Curating an exhibition is essentially the act of delivering an experience that strategically mediates between a body of images and the viewer. A curated collection aims to engage the audience in a process of thought that acts as a ‘junction maker’.
As a curator, one starts with a set of constraints; the space, the artwork and the audience. Constraints are the framework which dictates good design. A process of elimination refines the curator’s vision and creates order and meaning for the audience. Sometimes a Curator chooses to be ’invisible’ which is especially important for solo shows where the intention of the artist needs to be communicated strongly. In a large group show, however, the role of the curator as an interpreter comes into play.
My own style of curation is both intuitive and organic. I am seeking the alchemy that occurs when a body of work interacts to create a fresh narrative for the viewer. Ideally, the artwork retains its own integrity whilst its proximity to other works triggers in the audience a flow of thought and reaction. A third set of ideas is created. This chain-reaction has been described as ‘thrilling and uncanny’.
Sometimes the meticulous plans that are made on paper do not actually work. The curator has to be alive to the chemistry between the pieces and to edit and eliminate. It is a dynamic and unpredictable process where sudden connections appear and unconscious decisions turn out to have a reason.
In the case of the Jaffer Modern, I was presented with a ‘tabula rasa’, a clean slate. The gallery was a building site and the artists were yet to be acquired. The focus on Africa, our continent, was a given and I chose the theme of Portraits as I knew it would give me scope to explore many styles and genres. The title ‘GATHERING. A Community of Artists’ was about our desire to commune; our diversity, our cultures and our common humanity. This exhibition was visualized in a virtual space with virtual artworks
One always has an ‘ideal’ of what an exhibition will look like in one’s imagination. This too is constrained by which artists are available. The vision of the end result shifts and changes and there is a considerable feeling of loss along the way. There are also discoveries that inspire new directions.
The black and white section was inspired by the superb curating of the Zanele Muholi exhibition at the Norval Foundation. Other sections were bound by subject and color which slowly divided themselves into separate themes. I chose a range of artworks representative of different aspects of our cultures across Africa. The importance of cattle to humans features largely; from the naive beadwork of the Ubuhle women working in Kwa Zulu, to the African ‘pointilism’ Of Sibusiso Duma and the large canvas of Kenyan, Kaloki Nyamai.
Issues relating to gender and identity are touched upon, as are issues of belonging and ‘home’. I have included a small ‘Mid-Century’ section which pays homage to some artistic masters of South Africa; there are also poignant studio images from the 1960’s taken in Douale, Cameroon that capture personal aspirations in photographs. New forms of painting which deliberately challenge perceptions of ‘taste’ are seen in Katharine Meeding’s delightful and masterly Glitter paintings. Naïve rural landscapes by Wonder Danca contrast with the robust Johannesburg portraits of Thokozani Mthityane; Nigerian muralist Polly Alakija is displayed with the lyrical portraits of Neda Tavallahee.
This is a foretaste of what will follow at Jaffer Modern which will be determined by other Curators. Inclusive, unusual and exploratory.