(This article was first published on 12 May 2018 in the Weekend Argus, a weekly regional newspaper distributed in the Western Cape, South Africa.)
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
While the newly opened Norval Foundation gallery in Steenberg is bold architecturally, its strength is located not in its physicality but its diverse curatorial team.
Norval’s performance artist multi-disciplinary team comprises established musician Kyle Shepherd alongside performance artist Khanyisile Mbongwa who last year was part of the curatorial team for public arts festival Infecting the City.
Also part of the team are academics Karel Nel, an associate professor at the Wits University arts school, and Portia Malatjie who is a former gallery director of the Association for Visual Arts.
Norval’s executive director Elana Brundyn also has solid track record in the arts fraternity, adding to its credibility as an institution. She was the founder of the commercial Brundyn Gallery and spent the last two decades working in the arts.
During a walkabout through Norval’s gallery rooms, restaurant, sculptures and other features, Brundyn elaborates on their plans.
The non-profit gallery space has been operating for only two weeks and its debut shows indicate an appetite for variety.
“We have local, African and beyond, anything that we find our communities will relate to,” says Brundyn.
“It helps a lot that our curatorial team is diverse. Everybody has a strong voice. It’s not one voice. Curatorial meetings have everybody coming with ideas. That’s where the interesting conversations are.”
The curatorial team’s intention to intervene with provocations and elicit conversations is meanwhile evident in one of the gallery’s rooms featuring Pulling at Threads.
This is a collection of artworks that focus on “weaving, sewing, beading and collage (to) challenge traditional art historical hierarchies that prefer painting and sculpture over craft-based media”.
A close-up look at the artworks shows detail crafted by hours of handwork. Among the artists showing in this room are established names Nick Cave and William Kentridge alongside younger artists.
Acknowledging artists through retrospectives of their work is often a mix of nostalgia with awe and it is no different with Norval’s offering. Its Re/discovery and Memory collection features bold sculptures by artists Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae.
The South African National Gallery’s retrospectives in recent years of multi-media artist Lionel Davis and photographer George Hallett has shown that digging into the archives of an established generation of artists enriches conversations on politics and identity.
Brundyn and her team plan to host various events such as musical concerts, talks as well as running an artist-in-residence programme.
“We are in an art-loving city. We have a community around us. We want to put up great exhibitions and be a platform where our artists are proud to exhibit,” she says.
“Having another platform is enriching. We want to add to what other people are already doing. We want to have beautiful talks and music.”
She adds: “My biggest aspiration is that people come and enjoy the art and are always stimulated. The art might be something they are sometimes crazy about, question things or they might dislike it. I just want them to be enriched.”