By Tšhegofatso Mabaso
While art collectives are no new phenomenon, a recent growth in the emergence of young creative collectives surely highlights the reality of ever-narrowing access to platforms of visibility for artists. While this is true, it does offer an opportunity to interrogate how collective creative practice situates itself within the current moment as well as present new methodologies for negotiating the dynamics of visibility in the art world. Often overwhelmed by the variety of prescriptive norms and institutional ideas around art and creative production, the current climate in South African art has seen several curious ways to seep through age old constraints. What has emerged from the parallel dimensions of the traditional art institution and so-called ‘alternative’ spaces and practices are increasingly provocative and nuanced actions speaking back to a complex set of historical and contemporary conditions which make up the realities of everyday South African existence.
With a strong network of commercial galleries and museums, a growing popularity of and participation in art fairs, South Africa is often applauded for its participation in the global art world as one that is beginning to participate competitively with more established art centres around the world. As is the case in other parts of the world, questions around institutional frameworks, the white cube and other forms of institutional critique remain prevalent in the South African art scene where the socio-political informs the discrepancies between artists, curators, galleries, collectors, critics and creative practitioners alike. As a result, forms of self-organisation and collaborative practice have begun to challenge preconceived ideas of what artistic production on this continent should look like or respond to. Two Johannesburg based collectives engaging in these sorts of interventions are anticlockwise INGWEMBE and Title in Transgression.
Formed in 2016, partially as a means through which to confront some of the ideological issues which arose from #FeesMustFall protest, Title in Transgression is a collective of four artists – Simnikiwe Buhlungu, Malebona Maphutse, Boitumelo Motau and Dineo Diphofa – currently completing their undergraduate studies in Fine Art at Wits University. Producing a range of materials such as print-related works, performative interventions and installations they extend their collective practice by collaborating with other collectives and independent spaces such as Keleketla! Library and Danger Gevaar Ngozi (DGI) Studio, fostering networks of creative exchange and building knowledge economies where currency remains the exchange of ideas, materials and platforms of visibility.
These practices illustrate creative methodologies rooted in organising as a means of knowledge production, where the creative processes encompass organisational activities as an intrinsic part of the creative practice. Similarly, anticlockwise INGWEMBE, work in a variety of creative processes. In addition to performances and collective interventions, they have facilitated creative platforms like Noma Yini (2016), a series of chair-making workshops hosted at NGO (Nothing Gets Organised). Interested in the process of sourcing and making, the mapped movement, the traveling or moving of objects, anticlockwise invited the public to assist in the making and assembling of chairs in a manner reminiscent of a manufacturing assembly line. Anticlickwise INGWEBE’s members include artists Siyanda Marrengane, Refiloe Namise and Tsholofelo Seleke.
Independent spaces like NGO and Keleketla! Library, among a few others, provide structural spaces, mentorship and resources for collectives, to organise and experiment. Most recently Title in Transgression in collaboration with Keleketla! Library hosted Lephephe Print Gatherings, a quarterly experiment in the distribution of printed material which sets out to foster and nurture the age-old appreciation of cultural production, more specifically art, literature, food and music. Self-organising through collectivity currently situates itself at the forefront of this interrogation of new ways of creating and negotiating the challenges of creative work.
Artists are embracing the idea of collaborative practice, something we see in South Africa specifically with the appearance of collectives like Kutala Chopeto, iQhiya, Danger Gevaar Ngozi Studio, NTU, The Brother Moves On, CUSS Group and Pxssy on Plinth to name just a few. What is distinct and clear about these practices is the overt sense of self-determined outward projection of creative practices strongly engaged with their context, while simultaneously, critically aware of broader global dynamics.