Mixed feelings over digital art exhibition in SADC … as COVID-19 cripples the industry

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■ Sharon Kavhu

 

Windhoek- In the current phase, where the subnormal is becoming normal due to the COVID1-9 pandemic, visual artists need to embrace technology and exhibit their work virtually to remain significant globally.

Normally, visual art work is exhibited internationally through physical annual gala exhibitions by individuals, organisations and galleries. Such platforms enabled visual artists to market and sell their work for significant values thereby generating some earnings.

While virtual exhibition may seem as the way to adjust to the effects of the pandemic, visual artists across the southern African region have mixed feelings towards the idea.

In an interview with The Southern Times last week, Mosoaboli ‘Mak’ Lerata (22), a visual artist from Lesotho said with the social distancing, the use of the internet is the way to go.

“In Lesotho, newspapers do not promote visual art, before COVID-19 we used to entirely depend on exhibition galas. As such we used to take exhibitions online lightly but this pandemic has taught us otherwise. Digital platforms are essential for visual art exhibitions,” said Mak

He said advertising art work online is the new norm although it requires one to explore strategies to generate income and ensure smooth payment.

He added, “It would also be a great initiative for artists across the southern African region to come up with a hub where people pay to view their work. It can be on social media or on websites.

“My art work is mainly for clothing, I paint, draw and design for trendy clothes. I was drawn to this type of art by my passion in art and fashion. My designs mainly exhibit a cultural feel of our African region. Since the lockdown measures were announced, I have been marketing my products online and I have earned a fair amount of revenue.”

His artwork resembles an African story from the designs to colour combinations on trending clothing.

Mak started art painting in 2017 after writing his Grade 12 exams. He is one of the talents in southern Africa who were looking forward to going on global exhibition this year but, were deprived by the outbreak of COVID-19. In his four years of experience in the industry, he has managed to develop a database of his clients from South Africa and Algeria either than his native country.

Supporting Mak’s idea, South African based Nigerian-Sanusi Olutanji said virtual exhibition increases the potentials of generating more revenue even in the post-COVID19 era.

He said it gives art lovers some time to browse through the artwork they want, especially those who may not have the time to physically visit the exhibition sites.

South African based Zimbabwean visual artist- Chenjerai Kadzinga also shares the same sentiment with Mak and Olutanji.

He said the digital world in art exhibition comes with a lot of advantages as it reaches out to the world art buyers at large.

“I truly believe that all artworks can travel the same way that music and visuals travel to the world through digital platforms of art. In this period of COVID-19, I have noticed that digital exhibitions are becoming more effective as many outside buyers can easily access the exhibition via live streaming. It also helps artists to connect to worldwide galleries and buyers very easily. However, the only challenge is limited access to the internet in some parts of the region, as a result not all good artwork may make it to the digital platforms. Some artists may also lack knowledge on digital marketing which makes them vulnerable,” Kadzinga said.

He said digital exhibition can widen the artist’s market, and in the event that one art work gets several buyers, negotiations can be made or the artist can reproduce the same artwork.

However, Daniel Dlamini-a visual artist from ESwatini has a different perspective on digital exhibition. He is sceptic towards the approach even though it may be the only viable strategy in the social distancing phase.

“Personally I am not a fan of digital exhibition because my talent is my business and should economically benefit me more than anyone else. The sad reality is that online, there are culprits who have a tendency of stealing other people’s work and personalise them without giving credit to the real artist.

Even if our work has signatures, they have a way of editing to remove these signatures and exhibit them on their own sites.

They even do mass production on digital printers and make more money without even acknowledging our efforts,” said Dhlamini.

He is of the view that unless an effective policy is enacted to protect the rights of artists on such digital platforms, exhibiting virtually will result in a lot of injustice.

 

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