When the next Hermanus First Fridays is hosted on 6 November, there will be two new galleries for Artwalkers to explore – Eleven in Art Alley off Harbour Road (where Forty X 40 was before) and Art@Africa Hermanus, which has taken over Kunskantoor’s premises in The Courtyard (behind The Wine Glass).
Art@Africa, whose flagship gallery is located in the Clocktower Centre at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, just a stone’s throw from the Zeitz MOCAA, has appointed local artist and art consultant, Kosie Thiart, to manage the Hermanus gallery, which will launch on 5 November. For the opening exhibition, Kosie has curated a collection of cutting-edge contemporary art pieces by 16 up-and-coming artists who are represented by Art@Africa. With the exuberant title ‘So much talent in our country!’ the exhibition will display a cross-pollination of extraordinary South African talent.
Art@Africa was founded by Dirk Durnez, Belgium’s Advisor for Economic Diplomacy in South Africa and founder of the Cape Chamber of Commerce alongside Henk van Aswegen, attorney, developer and businessman. Dirk invests his time, energy and enthusiasm in promising emerging artists, unlocking their potential and offering them a platform to work from. In partnership with Henk, he introduces their artists into the market by using their extensive network to connect South African talent with local and international investors.
One of these up-and-coming artists is Kosie himself, who was introduced to Dirk last year when he took part in a group exhibition at the Youngblood Gallery in Cape Town. The exhibition, titled ‘Ludicrous Emporium’, featured a collection of works by Kosie and four of his friends who had all studied Fine Art together at the Free State University. Among them was David Griessel, who had just been signed up by Art@Africa. His name might be familiar to readers, as one of David’s sculptures, ‘Travelling Hermit’ also forms part of this year’s FynArts Sculpture on the Cliffs exhibition.
“My family and I love Hermanus and often visit over weekends,” says Dirk. “We are great fans of this community and are looking forward to becoming active partners in the town’s vibrant art scene.” As the owner of a company specialising in themed construction and entertainment, including the design of international museums and science and edutainment centres, Dirk has been working with artists for over three decades. He left Belgium 23 years ago to settle with his family in South Africa, and was involved with the establishment of several sculpture gardens, including at Durbanville Hills and Almenkerk wine estates, before founding Art@Africa five years ago.
“I believe that the metaphor of the ‘Rainbow Nation’, famously coined by Bishop Desmond Tutu, has made way for an outburst of artistic talent in this country where artists from diverse backgrounds have the freedom to openly express themselves and create without boundaries,” says Dirk. “Sharing our passion for our wonderful country and our rich South African art is what Art@Africa is all about.”
The artists who will be represented at the Art@Africa Hermanus Gallery are Andries Visser, Barney Bernardo, Caelyn Robertson, David Griessel, Eben, Gregg Price, Kobus Walker, Kosie Thiart, Lauren Redman, Marco Olivier, Marke Meyer, Maureen Quin, Tafadzwa Masudi, Mpho Mazibuko, Valeria Talian and Talita Steyn.
Among Art@Africa’s major themes is the changing and evolving idea of a South African identity, and the positive impact that living in this country has on the work of artists. By opposing dull binary prejudices such as racism and by questioning stereotypical cultural and traditional identities, the artists celebrate South Africa’s diversity and refuse to submit to a false reality of black and white.
The art presented by Art@Africa also focuses on modern societal issues such as technology, gender equality and the environment. Female artists are encouraged to explore the traditional role of male patriarchy and to use their power to be recognised as the architects of a collaborative non-sexist society. Strong emphasis is also placed on the interface between art and science, and the role of humans as an integral part of nature, and not a superior species. Art is seen as a means of reaching those who choose to ignore the scientific message that the earth is in peril.
Above all, Art@Africa is about honest, unpretentious art. Art by the people, for the people. “By being inclusive and removing all barriers of intimidation, we hope to encourage those who would not usually venture into the art world and help them understand the positives it can bring,” says Dirk. “We believe that art belongs to everyone, not just a happy few.”