Participation of South Africa at the 55th la Biennale di Venezia

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27 Feb 2013

The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) has appointed the National Arts Festival (NAF) to curate and stage the South African exhibition at the 55th la Biennale di Venezia. NAF's proposal “Imaginary Fact – Contemporary South African Art and the Archive” was selected from a total of nine proposals, all of which demonstrated high quality and a great wealth of ideas from within the South African visual arts sector.

“We are excited that a leading body, like the National Arts Festival has been selected by a group of independent experts, to coordinate Team South Africa, at the prestigious la Biennale di Venezia. We are confident that the 55th la Biennale di Venezia will be one of our best arts exhibitions at an international level”, said Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr. Paul Mashatile.

The NAF curatorial team is composed of Brenton Maart (an artist, writer and curator), Jay Pather (a choreographer, director and Chairperson of the NAF Artistic Committee), Dominic Thorburn (Head of the Department of Fine Arts at Rhodes University and an artist), Nomusa Makhubu (an artist and researcher) and Brett Bailey (playwright, designer, festival curator and artistic director).The National Arts Festival will serve as the Project Manager for the team.

The panel of judges selected the proposal because of its strong concept – artists who use materials of the past to comment on the contemporary-is also poised as an assessment to show how far South Africa has come, as we approach the 20th anniversary of our constitutional democracy.  The 55th la Biennale di Venezia provides us an ideal platform to display artists’ role as activists in the evolution of democracy.

The National Arts Festival, now in its 39th year, has grown to be one of the leading arts festivals in Southern Africa. Its objectives are to deliver excellence; encourage innovation and development in the arts by providing a platform for both established and emerging South African artists; create opportunities for collaboration with international artists; and build new audiences.  

Since its inception in 1974, the Festival has staged thousands of exhibitions–ranging from the work of our country’s crafters and ‘hobbyist’ artists, through to the giants of South African art. Its main programme alone has seen 301 exhibitions since inception while, in a typical year, the Festival hosts around 60 Fringe exhibitions across the City of Grahamstown. The Festival has partnered with South Africa’s leading galleries and with international partners, including SA National Gallery, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Fort Hare, Durban Art Museum, Wits University Galleries, Goodman Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Stellenbosch University, Caversham Press, the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), and the Goethe-Institut.

The Department of Arts and Culture recently secured a twenty year lease in the Arsenale, Sale d’Armi Building D for the South African exhibitions. After conclusion of the lease agreement the DAC then publicised a call to curators to submit proposals for the 55th la Biennale di Venezia.

The Department of Arts and Culture believes that the twenty-year lease of exhibition space in Venice will ensure that we don’t have to negotiate prices on a yearly basis. We will instead focus on preparing our country’s best ideas and products to compete at the highest level with their international counterparts. The participating South African artists will be announced in due course.

The independent jury members who participated in reviewing the call for proposals were:  Prof Stephen Inggs (UCT Michaelis School of Art) Avitha Sooful (Vaal University of Technology), Dr. Nombeko Mpako (UNISA, Chair of Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology), Mr. Andre le Roux (SAMRO Foundation), Ms Ester le Roux (Director of Oliewenhuis Art Museum), Ms Monica Newton (CEO of the National Arts Council), Ms Melissa Goba (Independent curator) and Mr Mmutle Kgokong (Tshwane Art Museum).

Enquiries                                 : Lisa Combrinck 012 441 3144 / 082 821 4886
                                                  Percy Mthimkhulu 082 389 2684