Richard, good evening. I received information regarding your current exhibition at JohansBorman Fine Art titled Open Agenda which is on until 29 March 2014. After having seen the images of the artworks online on the gallery’s website, I was interested in asking you some questions in this interview regarding this exhibition.
1. How is the exhibition going?
Thank you Christian. The exhibition has been a very humbling success and l am grateful to the gallery, the collectors and fellow artists who have showed their support. I was also fortunate that the exhibition is taking place at a time that creativity is being celebrated in Cape Town as it is the World Design Capital. In addition, some of the pieces on this exhibition were also part of the Cape Town Art Fair which took place towards the end of February and thus allowing more public exposure. The reception from the audience to the work has been very positive.
2. Your exhibition is titled Open Agenda. What do you mean by this title?
To me art provokes thought and encourages discussion, and the artworks in this exhibition aim at engaging the audience in a dialogue on a variety of topics. The exhibition space becomes a place where individuals can congregate and debate openly on the various topics on the agenda as revealed by the paintings; hence I titled it ‘Open Agenda’. Most of the paintings are interpretations of the world that we live in. Rather than exploring a single theme like in a series of works, each piece is unique, and addresses a particular on-going social issue ranging from rape and corruption to terrorism and neo-colonialism. Some works are less critical as they are simply interpretations of day to day life; for example, the inspiration for the painting ‘From town to Table View’ was my observation of passengers in the BRT bus service that I use on a regular basis, while ‘Lobola cows’ is inspired by my take on the African tradition of paying a bride price.
3. Africa is now seen as a continent full of potential and with a promising emerging market. Do you agree with this?
I fully agree with this statement. I feel that Africa has always been a continent full of wealth and cultural diversity. It is unfortunate that that is only been widely recognised today. In terms of its creativity, art has been an important form of communication and in celebration of African cultural activities. Historic societies like Khoi-San decorated their caves with rock art that was not only decoratively beautiful, but also was a means of documenting their hunter gather economy and communicated their spirituality of shamanism. This has continued up until today, though the ways of expression has developed.
The future of the continent looks bright and it is my hope that most Africans see this potential and work hard to make the continent a super power.
4. Aren’t you a bit pessimistic in the painting ‘The sold continent’?
I do not believe so. In this particular artwork, l am highlighting the fact that Africa’s past colonisers are still benefiting from the wealth of Africa even though the continent is said to be off the ‘colonial york’. Despite this and the abolishment of the slave trade, it is apparent that these past colonisers still stride on the continent that provided the resources and capital to accelerate the industrial revolution. One would wish for Africa, with is vast material resources and wealth, to rise and be a powerful continent. However, because of exploitation and influence from external forces, it still remains a sold continent.
5. In your paintings ‘Piggy bank’ and in ‘The Reserve Bank of Corruption’ are you hitting on international or African financial institutions?
Corruption, bribery and greed is bad, whether it’s locally or internationally because it deprives the upliftment of the citizenry of any nation. For every cent stolen form public funds, more and more citizens are deprived of having a better life for all. It is unfortunate that this situation is very prevalent in Africa.
6. In Cape to Cairo, there is an inscription on it which says “Made in China”. What do you want to say? Is it about the growing role of China in Africa?
In this drawing, I interpret the advent of neo-colonialism. It is my view that China is strategically and subtly taking over the continent. Most of Chinese mass produced cheap products (made in China) are flooding African markets and pushing local businesses out of business. At the same time they have access to raw materials required to make the Chinese nation a super power.
7. Who is the slave in your one of your painting ‘The Slave’?
The slave in this artwork is that bureaucrat who is enslaved by his covetous masters to deliver. He hides behind a screen as he serves his masters, but to the majority he appears to have been liberated.
8. I do not understand fully what you want to say in ‘Venus in donkey cart’?
In this piece, l celebrate the beauty of dark skinned women of Africa. This African Venus, a goddess of love, beauty, sex and fertility, arrives in one of the African cities in a cart pulled by a donkey. It is a reinterpretation of the Roman mythology of Venus, who was believed to be of intense beauty and a goddess.
9. In ‘Scream for beloved Kenya’ are you alluding to the recent killings at a Nairobi Mall. It is completely apocalyptic and directly a scene inspired from Bosch. Do you want to frighten us?
I find it interesting that you see this artwork having a connection with Bosch. This artwork is an interpretation of the horrific terrorist attack in September 2013 in Kenya at a Nairobi shopping mall in which innocent lives were lost. In this piece, on one panel the attackers enter the building ready to attack, and the snake, which is let out of its box, is a symbol of terror. I borrow the figure of Munch’s The Scream to symbolize the horrific terror of the attack. One the other panel, one of the attackers has been hiding in a surprise box and attacks from the inside. Its seems there is nowhere to go? Scream for beloved Kenya, like the Guernica by Picasso, is a piece of artwork that documents a horrific event in world history.
I enjoyed your work in this exhibition. You seem however to be sombre than in the previous exhibition. Why?
Art is something that is serious. My previous exhibition had a number of references to Old Masters’ compositions as compared to in this recent body of work. I however expand on my own ideas as well as reinterpreting those of modern masters into current socio-political issues. These works are essentially about openness, questioning and contemplation; they challenge those who engage with them to see the world differently through my eyes as an artist.
1 Is your work influenced by Zimbabwe where you were born?
The events that took place in my country of birth have been very important in allow me to develop my thoughts and to ask questions. The society there is highly politicized. This has helped me to develop my ideas and concepts into visual form.
1 What can we look out for in your next exhibition? Do you think artists have a moral role to play?
My next exhibition, taking place later on in the year, will also continue with the international dialogue around contemporary African art – examining and celebrating the society we live in and confirming the value of art as a mirror of society. Indeed artists from all artistic genres do have a moral role to play. They challenge society to see the world and their place in it differently.
Christian Sulger Buel is an art collector based in London. He has been collecting tribal art and contemporary art for the last 30 years.