CityLife Arts

South African visual artist Stefan Smit takes Covid-19-inspired art works to L.A Art Show

The Joburg based artist speaks to us about his body of work and how he ended up participating in the show.

By Edward Tsumele

One of the most exciting events on the Los Angeles cultural scene is the LA Art Show, which for over 25 years provided arts lovers in general, and art collectors in particular, with something to look forward to. However with the Covid-19 out break globally, the famous art feast was affected as it could not go on as normal. But now the good news is, not only is it back, having kick-started yesterday, July 29, 2021 running until August 20, 2021, but people will attend the show the normal way, physically going there.

And like its previous editions, this year, it attracted galleries and artists from around the world. South African visual artist Stefan Smit, from Johannesburg, is one of them.

Smit is participating at the LA Art Show, showcasing his powerful visual representation of how in South African we were affected by Covid-19. The body of work is also a commentary on  the restrictions that kicked in, such as cigarettes and alcohol bans, as well as restrictions on people’s movement as the government tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus, especially at risk adjusted Level 5.

Smit’s work is a classic example of how artists irrespective of the situation they may personally find themselves in, affecting everyone, will always find a way to express themselves at a personal level, as well as represent the mood prevailing in society as people, in the case of Covid-19, the people’s fears and anxieties. His current body of work at the show deals with that.

Smit has exhibited his work locally and internationally, and his mural work has also been popular with corporate clients, giving the artist an opportunity to work with leading brands such as MTN, Showmax and Netflix, among others.

CityLIfe/ARTS caught up with Smit yesterday, for an interview as his body of work was opened to the public to view as the LA Art show officially opened.

And in his artist statement about his current body of work, that is currently in display in the US this is what he had to say:

When confronted with change we all react differently and sometimes struggle more than others because of certain influences outside our sphere of control, like travel restrictions or a chemical imbalance in our brains. My latest body of work is in a sense a visual diary into recent unfolding world events from awareness to denial and finally an uncomfortable acceptance. Covid continues to crash through my country like an unrelenting wave and I’d been ruminating on the mental toll this has exacted on so many while painting these pieces. Finding certain symbols weaving their way into the work like the traffic lights and aircrafts, representing a lack of autonomy which was at it’s worst when leaving the house was only allowed for grocery shopping or emergencies at one stage. Things in South Africa have been bouncing back and forth between varying levels from travel restrictions to alcohol bans as we’ve seen cases rise and fall. The figures in my work are almost always covering their eyes or willingly have them shut which at the time was an unnerving admission to the more urgent economic issues these problems were causing and our inability to see or acknowledge them. Like the youth unemployment rate, which we’ve now begun to see unfold with the widespread looting and riots that recently gripped our country. As I completed the work it was like each one embodied chronological phases of this from the initial shock to the mixed signals given by the government about alternating states of lock down and conflicting information all the way through to my current state of an uneasy acceptance. Just to be clear though, I love my country and am not criticising it but rather sharing my observations, right or wrong.”

And how did he get to be exhibiting internationally, an opportunity currently eluding several artists due to the disruption to the art market that Covid-19 caused?

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“I was asked by the amazing Abend Gallery who I had my first international solo exhibition with last year. And this is a huge step forward for my career as the LA Art Show is one of the most prestigious international art shows to be included in.   I’m based in Joburg and produced this current body of work here too. It was produced while reflecting back on the Covid pandemic and how it all came about and then snowballed into what we see today. It’s the first body of work I’ve produced that acts as a chronological, visual diary that embodies elements from specific stages of the past 15 months. And although I was initially hesitant to talk about this topic through my work, it also felt cathartic to express these ideas and I think it was conveyed in a unique way that doesn’t scream Covid or fear mongering,’ he told CITYLIFE/ARTS in an interview yesterday.

“Now more than ever, we need a physical art fair in Los Angeles to bring the creative community back together,” says LA Art Show producer and director Kassandra Voyagis.

“2020 has been such a challenging year for everyone, and even though things won’t be how they were before, we can’t let 2021 go by without having an art fair in the city. Our community needs something to look forward to,” she added.

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