26 January 2012 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

From Thohoyandou to Zutphen

At the end of 2005, while the couple was travelling through the Kalahari, they decided to start a gallery in the Netherlands to showcase and sell art and design they discovered on their travels.

A research trip to Venda in Limpopo, for a travel story in early January, led to a chance encounter with John and Jane Rebergen. The couple, who come from the Netherlands, were at the Thohoyandou Art and Culture Centre, meeting with Avhashoni Maingaye, an inspiring artist and cultural activist who lives in the city.

My partner is Dutch and when Avhashoni heard this, he said 'come, let me introduce you to your fellow country people'. The Rebergens were in Venda on an art-purchasing trip for their gallery, iZarte, in the town of Zutphen in the Netherlands.

The couple have always had an interest in art, as it often combines with small social enterprises, the empowerment of women, and job creation. Their love of travel has taken them to many places in the world, where they have been fortunate to encounter artists whose work inspires them, engages them and tells stories they want to share…

At the end of 2005, while the couple was travelling through the Kalahari, they decided to start a gallery in the Netherlands to showcase and sell art and design they discovered on their travels. Gallery iZArte was officially opened by Peter Hermes, then director of NiZA, on 1 September 2006, in Zutphen. It mainly showcases and sells works by South African artists such as Nelson Makamo, Wonki Ware, Clifford Charles,  Justice Mugwena, Noria Mabasa, Raphael Mavudzi and Martin Umali, as well as work from Zimbabwe, Brazil and Asia.

They operate on Fair Trade principles and, as was evident from the warm interaction between the couple and Avhashoni, their business is very welcome in Venda. The province has a long and rich artistic tradition but accessing art markets from small, rural areas is always challenging.

I wish there were more initiatives in South Africa to empower rural artists, because, great as Gallery iZarte is, we shouldn’t need to travel overseas to support – or discover – artists from home.

Just a week later, I was in the Netherlands, staying a half an hour or so from the town of Zutphen, so I decided to pay the gallery a visit. It was a bitterly cold afternoon; grey and windy. I had no trouble finding the gallery, which although small, is well stocked with beautiful paintings, wooden and stone sculptures, ceramics, and jewellery. I felt so proud of and happy for the artists whose work brought colour and artistic richness to an otherwise unassuming Dutch high street. And for the lucky shoppers who would stumble upon such treasures!

I was also struck but how well the gallery’s offering aligns to the increasing awareness and demand for socially responsible products throughout the Netherlands. I think we are cultivating some of that same awareness in South Africa, but there is just a handful of galleries, most based in major cities, where it’s easy to find the kind of work that iZarte exports so successfully. There are also events that promote the work of our artists and designers, like Design Indaba and the Joburg Art Fair, but are these enough? And are they representative of the talent tucked away in the more remote areas of the country, where artists have to balance their creative output with the need to support themselves and their families?

I wish there were more initiatives in South Africa to empower rural artists, because, great as Gallery iZarte is, we shouldn’t need to travel overseas to support – or discover – artists from home.

These artists live and work around our country. We should get out there more, meet them, become curious about and involved in their creative process, be moved/challenged/interested by their work, take pride in it… And then we should buy some of it to adorn our homes, promote it in our galleries and support programmes to develop South Africa’s creative talent, giving artists from smaller, remote areas of the country the profile, respect and attention they deserve. Like Avhashoni and the Rebergens, I think that art, aside from its other social and intellectual roles, has a part to play in bettering the lives of its suppliers. And, of course, its buyers.

Aside

This article, entitled ‘The Politics of Exclusion: The Undue Fixation of Western-Based African Curators on Contemporary Africa Diaspora Artists - A Critique,’ by Rikki Wemega-Kwawu looks at some of the issues I am talking about here, but expands the scope of the debate. Wemega-Kwawu suggests that “it is without doubt that African artists living in the West are preferred and circulated well above their counterparts living in Africa… African artists in Africa must be given equal international exposure and have value placed on their work like their counterparts abroad.”

Category: Arts & Entertainment

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