Mapping the way for local artists

The University of Johannesburg gallery is hosting an exhibition in recognition of MAP’s contribution to the development of contemporary South African art.

Modern art projects (MAP) is not a monolithic or institutional enterprise. It began in 2006 with a handful of people who set out to do things a little differently.

Patronising the arts may seem like an old-fashioned idea, but for Harrie Siertsema, the man behind MAP, it’s a vocation. Driven by a passion for art, but with a very down-to-earth, less-is-more modus operandi, MAP created an alternative platform for established and upcoming artists outside the usual arts circuit.

With the aim of introducing the work of local artists to a wider audience, MAP began organising exhibitions in an unusual venue, namely Harrie’s Pancake Emporium.

Over the past six years, more than 40 exhibitions have since been held in Pretoria, Graskop, Dullstroom, Centurion, Cape Town and, most recently, Richmond.

In addition, each exhibition is supplemented with a black booklet that includes images of the artworks on show and explanatory texts in which the artists’ work is described, discussed and linked to a broader contemporary cultural context. These booklets provide information and insight into the art for those customers who might otherwise be baffled by the significance of the unusual décor.

Certainly Harrie’s Pancakes is not the only establishment to use their space to display and advertise the work of local artists. It’s a trend that has taken off, albeit rather slowly in South Africa, in response to various contemporary imperatives, promoting proudly local products and producers, and rescuing art from elitism, obscurity and an otherwise lonely life in galleries, museums and storerooms.

Rather than decorate their restaurant interior with generic prints derived mostly from European and American sources, the idea is to promote the work of artists who also happen to be members of the local community, thereby reflecting something of the rich diversity that abounds right here on home turf.

Through these exhibitions, booklets and other community projects, MAP has showcased the abilities of local artists which include a wide range of genres from traditional to classical to contemporary to avant-garde.

While many of the artists hail from Gauteng, it’s their differences and diversity in background as well as genre and style that prove South Africa is keeping up with contemporary trends that push the boundaries of art beyond tradition and commerce.

As a non-profit initiative, MAP’s modus operandi is not driven by the market value of the art, but by a more personal interest in the work and careers of young or disadvantaged artists, as well as established ones.

In this show, the 39 artists who were handpicked by MAP show examples of their newest work, proving that they continue to produce interesting and cutting- edge artworks. Among them are ceramics by Clementina van der Walt, glass art by Retief van Wyk, a book by Lien Botha , sculptures by Claudette Schreuders and Cecile Haystek, photography by Andrew Tshabangu, performances by Donna Kukama and Happy Dhlame, paintings by Karin Preller, Colbert Mashile and Maurice Mogashoa, installations by Sarel Petrus and Sandile Zulu and collages by Asha Zero and Thelma van Rensburg.

It’s a vibrant celebration of local talent and MAP’s ongoing support and belief in the potential of local artists to produce work of an international standard.

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