On November 26th the Springs Art Gallery (SAG) opens an exhibition with the unflinching title – Reckoning. Its focus is 40 ‘emerging artists’, its remit, to inspire, provoke, challenge, and renew South Africa’s vision, blunted by its failure to future-proof the country and support the next generation.


Hailing from all the provinces of South Africa, and working in radically diverse media, these artists are not only our potential but our reserve – no society can sustain itself without addressing the needs of its youth, as climate activists the world over are now demonstrating. Their beef is not with art per se – though they are deliberately desecrating famous paintings by the likes of Vermeer and Gustav Klimt – but with the ethical and political unscrupulousness of the artworld, its support by dubious corporations – in the recent case of the desecration of a painting by Klimt, the museum was supported by an Oil company. The point of these activists? That an extractive economy is unsustainable. Emergent artists, however, are not.

Curated by Nonto Msomi, Reckoning is primarily spurred by radical uncertainty regarding our global future, honed by the psychic-emotional-economic challenges posed by Covid, a pandemic by no means over, though its harshest effects may appear to be so. ‘During the pandemic society collectively held onto the hope of the global shutdowns coming to an end’, Msomi remarks. We were ‘looking forward to a world forever changed, with an optimistic outlook of grand reforms that were long overdue but in need of a catalyst to be realised’. Poised between longing and doubt, Msomi captures the gnawing irresolution that prevails – the intuition that optimism is in abeyance, dread the new normal. No matter one’s position regarding the desecration of artworks – the new rage and despair affecting the world’s most seductive object of value, art and the artworld – we cannot refute that ours is a highly volatile and unstable time. Hence the upcoming ArtbankSA exhibition Reckoning.


The vectors of the show comprise ‘identity, heritage, the self, and collective contemporary South Africa’, all of which, now, are confronting ‘uncomfortable historic truths’ which many deny – namely, that ideology has come in the way of ethics, that fracture and psychic disfigurement persist, that the majority remain bonded and in chains, the future of the youth devastated. That the ArtbankSA is compelled to address these matters is unsurprising and vital. Who can forget the riots across Natal and Gauteng in July last year? While unrest may have been contained – and there is no certainty in this regard – what cannot be disputed is the rage and despair of the oppressed, dispossessed, poverty-stricken, and hopeless. It is true that -l opportunists exploited a deep-seated grievance, however, my core point concerns the ‘reckoning’ that remains to be addressed. As Msomi reminds us, we must ‘reflect on the decisions made now’, before the day comes when all will have to face an insurmountable societal ‘fracture’.


“If soft power is seductive, it is because it speaks to our deepest intuitions and yearnings.”


What, you might ask, does art have to do with it? If the climate activists are correct – then everything. Art is by no means innocent. This is Msomi’s point. The 40 artists, on show in Springs till 24 February 2023, pivot about a core irresolution. Jakie Ntavhanyeni Madide’s ‘Looting Tear’ dramatizes desperation and greed, a society driven by hunger and consumerism, which exposes a destructive systemic inequality between a poor majority and wealthy minority. Jacki Helene Mcinnes’s ‘After the fire: Jagger reading room’, exposes another destruction, both environmental and economic – in fact, as activist unceasingly remind us, it has become impossible to separate the two. Kgaogelo “Cow Mash” Mashilo’s ‘Moo-shomo’, a combine of found art and sculpture, shows a woman on her hands and knees atop an overturned metal basin. Here contrition meets despair, longer meets lack. Cassian Garret Robbertze echoes this despair in ‘Discard’, a figure of an unclothed body snarled in a rictus of agony.

Not all the works Msomi has selected are grave. Niel Louw’s ‘Apprentice’ is nurturing, as is Lindo Zwane’s ‘Ukuzigqaja’, a joyous depiction of a mother and son. But what cannot be disavowed, despite our optimism, is the substrate of pain which is as historical, as geological, as it is psychological.

Ofense Seshabela’s withering mixed media work, ‘Lordz’, sums up the depth of oppressive power. Then again, in a series of portraits by Vivien Kohler (‘All Hail, King Tsepo’), Mthobisi Maphumulo (‘We are not black we are colourful’), Sipho Nkosi (‘Warrior Queen’), Stephen Langa (‘Stay in charge of you, don’t let outside world control you’), or Thembi Mthembu (‘Limitless’), we arrive at the crux of Reckoning, a show which, while pivoting between hope and hopelessness, past error and future correction, nevertheless signals a greater consolatory drive. After all, we need hope, we need our youth. No continent on earth has a greater repository of youth, and if this is an indicator, surely it suggests that a greater future awaits us?
This remark may seem rhetorical, but as Nonto Msomi reminds us, we must ‘maintain the courage to ask questions’.



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