Whirligig of Africa in black, white


SATISFYING cleanness of black against white: Vessels by JP Meyer. Photograph courtesy Kim Sacks Gallery.

YOU MAY THINK ‘contemporary classical African art’ and immediately call to mind, bright colours, concatenating against one another in mostly geometric patterns. You’re about a third right. Challenging preconceptions about what African art looks like, Kim Sacks has curated another wonderful exhibition, focusing on the black and white objects in her gallery.

Armed with arguably the best eye in the business, Sacks has a knack of placing objects to neighbour one another in a way that makes them all sing unforgettably. So, when you enter the space, the first group of vessels you encounter are by JP Meyer. They’re so deliciously pristine in their design, their placement, the contrasts that they present, you want to eat them, to imbibe this clean experience and never let it go.

But then you allow your eye and your heart to wander through the gallery’s shelves and crevices, to look around its corners, and look up to the high ceiling, and you’re gifted with a true panoply of black and white that unashamedly breaks rules and seduces your eye, as it goes.

Above all, you come away with an understanding of drawing skills melded with potting ones, in the ceramic works on show. Many of the vessels and objects present the artist with a paintbrush or stylus loaded with ink, creating line that is evocative and sometimes descriptive. Consider the pair of Carolyn Heydenrych teapots, architectural and quirky; or the drawings on the vessels of Eunice Botes, bringing blades of grass to a new height. Thea van Staden’s minuscule drawings on blocks of pine wood are idiosyncratic and simple; you need to buy many of them to replicate the energy in this display.

It’s not all pottery in the conventional sense of the term that’s on show here. Doreen Hemp’s filigree that evokes the natural progression of sea weed and corral, making you a little afraid to breathe near their delicate linework and razor-fine shards, straddles definition. But then there are also crocheted plants and black angels, from Peta Becker’s Projekt, as well as a magnificent beaded Yoruba throne from Nigeria. To say nothing of the woven fabric from Western and Central Africa that is hung on the wall like massive abstract drawings.

With big names and small, and sometimes names secreted into the hierarchies of power and the value of art in Africa, featuring useful objects and pieces that are made in the rubric of traditional western art, that’s simply there to adorn, this exhibition will blow your mind: it offers a taste of Africa in all its messy diversity, but is worth many visits.

  • Black + White Contemporary curated by Kim Sacks is at Kim Sacks Gallery, Rosebank, Johannesburg, until January 17. It features work from Yoruba, Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as pieces by Marigold Beads, Peta Becker, David Bellamy, Eunice Botes, Ashleigh Christellis, Eylene Clifford, Alla D, Gillian Fuller, Louise Gelderblom, Katherine Glenday, Sandy Godwin, Charmaine Haines, Martin Haines, Doreen Hemp, Carolyn Heydenrych, Pauline Irvine, Ronel Jordaan, Skinny la Minx, Dale Lambert, Lisa Firer, Shelley Maisel, Elke Martins, JP Meyer, Jabu Nala, Thembi Nala, Alice Oelofse, Kim Sacks, Maia Lehr-Sacks, Tali Lehr-Sacks, Aliza Scholk, John Shirley, Gaby Snyman, Kathy Stanley, Clementina van der Walt, Thea van Staden, Helen Vaughan, Lis Vels, Karen Wallace. Call 011 447 5804.


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