THE ART AND SOUL OF THE NATION
The RMB Latitudes Art Fair takes place next weekend at Shepstone Gardens in Johannesburg, with 40 galleries and 250 artists participating in the newest event on the city’s art calendar. Tymon Smith spoke to co-founder Lucy MacGarry and curator Nkhensani M
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What inspired you to relaunch the fair? Lucy MacGarry: In 2019 we had our first physical fair in Sandton on Nelson Mandela Square and we had a great response. Then Covid happened and everything changed. But we’d always planned to have an online iteration of the business and that gave us the impetus to do it quickly. We launched as South Africa went into hard lockdown. That was amazing because without having planned it, we’ve got a powerful online platform, which works to our benefit. What attracted you to curating this fair? Nkhensani Mkhari: A lot of my work looks at alternative models of exhibiting and alternative institutional models. Latitudes aligns with the values I uphold — supporting independent artists and creating counteractive modes of seeing and experiencing art. They invited me to curate a couple of special projects based on my skills and my experiences — working with independent artists and creating networks of independent artists, not just in South Africa but around the world, and I’ve worked with international galleries. Those are the primary projects I’m working on under the theme “co-emergence”. Index is an independent exhibition of 40 artists from South Africa and the diaspora. We also have our international galleries platform — nine galleries — six from the continent and the rest from Europe. What aspects of the fair make it different? LM: We want it to feel inclusive. We don’t want people to feel it’s an exclusive event. To encourage people to come, we’ve broadened the lifestyle aspect. We’ve partnered with Franschhoek Tourism to bring a range of incredible wineries; we have amazing music that we’ve partnered with, Unofficial Official, to provide DJs for the duration of the fair; we’ve got our kids’ section supported by RMB Private Wealth. On the other side, for the serious collector, we have a range of galleries — we’re lucky to have had their support — from Goodman to Everard Read, SMAC, Kalashnikovv and Gallery Momo. There’s something for everyone. What role does the venue play as a differentiating factor? NM: This year we’re at Shepstone Gardens, which is a big differentiator in terms of art fairs — it’s not at a convention centre or in a hall. It’s an indoor/outdoor venue with one of the most meticulous gardens in the country, combined with old-world architecture of sandstone and marble. When a person arrives there’s a sense of wonder right at the entrance and there are many different parts you can go to. It accommodates a journey without fluorescent lights and all the things that make art fairs what they’ve been for a long time. It’s more of a lifestyle event, a celebration of art and of people coming together to cater and tend to their senses in the most diverse and accommodating way possible. LM: Shepstone Gardens is well located. It’s in the suburbs but 10 minutes from Rosebank, 15 minutes from Sandton so it’s convenient. It’s a three-acre property that’s going to be exciting in the sense that it will be an adventure for people. To further activate this part of the city — we’re 10 minutes from town where you have hundreds of artists’ studios. We’ve partnered with the Open Studios Joburg initiative and we’re going to be running shuttles from our fair to Open Studios throughout the weekend so people can plan their visit here and either see where the art is made or see how it’s exhibited — they get the full experience. We’re bringing people back into town and that’s an exciting initiative. What are you most excited for visitors to see? NM: In terms of artists, I’m excited for Jody Brand’s work — she’s Cape Town-based. I’m trying to put a spotlight on women artists. Art is still a male-dominated space and I’m trying to carry over the values of Latitudes as an institution and organisation founded by women for women. Bulumko Mbete just won the Cassirer Welz Award and she’s at Bag Factory; Mankebe Seakgoe, a young artist with a marvellous gestural syntax that fuses performance, language, opacity and counteractive modes of artmaking. Tzung-Hui Lauren Lee is a Chinese artist living in South Africa. Born in Joburg but her parents are from China. She takes traditional artmaking modes in Chinese art and translates them in a way that allows the vernacular of South Africa to come through. Do you see this becoming an annual event on the Joburg art calendar? LM: We’ve worked it out in a way that we want to repeat it and make it as smooth as possible an experience for visitors. We have off-site parking — a park-and-ride from Old Eds, which is five minutes away; we’ve partnered with Lexus and they’ll be shuttling people or you could take an Uber. We’ve purpose-built a lot of this venue for the fair so I hope we can do it here for as long as possible. The elements come together in a beautiful way to make it different. We want this to become an annual event. What’s your biggest aspiration for visitors? NM: That people get back in touch with the joy of discovery — of discovering new things, not just in the art but about themselves. It’s almost 30 years since apartheid and a lot of the art reflects this 30-year course we’ve been through. That alone makes it seminal. I hope we’re going to rediscover who we are collectively as a people and as a country because that’s what art is about. It’s a reflection of society and how artists process life. There’s an opportunity for audience members, art enthusiasts and galleries to be part of this. I want people to celebrate where we’ve gone and where we’re going. The RMB Latitudes Art Fair takes place at Shepstone Gardens in Johannesburg from May 26-28. For more information and to book tickets go to latitudes.online.