Art challenging worldviews pertaining to Africa, North America and the Caribbean are of special interest to Tumelo Mosaka, the chief curator of the 2017 Cape Town Art Fair. For the past decade, he’s worked independently in New York curating works pertaining to migration, identity and racial injustice.
This year he’s introduced two new exhibitions to the fair; UNFRAMED and Tomorrows/Today. The former is dedicated to large-scale interactive works, while the latter showcases work of emerging talent from Africa and the diaspora. His rich knowledge about art and extensive international experience brings a fresh perspective to the Cape Town art scene. Here we speak to him about the public’s perception of fine art, the challenges of curating a large show, and the Cape Town art scene.
You’ve been working in New York for a decade. How’s this shaped your perspective on art from Africa and its diaspora?
For one you don’t see enough of it around and when it is available, unfortunately the same names usually get the attention. My only concern is that Africa is a continent with so many cultures and layers that to limit the experience to a handful of artists is deceiving. So one then has to fight to bring new voices into the arena to broaden the conversation and educate the public about the dynamic and complex nature of artists coming from this geographic location.
As the chief art curator of this year’s fair, what kinds of works were you looking to exhibit?
I’m interested in works that challenge our perceptions about intimacy – desire, history and identity are just a few subjects that provoke conversation about our contemporary moment. I think you can see some of this when you look at works in the Tomorrows/Today section that I’ve curated.
There are art fairs all over the world. What’s unique about the Cape Town Art Fair?
Cape Town Art Fair is unique, because it is in Africa and has been dedicated to profiling artists and galleries from the continent and the diaspora. Furthermore, the city of Cape Town offers a lot of exciting opportunities for visitors to explore making it a destination place. In this sense CTAF provides a platform of engagement and trade, which many African galleries and artists don’t have abroad. It is a gateway for cultural exchange, and trade, which prioritizes Africa and the diaspora.
There’s a new exhibit called UNFRAMED. What inspired the decision to include large-scale works?
With this new section, we are trying to offer our viewers a different way of experiencing art. This section is dedicated to showcasing large sculptures and installations, something that is not always present at art fairs. It is a window into works that are usually collected by institutions but are not exclusive. What is also exciting about this section is that most of the works are site specific and some are even interactive. The viewer needs to interact with the work to complete the experience. It’s a different approach but one that we believe viewers are going to love.
Tomorrows/Today is dedicated to emerging solo artists from Africa and diaspora. What are some of the obstacles that emerging artists face and how does the fair aim to address these?
Tomorrows/Today explores challenges facing cities on the continent. Faced with increased inequality, urban poverty, environmental disasters and mass migration cities like Lagos, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Luanda among many have been experiencing a rapid process of urban transformation that is uncontrollable. The speed and scale of urbanization has exposed frustrations and struggle of millions of people living on the continent. These artists express ideas and sentiments that channel the struggle of life evident in Africa and the world today.
“Another challenge is how to communicate to the public. Most often PR firms always want to reduce complex ideas to sound bites, this can be very problematic, so one has to manage that side of things. Other challenges include logistics and managing expectations from artists, institution and the public.”
To the general public, fine art is sometimes perceived as elitist and exclusionary. How do you hope to change these perceptions?
It’s true that sometimes this is the perception, however we are reaching out to younger audiences by working with community organizations such as LALELA who will be running four workshops at the V&A Waterfront. These workshops are open to all ages and are free to the public. Also there will be a family guide available at the information desk to help visitors navigate the fair.
Curating a fair of this size is a huge undertaking. What have been some challenges and triumphs so far?
One of the main challenges is probably concept development. I don’t always know what the next idea for a show will be, so have to always be thinking and looking carefully as inspiration sometimes comes from unexpected places such as conversation and reading about art. Then you have the research phase, which I believe is most fun, but can also be challenging when you have limited resources for travel and printing. Another challenge is how to communicate to the public. Most often PR firms always want to reduce complex ideas to sound bites, this can be very problematic, so one has to manage that side of things. Other challenges include logistics and managing expectations from artists, institution and the public.
What’s most exciting about the Cape Town art scene right now?
I think there is a lot of very interesting performance art happening. Artists are presenting works in unexpected spaces and are raising questions about contested spaces as well as historical representation. Also there is an interest in working collaboratively, which I understand to be the result of lack of resources and limited access.