This September Pro Helvetia Johannesburg, the Southern African liaison office of the Swiss Arts Council, celebrates our 20th year in the region, alongside anniversaries of our offices in Cairo (30 years) and Delhi (10 years). We mark the moment through a specially curated collection of new projects and programmes launching during the course of the first week of September with partners and venues across Johannesburg, our home city since our office moved from Cape Town in 2012.
We also use the moment to engage in a three-day gathering of current and prospective partners and friends from more than twenty urban centres across the continent, running parallel to Joburg Art Week and the Fakugesi Digital Arts Festival. Organised under the rubric Terms of Engagement, we engage participants in a listening and connecting exercise, where participants share their experiences, preoccupations and ambitions, and in which our office contemplates the implications of a more sub-Saharan scope for our work.
Fittingly for the frame of an anniversary, four projects take archives and memory as a key resource and reference in their construction. Both Uriel Orlow’s Theatrum Botanicum and artist/historian Melanie Boehi’s Storytelling in the Language of Flowers explore the botanical world in South Africa as a prism through which social and political history is manifest and contemporary questions are expressed and ventilated. Egyptian director Laila Soliman similarly mines the historical-political and psycho-social dimensions of disease in the world premiere of Museum of Lungs, as expressed through the body and person of South African writer Stacy Hardy and her puppet avatar, created by Basel-based Marius Kob. In her solo exhibition project (simultaneously mirrored at Alte Fabrik in Rapperswil, Switzerland), Neutrality as an Agent, Denise Bertschi delves into the archive of Swiss-South African relations during the apartheid period, and the contemporary echoes of this largely obscured history.
In the same vein as the Museum of Lungs collaboration, other projects work with and mine our global and continental network. We bring young digital artists from Switzerland, Egypt, India, Mali, Zimbabwe and South Africa together in a month long production residency managed by the Fakugesi digital arts festival, with leading Swiss digital artist Marc Lee as a workshop facilitator and special guest artist at the 2018 edition of the festival. Points of Engagement is a special presentation of two projects that provide new insights and points of entry into the complex contemporary experiences of artists globally, and on the continent in particular. In Artist (Working Title), Berlin-based Mats Staub examines the professional trajectories of artists from Switzerland, South Africa, Egypt and India who’ve been on Pro Helvetia Residencies. In Artists on Africa, Basel based Kadiatou Diallo examines the bifurcated experiences of African artists on the continent and in the diaspora.
Our mobility programming financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation continues during August and September, with a number of notable moments highlighting the importance of this valued instrument for promoting a strong and dynamic regional cultural fabric. Acclaimed Angolan multimedia artist Nástio Mosquito’s performance piece Respectable Thief will be featured at the fourth instalment of the ICA Live Art Festival 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. Ujeni Records presents Malawi’s “electronic one man band” Faith Mussa and the Afro band Mbanaye at the Watana Festival on Ilha de Moçambique. South African collective Sounds of the South (SOS) embark on a Hip Hop residency travelling to Windhoek, Luanda and then Harare. During August, Kinshasa based Collectif d’Art-d’Art will be on a residency at Modzi Arts in Lusaka.
Collectively, the projects brought together for the anniversary programme speak to our concern with facilitating considered and precise collaborations and exchanges that connect the Swiss artistic field with the multiple and fast changing geographies and currents that our international network of offices is embedded and invested in. These initiatives exemplify our commitment to supporting a depth and quality of research and collaboration, and of the work that results from those relationships. This depth and quality is a function both of time and resources, but also of access to relevant networks and knowledge, and our role as funder and facilitator encompasses both of these aspects. Our anniversary year provides a juncture for us, for our partners and for our audiences to both reflect on and enjoy the fruits of these shared investments and labours.