As we look back on the last year, we are proud of all that we have managed to achieve with our small but talented and committed team, wonderful stable of artists, and loyal and supportive clients.
We took a decision when forming the gallery 7 years ago that South Africa has little place for exclusivity. The vast majority of our population has never visited an art gallery or museum and many of our talented artists have little opportunity to show their works and therefore to support their families.
We believe that we have an obligation to provide opportunities for artists including many who are not part of our stable and to expose as many of our people to art as possible and have therefore chosen a business style that is less formal and stuffy and more inclusive than exclusive. This has worked for us, and our events are always fun and well attended and our artists, our collectors, and audiences have benefitted here from.
SculptX, the largest annual sculpture fair in South Africa, was conceptualised by us and has run successfully for 6 years. During September and October, we host over 60 sculptures and more than 250 sculptures in indoor and outdoor spaces throughout the Melrose Arch precinct in Johannesburg.
This popular exhibition has become a highlight of the Johannesburg art calendar and provides a valuable platform for emerging and established artists to expose their works and to generate revenue.
Every August, Ruzy Rusike, our curator, conceptualises an exhibition with an exciting performance art programme with talented artists for Woman’s Month. This year’s exhibition titled ‘Quite as its Kept’ was extremely well received. This has also become a valuable platform for emerging and established artists which extends beyond our stable of artists.
Our busy calendar of exhibitions, events, and activations within our galleries at Melrose Arch is also complimented by our belief in the presentation of museum shows. In April 2023, Pitika Ntuli’s multi-award-winning exhibition ‘Azibuyele Emasisweni’ (Return to the Source) travelled from a well-received run at Oliewenhuis Art Museum to the Durban Art Gallery and runs until January 2024. The exhibition features 45 sculptures created by Pitika from bone, praise songs accompanying each work and engagements with over 30 creative and thought leaders around African spirituality.
These engagements include songs, music, film, dialogues, essays and poetry and collaborators include notables of the likes of Minister Naledi Pandor, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Homi Bhabha, Ahmed Rajab, Phillippa Yaa de Villiers, Shaheen Merali, Ari Sitas, Zolani Mahola, Eugene Skeef, Kwesi Owusu, Simphiwe Dana, Napo Masheane, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Ela Gandhi, Albie Sachs, Nduduzo Makhathini, Thembinkosi Goniwe and more.
Our ethos of inclusivity has left us open to collaborating and this year we were pleased to collaborate with Almine Rech Paris and London and Enrico Navarra Paris on two solo exhibitions for Dr Esther Mahlangu. We also were excited to collaborate with BMW for Dr Mahlangu’s design of the 50th Anniversary of BMW SA, and the inclusion of Dr Mahlangu’s works in the AI project presented at Art Basel in Switzerland and Art Frieze in Seoul.
Dr Mahlangu created a large mural for Jean Claude Mimran’s Chalet Africa in Gstaad Switzerland, a silk screen print of Dr Mahlangu’s was presented as a gift from President Ramaphosa to 50 heads of state for BRICS, we worked with Pambili Media to curate the Heritage Exhibition for the Department of Trade and Industry as part of the AGOA Summit. This involved close collaborations with the curators from Iziko Museums of South Africa, Freedom Park, University of Pretoria, Javett-UP, Soweto Museum, District 6 Museum and veteran photographer Andrew Tshabangu. The exhibition was curated by Ruzy Rusike and was extremely well received.
Much of our year was spent working on the research and curation of Dr Esther Mahlangu’s Retrospective Exhibition which is to launch at the Iziko South African National Gallery in February 2024. We are very excited about this important exhibition curated by Nontobeko Ntombela which aims to research, document, present, and celebrate Dr Mahlangu’s enormous contribution to contemporary art over 7 decades. The exhibition has been supported by the National Arts Council and BMW and will tour to the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg and then to museums in the U.S., Europe and other continents thereafter.
This is but a small part of what we achieved during 2023 and we are looking forward to continuing to build on these successes in 2024.