'Start to create art at home' - Cobi Labuscagne

13 May 2020 - 11:35 By Carla Lever

Nal'ibali column No 15 Term 2 2020

Congratulations on your book! What made you excited about making art - and artist's stories - accessible and fun?

Thanks very much. I’ve spent the last decade in the art world as part of the FNB Joburg Art Fair team, but I realised that one needed to do more ground-work than just inviting the public to a large-scale event. It’s not that easy to know where to start if you’re interested in art!

I also became aware that a lot of the literature that came our way wasn’t addressing how people live and what historical factors determine this. Given that the art world is something that I know, and artists are especially interested in the world around them, I thought that it would make good subject matter for a book on life in South Africa.

It must have been hard choosing which artists to feature. What were your criteria?

I had a wish-list of artists and cultural workers to each showcase a particular side of art making. I bounced this list off the team who worked with me on the Art Fair at the time and together we workshopped it and made changes. Sometimes those simply had to do with who was available at a certain time. In other cases I was interested in speaking about a specific work that I thought could enlighten something about life, emotions, experience, or art making.

Your book is about more than just a picture - it introduces South African artists as people with interesting and relatable life stories. Why did you choose this approach?

I think children respond to stories more than they do to just facts. I have found through my own children that sometimes history or art as concepts can seem too heavy, so this focusses more on how people live and what they might struggle with.

Art galleries are often intimidating and exclusive spaces for adults, let alone children. How can we find new ways to make art more democratic, particularly in these times of physical distancing?

It’s a real pity that art galleries have become the main places where art is experienced. I dream of a society where artists are as vital to our economy as other professions are and far more integrated into our lives. I think if art could find its way out of the gallery more often, it could integrate with everyday life in more approachable ways. Perhaps now is a particularly important time for us to be creative in how we experience creativity!

You've looked for creative ways to make your book available to everyone by donating copies or making some content available for free. What suggestions would you give to other authors who are interested in following your lead?

We have many, many companies and NGOs who are promoting literacy in this country and doing very good work. I am thinking of Nal'ibali, but also Ethnikids who promote mother-tongue reading and education. They are doing excellent work to get local content out there. Authors do have to go the extra mile to get their content to be seen because many of the big book chains are more focussed on international content for children. I also suggest reaching out to the media as there are many book-related radio and newspaper slots available to speak about your content.

What message do you hope to spread about creativity?

A main message in the book and in my life in general is to focus attention on the importance of creative processes and ‘making’ for kids and adults. This involves both our own creativity and the support and appreciation of those who work in the creative industries professionally. I believe that there is so much to be learnt from the process-orientation that comes with making as well as the curiosity that comes with learning creative skills. This for me is a life-work, rather than something that should be boxed as just for those who are ‘talented’.

What kind of feedback have you had?

I have been amazed how many adults have said the book is not just for children if you are interested in learning about art and artists in South Africa. Many have started using it in home-schooling or to supplement the art education that their children receive at school.

How can we empower our children to be creators, thinkers and confident appreciators of culture?

Start to create art at home simply as part of ‘what one does’. It’s a way of keeping creativity, problem solving, innovation and curiosity close to us as we and our children age. As I said earlier, there are two sides: the one side is about our own practices of creative making and the other is about appreciation of professional art practice, such as enjoying music performances, art museums, the theatre and speaking about these as part of our well-being.

In these difficult times for creatives and public gatherings, a book which brings the gallery into the home seems very important! How can we support local artists when we can't attend performances, galleries or recitals?

The sector is under tremendous stress right now. Many museums, such as Norval, corporate institutions, such as the Standard Bank Gallery and commercial galleries, such as Banele Khoza’s BKhz Gallery have offered content online. In some ways I am seeing more art and learning about more artists than I had the chance to before! These are great efforts to keep art top of mind. There are also a number of relief schemes such as The Lockdown Collection that offer the public ways of helping artists directly and I would urge those who can to support these initiatives. Keeping art alive in the home during this time, through reading about it and making it, by drawing, or painting, or just collecting things from outside and arranging a still life, I believe can be both soothing and enriching. Art helps us to look more closely at things around us, while giving us ways of expressing our feelings and experiences.

Reading and telling stories with your children is a powerful gift. It builds knowledge, language, imagination and school success. For more information about the Nal’ibali campaign or to access children’s stories in a range of SA languages, visit www.nalibali.org