Joburg art squad are crowd-funding their way to Ghana

05 August 2015 - 02:00 By Carlos Amato
The JHBMassive Supercrew: 15 acclaimed Joburg artists who “believe in collaboration over competition.”
The JHBMassive Supercrew: 15 acclaimed Joburg artists who “believe in collaboration over competition.”
Image: Dean Hutton

A new collective, the JHBMASSIVE Supercrew, are on a crowd-funded mission to attend the Chale Wote street art festival in Ghana – and change the individualistic culture of the local art scene

The South African arts world can be a brutal ecosystem. Artists have to jostle for recognition and funding from a tower of institutional power: galleries, festivals, dealers, theatres and state agencies. It's a complex game, and it takes fierce individualist drive as well as creative ability to succeed. As a result, teamwork – between artists and between art forms – is not a big thing. 

But a brave new team of artists are committed to defying this culture. The JHBMassive Supercrew are 15 acclaimed Joburg artists, working in an array of media, who “believe in collaboration over competition.”

Their first mission is a trip to the Chale Wote street art festival in Jamestown, Accra in Ghana, on August 22 and 23 2015. The plan to challenge present existing works in Accra, but also to collaborate with other artists from around the world, and with each other. The theme of the festival is “African Electronics”.

The JHBMASSIVE Supercrew are crowd-funding their travel costs via their Thundafund page. The campaign expires on August 15, so visit the site now if you'd like to help. Funders can earn rewards ranging from postcards from Ghana to private concerts and performances, from professional photo shoots to a bespoke treasure hunt conducted by the entire collective.

THE JHB MASSIVE SUPERCREW ARE:

• Anthea Moys - Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Performance Art 2013

• Breeze Yoko - Locally and internationally renowned graffiti artists

• Noluthando Lobese - Awardwinning theatre designer and visual artist

• Siyabonga Mthembu - Lead singer and performer of The Brother Moves On

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• João Orecchia (Motèl Mari, Invisible Cities Radio) - Acclaimed non-musician musician and experimental sound artist

• Mushroom Hour Half Hour - Music and archive project specializing in vinyl, curated jam sessions and a formidable line-up of collaborators

• Lavendhri Arumugam - Director of Ithuba Arts Gallery and visual artist working with light and projection

• Naomi van Niekerk - Awardwinning visual artist working with puppetry and projection

• Tshepang Ramoba (music producer) & Mpumelelo Mcata (filmmaker) of BLKJKS, BLKJKSSoundsystem and Motèl Mari fame

• Vishanthi Kali - Dancer, choreographer, performance artist and gifted healer

• Lindiwe Matshikiza - Renowned theatre and film practitioner

• Nicholas Pule Welch - Popular stand-up comedian, actor, rapper and linguist

• Dean Hutton - Visual & performance artist and official documenter of JHB Massive

sub_head_start WE CHATTED TO ACTOR-DIRECTOR LINDIWE MATSHIKIZA sub_head_end

Tell us about the Chale Wote festival… why did it attract  you?

Firstly, their 2015 theme - African Electronics - is really exciting. In their brief, they talk about "tapping into a super power grid" and "regenerating the next wave of transformative energy". These are people who, like us, are curious, conscious, outspoken, self-aware and believe in the incredible resource that is the imagination.

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It’s really a one-of-a-kind festival on the continent so there is a sort of pilgrimage feel to it. Their approach to running a festival, their politics and spirit, resonates with a lot of the work that the individuals in JHBMASSIVE have been involved in.

Basically they are people who are part of a like-minded community so for a group like us whose work is very much about community as well as process, improvisation, adaptation and being fluid with our disciplines, it’s a really good connection.

One of your members, Nicholas Pule Welch, is working on a new Southern African writing system,  IsiBheqe SoHlamvu – how will it feature in the project?

Well, he doesn’t ever refer to it as ‘his' but he has, nonetheless, been developing the system based on existing indigenous symbols and patterns, and his extremely formidable understanding of how languages work. IsiBheqe SoHlamvu (see below) is a Pan Southern African writing system where the forms and symbols indicate the sounds in the various languages of the region.

In other parts of the continent, people have been using their own writing systems for ages, some of them developed even relatively recently which affirms the idea that none of our technology needs to be fixed, that we can keep finding alternatives for expression and representation of our languages.

So far, it is other linguists who have engaged with the system, so it’s an exciting moment for us to be able to engage with it as artists. As much as possible, we’re learning how it works, using it to write titles that may appear in the work, linking the various projects through IsiBheqe and imagining ourselves as a micro-society already living that reality.

It's also beautiful to look at so it’s a visual language with very meaningful origins and intentions.

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There is an emphasis on rejecting the competitive culture of the art world… tell us more about that?

The story goes that there is a limited pool of resources and funds available to artists which maybe makes some artists feel there’s not enough to go round. Maybe you feel you have to screw someone else over to ‘get ahead', or you aim to become the guy who holds all the knowledge or the power or the contacts. It’s quite a damaging myth.

Through this process we've recognised and pooled our collective resources in every area - the networks we’ve built, our various skills, our equipment, our time - and it has produced huge achievements in a short amount of time.

For me, it's very evident that a collaborative approach rather than a competitive one just yields better, more holistic results that echo and grow more parts.

There seems to be an economic divide in the art world between those who make tangible, saleable objects and those who make experimental live projects, and struggle to find the financial backing to do that…

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In the system we interact with it’s harder to package and assign a monetary value to an experience than for a tangible object, I suppose. And unless you are a famous artist who is known for doing experimental stuff, I imagine funders are less likely to take what they consider a risk on a concept, especially when - as with theatre, for example - process is so crucial to the whole idea and so seemingly mysterious.

It’s frustrating enough to be constantly trying to convince funding bodies of your artistic worth, without also having to repeatedly explain to the world in general what goes into the realisation of a project. I’m not sure I know what the art world is or how it works exactly; it seems very layered and that there is more than one.

I do think that emphasising the economic value of art - which seems to be decided by factors beyond the artists control or intent - over its social, cultural or developmental values is very problematic. There should, in theory, be space, resources and paid work for all kinds of artists.

Perhaps the issue is that we can’t imagine things playing out differently, and who better to help challenge that than artists themselves?

To help fund JHBMASSIVE'S trip to Ghana, visit thundafund.com/jhbmassive.

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