Painter, writer and art historian Dr Same Mdluli has been appointed as curator at the Standard Bank Gallery. She is excited about the opportunities presented at the helm of the gallery. As someone steeped in a love of art from an early age, it’s no surprise that Same’s art credentials are extensive. She graduated from the National School of the Arts in Braamfontein and completed her PhD in art history at Wits University in 2015. Aside from teaching art and time spent working at The Goodman Gallery in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, she co-founded a gallery in Melville, the Sosesame Gallery. “It was really an initiative for young artists to give them a space where they could exhibit professionally, because they can’t walk into the Goodman Gallery, for example. What do they do after their degree? They get thrown into a world where there aren’t any spaces or studios where they can practice, so that was really what drove that,” she says of the venture.
Now it’s onwards to a far greater platform. “It’s, of course, a much bigger role. The impact is a lot more. I think one of the challenges that the art community and the art market faces is how to draw in the corporates, and I think Standard Bank has been really successful in finding that balance, across the National Arts Festival, this space of the gallery and the Joy of Jazz. In terms of the cultural landscape, it’s quite prominent – and has been for a long time. This gallery was established in 1990, so in 2020 it will be 30 years,” she comments.
Currently, the exhibition “I am because you are: A search for Ubuntu with permission to dream” is on show at the gallery. “The timing is when we’re at a very interesting time in the country. What I’m most excited about with this show is how it is focused and directed at getting a sense of the audience’s reception and interaction with it. If we can try to have a lot more shows that are centred around that offering, people who come to the gallery are not just going to come and look, but come and have an experience,” says Same.
Drawing a younger audience into galleries is a topic of discussion. “I think it’s about homing in on what they are really interested in. So, for instance, a platform like Instagram, if you can tap into that and link it somehow to an activity here at the gallery,” says Same. “I saw how, for instance, during the Andy Warhol show at WAM (Wits Art Museum), everyone was posting selfies next to the art, because it feeds into that whole pool and language of imagery. While we want to put together intellectually stimulating shows, we also want to not come across as too intimidating, because already art is thought of as a very elitist kind of thing. It’s really about showing sensitivity and thinking about what it is that young people want to see, what do they want to experience, and what you can expose them to,” she says.
One of the challenges galleries are grappling with is how to incorporate performance art, installations and conceptual experiences, and the Standard Bank Gallery is no different. For Same, it’s about, “taking a little bit of a risk and going with experimental things like installation art, exhibitions that are going to become about experiences.”
As to the intriguing challenge of balancing the heritage of the collection and its legacy within African art with the need to progress and move forward and explore, Same says, “I think the material is already there. What’s key is to understand that I don’t have to go very far to reach for content. It’s about keeping on par, keeping in mind the trends, and not just what’s happening in the art world, but what’s happening in visual culture, which is totally different. What visual culture encourages more is this interdisciplinary merging and blurring of different approaches, so it’s about the balance.”
She’s keen to reach out to the parts of Africa where the bank has a presence. “One of the things I have advocated for is to invite a lot more African curators. They’re doing amazing things, so tapping into those networks and seeing what kind of collaborations and exchanges can come out of that. Giving voices to younger curators, I think they will bring fresh ideas and unconventional approaches that will encourage a new way of looking at art,” she comments.
Her role includes playing a part of the acquisitions team. “I am excited about it because I think, sometimes, because the art world depends a lot on provenance, certain artists get overlooked – and it does not mean that they are not important artists. I think it’s one of the challenges, particularly in the South African and African context. There’s an opportunity to elevate those voices.”
Visit the gallery
The Standard Bank Gallery is located on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick streets in central Johannesburg and offers free, safe undercover parking on the corner of Harrison and Frederick streets. Gallery hours: Mondays to Fridays from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, and Saturdays from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Entrance is free.
Or find the gallery on Instagram by searching the hashtag #standardbankgallery.