Turbine Hall Art Fair

We have been up and down the country, out and about, these past few weeks – Joburg and Cape Town, art fairs and high teas – so time for a little catch up.

On Sunday last week we were at the Turbine Hall Art Fair in downtown Johannesburg. Last year, you might remember, we saw the amazing psychedelic beaded Casspir, an armoured riot control vehicle from the apartheid days, decked out in peace signs and in brilliant colours. ┬áEverything about the event – the cool venue, the ceramics, the prints, the paintings and sculptures, the whole vibe of the place – rocked our boat, so this year when it showed up again on the calendar, we were booked in a flash (thanks Rob ­čÖé )

We weren’t quite as taken, this year, with the overall quality of the show, though the Irma Sterns as always were gorgeous – thickly painted, sinuous, vital – and there were some ceramics we could have sold our house for. We looked at a lovely print of a pine tree – finely hatched crosslines, beautifully detailed – but found ourselves going back (thanks Rob, again) to a series of reductive linocuts by Prince Albert artist Joshua Miles.

From a distance, the prints look like hand-coloured photographs, but up close, you see the detailed work of the artist-printmaker. One print, in particular – ‘The Square Dam’ – we thought was both lovely in itself, and quintessentially South African, and so we bought it.

Here it is, being lifted down from its place in the exhibit.

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Swords into Ploughshares

Every South African of my generation remembers the Casspirs: the massive troop carriers, mine-proof and threatening, that lumbered through the townships, through two States of Emergency and countless insurrections, bearing death and violence.

So what a shock and surprise, at the Turbine Art Fair yesterday, to see this huge Casspir beaten to a ploughshare, beaded and glittering in all the colours of the South African rainbow, standing on the patio where we went to find a glass of wine and something to eat, and a break from the artwork. Moved almost to tears by all that it brought back of apartheid’s suffering, by all it represented in its colourful repurposing, we spoke with one of the artists. Eighty women and men in Mpumalanga had laboured for a year to make and apply the beadwork. He and his group had bought the Casspir as scrap, and got it running – he had driven it here, in all its finery. What a sight that must have been, on our crazy roads, what a South African moment!

The other images were taken from the parking garage, opposite the exhibition – the streets and rooftops of Newtown, and a group of African dancers.

Somehow the images seemed to work with the Casspir.

Turbine Art Fair

Joburg, as my son-in-law likes to point out, is alive and kicking. It may be edgy as hell, dangerous to your health, but there’s always stuff going on.

The annual Turbine Art Fair, in Newtown, Johannesburg, is one of the highlights. You cross over the Nelson Mandela Bridge and descend into a maelstrom of township ┬átaxis, honking and swerving, while shoals of pedestrians swarm the crumbling streets like sardines on a sardine run. You need eyes in the back of your head to keep from running someone down or getting yourself run into. You park the car on the top floor of a grey, industrial parking garage, plunge across the chaotic street, and make your way into the Turbine building. Suddenly there is calm – the crowds are stilled, observant. The art is fantastic.

If this is South Africa, you think – setting aside the politics, the crime, the streetlights that don’t work, the shadow state, the systemic corruption – man, there is life, there is energy! The artists and entrepreneurs are busting out all over!

Here are some images.