South Africa is proving to be a commercial Mecca to scores of local artists with a dream of stardom. The pilgrimage started by the likes of Machesa Traditional Dance Troupe (who are reported to be shifting units of their records by the bucket load there) has now included the three-piece Botswana Musicians Union double award winners, Culture Spears. T.H.A.B.O, who is contracted to the multi-national record giant, Universal, has also come to the party with a good showing in the playing lists of Metro FM and Motsweding FM.
Now the fellows at the Thapong Visual Arts Centre want a piece of the cake as well. Come March, they will be taking a three-day tour of the galleries and art studios at the cutting edge of the fast growing South African visual arts scene.
“There is a lot we need to learn from the South Africans. They are more established and professional than us,” says the centre’s coordinator, Reginald Bakwena, the man working the tour’s logistics to the finer details.
Bakwena, a former student at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa, is excited at the growth prospects that lie in our southern neighbour.
He says that for an industry such as his that has long been driven by the limited initiative of self-taught artists, there is no better place for sound benchmarking.
“We don’t have school of the arts here, so this promises to become a very important forum for learning. We need to learn about studio practice. We give our artists studios here but we do not give them lessons on studio use. We want to see what they do and how they go about doing what they do. We are very interested in how they work to create markets for their centres,” he says.
Bakwena, a veteran painter and sculptor of repute, says the tour would help improve the quality of their work. They would get to share problems, technical and business insights as well as critique each other’s works. There would get to meet some of the most exciting and brightest lights in the country’s art circuit such as David Kolane. Not only will there be artist presentations on various artistic and industry issues, the locals will get to see curators and gallery owners to discuss future projects.
“We are just providing this opportunity for the artists to establish and maintain strategic partnerships. We are looking at generating forex and diversifying the economy as well. There is the World Cup 2010 to think about. We want to get a good market share. As artists, we also need to work towards positioning ourselves well for the potential opportunities that may arise,” he says.
They are, however, working round the clock to get sponsorship for the tour.
Meanwhile, they also have other plans for the future at Thapong. They are looking to build more shelter to house more artists as the demand for space has long been far from being met. They are also working on intensifying their outreach programs to bring more people to the galleries to last beyond the chicken kebabs treats on opening nights, and hopefully, to translate into increased sales.
“We also have Thapong International Artists Workshop coming up. This is an event that has educated a lot of our artists as it brings together art workers (artists, art critics, gallery owners and curators) from across the world to share. The workshop will benefit artists with a lot of presentations ranging from what to expect from a gallery to topical issues in African contemporary art,” he says.
The French embassy has agreed to sponsor the event.