Iziko Museums of South Africa, in collaboration with a Roeland Street camera shop, has launched a project to bring art to the public.
Called the People’s Art Project, the aim of the initiative is to make art accessible to be shared and enjoyed by everyone, and also to promote the work of women artists beyond gallery spaces.
Every three months, selected artworks from Iziko’s permanent gallery will be displayed on the street-facing shop front of Orms.
The project kicked off with work from Thania Petersen, titled Location 4: District Six, from the series I am Royal, which addresses particular historical and cultural issues around Cape Town.
Ms Petersen, an Observatory resident, said she first got involved in the project when Orms approached her to have her artwork enlarged.
“I saw the potential to make this a collaborative project. We’ve got the most amazing public gallery and no one ever visits it or goes to see the art. So I approached Iziko and asked them if they would like to come on board, provide art from the gallery, and then put it in Orms’s window for all to see.”
She said Orms and Iziko loved the idea. “It was a match made in heaven.”
Ms Petersen said the piece in the window, Location 4: District Six, was carefully chosen because it was relevant.
“The image was taken in District Six, where people were forcibly removed from the city during apartheid. The same things are happening today in Bo-Kaap and Woodstock. It’s as if history is repeating itself – the community is still under threat, and this image speaks to that.”
Ms Petersen said the street – any street – is a good place to showcase artwork. “Many of the galleries are private, which makes it difficult for people to access art, yet as artists, we make the art for them.
“I think it is of utmost importance that the people of South Africa know that this collection belongs to them. It is theirs to enjoy and engage with. Most commuters don’t have the time nor space in their lives to see their very own art collection, which the curators at Iziko National Gallery work so hard to collect and preserve for them. It is wonderful that the work can now spill out onto the streets and into the public for all to see at any given time of day or night.”
Orms spokesperson, Cara van Riet, said Orms had been wanting to showcase a local artist’s work on their window for some time.
Ms van Riet said: “One of our directors fell in love with Thania’s work, both because of its powerful message as well as its aesthetic appeal, and thought it would be a perfect fit. We approached Thania and since her work is part of the South African National Gallery’s permanent collection, she came up with the concept of collaborating with them and thus, after many brainstorming sessions, the idea was born.”
She said art was the appropriate medium to honour women as they work with “incredible and influential women” on a daily basis at Orms, most of them artists. “It seemed fitting that we showcased some of the female artists that inspire us. The image placed in the window is a 2000 x 2500mm poster image, which will be taken off after three months and be destroyed as it is not for sale.
Asked about the location, Ms Van Riet said the space had foot traffic as well as vehicle traffic every day.
“We felt that the reach of installing the work in a public space would be far greater than in a traditional gallery or exhibition. We wanted people to interact and engage with the work without boundaries. So many people do not engage with art because of the space in which it is housed.”
She said they will also try to coincide the selection of the artist with the exhibitions that the gallery has on, so that if viewers wish to see more of the work, they will be able to visit the gallery for this.
Melody Kleinsmith, marketing manager at Iziko, said as a public art museum, access to South Africa’s artistic and cultural heritage is a fundamental reason of their existence. “Through partnerships, with companies like Orms, the opportunity to create meaningful access beyond the ‘traditional gallery or museum experience’ provides a platform for both parties as well as the artists to form part of contemporary conversations about our collections.
“The role of museums and public art museums are evolving. The People’s Art project aims to make art more accessible to the public, beyond the confines of the gallery space – and to hopefully inspire people to take the time to explore our artistic heritage and visit the gallery.”
Ms Kleinsmith said women in the development of art received little recognition or access.
“In recent years, there have been smatterings of evolution yet the patriarchal rule still applies. This is doubly true for female artists of colour.
“Socio-economic factors may appear to have been solved with access to fellowships and scholarships being granted to many more artists of colour, yet the brokerage of daily survival issues still remains arduous for too many. These factors are coupled with the fact that South African society does not regard the role of artists and the arts as vital to the development and transformation of a society and life.”
The next artist’s work will be exhibited in November.