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Church, The New Black-Owned project art space to test boundaries Opens This Month

Cape Town has seen a number of new art foundations open since the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art ushered this city’s art scene into a new era. Church, a new project space for art, which will open this October in that titular street in Cape Town’s CBD, might be a very compact space, but it looks set to create big waves too.

It’s a black-owned institution that is intended to offer artists, curators, writers and other cultural agitators a platform to experiment. New works, works-in-progress, ideas or statements that might not be viable in a commercial space can find a home at Church. 

Not that this new addition to Cape Town’s art scene has a set agenda. In fact, founders, Hoosein Mahomed and Shelleen Maharaj, are more interested in establishing a fluid platform that is responsive to the needs of the art community.

Artists are freeing themselves from the gallery model, questioning the status quo, interrupting racial structures and this moment prompted me to consider creating a project space that would advance or support these changes. Nothing about what we intend doing is in relation to others, there is no benchmark or standard to aspire to. We have freed ourselves from these kinds of expectations,” says Mahomed.

In line with its title, Church exhibitions will open on Sundays and instead of a veritable ‘sermon’ will be discussions, public addresses or performances.

We want to create dialogue around contemporary art. If you have something to say and need a platform, our Sunday Sessions will provide the space to present new ideas and conversations. This platform is envisaged to draw the art community closer,” says Mahomed.

Located in a heritage building in Cape Town’s CBD,  near the AVA, Eclectica, Nel and Worldart galleries, not only will it be part of this burgeoning art node but as it is a busy part of the city, more accessible to members of the public who might not be ordinarily interested in art. It’s bold gold façade marks the slender building out as a place of special interest.

The area has become an oasis of art. It is a place to build momentum and connect with a vibrant city,” says Mahomed.

The Church is designed to accommodate multi-media works. It boasts a room designed for filmic works to be screened.  A veritable modern-day fresco can be realised via a lightbox fixture on the ceiling. A vitrine at the façade of the building can accommodate a live performance or installation aimed to tease the attention of passers-by.   

Appropriately, one of Cape Town’s most outspoken artists Thania Petersen will stage the inaugural exhibition. Her “garden of passion gaps” – artificial foliage dotted with models of mouths parading missing front teeth (the passion gap) – which will colonise the exterior of the gold façade will no doubt have tongues wagging.  The installation is inspired by an embroidery work bearing the same motif titled Onse Ou Kaap. Petersen is drawing from iconography associated with the Cape community, disentangling the layers of oppression, complicity and liberation.

“I am exploring the absurdity of constructing and imposing an identity on people and creating a ‘type of people’ and telling them this is how you are as a creole community in South Africa. There has been an orientalisation of the Muslim community in South Africa, we were made Asian in the African landscape. If we return to Indonesia we are not like anyone there, we are not who you say we are. Who are we? We are now at a point where we are taking things apart,” says Petersen.

Her exhibition at the Church is a culmination of continued conversations between her and the founders.

Thania is probably one of the most important artists of our generation. Being a black woman, the descendent of slaves, a mother, a Muslim – she is the embodiment of revolution, of struggle, of marginalisation, of complexity, of hope. She has taught me that the retelling of stories can change humanity,” says Mahomed.

Church, 58 Church Street, Cape Town CBD. Open to the public from 8th October. Church will be open Friday to Sunday. For more information: info@churchprojects.co.za



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