selected as finalists and the winner will be announced on Sunday 26 May. The selection committee for the Lexus Critics’ Choice Award comprises of:

Lekgetho Makola - former CEO of the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria.

Billie Zangewa - renowned half-Malawian, half-South African artist who hand sews silk fabrics to create collage tapestries.

Lerato Bereng - art curator and director of Stevenson Gallery.

Alexia Walker - founder of the independent art advisory, Walker Art.

Keep an eye out on our social media to view the five finalists and to vote for your favourite. By voting you stand the chance to win a copy of the Phaidon book, African Artists: From 1882 to Now.

About Latitudes
Latitudes launched as a physical art fair in 2019 and has since evolved into an integral player in the African art industry. The all-women team behind Latitudes Online also run an online marketplace for art from Africa, an art podcast, a series of mentorship programmes and an art award, all with the common goal of creating voices for independent artists and connecting artists with collectors.

RMB Latitudes Art Fair runs from 24-26 May at Shepstone Gardens. For more information, to view the full exhibitor list, and to purchase tickets, visit