images courtesy of
images courtesy of Alma Martha

Alma Martha, she’s not your mother; the unibrow to highbrow art practice

Alma Mater Martha is the unibrow to highbrow art practice, rebelling against predefined forms of practice and codified systems of meaning-making through an often playfully provocative approach to moving alongside established institutions. Born towards the end of 2014 and sustained through the collaboration of artists Juliana Irene Smith and Molly Steven, Alma Mater Martha seems uninterested in replacing one kind of haughtiness with another and so openly acknowledges the necessity for commercialised arts practice while responding to some of the experimental limitations of official gallery spaces by opening-up alternative forms of engagement.  Through Alma Mater Martha, artists are provided with a system of support for working through the potential value of being-in-process and for teasing out tentative responses to some of the more sticky questions skulking around what actually constitutes ‘artistic production’.

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Alma Mater Martha doesn’t shy away from the awkward or the uncomfortable but seems to view these moments of tension as necessary and generative animations against stagnation. Unlike formal or educational institutions, this is not a space that necessarily rewards those who speak the loudest and for the longest, it is just as interested in failure as a generative process as it may be in ‘success’.  What happens in your body when you’re blushing? What does that respond to? Maybe that says more than artificial bravado so, Darling, bring your shaky voice to what was the silence of this space. Their byline states that “She is not your mother”; you aren’t going to be haunted into a corner through threats of hairy palms, so you can get as unrighteous and juicy as you like.

This isn’t about the labour of producing neatly formed human beings with neatly defined and expressible concerns; this is a romantic, playful platform for the bastards of a system that often cannot properly love or regard its children. This inclusive, experimental attitude is expressed in the description for one of Alma Mater Martha’s previous events, Ridder Thirst and Other Readings One Should Ignore; “the imbibed monologue, the that’s-what-she-said preclusion, the soutie sonnet, the Lutheran sermon, the bonanza-SMS, the homeboy homily, the retrieved-from-trash coming-out letter, the reluctant manifesto, the floating quote, the .PDF reading group, the eunuch operetta, the proxy press conference, the refused award acceptance speech, the amen-men-amendment, the track-changes bar in Word, the golly guidebook, etc.”

Alma Mater Martha embodies the principle of learning-while-doing and this has seen the collective thrown into some contentious waters within its first year of existence, making both ArtThrob’s best and worst listings for shows held in 2015. But what could be more vital than a collaborative where the creators are as open to critique and active learning as the artists it embraces? If anything, this is an indication of a radical space and network that is more interested in creating opportunities and pushing cultural production forward than it is in anxiously micromanaging a pitch-perfect brand.

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Alma Mater Martha have just concluded the public art event A Lot, which featured the work of Jaco Minnaar, Bonolo Kavula, Katharine Meeding, and Lonwabo Kilani in an abandoned lot in Cape Town.  As the description for the event stated, “We are not seeking to dull edges, to be a clean-up crew or make places accessible, even though we do seek to access you as an audience.” These concerns regarding questions of access, of space, of audience, and of interactions between the public and the private will continue to be explored throughout 2016, through various site-specific manifestations as Alma Mater Martha reflexively play with their own practice in response to a recent abandonment of their physical space after numerous break-ins. Alma Mater Martha are currently engaging with SUPERMARKET, an international artist-run art fair in Stockholm, Sweden, where they are featuring the work of Jamal Nxedlana and Chloe Hugo-Hamman. The SUPERMARKET show will also be displaying Wearable Art created by friends of the Collective including; Anthea Moys, Herman de Klerk, Black Koki, Liza Grobler, Chris van Eeden, Miranda Moss, Critical Mis and Buhlebezwe Siwani.

I can’t get some of the images from Conjugal Visit out of my head. Through an engaged but un-curated approach, the tone of Alma Mater Martha has a propensity to shift without warning, and you’ll want to check it out because “How long could your relationship last without a kiss?” You can see more of their work on Tumblr or on Facebook

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