August House: Open Art
Contemporary art in South Africa is on an upswing, or at least in Johannesburg. Everywhere you look in the city there are visual artists popping up. Unfortunately the scene is still very much male dominated……perhaps not in terms of “who is actually doing the work” but definitely in terms of visibility.
What I love about the art scene right now is the change in mindset around access. A lot of artists and art collectives are going beyond the white-walled-art-box-stores we call galleries and presenting their work in different platforms and mediums. I’ve spoken about the immense joy I felt when I saw Makamo’s work on Van Beek St. in New Doorenfontein. Seeing his work out there in the street, for all to engage with and enjoy……amazing!
The new culture of art is popularized by better organization and marketing of fairs & shows as well as the open access movement. This is where artists open up their studios and invite the community to share in the technical and conceptual process of creating. There is immeasurable value in being able to sit down with one of your favorite artists and see the person behind the work. When the person behind the work is relatable and could possibly have been your sister, brother, uncle, mother, etc. the interaction is so much more meaningful, impactful and joyful.
On top of physical boundaries which may exist between the art world and ‘ordinary folk’, language is often a barrier to access. I’m encouraged by how the language of art is changing. Most artists you meet in Johannesburg are not interested in ‘International art language’. We no longer speak a language that is cold and far removed from words that have real meaning to people. Instead, we speak about the relevance and importance of the artwork and most importantly, how each individual relates that piece of work.
Here in Johannesburg, August House is one of the places where potential is nurtured and artists engage with the community openly and honestly through conversation. August House is an artist residency space where many acclaimed artists have their studios (Laziehound Coka, Benon Lutaaya, Ntsika Dulwana, Themba Khumalo and more). Part playground and part inspirational hub, August house is quite simply put "where the art magic happens". Mail and Guardian described it as “idyllic artist community”. The artists in this residency are incredibly welcoming and open about their processes, their struggles, their joys and what makes their work. They are humans integrated into society……who happen to produce insanely amazing, confusing, moving and awesome art. Be on the lookout on social media for exhibitions, workshops and open nights.
I look forward to the growth and evolution of this space. That being said, I realize that we need to work very hard to ensure that women are integrated into these spaces and have the opportunity to reap the rewards of a thriving art community, dismantling bravado or any bro-culture that often make spaces less inclusive and perhaps even intimidating.