Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation [JCAF]
Like many I mourned the forced closure of live exhibitions, movie screenings, theatre performances, tours and events during the various stages of Covid Lockdown. And because there wasn’t the usual dilemma of choices to be made from the multiple options in Jozi’s jam-packed and diverse schedule, I missed the few opportunities there were on offer. One of these was the first exhibition at the newly opened Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation in Forest Town which showed in 2020. Female Identities in the Global South which is currently showing until end January 2022, is the second exhibition in the 3 programme series.
JCAF the institution
Known by its acronym as JCAF, this is a non-profit institution supported by philanthropists: Gordon Schachat, Adrian Enthoven and Phuthuma Nhleko. Clive Kellner, the Executive Director of JCAF, is a renowned and respected curator who was an inspiring innovator in his 5 year period as curator of JAG. His departure from JAG in 2009 was a crippling loss for local government’s prime art institution.
JACAF’s mission and purpose is clearly stated on its website:
[It] is a foundation dedicated to research, technology and art. As a hybrid institution, JCAF combines an academic research institute, an innovative technology laboratory and a platform for museum-quality exhibitions. JCAF is a non-collecting foundation, which does not own art or house a private art collection. Our ethos is to advance the appreciation of modern and contemporary art through the production, sharing and preservation of knowledge.
After many years of planning, JCAF was launched in February 2020 with an event where the 85 guests were invited by personal invitation and the lecture was given by the esteemed public intellectual Arjun Appadurai, in turn introduced by another academic luminary: Achille Mbembe. JCAF’s first research theme, comprises three exhibitions addressing female artists in the Global South. The first, Female Identities in the Global South has been and gone; the second Liminal Female Identities in the Global South shows until end January 2022. For more. The third exhibition Modernist Female Identities in the Global South will be held in 2022.
As JCAF’s mission indicates, the Foundation is conceptualized as a ‘hybrid’ institution – neither art museum nor commercial gallery. Its aim is to contribute to the production of knowledge through workshops, discussions, academic research and ultimately the publication of a journal around the first 3 exhibitions. The emphasis is on developing the intersection of art and technology: there are no labels for the works on display but viewers are encouraged to use the interactive touch screen wall at the beginning of the exhibition or download the app onto their phones for access to information. In addition to rethinking of the relationship between the Global North and South, as well as expanding connections across the Global South, other curatorial imperatives aim to encourage: an immersive experience where “less is more”; unmediated looking and visceral responses to images rather than “reading labels”. In the current exhibition, piped music, of relevance to the visual exhibits, plays quietly in the background of a couple of the rooms. The various sensory inputs aiming to encourage the viewer in a transformative journey through the physical shrine-like dimly lit spaces.
JCAF: the building
JCAF is located in Forest Town in buildings that were originally built in the 1930s as an electrical substation also servicing the trams that connected some of the suburbs to Central Johannesburg (electric trams ran in Johannesburg from 1906 to 1961). The buildings have now been adaptively redesigned by Pierre Swanepoel (Studio MAS architects) as a cutting-edge contemporary art space. The only two main architectural interventions made, were a large portico over the traces of existing tramlines and a double story glass corridor (seen behind the portico), connecting the two buildings.
Female Identities in the Global South is a challenging exhibition so visitors are advised to do some introductory reading beforehand or consult the very useful interactive screen before going on the walkabout.