Video | Beyond our borders – Independent art spaces as a lens on city futures

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Three leading shapers of the contemporary art world from cutting-edge independent spaces on the African continent shared their insights and experience in a public panel hosted on 26 September 2019, in Cape Town.

The panellists, who respectively manage or help direct programming for multidisciplinary contemporary art spaces in Cape Town, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi respectively, speak about the work they do and the broader value it has.

Their contributions come at a time of growing global interest in contemporary art from Africa and burgeoning private museums and foundations but also increasing sustainability challenges for non-profits. The panel simultaneously coincides with a national crisis in South Africa around xenophobic attacks and gender-based violence, which gives extra resonance to hearing the compelling voices of four women from beyond our borders.

The discussion panel was the public-facing event of a research project on the topic, called Platform. The panellists comprise the project’s key participants, whom ACC has brought to Cape Town for a two-day workshop to inform final outcomes.

Prof Edgar Pieterse, the Director of the ACC, said that despite limited resources, artists are sustaining vital institutions in their cities to ensure that there are spaces for engagement with urban dynamics from an artistic perspective. This greatly enriches and extends the quality of the public sphere, pointing to novel questions and insights.

“ACC believes that it is impossible to foster a rounded understanding of contemporary urbanism in Africa without engaging the perspectives and practices of African artists, especially those who operate within and through artist-led spaces dedicated to autonomy and expression.” By hosting the event, ACC was creating an opportunity to learn from the determined practices in key nodes in Africa, Pieterse added. “Political and policy discussions in South Africa often fail to appreciate the important role the arts play in giving expression to the unsayable and the unthinkable,” says Pieterse

Dr Kim Gurney, the researcher behind the project, identified and visited these participant spaces – plus one more in Accra, Ghana (ANO Institute) – at different times over the past year to come to grips with their working principles. They are all navigating conditions of flux in some of Africa’s fastest urbanising cities, she said. “Their emergent forms and strategies can help unlock new ways of thinking and doing with deep resonance for others in comparable places and spaces.”

The discussion panel comprises:

  • Rebecca Corey – The Director of Nafasi Art Space (Dar es Salaam), a creative hub and centre for contemporary visual and performing arts which provides a meeting point for intensive dialogue between artists and the public;
  • Ukhona Ntsali Mlandu – The Director of Greatmore Artists Studios, Cape Town, South Africa;
  • Joy Mboya – Executive Director of The GoDown Arts Centre (Nairobi), a multidisciplinary national and regional focal point for artistic experimentation, cross-sector partnerships and creative collaboration;
  • Edgar Pieterse [panel chair] – Director of the African Centre for Cities and South African Research Chair in Urban Policy.