This year, the 45 exhibitors of FNBJoburg Fair made this year’s iteration the largest ever. Despite its lengthy roster, and its location in the cavernous Sandton Convention Centre, I found myself over the several days and multiple visits to the fair, most fascinated with the exhibitions at the entry. This, of course, was by design. Call it an art entrapment if you will.
The fair’s featured artist was Malawi-born and Johannesburg-based Billie Zangewa. Known for silk collages that depict domestic scenes and moments of leisure taken mostly from her own life, she heightened the personal flair of her work for this exhibition by incorporating her most fond setting, her garden. Shrouded behind potted plants and shrubbery hung four silk tapestries on emerald-colored walls: “Over the years, some of my works have featured nature and it seemed like the right time to explore this fascination with, and relationship to, it,” Zangewa told South Africa’s House and Leisure magazine. The imagery showed bodies reclined with her own image calling to mind art history’s infatuation with the reclined female figure, the odalisque. Her garden of splendor called to mind the mythical Garden of Eden. In Zangewa’s rendition though, the feminine figure is goddess-like and admired rather than maligned for humanity’ ills.
Contrasting the zen of Zangewa’s garden were two sobering works that recalled South African and the continent’s racial history. Across from the lively garden was a black cube, a stern visual juxtaposition. If you stood outside of the cube, likely a forced pause in the line that formed as fairgoers were allowed inside at intervals, you could hear the rhythmic clank of metal, and screams muffled by non-exhausting machine guns. The unsettling work was by 2018 FNB Art Prize recipient, Cape Town-born Haroon Gunn-Salie. A multidisciplinary artist, his work focuses on South Africa’s history of racial injustices. At the fair his soundscape installation referenced the Marikana Massacre of August 16, 2012, wherein police killed miners that were protesting wages. To underscore the subterranean context of a mine and perhaps even as an allegory to the social status of the victims, fairgoers were beckoned to sit down inside the dark cube.
Touching again on racial injustice but this time with the total continent in view, hung Sue Williamson’sMessages from the Atlantic Passage. In the large-scale installation bottles bundled together in nets were suspended above tanks of water. Each tank was named after a different slave ship from the Atlantic slave trade. Long chains dangled from each net with bottles shackled onto the chain until it reached pool below. Some bottles were even submerged in the water. Each bottle represented an individual recorded on the slave ship who survived the transatlantic journey. Water flowed continuously downward from the nets and into the pool. The same eeriness of the black cube overcame me, an anger perhaps fueled by these injustices. At Williamson’s work there was no secrecy of the cube to mourn within. Raw feelings were exposed as deep memories surfaced to my consciousness, truly, where these memories belong. #NeverForget
The mood of the fair however was not somber. Beyond the entry were ample and fantastic displays of visual art including hard-to-miss sculptures. (Photography by Aida Muluneh with David Krut Projects was also a highlight). In addition to the art, the fashion stood out. After all it’s not an art fair without style? I was aware of Johnnesburg’s reputation as the hip city of South Africa. From funky street wear to tailored ensembles, I captured a few standout looks that were contenders to the art for “best in show.”