Simon Njami says

Art critic, novelist, essayist and curator Simon Njami is no stranger to South Africa. He curated Africa Remix — the largest exhibition of contemporary African art in Europe, which featured more than 60 artists. Africa Remix — originally shown at the South Bank in London — included paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, photography, film and video. After its European run, the show came to the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2008.

Born in Cameroon and based in France, Njami and fellow conspirator Jean-Loup Pivin in 1991 launched Revue Noire, a glossy arts magazine that came out in print until 2001.

In that decade, Revue Noire put out 34 editions and now maintains an online presence to which an occasional article is posted. The collective still publishes books and curates exhibitions.

Ahead of his talk at the Joburg Art Fair, titled “The Making of a Value”, the Mail & Guardian sent questions to the France-based critic.

What kind of platform do you think the Joburg Art Fair is?
Before elaborating — there are a few issues to address, the major one being sustainability. Whatever the Joburg Art Fair is to become, it needs to last long enough to establish itself as a seminal moment in the art world. And for this, time is the most important factor. The goal to achieve from that point is, I suppose, the main aim of Ross Douglas and his team: create a venue in Africa to allow the world to come to find the best art produced in Africa.
Joburg has to become a true pan-African event in order to play a role on the global scene. It is of the utmost importance for Africans to have such a tool. Any art without a market is an art subject to many external fluctuations. It is important for African collectors to understand their role and to play it fully.


What kind of synergies do you think could be established with the art world in this part of the world?
Some gallerists have understood that it is crucial to open up beyond the borders of South Africa. South Africans should realise that they are part of a bigger frame and that the challenge of creating a vivid platform for contemporary African art cannot be achieved without taking into account the evolution of the fluxes around the global. Africa has more than 20 artists who are selling around the world. Those artists should be found in African collections. The fact that a few gallerists understood that and are showing non-South African artists on a regular basis is a good sign. We need to see more of this happening.

What do you, up there, do differently that we could learn from, and vice versa?
Besides the basics, we shouldn’t try to replicate what is happening in Europe. On the contrary, the fair has to find its own voice and a certain originality that would make the world come. I think it has to (as is the case already) focus on Africa, with some international guests for each edition.

As a commercial event, what opportunities do you think the Joburg Art Fair offers for the continent?
It offers the opportunities to establish a market with rules. Any market needs rules and up to now, throughout the continent, to say the least, the trade has been anarchistic. It is a kind of educational process and through it artists should learn more about how to deal with the market, and gallerists should learn to be more active in the creation of new values.

Any other comments?
It is important for collectors and buyers to understand that this fair is not only about money. It is a cultural process of reappropriation. The ancient art of Africa is displayed all over the world and we cannot see it on the continent. We can blame colonisation for that. But if, in a century, no actual art can be found in African museums, there will be only ourselves to blame. History is in the making now.

On March 26 from 3pm to 3.30pm Simon Njami will give a talk, titled The Making of a Value, at the Joburg Art Fair

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Percy Zvomuya
Percy Zvomuya is a writer and critic who has written for numerous publications, including Chimurenga, the Mail & Guardian, Moto in Zimbabwe, the Sunday Times and the London Review of Books blog. He is a co-founder of Johannesburg-based writing collective The Con and, in 2014, was one of the judges for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

Related stories

Political elites, not foreigners, are to blame for South Africa’s problems

What if we told foreigners to voetsek? We have fallen victim to the illusion of scarcity. And we are led to wrongly believe immigrants are a threat

Indians in South Africa, a historical excerpt

In the book, The Indian Africans, academic Kiru Naidoo explores the society of colonial Natal in the late 1800s to early 1900

A colossus with feet of clay

South Africa is disproportionately targeted by cybercriminals. Digital attacks call for digital solutions and technology is a the prime weapon in this fight

The president, the preacher and the great escape

Malawi’s new president was furious after Shepherd Bushiri’s dramatic disappearance from South Africa

Patel: South Africa on target to attract R1.2-trillion in investments

The trade minister says the country is on track to reach more than R1-trillion worth of investments over five years, despite Covid-19 disruptions

South Africa must revisit and refresh its idea of itself

Covid has propelled citizens into feelings of a new shared identity in which the historical force of ‘whiteness’ is fading into irrelevance
Advertising

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

Construction sites are a ‘death trap’

Four children died at Pretoria sites in just two weeks, but companies deny they’re to blame

Why the Big Fish escape the justice net

The small fish get caught. Jails are used to control the poor and disorderly and deflect attention from the crimes of the rich and powerful.

Koko claims bias before Zondo commission

In a lawyer’s letter, the former Eskom chief executive says the commission is not being fair to him

Matrics to rewrite two leaked exam papers

The maths and physical science question papers will be rewritten on 15 and 17 December to protect the credibility of the national senior certificate
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…