Sowetan art curator Zanele Mashumi gets down to business

Soweto-based curator Zanele Mashumi makes art accessible by bridging the gap between emerging artists and inexperienced art buyers.

The Johannesburg Turbine Art Fair 2015 has recruited art curator, Zanele Mashumi to curate its RMB Emerging Artist Exhibition. Mashumi is the founder of the Mashumi Art Project – an initiative that develops up and coming artists in Soweto by exposing them to the inner workings of the art industry. Born and raised in Soweto, Johannesburg, Mashumi believes that an artist’s understanding of the business side of art should be just as important as his or her creativity.

As a curator, Mashumi is not drawn to complex and highly conceptual artwork; her brilliance lies in the accessibility of her shows. Mashumi has observed that first time buyers aren’t often part of the art industry. They see the art world as foreign and something that is just for “art people”. They don’t realise that artists are creating artworks to be sold, and sold to everyone.

When Mashumi selects artists to showcase, she considers how they would be able to grow in the market, the quality and professionalism of the artworks, whether or not the subject matter is relevant or current and how easy to understand the piece is. But for Mashumi there is much more to curating: she is a curator who is deeply invested in the growth and exposure of artists as well as the satisfaction of the buyers.

Mashumi says that emerging or aspiring artists “need to understand how the art industry works, because it’s very tough. A lot of artists are vulnerable and find themselves getting frustrated. A good understanding of how the art world works will protect them, whether dealing with the clients or galleries. They need to understand the business side of art whilst they are being creative.”

Soweto’s growing art scene is evidence of the value of the entrepreneurial side of art. Local creatives are finding the confidence to set up their own exhibition space or art event, and are beginning to consider art as a career choice and not just a hobby. Mashumi even does art tours for foreigners interested in the local artwork.

More than ever, there is opportunity for emerging South African artists who challenge the traditional idea of what an artist should be. Mashumi attributes this to a new era of digital art, illustrations and pop art populating the local art world. Two artists on Mashumi’s radar are Simphiwe Ndzube and Tony Gum, who are doing exciting things for South African art and, at the same time, understanding the industry and the importance of promoting themselves.

When asked to comment on the Turbine exhibition, Mashumi said the curation will be a “mixed media exhibition of photography, work on paper, paintings and sculpture”.

“The thing I like most about it,” she added, “is that all these artists get a chance to stand out and all of them have a lot of potential to grow in the market”.