We kicked off today’s adventure with a visit to the Museum of African Design (MOAD). The museum is located in an older warehouse that is part of a larger set of 80 buildings that have been purchased by a developer in effort to revitalize the area. Aaron, the director of the museum, explained that the developer saw potential for a successful museum due to the amount of foot and car traffic in the road surrounding the area. The current exhibit at the museum was created by several Danish artists that concerns ultracontemporary art. Local artists come to the museum everyday to present works that they have created within the past few days, and each piece must be in reaction to a very recent event. While the idea is unique and the displays are fascinating, it is clear that MOAD is undergoing an identity crisis. They aren’t really a design museum, much less an African design museum, and participation in the current exhibit is limited to local artists who have the ability to present their work at 2:00 pm on a weekday, making it almost impossible for rising artists
with a 9 to 5 to get involved. Though the modern art pieces laden with social commentary were certainly interesting to look at and talk about, the museum’s name certainly feels like a discomforting misnomer based on its content. That being said, Aaron mentioned that the museum is making efforts to discover its identity by trying to reach out to more South African and African artists and establishing a board of directors to help make critical decisions. We’ll see where MOAD goes from here, and hopefully the museum finds its own unique identity.
From there we went onto meet artist Stephen Hobbs at his workspace. He showed us around the studio and introduced us to a few of his colleagues who help make his designs and ideas come to life. One wall was completely covered in photos, sketches, scale models, small sculptures, and text that showed countless threads of ideas. There was so much information and creativity on that one wall that all of its interconnections seemed to be
only apparent to Stephen, but it was inspiring to see one person’s train of thought and how it leads into physical art. Stephen also led an extensive conversation about how the choices you make connect to your vision and how you will change the world. His views on the importance of community and mutual understanding seemed to influence each piece of art he has created, which he clearly takes pride in, and rightfully so.
After our meeting with Stephen we returned to MOAD to watch today’s presentation of the new artworks and see them get placed around the exhibit space. To our surprise, we wound up seeing each artist present their piece, participating in a brief audience discussion, and, finally, listening to the exhibit’s creators decide whether or not each piece actually belonged in their exhibition. I really enjoyed hearing other people’s thoughts and interpretations of the artwork, but the one of the creators unnecessarily tore into one of the works because he found it too general for the exhibit. I understand that as the creators they’re allowed to decide what goes into the exhibition, but it seemed as though there was too much emphasis on following the very specific rules rather than creating meaningful art that commented on current events.
Our last stop was at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG). We were toured around by a guide named Khozi, who explained that the tour guides at JAG are actually all volunteers through the Friends of JAG organization. Recent events have made it difficult for JAG to be able to reach out further to the community, especially due to the police renting out part of its parking lot and significant water damage to the building due to poor roofing and repairs that only made the situation worse. The exhibits themselves were beautiful, especially their displays of South African art (including Gerard Sekoto), but I was continuously concerned about the physical wellbeing of the building and their lack of funding. There’s plenty of high-quality work in the museum that deserves to be on display and seen by many, but the water damage and lack of funds to support a solid staff and the necessary repairs seems to have reached critical point.