African Leipzig Project: African and German artists exhibit together in Maboneng

The exhibition, which features 20 artists who were part of the LIA-Leipzig International Art Programme in Leipzig, Germany, 2022-2023 is from 15 April-31 May, 2023.

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Sometime last year I met two excited young women at an opening of an exhibition at a Parkhurst based gallery in Johannesburg. As I noticed their exuberance and a general sense of being in good space, I got curious about who these young women were.  I got to know that they had just graduated from Wits University in fine art.  But more importantly at that time, both were excited to have been completed an artist residency programme in Germany. As I spoke to them, I realised that this programme they were talking about seemed to have transformed their lives in a tremendous way. 

And indeed, my conclusion was confirmed at a subsequent meeting we had at a Rosebank Coffee shop a few days later, where it became apparent to me that this residency was more than a space where they could practice their art, but offers the participants an opportunity to connect and collaborate with other artists from Germany and earn from each other. The two South African artists also had an opportunity to learn about Germany society and even squeezed in amid working, a tight working schedule, an opportunity to travel to neighbouring Switzerland as well.

Jesko von Samson of the German Embassy in Pretoria.

I also found the influence of their art practice quite intriguing, especially the one artist who is South African born with Taiwanese roots, as her parents were part of the wave of Taiwanese migrants that came to South Africa after the country attained freedom in 1994, most of whom we could see trading in clothes in the streets of Johannesburg CBD. That is before they were replaced by African immigrants from the rest of the Africa continent in subsequent years as the Taiwanese traders moved into big business in South Africa such as opening restaurants, shops in shopping centres and operating in other sectors of the South African economy, such as operating manufacturing factories and the export business.

As fate would have it, I had yet another encounter with Tzung-Hui Lauren Lee on Saturday, and I immediately remembered what she had told me about her art practice last year. It is that, although she was educated at Wits, and for all practical reasons, she is South African, having been born and grew up here, and has very little in the form of memory to offer regarding her Taiwanese roots, even though she has since visited Taiwan a few times, she chose to practice her art within the realm of Chinese tradition. She focusses specifically on her Budhist religion.

“We have met before, sometime last year,” she told well known art dealer and art book publisher David Krut as he introduced us at the opening of the exhibition African Leipzig, a group exhibition, at The Less Good Lounge, The Centre of Less Good Idea, Arts on Main, in Maboneng on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

I felt a bit uncomfortable as since our last meeting, I had been hesitating to publish their story as I needed something to anchor the story on, and this exhibition was it.  On Saturday, she told me that her friend, Hemali Khoosal, could not be there as she is now studying for a Masters’ Degree at Gold Smith in the UK. “We are always in touch and I will also go and study there next year,” she told me.

Having commenced in February 2022 and having concluded in February 2023, African Leipzig is a project between The Centre for Less Good Idea and David Krut Projects, both based on Arts on Main, and LIA-Leipzig International Art Programme.

Guests, dignitaries and students at the opening of t African Lepzig exhibition. Picture by Zivanai Matanyi.

African Leipzig is primarily a residency about developing new ways of working and collaborating across continents and cultures. Artists were encouraged to bring their own disciplines and ways of working to the process, with a particular focus on ways of working within the digital realm-video, performance, media art, and sound art. Each artist spent three months in studios within this massive regenerated factory, which was the largest cotton spinning mill in Europe up until the end of the Cold War. It now provides studios for more than 100 artists, as well as many commercial art galleries and more.

“I started the residency in my last year at university in 2007. I studied art history and culture.  In 16 years we have since had over 500 artists in residency from all over the world working in our five studios in Leipzig. It has been such a great experience witnessing artists from different backgrounds and cultures collaborate,” Anna, founder of LIA-Leipzig International Art Programme, who travelled from Germany for the opening of the exhibition told CITYLIFE/ARTS in an interview.

The site of has an ominous history to and a complex relationship with Africa. It developed out of and continues to be implicated in the history of colonialism and extraction in Africa by Germany. This however for the participating artists not an overt provocation throughout the residencies, but rather served as a possible point of entry into the myriad explorations and collaborations.

Anna Louise Rolland, Jesko von Samson, Browyn Lace and Maria Ondrej. Picture by Zivanai Matanyi.

“Very interestingly, Leipzig is just like Maboneng. It is this massive structure that is a former cotton factory, that has been transformed into art studios and galleries, in the same transformation that happened here in Maboneng,” Bronwyn Lace, Director of The Centre for Less Good Idea told me. During the residency, she visited the place twice.

“Interdisciplinary collaboration, play and a hybrid analogue and digital approach to the etching process were some of the ways of working that emerged through the residency processes.  The artists also spent time engaging with the museums and galleries in the area, emerging themselves in the daily life of Leipzig and its surroundings. One in particular, The Museum of  Druckkunst Leipzig, is a unique  institution that documents  the earliest of printing  methods for books , engraving and etching presses, and being both a museum  and a printing workshop. It is particularly used by artists.

“For us hosting the artists who made their prints in our studios, Vlado and Maria Ondrej Atelier Fur Radierung, was such a pleasure as we witnessed them collaborating and experiementing. The studios are housed in my father’s printing company,” said Maria Ondrej who also flew all the way  from Germany to attend the opening of African Leipzig.

The etchings on exhibit by African Leipzig, bear the markings, gestures and reflections of the 20 artists who took part in the residency programme. In this way each artwork functions as a record of engagement – a collaborative and free spirited experimentation with the generative process of print making,” the curators of the exhibition state in their curatorial note accompanying the exhibition.

Now where to from here for the African Leipzig Residency programme?

“We are happy to announce that the residency programme will continue, and as the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, we are excited to announce that the German Federal Office, will sponsor more artists from Africa to attend, the art residency,” said Jesko von Samson, Counsellor, Cultural Affairs at the  Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Pretoria, who spoke on behalf of the Ambassador, whom he said could not attend due to other commitments. “I know that the Ambassador would have loved to attend, especially because he is a scholar of African history, having studied African history,” von Samson added.

In a side-line interview with CITYLIFE/ARTS, Samson revealed that this time around, they were expanding the scope of the pool of participating artists to the southern African region.

“This time, besides South Africa, we are also going to involve artists from Lesotho and Eswatin. The decision to extent the residency sponsorship was actually made last week.”

So here you get it artists there from Lesotho, South Africa and Eswatini, you better prepare your portfolios and look out for the next call for the African Leipzig project, under the auspices of LIA-Leipzig International Art Programme.

The following 20 artists from South Africa (9), Ethiopia (1) and Germany (10) are part of the  African Leipzig exhibition currently on till May 31, 2023: Katherine Bull, Freshwoyen Endrias, Roxy Kaczmarek, Hemali Khoosal, Bongile Lecoge-Zulu, Motlhoki Nono, Natalie Paneng, Oupa Sibeko, Tzung-Hui Lauren Lee, Xhanti Zwelendaba, Sebastian Burger, Silke Koch, Bjorn Melhus, Maria Ondrej, Vlado Ondrej, Ramona Schacht, Jana Schultz, Maria Schumacher, Raul Walch and Angelika Waniek.

.African Leipzig group exhibition is on from 15 April -31 May, 2023, The Less Good Lounge, The Centre for Less Good Idea, Arts on Main, 264 Fox Street, Maboneng.

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