Exploring Investec Cape Town Art Fair

There’s a thrilling kind of panic that descends when an Investec Cape Town Art Fair  Gallery Night guide threatens to leave you in the bowels of the Zeitz MOCAA.

The horde of us packed onto a double decker red bus have twenty minutes. That’s less than half an hour to hop off and “excuse me” our way through the art-seeking throng milling around the cavernous contemporary African art museum and view ‘Gilt’, a solo exhibition by Nigerian-born, British artist Mary Evans.

The sheer number of people and the threat of departure says “nope!” so many of us taking the night bus tour to a selection of galleries across the city make a beeline for wherever there is space enough for a body.

It’s intense. A kind of art lover’s ‘Amazing Race’ that leaves each of us invigorated and giddy as we cross a little windswept bridge between silos to peer at South African artist Igshaan Adams’ breathtaking beaded light. 

At the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), the main show goes on.  The Investec Cape Town Art Fair (17 – 19 February), produced by Fiera Milano Exhibitions Africa,  is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an exploration of ‘The Notion of Time’.

The official 2023 programme featuring 106 local and international exhibitors, expecting 23 000 visitors and hosting 6 000 VIPs is overwhelming but there’s a walkabout for that. ‘Insight into the Art Ecosystem and How to Navigate an Art Fair’ by Julia Buchanan.

Most people have a bit of a plan. Google is a friend and is the advice from ICTAF director Laura Vincenti.

“Your starting point is not the art fair; it’s the internet. Art fair websites usually contain information on highlights of the exhibition, such as notable galleries that are showcasing at the fair, art works, artists, talks, workshops and special events,” Vincenti says.

“Allow yourself to wander off the beaten track. While you have a good idea of what you particularly want to see, there are always gems and surprises along the way.”

For those who want to enjoy the fair in all its intention and scope, ICTAF is meticulously curated by a collection of esteemed curators and divided into sections. There are the soloists, the next big thing, the retrospectives and non-traditionalists exploring themes of time, memory, history, identity and imagination as well as technology’s impact on the arts.

Personally, I’m a first timer and I like a little chaos.

So I walk in, grab a champagne flute from the Boschendal bar and dive into a sea of fairgoers of every persuasion.

Fashionistas,  artists, influencers and local celebrities arrive dressed to impress, quickly find a showcase fitting of their aesthetic and strike a pose for The Gram. Art buyers, collectors and VIPs are notable for how casually they take it all in, nonplussed veterans from all over the world.

Capetonians breeze through ahead of the beach or a night at one of the city’s many sexy situations because most of the boast of featured art galleries are in their backyard. And the arts journalists, the poor, stunned arts journalists, take photographs, mentally run story angles and think: “Hey! Was that Lady Skollie?”

The crowds pour in for three days straight.

The champagne flows. The art shines and anyone with a ticket is immersed in a kaleidoscope of materials, mediums,­­­­­­ methodologies and techniques that run the gauntlet of Tony Gum’s playful but political ‘Milked in Africa’, Sipho Nuse’s photographic consideration of tribal circumcision and initiation, ‘Ingubo ne Gazi’, Rosie Mudge’s defiantly shimmering canvases and  Adel El Siwi’s signature figures.

The artists and galleries who arrest and astonish are too many to name but the fair does have two standout barometers of accomplishment. Talia Ramkilawan (BKhz Gallery) wins the Tomorrows/Today Prize for her booth presentation of ‘Looking at the Same Moon’ and EBONY/CURATED takes the Art for Space and Space for Art – RDC Property Group Award for the gallery that best embodies the theme.

Ambling around the art fair past Manyaku Mashilo’s mesmerizing ‘Getting lost in foreign places’, Barry Yusufu’s retro circular portrait titled ‘1986 Jack’ and Nicola Brandt’s (Namibia) photographic study of the 2021 Table Mountain Fire, Namibian Arts Association executive manager Jaimee-Lee Diergaardt pauses to reflect on the event.

“I’m here to network with art buyers, art lovers, art enthusiasts and galleries that are represented to see how we, as Namibians, can partake in the next art fair,” says Diergaardt.  

“My experience of the art fair this far has been very inspiring. There is a greater need for us to co-create with other creatives. The works on display are very thought-provoking. I feel it’s important for Namibian artists, art lovers and enthusiasts to partake, join and witness so that we can expand our range,” she says.

“The beauty in all of this is the storytelling because the narratives are the same, we’re all speaking the same language (art) but we’re telling (our stories) differently.”

In the Westin Hotel’s Vasco da Gama Room, stories take centre stage.

The Talks Programme curated by The Smithsonian’s Charlotte Ashamu presents artists dialogue sessions and discussions on craft, cultural institutions as well as the role of philanthropy and entrepreneurship in supporting the arts moderated by New York Times art critic Siddhartha Mitter, Ashamu, Bloom Art’s Ugoma Ebilah and ICTAF curator Natasha Becker.

For art buyers, collectors, gallerists, curators, journalists and enthusiasts, Investec Cape Town Art Fair lands like a confetti bomb and the trick is trying to catch as much as you can.

The Mother City has some big brags– the mountain, those beaches, the food culture, the vineyards, the nightlife – but it also has the continent’s largest contemporary art fair. Three days of more art immersion than you will know what to do with and a Gallery Night guide threatening you with a good time.

-martha@namibian.com.na; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram; marthamukaiwa.com

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