20 Oct The Assistants: Stevenson’s Zakara Raitt
In this 4-part miniseries, 10and5 takes a behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day lives of creative assistants.
Being an assistant can feel like a baptism of fire that tests one’s true mettle. In creative industries, the public and fans often forget that artists need an additional set of hands and minds to solve problems and pull off their exhibitions. This week we chatted to gallery assistant Zakara Raitt who works at Stevenson in Jo’burg to find out about the preparations that go into a flawless opening and what else she does on the daily.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the industry.
I am a visual artist, fine art assistant/production manager and explorer of the city. I studied Fine Art at Wits, graduating in 2012. In my second year, a friend posted an assisting job on le FB to help install a Dineo Bopape work at Stevenson Johannesburg, which is where my long standing relationship with the gallery began. From there I started assisting Dineo (SA’s cosmic queen) for a little over two years, which was all the fun! After that I got a gig with Pro Helvetia ‘coaching’ Swiss artist Claudia Comte, which led to helping with the production of her very rad wood sculptures in both Jo’burg and Berlin (using power tools). In mid-2015 I was looking for a more permanent job and an ‘in’ into the business side of art, so naturally I emailed Stevenson’s power house, Lerato Bereng, to see if they had anything for me. She invited me for an interview and I became their newest addition in the form of a gallery assistant/gallerina.
Describe an average day as a gallery assistant.
As a gallery assistant an average day doesn’t really exist. Sure, there is making sure the gallery looks a certain way and doing coffee runs, but it’s the kind of job where every day is different (which I love). Depending on what show is on or whether you are in the process of installing there are always different tasks that need doing. One day you will be sitting in front of your computer designing documents and answering the phone, the next you are in town searching for some crazy object an artist needs for an installation.
What tool/object is invaluable to your work and why?
I would have to say there are two, a measuring tape and a cutting knife. There are always artworks that need unpacking/measuring and floor plans to be drawn up. Generally, it’s a good idea to have both on hand because you just don’t know.
What qualities do you need to be excellent at your job?
Innovation has to be number one, as in most creative industries there is no one formula to getting ‘it’ done. You need to be able to problem solve as quickly and efficiently as possible. To be personable and professional, because as an assistant you are dealing with a very diverse group of people on a daily bases, so it is important to know how to interact and speak to clients, artists, installers and shippers etc.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve had to do?
Sheesh, I have had to source some crazy things but I think finding a real life goat for Mawande Ka Zenzile’s performance for the opening of his past solo show was the wildest. You would think finding a goat (that is tame enough) to be in a gallery space would be an easy task. Not so much.
Tell us the most important lesson you’ve learnt on the job.
I think the most important lesson (which applies to all aspects of life) is to treat people well, and to acknowledge and reward their hard work. There is nothing better than feeling appreciated in the work place. I feel very privileged to love the work I do and the people around me. It might sound cheesy, but I have worked in some really kak environments where the boss treats you terribly and doesn’t pay you on time. Not a good vibe at all!
What’s most rewarding about the job?
I would say working with the incredible people that I have the pleasure of spending most of my time with. The Stevenson family (from gallery staff to the artists) is a large and diverse bunch of people who all offer up buckets of knowledge and insights into the art world that are really invaluable. I get to work and interact with people I really admire, which makes work a lot more fun and interesting. Also, the gallery is all about cake and celebrations and on your birthday you get to pick what treat you want, I got tubs of sorbet.
Follow Zakara on Instagram.