In this conversation – mediated between Dakar, Cape Town, and Lagos – Senegalese artist, Omar Ba and Elana Brundyn of the Norval Foundation reflect on how artists and institutions collaborate, as well as how such institutional collaborations can further an artist’s oeuvre.
Jareh Das (JD): Omar, you are currently preparing to show in South Africa for the first time, as well as for your institutional solo, “Same Dream”, at Power Plant Gallery, Toronto. Beyond the art fair and exhibition format, how have you approached working globally to engage with the different contexts in which your work is shown?
Omar Ba (OB): The relationship between artists and institutions centres on the public. How can my work connect different publics and transcend the context of where it’s been made, hence this ongoing exploration into paintings that traverse identity politics, coloniality, and tradition? It’s a new experience for me, working with institutions, but it is important to work outside of the commercial context. I don’t want to be restricted in how I work or be known for just one approach to painting.
I want the works to question history whilst looking speculatively to the future.
JD: In exhibiting your paintings, an institution frames your work in a certain way. Your work is often written about with a strong emphasis on ‘blackness’, which is – of course – highly political, tied into the identity politics of an African artist working internationally. Do you see your paintings as a manifestation of alternative visions/alternative futures that speak beyond these kinds of identity politics?
OB: My paintings are open to a lot of interpretations. They are surreal, tap into the subconscious, and avoid a fixed meaning, which moves them beyond the identity politics of blackness and Africanness and makes them accessible to all. I view my paintings as an alternative way to communicate contemporary problems, and I want the works to question history whilst looking speculatively to the future.
JD: Elana, as a key figure from the South African art scene – first in your role as an inaugural founding member of Zeitz MOCAA, and now as the executive director of Norval Foundation – how do you believe institutions contribute to furthering the careers of artists, not just in terms of making artists more visible and accessible, but also in terms of creating market value, both locally and globally?
Elana Brundyn (EB): Our mission is to make art more available and accessible, as well as to research and to educate. Through this research, Norval Foundation focuses on what makes an art piece valuable in a cultural context and worthy of its place in a public institution. In terms of creating market value or influencing a global audience, there has been a lot of research done into how an artwork’s economic value is affected by its exhibition history and provenance. Sometimes, museum provenance can affect not only a specific work, but the artist’s entire oeuvre. It is in the artist’s and collector’s interest that their work is seen on the right public platforms. I personally think that museum research and exhibitions issue that important cultural seal of approval.
JD: Elana and Omar, how do you mediate between artists’ voices and institutional visions when working together?
OB: Indeed, institutions provide a platform and extend the experience of my paintings to different audiences. It’s another exhibition format that is supported by ongoing conversations between both the artist and the institution. This is quite an important contemplation for me, as I begin to work more institutionally.
EB: In my opinion, we don’t mediate between the artists and the institution; our vision is to provide a platform where artists can articulate their own voice.
An article by Jareh Das
Featured image : Omar Ba, “Autopsie de nos consciences 2”, 2018. Oil, pencil, Gouache, acrylic on Kraft-polyester paper. 195 x 180cm. Courtesy Templon, Paris & Brussels.
This article was written for The Art Momentum | Cape Town Art Fair Artpaper. [French version inside]
Articles are published in their original language | Les articles sont publiés dans leur langue d’origine