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Re-Mixing History: African Women Artists at Art Basel Miami Beach 2017

Tony Gum, 2017, Xhosa Woman / Umfazi, 46 x 97cm, Courtesy Christopher Moller Gallery ​


In the "Fake News" era, one thing is for sure: at Art Basel Miami Beach this year, women artists were represented in historic numbers. Art Basel Miami Beach reportedly attracted an attendance of over 82,000 visitors, including influential collectors, directors, curators, trustees and patrons of leading international museums and institutions, many of them with "buy work by women artists' listed first on their shopping lists. Meanwhile, North American museum directors hurriedly draft women's initiatives to address how women artists have, until now, largely been written out of art history and art museum collections. In this spirit, I put together a "shopping list" of women artists from the motherland culled from the fairs. All women artists. All from the continent of Africa. Owing to my own South African background, this task was right up my alley.

South Africa’s Stevenson featured powerful works by four Southern African women, including Swazi-born Nandipha Mntambo. Mntambo is the subject of a survey at the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town, also known as “Africa’s MoMA,” as it is the largest contemporary African art collection on the continent. Mntambo’s abstract sculptures, created from Nguni cow hides using her knowledge of taxidermy, are juxtaposed with South African figurative sculptor Claudette Schreuders' painted wooden figures. Schreuders' works are rooted in African and European sculptural traditions, and reflect the ambiguities of the search for an 'African' identity in the post-apartheid era. 

Zimbabwean Portia Zvavahera’s free-form paintings are contrasted with Zanele Muholi (another South African)’s photographs from her Somnyama Ngonyama self-portrait series. Zvavahera represented Zimbabwe at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, while Muholi, an activist as well as an artist, documents black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people's lives in various townships in South Africa.

Also at the main fair, Goodman Gallery represented Tracey Rose. Jack Shainman displayed Toyin Ojih Odutola, a Nigerian-born multimedia artist. "International operator" street and studio-based artist faith47 made her fifth Art Basel Miami Beach appearance. While best known for her performances, video installations, and photographs, the polymath Tracey Rose surprised with mixed media works on paper for this year. South African artist Judith Mason's tapestries displayed a technical virtuosity and were rich in symbolism and mythology, while idiosyncratic collaborative couple Dokter and Misses showed off modernist furniture pieces with angular lines and  a boldly upbeat energy. 

Over at PULSE, Cape Town artist Tony Gum had a solo show. Gum received the 2017 Miami Beach PULSE PRIZE, a jury-awarded, cash grant of $2,500 given for exhibiting in a SOLO booth at the fair. Gum's figurative painting "Umfazi" references Xhosa tradition colliding with contemporary life.

As a part of RAW, Miami-based South African interdisciplinary artist Anja Marais exhibited her large scale paste-up portraits titled "Out of Sight; Out of Mind," while over on East Flagler Street, PRIZM Art Fair included a painting by Nigerian-born and based Yadichinma Ukola-Kalu. At the JUXTAPOZ clubhouse, nomadic homegirl faith47 and Inka Kendzia collaborated on immersive video installation MYSTERIUM TREMENDUM. WM

faith47 and Inka Kendzia, MYSTERIUM TREMENDUM, Immersive video installation collaboration.

Tracey Rose, Untitled vi, 2012-13, Mixed media on paper, 29.7 x 21 cm, Courtesy Goodman Gallery

Dokter and Misses, LALA Limo, 2017, Courtesy Southern Guild

Zanele Muholi Phaphama, at Cassilhaus, North Carolina, 2016, Silver gelatin print, image 100 x 69.5cm, paper 110 x 79.5cm, edition of 8 + 2AP, Courtesy Stevenson

Nandipha Mntambo, Veiled Desires 2, 2017, Cowhide, resin, polyester mesh, waxed cord and steel frame, 194 x 132 x 27cm, Courtesy Stevenson


Judith Mason, 2014, For the lion roars himself compleat...[sic], Edition 1/5, Tapestry 2.10m x 2.63m, Courtesy Stephens Tapestry Studio

Claudette Schreuders, Hair, 2017, Jelutong wood, enamel and oil paint, 49 x 24 x 15cm, Courtesy Stevenson 

Anja Marais, Out of Sight; Out of Mind, Installation, detail. All images ANJA MARAIS © 2017

Anja Marais, Out of Sight; Out of Mind, Installation, detail. All images ANJA MARAIS © 2017

Anja Marais, Out of Sight; Out of Mind, Installation, detail. All images ANJA MARAIS © 2017

Portia Zvavahera Taura, Neni Ndapota (A Letter to My Daughter), 2017, Oil-based printing ink and oil bar on canvas, 127 x 98cm 

Yadichinma Ukola-Kalu, Untitled, Acrylic on Canvas, 30” x 40”  

Petra Mason

Cultural historian and vintage photography book author published by Rizzoli New York. Founder Obscure Studio and ArtHit. Whitehot arts and culture contributor since 2016.

Photography by (c) Thekiso Mokhele / Obscure Studio


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