JUST when Joburg thought it was a leap ahead in the culture stakes, after the second Joburg Art Fair managed to pull 4000 more aesthetically minded day-trippers than it did last year, Cape Town is about to pull a rabbit out of its hat with Cape 09.
Next Saturday sees the launch of this citywide festival of contemporary art events, which aims to transform Cape Town into an African art hub for almost two months, from May 2 until June 21. On the Foreshore end of Long Street at 7pm there’ll be a one-hour procession inspired by the Cape Town Carnival. Curated by Claire Tancons (New Orleans, US), A Walk in the Night stages an inventive shadow play by visual artist Marlon Griffith (Trinidad) and composer Garth Erasmus (Cape Town), along with 100 local participants, that tells the story of Cape Town’s forced removals. There is some scepticism around the event being touted as “the second biennale exhibition of contemporary African culture”.
The local art world has lived through the foul-mouthed talkshop that was Sessions eKapa in 2005, then all the hype that led up to TransCape, which was described by Nigerian curator Bisi Silva as: “The biennale that doesn’t want to be considered a biennale which was becoming a biennale that became an exhibition that is now a process-driven project.”
Although it had to be radically reconceptualised at the 11th hour due to a funding shortfall, TransCape did actually take place in 2007 — but the feedback was fairly lukewarm.
This year’s programme looks more promising. With art projects ranging from explorations of Brenda Fassie’s roots to interventions on city transport routes, Cape 09 seems to have evolved out of an impulse to connect and jump social borders.
Far from taking place in the standard white cube gallery venues, events have been planned to traverse socioeconomic and geographic divides, and to open doors into new spaces such as the Cape Town Station, the City Library, Langa High School and Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha.
Cape 09 is the brainchild of the Cape Africa Platform, headed since 2007 by Mirjam Asmal-Dik who, after years of art experience in Europe, was manager of Pro Helvetia Cape Town (Swiss Arts Council) for a good stretch. “Cape 09: Convergence seeks to explore networks that accentuate the contemporary characteristics of Africa and highlight the way we create, consume, learn, share resources and interact with each other,” she says.
Robert Weinek, who co- ordinates the Young Curators’ Programme, has something of a cult following, built up over years of experience in the film industry, as proprietor of the legendary Bob’s Bar in Troyeville, at the Haenel Gallery in Cape Town and as co-ordinator of two Soft Serve events at Iziko SA National Gallery, among other projects.
Much of the Cape 09 programme has been cooked up by three bright young curators, Lerato Bereng, Nonkululeko Mlangeni and Loyiso Qanya, who participated in an intensive 18-month curators’ programme.
Qanya’s Khayelitsha exhibition, Umahluko, features work by Jane Alexander (SA), Rosy Sbrana (Botswana), Antonio Etona (Angola), Cremildo Walter Zandamela (Mozambique) and more.
For Thank You Driver, Bereng has overseen the conversion of six minibus taxis into “artworks on wheels”, so you can take a ride and experience moving artworks by writer Lebohang Thulo (SA); painter and sculptor Edwige Aplogan (Benin); video artist and writer Pompilio “Gemuce” Hilário (Mozambique); sound artist Isa Suarez (France/UK); performance and video artist Nastio Mosquito (Angola), cutting-edge collective Gugulective; and last year’s Absa L’Atelier winner James Webb (SA).
Mlangeni’s So Who Is Brenda Fassie is “a site and context- specific, oral history, ‘pop’ art exhibition” that brings together artists and members of the community to explore Fassie’s legacy, from her early days in Langa to stardom.
Meanwhile, visitors to the Cape Town Station will find TV appliance vendor stalls converted into galleries screening the One Minute World exhibition, featuring short videos by 840 artists from around the world.
The station platform will also play host to a range of interventions by artists and curators including Nicola Grobler (SA), Meschac Gaba (Benin-Netherlands) and Project Phakama Collective: Mwenya Kabwe (SA-Zambia) and Katy Streek (SA-Netherlands).
So pack up your cynicism in your old kit bag and hope that Cape 09 succeeds in being a gobsmackingly diverse and original biennale that does not just enact the vision of one or two pop-star curators.