Jazzophile leads tribute to Zim Ngqawana
Gallery owner, curator, consultant and jazz-lover Monna Mokoena is a man about town. As the country’s most influential black art dealer, he occupies an enviable place in the small network of commercial galleries vying to represent sought-after established and emergent talent.
He is owner of Gallery Momo in Parktown North, but spent some years at the prestigious Everard Read Gallery as curator and art consultant. In this capacity he has advised many corporate entities on how best to invest in art.
In 2011 he was official commissioner of the controversial pavilion at the Venice Biennale. And this weekend he is the organiser, with the Nirox Foundation, of Jazz in the Cradle, of a tribute concert to the legendary, deceased pianist and composer Zim Ngqawana.
Tell us a little about your present project.
Our jazz event comes after a concert we did for the late jazz pianist and composer Zim Ngqawana after his studio was vandalised in 2010 and every single instrument of his was destroyed, including his prized piano. It was a terrible incident that led us to put together a benefit concert for the Zimology Institute.
Post the concert at Gallery Momo we collaborated with the Nirox Foundation for a residency. This was to be among the last performances that he did before his untimely death.
The South African jazz calendar is restricted to two major events and, in between that, jazz-lovers have a long wait.
Being a serious jazzophile, it was important to give something back to the community of musicians, music lovers and art patrons who have always supported the gallery and the Nirox Foundation. It is also a way of celebrating other genres of the arts.
The tribute to Zim is made up of musos who played with him. McCoy Mrubata (saxophone), Ayande Sikadi (drums), Nduduzo Makhathini (pianist and musical director) and the MTN Sama award-winner Herbie Tsoaeli (bass).
Over the years Zim has built a huge following and this event is a way of saying: “Hey, Bra Zim, you will never be forgotten.”
What’s wrong with the South African art scene now?
There’s nothing really wrong with the art scene — but there are few artists producing ground-breaking work. This has nothing to do with the gallery system, which is perceived as being exclusive, as we are constantly searching for artists who have strong and engaging works.
What’s right with the South African art scene now?
We are seeing a lot of international and continental patronage of South African art because of the robustness of the works. The artists who are represented by Gallery Momo are diverse and dynamic. Over the years in South Africa there has been huge growth in terms of local and international support of the arts.
What was the last great art show you saw — and why?
The South African pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale. It was the best. Whatever criticism from certain quarters of the South African arts’ sector, we were able to convince the department of arts and culture that that it was critical diplomatically to be back there as a country.
Today I am proud I was a driving force in the initiative that made it possible for South Africa to be readmitted to the Venice Biennale post-apartheid, and to have a permanent presence in this significant global event for the next 20 years.
What are you reading, or what was the last great or bad book you read and what was your response?
I’m reading a fascinating book titled Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli by Annie Cohen-Solal (Knopf, 2010). He was a pioneering art dealer who died in 1999.
It has personal resonance, because he was denounced by the art establishment back then for taking American pop art to the Venice Biennale for the first time in 1964.
Here was someone who pioneered the globalisation of American pop art and culture through the Venice Biennale and yet was denounced by the art establishment. And yet look where American art is today.
Where do you like hanging out?
Anywhere outdoors. In my own garden in the Parks. Otherwise I love the tranquility of the Cradle of Humankind.
What music are you playing in your car?
Currently I’m listening to South African music from 1912 to the 1980s — from indigenous music to jazz, to hymns, you name it. It is a collection put together from that period by a friend of mine who is a musicologist.
Jazz at the Cradle takes place at the Nirox Sculpture Park Amphitheatre on June 2. Gates open at 10am and the concert starts at 2.45pm. Tickets cost R250 and include a complimentary bottle of wine. Lunch and drinks can be bought from Braeside Grill and Le Sel from 11.30am