Spearheaded by a gallerist from Johannesburg, South Africa, in collaboration with art spaces from Cairo to Kolkata, SOUTH SOUTH is the most recent collaborative effort by gallerists looking to reinvent the usual ways of engaging stakeholders globally, beyond established art centers.
TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of SOUTH SOUTH
South South, founded by Liza Essers, the owner of Johannesburg-based Goodman Gallery, is a brand-new online platform highlighting art, artists, galleries and art spaces from alternative art centers in the Global South and its diaspora. A year-round initiative, SOUTH SOUTH features a slew of curated programmes and artist profiles, as well as SOUTH SOUTH VEZA which involves a live vernissage auction taking place on 23 February, followed by Online Viewing Rooms (OVR) featuring over 50 galleries from 24 February to 7 March.
The live auction is an example of the project’s efforts to disrupt conventional market models, with profits going directly to artists and galleries. Additionally, up to 20% of the proceeds will be going to selected non-profit partners RAW Material Company (Senegal), Green Papaya Art Projects (Manila) and Casa do Povo (São Paulo) in acknowledgement of the contributions these organisations have made to the regional art scene and beyond.
Describing the innovations behind the auction as “multiple”, Essers says, “It is a primary market auction and as such looks and feels very different from the conventional secondary market model; the catalogue features works being made and interviews with the artists, giving a real opportunity to discover new art scenes and new works.”
“Lastly, SOUTH SOUTH is focused on broadening the access and understanding of art, so access to the auction is wide open for anyone,” she adds.
Responding to CoBo Social via email, Essers says the idea for the online platform grew during lockdown in Johannesburg in May last year when she felt a long way from the art world centres and “understood that collaboration and community as well as content was critical for curators, artists, gallerists, not for profits and collectors”.
“I decided to create an aggregator devoted to artists with diverse perspectives that would also help not-for-profits and support the wider art ecosystem. Before the pandemic, around 70% of income for many galleries from the Global South came from fairs, and not being able to travel has made many very vulnerable. This isn’t looking like it’s changing any time soon,” she adds.
Essers is not wrong. Gallerists from Cairo to Puerto Rico openly shared that their first few months dealing with the pandemic and the ensuing slowdown of the art world were difficult and challenging. Most of these art galleries chose to focus on capacity building, such as publishing, programming or launching their own OVR. Nonetheless, the bulk of these initiatives took place independently or within their own insular networks. The missing ingredient was collaboration beyond the usual suspects. This was where SOUTH SOUTH filled the gap.
While the online platform was conceived by an individual, the project has adopted a collaborative approach with a founding circle of galleries including A Gentil Carioca, Rio de Janeiro; Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai; Afriart Gallery, Kampala; kurimanzutto, Mexico City; Take Ninagawa Gallery, Tokyo; and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York City; as well as a network of ambassadors, collectors, philanthropists and patrons dedicated to supporting the arts in the Global South.
“The idea is that through coming together and collaborating it’s possible to increase visibility at a time of need and to redress an imbalance in the power structure of the art world. At the same time, this gives audiences access to a rich fulcrum of cultural production they would otherwise not know how to discover,” says Essers.
Additionally, the website includes an archive section, featuring important exhibitions and texts from the past 30 years which intend to provide a historical framework, while the Features section is a space for ongoing editorial and interviews with leading personalities from the art scene in different regions.
While the first live event and OVR, SOUTH SOUTH VEZA, aim to activate the platform for this year, it is likely there will be further future online events which “allow galleries across a wide range of territories to forge partnerships and collaborate. The model responds to the galleries needs and is flexible to allow for it to evolve going forward,” says Essers.
Participating galleries seemed to have picked up on the differences between SOUTH SOUTH’s approach and online presence versus other OVRs and online programmes run by the usual behemoth art fairs and organisations.
According to Sara El Adl, Assistant Director of Gypsum Gallery, Cairo, “This platform is focused more on a curated presentation than a regular art fair virtual room. It’s also thematic with a politically engaged outlook on the contemporary art market and infrastructure.”
The founder of eponymous Galería Agustina Ferreyra in San Juan, Peuto Rico, observed, “It is different in terms of the sense of community that it brings, and the focus on our specific “globality”, often overlooked in other initiatives that cater to a dominant narrative of the north.”
A marked difference, as pointed out by Prateek and Priyanka Raja, Directors of Experimenter, Kolkata, is that SOUTH SOUTH goes beyond a geographic notion and speaks about being a part of the Global South as a state of mind, while building discourse and dialogue that “is not restricted to a mere selection of artworks on a digital platform”.
They add, “It offers a different lens through which we can enable the viewing of art presented on the website along with text and archives, that may forge the way for a more holistic, sensitised and more inclusive representation of what our world is made up of.”
These are definitely lofty ambitions for a website showcasing art and related programming during a global public health crisis but the wholehearted attempts by SOUTH SOUTH to push against traditional models and spotlight dynamic art spaces typically unseen in the western centric art world cannot be denied.
With such an open approach and seemingly innovative efforts, if ultimately successful and sustainable, this online initiative could set the tone for the ways and means to engage with diverse stakeholders worldwide, compelling even established art centres to pay attention. Only time will tell.