Countless, loosely associated cultural surprises have been drawn into South Africa in the wake of the World Cup Soccer 2010. One of these is the pan-African SPace exhibition, with works from more than twenty-five artists displayed on three floors of the Museum Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg.
The idea behind the exhibition, according to curator Thembinkosi Goniwe, was to "open up a dialogue with the concepts of space and pace", using special, meticulously selected works – hence the name SPace. He harks back to previous pan-African exhibitions such as Africa Remix and the Johannesburg Biennial. He sees SPace as a successor to these exhibits.
Naturally, the concepts space and pace are open to broad interpretation. Do you limit yourself to physical space? Social space? Psychological space? And how do you deal with the concept of pace? The vagueness and all-encompassing nature of this conceptual framework is reflected in the exhibition. It certainly contains enough interesting works: paintings, videos, images, photos and installations from Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Malawi, among others, that clearly demonstrate that in terms of depth (Benins Dominique Zinkpe's unattainable nirvana behind closed doors), irony (South Africa's Avant Car Guard's pitch black cake with the names of white South African artists from the eighties and the text "Resistance art, your pain was meaningless") and technique (Malawi's Billie Zangewa's silk wall tapestries) African artists easily measure up to artists from the rest of the world.
But the exhibition is disappointing because it does not demonstrate any form of conceptualisation, not to mention narrative. SPace/space/pace/ace - that is all well and good - but what links the works? What are the curators trying to show us? What was the selection based on? You walk around in a bleak space, you see names and art. But the information is so minimal that you are left wondering about the various artists' origins. Goniwe's explanation that this is an exhibition is "in which we do not describe the artist in terms of his geography or country", is both slick and unsatisfactory.
SPace is on display until July 11, 2010 in Museum Africa, Newtown, Johannesburg