RMB Turbine Art Fair which this year has gone virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, has appointed indepenent curator LONDI MODIKO to be this year’s curator and mentor for the fiar’s Talent Unlocked programme. The the art fair will take place from August 28 to September 2.CityLife Arts editor EDWARD TSUMELE had a chat with Modiko.
ET. Tell us briefly about yur interest in art – where you grew up and how this interest was triggered.
LM: I was born eMaqongqo in Northern KZN, most of my childhood was spent in the Vaal. Growing up I was the creative and curious child in my family, a career In the arts was inevitable. I studied Fine Art at the Durban University of Technology and then furthered my studies at the University of Johannesburg whilst working for David Krut and later spent 6 years at the Goodman Gallery before a short stint at WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery.
ET. Tell us about your journey as an independent curator and advisor – what does a day look like for you.
LM: I’ve been independent for almost three years primarily working as an art consultant & curator- it’s been challenging but rewarding journey.
Before embarking on my art entrepreneur journey I worked as a co-director for a certain renowned young gallery for about 16 months. The owner thought that the Johannesburg branch wasn’t doing as well as he had hoped it would & decided to close it, this meant that I would was out of a job. Instead of looking for something else I decided to start an art consultancy. One could say my circumstance forced me into independence.
My days are never the same as I am often juggling various projects at the same time. I spend a lot of time writing emails and doing admin. I outsource assistance for specific projects and when there’s a need.
In these three years my personal and career development have been my priority, I’ve focused on things that are in line with my long term goals. One of them being, co-founding and realizing the passion project the UNDERLINE Show.
ET. As art advisor you probably deal a lot with corporates or individuals about art collection and which artists to look out for and buy wisely. Can you expand on that thinking?
LM: In South Africa, Black young artists have a fresh and acute approach to dealing with current cultural and social issues in their work, their work appeals to me. I encourage my clients to engage and buy their work.
ET:. One of the issues you might have noticed as an advisor is a slow but steady interest if not curiosity by the South African professionals, to want to get into the habit of art collecting, but lack knowledge about whom to collect, particularly when it comes to new collectors. What is your experience with such collectors and attitudes towards art collecting?
LM: There seems to be a lot of interest and talk about art and investing in art. However, from my observation this doesn’t often translate into people committing to buying the art. It is wonderful to see more South Africans engaging with art through Social Media, art fairs, galleries etc but I’ve noticed that most are often reluctant to spend their disposable income on it. Many of the collectors I work with were buying art before working with me. When it comes to our involvement in the arts in meaningful ways, we still have a long way to go in South Africa. So, to answer your question I don’t think the issue is who to collect, it’s actually shifting our minds into buying art.
ET: .Art fairs such as Turbine Art Fair, latitudes Art Fair, FNB Art Fair and Underline play an important role in growing public interest and making art available to the general public. Would you agree.
LM: Yes, these platforms are doing a great job in making art available to enthusiasts. What set the UNDERLINE model apart was that it was a platform dedicated to supporting independent creative voices at no cost. We saw an opportunity to come together and pool our knowledge to create a space that is accessible for those functioning independently, but also those working within and outside cultural institutions – who are longing to realise their independent projects. Often exhibition spaces in this country require exorbitant to fees for participation.
ET. How did you get involved to be both a mentor and curator for Talent Unlocked this year?
LM: I was approached by RMB Private bank (the mentorship & exhibition sponsor) to work on the project. I assume they’d heard about me or had seen the work I’ve done and thought I was suited for the task.
ET: Obviously this year is not a normal year as the world is facing a pandemic, affecting all aspects of life, social, economic and the art trade and practice- What were the difficulties you experienced in selecting artists and guiding them to create this work?
LM: The whole mentorship was done online via Zoom during the first 3 the months of the South African lockdown. We all had to be resourceful and come up with solutions to make it work. To my surprise, it was all seamless and worked out well. However, art is best experienced physically, it would have been a more enjoyable experience for everyone if we were able to meet and workshop in the various spaces we had initially booked.
ET. I also notice that you have this year involved rural based artists -such as from Limpopo -I have seen images of women clad in xibhelane-was this deliberate – i mean involving rural based artists or themes that depict a culture steeped in rural tradition
LM: The artists chosen are talented and I thought they were worthy of participating in the programme to give them an opportunity to take their skills to the next level.
ET: You are the co-founder of UNDERLINE, an exhibition platform for independent curators launched in September 2019, and it looks like the launch edition was a success. can you tell us more about this platform and its future especially under the current state of uncertainties due to the pandemic. What have you guys learned from the experience of running this alternative platform.
LM: As successful as the first iteration was, myself and my partner Lara Koseff made a few costly foundation mistakes that we’ve learnt from. We’ve tweaked the model and have adapted it to the times- the entity has restructured and has re-branded and is now called INCCA -Independent Network for Contemporary Culture & Art https://incca.org.za/About-1
We’ve dedicated this year to ‘fixing our house’ and have opted to ‘wait out the storm’ that is Covid-19. We are working on a number of exciting innovative projects that will be realized in 2021.