Intervention of Interest
In the name of access, the artist and its audience
with Alexander Richards
Over the last twenty years that we have had the gallery, Stevenson has had a number of interventions in place to platform unrepresented artists. First there was the 2007 Side Gallery project which introduced us to artists Athi-Patra Ruga, Fabian Saptouw, Lerato Shadi and Simon Gush. Then there was RAMP (2015) where the likes of Buhlebezwe Siwani, Nyakallo Maleke and Lady Skollie were invited to make site-specific installations for the Cape Town premise’s entrance. Leading up to the opening of STAGE’s fourth iteration, this week’s Of Interest features a conversation with partner and director at Stevenson, Alexander Richards, on the gallery’s interest in going beyond its orbit.
Thato Toeba is an artist, lawyer and social sciences researcher living and working in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru. Presented as photomontages and assemblages made of mirrors, glass, original and borrowed photography, Toeba’s practice is a fantastical, layered reflection of the suspicions and sensibilities they developed while practicing in a field that calls for and relies on theorised (often absolute) approaches. Their first solo exhibition, Phate lia Lekana comes after Toeba’s work formed a part of the group show Where Do I Begin.
When Stevenson started the STAGE discussion with Toeba, they had a lot of ideas that the platform gave them the opportunity to bring to life. Previously small scale and one dimensional, with Phate lia Lekana, some of Toeba’s works take on the form of large scale installations. “There’s an ambition to it. STAGE almost requires ambition from the artist involved,” adds Richards. For Lebogang Mabusela, STAGE was an opportunity to present the potential of monotyping and paper as a sculptural material. For Khanyisile Mawhayi it was playing with pastel colouring and cyanotyping until they met her messaging. Then with Mack Magagane it was an opportunity to consider what an abstract take on photography would look like.
He goes on, “The benefit is twofold. The first is fundamentally for the artist and the second is definitely for us because it brings a different type of audience into the gallery. Then, in terms of collecting it brings a different price point. We would like to appeal to that price point but unfortunately established artists don’t have work in that range.”
Beyond programming the gallery’s contributions towards an integrated and less isolated ecosystem lives curatorially. In 2022 Richards approached the group show Where do I begin as he would collaging. “I wanted to see if we could open up to as many people as possible,” he explains. Including artists signed to Stevenson but not limited to them, Where do I begin also had work from the likes of Sam Nhlengethwa, Igshaan Adams, Bonolo Kavula and Lindokuhle Sobekwa.
Perhaps second base between Stevenson and the unsigned artists the gallery takes interest in, STAGE resolves issues around gatekeeping access and resources. Shattering the echo chamber that continues to amplify and reinforce pre-existing understandings of contemporary art, it’s a step towards decentralising the Western linearity that’s so widely accepted it seems like the only way.