The A4 Arts Foundation in Cape Town has been welcomed as an alternative in an arts scene so thoroughly dominated by commercial galleries, but its funders have links that expose Israel’s use of the international cultural scene to present itself as a modern democracy write, Asher Gamedze and Mitchel Hunter
Black art in Cape Town exists in a hostile context. From racist untransformed galleries competing for relevance by making money out of the hippest artists, to the stubborn colonial architecture of the settlement – the step-mother city has never really been about black cultural life thriving. Following the closure of community-oriented art centres in the 1980s and 1990s (as per democratic transition) and the deepening neoliberalist policies implemented in the past twenty years, there are fewer spaces and increasingly less funding for artists outside of commercial galleries. It is within this barren artscape that the relatively new A4 Arts Foundation is located, very strategically so we might add.
The Foundation aspires to be an arts space that contributes more broadly to public cultural life in Cape Town, South Africa, and the broader region. To date they have hosted a number of exhibitions, musical performances (e.g. Shabaka and the Ancestors), and educational workshops (e.g. Gladiolus) most of which have been run by local black artists. This is important work. With its education focus, a library which is open to the public, and its apparent openness to various forms of collaboration, A4 emerges as somewhat of an oasis: a welcome alternative within a scene so thoroughly dominated by commercial galleries.
But alas, it is a mirage.
The Foundation’s “About” page on their website reveals that “A4 is seed funded by director Wendy Fisher through the Kirsh Family Foundation”. A short search about where this money comes from uncovers some worrying information and raises some important questions about A4.
Nathan Kirsh, Fisher’s father, is a big shot capitalist with a questionable history. “Many of Nathan Kirsh’s companies in Swaziland, particularly in the textile industry, were heavily involved in undermining the efforts of the United Nations imposed sanctions against Apartheid South Africa.” Apart from being one of the businesspeople to break the apartheid sanctions in the 1980s, Kirsh is the largest shareholder and ex-director of Magal Security Systems. Magal was founded by the Israeli government in 1970 and since 2016 has been the primary supplier for electrical fences to Israeli prisons and responsible for the perimeter control systems of the Apartheid wall in the West Bank and parts of the border surrounding Gaza. Read more