Young creatives in Joburg CBD organize a Women’s Month exhibition entitled Burning issues

By Edward Tsumele

Currently it is simply too easy for many in the cultural and creative space to give up, throw their hands in the air and say there is little they can do to change the difficult situation they are facing. Many artists are unemployed, and in fact have been unemployed for quite a while, up to 18 months now, due to the Covid-19, situation, but also because of the state of the economy which is not growing sufficiently enough to accommodate those looking for opportunities. But it is the Covid19-situation and the lockdowns that go with it that have made the life of a creative much harder for the past 18 months.

However there is light at the end of the tunnel for some in the industry, especially those that think beyond the immediate difficulties.

This reality hit me on Sunday, August 8, 2021, when I saw what appeared to be an opening of an exhibition being streamed live on Facebook somewhere in Joburg CBD. I decided to investigate. That spare of the moment curiosity took me to No.66 Simmons Street, central Johannesburg, where indeed there was an exhibition opening and the people I found there were young creatives. They had decided that with or without money, they were going to assist one of their own to put up a Women’s Month themed exhibition in an empty store-cum art gallery/cum performance space, depending on the need for the day. I found one of them, a young woman on the DJ’s deck, playing  soft jazz tunes to amplify the experience of viewing the art works on the wall of the room, while others were there to view the stunning art works  on display in the ‘art gallery’.

It is then that I actually realized that I had stumbled on a wonderful exhibition of a thematically relevant body of work, comprising of portraits of women grappling with life and other issues in inner city Johannesburg.  Some of these women have to deal with quite a number of challenges, some labeled prostitutes and therefore looked down upon, others having to deal with Gender Based Violence and yet others are labeled slay queens. A Slay Queen is a demeaning street word that refers to especially young women who sleep with rich, often married older men for financial gain.

These characters are beautifully given life and personalities by the imagination of a young student artist,

Esetwo Portion, who is in her final year at a visual art school called Imbali, housed at the Bus Factory in Newtown.  By clever use of materials including discarded objects, such as match sticks in some cases, and paint in others, Portion has created portraits of these women struggling with life issues in a hostile environment.

With no budget to speak of, the artist has managed to get around that predicament by working through a new art collaborative grouping called Kolektive Lab, started and directed by young creatives in the inner city working with similar youth led organizations to put up shows ranging from exhibitions to poetry now that the Covid-19 lockdown regulations gives a bit of room for shows to take place with Covid-19 rules and conditions enforced and accordingly applied.

For example, what the youth have done there at 66 Simmons Street is indeed creative thinking. They have identified an unoccupied room on the first floor of the building that they hire on a short term basis but to generate income, they rent it out to different brands to use as a store during weekdays.

But come Sunday, the enterprising creatives hire it out to content producers, such visual artists and those hosting poetry sessions. Their business model is as simple as that. So far they have hosted poetry sessions and exhibitions. The current exhibition by artist Portion entitled Titled Burning Issues is the third weekend event so far the young creatives have organized at the venue. “We are primarily a brand host store that houses different Johannesburg designers . The store is also conceptualized to cater for different creative content such as gallery exhibitions, hosting  listening sessions and poetry sessions.

At the moment we’re exhibiting Esetwo Portion.

The exhibition is titled Burning Issues, focusing on the social ills faced by women on a daily basis. We’re working with @CovenOfCreatives , a creative movement,  also based in joburg, to execute and package our content,” their statement says. This initiative simply proves that young creatives just need little help to create work opportunities and spaces for them to express themselves.

As I left No.66 Simmons Street, inspired that here was something inspirational done by the youth without any sort of assistance from anyone, I found myself asking the question in my head: Where are the arts funding agencies with millions of Rands that should be helping artists like these, especially during needy times like these uncertain Covid-19 times of our lives. .

The exhibition Burning Issues is on until August 28, 2021, at No.66, Simmons Street, Joburg CBD.  
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