Art South Africa attended two exciting events in Cape Town on Thursday 5 June 2014, hosted by US Ambassador Patrick Gaspard and the ‘Art in Embassies’ programme. The events were centred around collaboration between US and SA artists; Art South Africa spoke to some of those involved about this exciting initiative.
The first event was a collaborative mural project in Langa, in partnership with the Maboneng Township Arts Experience.
The second was a panel discussion at the AVA Gallery: ‘Transformations: A Conversation on Identity, Race and History in Contemporary Art’.
Both events focused on the cultural and creative relationships fostered between America and South Africa, facilitated by Ambassador Patrick Gaspard and his team.
Xola Maswana, Tony Elvin, Siphiwe Ngwenya, Ambassador Patrick Gaspard, Raina Washington, Theo Ndindwa and Mary Sibande outside one of the houses on the Langa TAG stretch.
Art South Africa spoke to Ambassador Patrick Gaspard about his collection, for the interview click here.
We also spoke to social entrepreneur, Tony Elvin about the Langa Quarter;
Deborah Willis about identity, race and history in contemporary art;
South African artist Lawrence Lemoana and American artists Sanford Biggers & Robert Pruitt about their participation;
and Langa resident Xolane Maswana about the Langa TAG [Township Art Gallery] tour.
Ellen Sussman on the Art in Embassies programme:
The Art in Embassies Programme is almost unique to America in the sense that we help Ambassadors who go to post and take their position in foreign countries, with the art for their residences. The art is up for as long as they’re there- which is usually three years. We work with the Ambassadors on their preference, some prefer contemporary art, some prefer traditional art but we were so fortunate because Ambassador Gaspard is a huge proponent of art in general and especially our African American artists. So what we did was put together a collection of African American artists and South African artists to show at Hillhouse and last night we had our first exhibition and invited a lot of people from the art world. I think the really important thing is that art is a bridge, Hillary Clinton called it smARTpower, which I really love, and the idea is that there’s a lot of cultural diplomacy that can be broached when you have a jumping off point in conversation and art often gives you that bridge.
South Africa is also very fortunate to have Patrick Gaspard as the Ambassador, who has a long history with South Africa. He worked here with Mandela in the nineties; he’s a passionate art collector. When I got my job as head director of the Art in Embassies for the State Department, which means that I oversee the art that goes all over the world in 200 buildings in 189 countries, I called him and I said “Patrick, I have and idea”, and he said ‘What is it?” and I said that I want to do more cultural outreach, how would he feel about South Africa being the test case for bringing artists and working with artists in your country, in South Africa and he said “absolutely I’m on it!” And his team put together the most spectacular three days, we’re so lucky to participate and we’re thrilled to be here in Langa. I think it’s a role model for what can be done, and how people can reach out and speak to each other and just learn, because better communication makes a better world.
Ambassador Patrick Gaspard with the staff and resident artist of Mzansi Restaurant, Langa.