“ART STRIVES TO EXPRESS; CRAFT STRIVES FOR EXCELLENCE. GOOD ART HAS GOOD CRAFT, GOOD CRAFT IS ARTISTIC. WITHIN EVERY CRAFT THERE EXISTS ARTISTS. WITHIN EVERY ARTIST THERE IS CRAFT” – RALPH REICHENBACH, CRAFTER
In October 2008, African ministers responsible for Arts and Culture met in Algiers under the auspices of the African Union and adopted the “Plan of Action on Cultural Industries”. Key to this policy was a commitment by governments to greater investment in these industries, the empowerment of artists, and the building of local, regional, continental and international markets for creative goods. The emphasis on creative industries has shifted the language from “audiences” to “markets” for arts and crafts.
The circulation and dissemination of innovative ideas and contemporary productions by South African crafters, new strategies and visual language forums have had a significant impact on the production, representation and distribution of contemporary craft. While the preoccupation of Beautiful Things with the theme HANDS ON is essentially about display and sales, we aim to extend the enquiry into the critique of historicism and the relationship between art, commerce and culture in the production of modern consciousness.
To increase awareness about crafters who live and produce handmade craft products and provide the craft-appreciating public with craft objects that are exciting and carry aesthetic value. The Beautiful Things Exhibition, besides celebrating the makers of the craft objects, also seeks to increase the significance of aspects of contemporary craft and crafters and bring their work to the marketplace.
There is a fiery tension between the worlds of craft and contemporary art. Craft is seen as similar but distinct from design or art, more likely to be associated with authenticity, quality, handcrafting, workmanship, skill, beauty and originality. Beautiful Things is the panoptic project title and we use HANDS ON as an inspirational and working title. The works have been selected in a way that resonates with the rhythmic recurrence of materials, methods and shapes. The aim is not to define a commonality but rather to suggest that there exists a wealth of diversity and a fervent desire to express individuality.
In terms of curatorial vision, the exhibition does not articulate any particular theme bar HANDS ON, besides the intention to represent the most significant panorama of current South African craft practice. The crafters and craft products selected present a new generation of crafters who have borne witness to political, economic and cultural transition.
Beautiful Things embraces and celebrates shifts in social realities via the creation of an artistic language, thus expressing the world through creative visions informed by the changes the country has seen. In so doing we try to capture the contemporary thirst to discover alternative histories and embrace the unpredictable trajectory of cultural narratives in post-apartheid South Africa.
The new vision for arts and culture goes beyond the social cohesion of nourishing the soul of the nation – we believe that arts and culture play a vital role in the economic self-determination and skills development of a people. The late artist, curator, writer and educator, Dr David Koloane, mused in his essay in the catalogue, “Liberated Voices”… “It cannot come as a surprise to anyone that ever since the first signs of the drastic socio-political shift in South Africa, there should have been expectations of new aesthetic responses to the changing circumstances”. – ANDILE MAGENGELELE (2023)
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