/ 3 May 2023

Friday is a feeling: The art of acknowledging your worth

David Lachapelle
Zero to hero: Although initially rejected, American photographer David LaChapelle has become popular. Photo: David Benett/ Getty Images

Last week, we profiled the Watches and Wonders trade show that recently took place in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Our cover featured a Jaquet Droz The Bird Repeater timepiece, which comes complete with the sound of birdsong. To put it politely, it’s the kind of watch I wouldn’t wear because of how elaborate it is but, more crucially, I probably couldn’t afford even if I did like it. 

There were misgivings from some about whether a story on watches warranted a feature in the “art space”. My default setting is to sigh heavily at those who believe themselves to be the purveyors of art and taste. I’m referring to the privileged few who get to tell the rest of us what they deem to be or not to be art.

Before I write an essay on why there’s a difference between an Audemars Piguet and a Swatch, I’d like to discuss an issue more divisive than black women’s hair — good art. 

A week ago, I went to the Joburg Theatre to watch The Head and The Load by William Kentridge and Gregory Maqoma, with Philip Turner and Thuthuka Sibisi. I was blown away. It is one of the most moving pieces of performance art I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing. 

It is an extraordinary piece of creative expression that combines dance, art, theatre and music to discombobulate and move the audience.

Maqoma and Kentridge couldn’t be more different on paper. Both a product of apartheid South Africa, the former used dance to express his defiance, while the latter would partner with fellow artist Sam Nhlengethwa to form one of the country’s most significant art spaces. 

If one form of art was held in higher esteem than the other, we would have no Maqoma or Kentridge. Art, by definition, is subjective but the one thing that is clear is it’s here to tell a story. 

The Head and The Load is about the African black soldiers who fought in World War II but were never acknowledged. So, instead of being honoured by name, they were relegated to numbers. They carried the load of war on their heads but were not recognised for risking their lives. 

For Kentridge to partner with Maqoma is proof that art is not only interchangeable but can easily cross-pollinate between genres. 

Kentridge has a fragrance that sells for €300 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Is that art or is that commerce? Who decides where the line between what is commercial and what is artistic should be drawn?

It is normal for people to disagree about what is art, what is pop, what is culture and where they converge. 

When American lensman Dave LaChapelle first hit the scene, people thought his work grotesque but these days you’d be hard pressed to find a LaChapelle piece for under $2 500. 

People love to support the underdog until the underdog becomes the big dog. I know so many people who loved Nelson Makamo until everyone else started loving him and then suddenly he was overrated and not worth the price. As soon as Oprah, Swizz Beatz and Carmelo Anthony started hanging his art on their walls, everyone started preferring his “old work”.

Art is a business, whether you like it or not. Any writer worth their salt will tell you that while they may not own a Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag or drink Hennessy, there’s no denying Bernard Arnault is the richest man in the world because he figured out how to combine art with commerce. 

Arnault recognises that someone buying Van Cleef & Arpels jewels could be the same person buying a Takashi Murakami original. There’s a reason you pay what you pay for a Patek Philippe, a meal at Masa or a Gerard Sekoto original.

Let me be clear, we will never agree on what is or is not good art. We will never agree on where commercial viability soils the purity of the art. But what we can unequivocally agree on is that art moves, it agitates, it sparks debates; art makes people cry or get angry. Art that doesn’t move the needle or the heart rate is ineffective.

When Kimberley Schoeman had reservations pitching her foot fetish piece to me, I understood. I have a tendency to be gung-ho about things that really don’t deserve that much attention. But what I know for sure is I have the best team. While I may not be able to relate to everyone, I am a human being and I trust that I’m surrounded by people who are plugged into things I may not be plugged into. 

To be an editor is to learn as much as you teach. Do I understand the trend of people wearing wacky “shoes” in daily life? No! But I have deep appreciation for people who live supremely as themselves.

I’m here to tell you people will question you, they’ll gaslight you and make you doubt your worth but remember who you are. You’re a masterpiece. A work of art. Remember people only celebrated Vincent van Gogh after he died. Don’t wait for others to validate you. You are all that, a packet of chips and a free soda.