Today was jam packed! We set out bright and early to Thenjiwe Nkosi’s artist studio. Thenjiwe is a young South African artist focused on creating art that critiques and benefits communities. The main project she spoke to us about was called Border Farm. It is a project that is part theatre part video that tells the stories of Zimbabwean migrant workers on South African farms. Thenjiwe first asked if the migrant workers wanted to do the project, had several meetings to make sure people understood what it was, and proceeded to create the piece all the while working closely with the community she was filming. The film was broadcast throughout South Africa and received mixed reviews from those who participated. Many of the migrant workers felt the project had not gone far enough. They had expected to see bigger changes in their lives. That being said there were some good outcomes from the project. The leader on the farm that organized the theater parts of the piece used money from the project to go to college and buy a car. One thing Thenjiwe said was important to her is that her projects get “hijacked” meaning that the participants take it over and it hopefully continues after she leaves. This doesn’t always work out as intended but there are other positives that come out of the project. For examples members of the Border Farms team learned how to better understand contracts and bargain for fair wages. She was pretty cool. I liked how conscious she was of her privilege as an artist in terms of having the connections to networks within Johannesburg. She also made it a priority to make her projects truly about the communities she worked in not her own career. One thing that stuck out to me was when she said that she refuses to speak about Border Farms without representatives from the farm being present. In that way people get to retain ownership over their stories.
Next stop was the Market Square area where we visited Imabli and Artist Proof Studio. Imabli is an NGO that teaches people craft skills and gives them an opportunity to sell their work. The Imabli program is three years of free instruction. During this time participants learn sewing, ceramics, printmaking and business techniques. Imbali provides all the materials . On the tour we were so impressed with the potato prints one student made that we asked to get a demonstration. This of course was after we bought the entire shop. There were wonderful pieces in the store it was difficult to choose just one. Works that pass the quality check are sold in the Imabli shop with 40% going back to the artists. Imabli also teaches some business skills to students. We were shown a former student who sells his own prints in his township and in stores. One of the major issues for Imbali is funding.In addition to operation costs, they have many scholarships for students. They get government and private funds as well as a portion of the money from items sold.
At Artist Proof Studio we had out own printmaking workshop. Artist Proof Studio is a printmaking studio that functions as an education space and professional printer. The education program there is four years. The first three focus on printmaking with the final year as an internship to help students find their niche. Here we made prints by painting on a plastic sheet then putting paper over and running it through the press. This was loads of fun! Our printer Tumi kept our spirits high. There was an abundance of good vibes and good music that afternoon. After the workshop we had tea with Kim one of the founders of Artist Proof studio and she gave us a tour of the space. At the end of the tour, we met a couple other members of the staff and learned more about their funding. At Artist Proof Studio they spoke about the new competition they have now because of how well their students are doing. They are working on finding a model of education and business that focuses on education while allowing the business to thrive. One of their major sources is the sale of William Kentridge prints. When working with students there is usually a 50/50 split.
It was interesting comparing Imabli and Arist Proof Studio. Both organizations are focused on education and empowering people to work for themselves. Artist Proof Studio seems to be doing a bit better financially which allows them to do more for students. Some of that comes form the Kentrige prints but I was also wondering how much of Artist Proof’s success is due to social constructs. Imbali teaches craft which is often seen as women’s work and not often viewed as art in the same way that a print is. This will affect pricing of items and the market. Printmaking is an established form of printmaking in South Africa with a set market. The harder question, which Imbali has to figure out, is how do you make a handmade print on fabric stand out from all the fabrics one can buy cheaply at the store? I don’t have the answer but it is interesting to think about.