Curation, mentoring, technology: How this Capetown gallery has become a popular platform for South African art
In this photo essay from South Africa’s Art@Africa gallery, we showcase a diverse range of artworks along with curator insights on creativity and purpose.
Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 730 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom expo, millets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
African cities like Capetown in South Africa are emerging as creative hubs for the arts, startups and digital transformation. See our coverage of Extensia’s Digital Africa Summits, book review of Startup Guide Capetown, and photo essays on St. George Gallery (Ethiopia), Forster Gallery (Zanzibar), COP22 artworks (Marrakech), and Essaouira (Morocco).
Located in Capetown’s bustling Waterfront neighbourhood, the Art@Africa gallery and sculpture garden present visitors with an accessible showcase of South Africa’s emerging creative talent. Its founder, Dirk Durnez, has 35 years of international experience in designing and constructing museums, science centres, edutainment venues, and art installations.
“There is a massive role for public institutions and museums to increase art appreciation in society,” Durnez tells YourStory. Art should not be showcased only in elitist galleries or be presented only by academics who may not know how to effectively communicate with broader audiences.
“I have been involved in edutainment for my entire career, and open platforms and accessible spaces for creativity are a truly effective solution,” he adds, describing himself as an “imagineer” fulfilling this role of democratising art.
“Acquiring knowledge is not a bottle to be filled, but a spark to be lit. This is the case for science and technology but also for appreciation of art,” Durnez affirms.
He is also a founding member of the Cape Town Art Agency, representing Belgian and South African artists. He established Kunye Colab as a platform to support emerging artists and draws on his experiences with Universal Studios, Epcot, Sea World, and Disney Paris.
Kunye means ‘together’ in the Xhosa language. Over the decades, Durnez has developed a keen eye for emerging artists, along with mentoring, marketing, and business connection skills.
He also conducts workshops and matchmaking sessions to scale the South African art scene in the consumer and business segments. His work promotes his belief that art should be enjoyable and inclusive, and not intimidating and exclusive.
“We believe that art belongs to the people and not to a selected happy few. While we do have expensive paintings or drawings, we try to popularise them in the form of affordable limited art, as prints,” Durnez explains.
The artworks on display at the studio and for sale online are priced from $100 to $15,000. “Some large sculptures can fetch up to $100,000,” he adds.
To tap emerging talent, his studio provides materials and equipment that emerging artists may not have been able to afford otherwise. This includes tools for bronze sculpting, 3D printing, and immersive media like AR and VR.
“We are not just gallerists, we are also agents of 17 artists with whom we collaborate to develop new ways of telling their stories,” Durnez explains. He started an art residency programme for talented sculptors during the pandemic.
“Art touches your soul on many levels. But we want to take this further. Behind the great stories that we as South Africans tell, there are meaningful messages,” he affirms.
“As South Africans, we live very close to nature, and we are very sensitive to what happens with nature. In touching the people’s soul, we hope to change their behaviour towards our planet,” he adds.
“We believe that artists are agents of change,” Durnez signs off.
Now what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and harness your creative side for a better world?
(All photographs were taken by Madanmohan Rao on location at the gallery.)
Edited by Kanishk Singh