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Sosesame Gallery; a critical cooperative injecting new life-blood into SA’s art system.

Sosesame is the new kid on the gallery block, having opened in Melville in April of this year. The fact that this buzzing cultural precinct has, until now, sorely lacked such a space for showcasing South Africa’s artistic talent, speaks to the fact that a wider variety of platforms desperately need to be encouraged in order to more firmly establish contemporary visual arts practice as a vital and viable necessity. Despite their fledgling status, Sosesame is backed by the huge wealth of knowledge and experience, embodied in the incredible team that has been brought together to energise and invigorate the South African arts landscape; the legendary Johannes Phokela acts as Artistic Director, Same Mdluli acts as Director and Curator, Naomi Menyoko is the Gallery Manager, and Mauritz Cloete acts as the Marketing Manager.

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The diversity of experiences carried by these individuals has allowed for Sosesame to instantly tap into the pulse of what is required in order to best cultivate, nurture, and showcase the brilliance of artistic voices and visions within this country. As their website states; “Very few initiatives in South Africa have critically engaged the idea of what an integrated contemporary art industry may resemble outside the nationalistic rudiment defined by politics, economic power and cultural capital. The arts, particularly visual arts, remain an estranged part of the daily lives of ordinary people in South Africa. This has not only widened the gap in creating a more inclusive industry, but also reinforced the notion of art as elitist and exclusive in ways that have become problematic.”  It is this critical interrogation that has set Sosesame apart from its very first exhibition, which already questions and redefines established conceptions of what a gallery should mean in relation to artistic practitioners.

Sosesame is not interested in an exclusive politics of elitist representation but is modelled on the idea of a non-hierarchical cooperative, where the artists are intimately involved in a joint collaborative practice with the space. This is a matter of colleagues coming together in order to co-create what they most need. It is not a space for the artificial manufacture of predefined art stars but is immediately seeking out the potential of more tentative voices and embracing the idea of organic and inspired emergence. It is appropriate then, that the first exhibition is titled Otherwise, reflecting inclinations towards peculiarity and non-conformism through a colloquial South African engagement. The group exhibition was conceptualised through an open call and, as a result, showcases an immense range of exciting new talent, standing alongside some of the country’s most well-established and well-regarded. There is a radical gesture operative in Phokela’s work hanging next to that of students and it speaks powerfully to the sincerity of Sosesame’s intentions.

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The profound mentality of thinking-through-together, of learning-while-doing, of reciprocal generosity and growth, can be witnessed in the onset of the mentorship programme within this very first exhibition. Slovo Mamphaga is one of the artists who has emerged from this process as a provocative new voice and can be seen describing the engagement in the video below.  Sosesame are also already reconceptualising the importance and accessibility of local art collection, through the wide range of prices set for the works generated through Otherwise. Another way in which they will be making their vision operative is through a critical curatorial programme in order to cultivate the necessary value of telling our own stories.

You can still check out Otherwise, running at the gallery until 2 June. You can also visit their website for more information on upcoming events, programmes and exhibitions. With its inclination towards open collaborative discussion and action, there is no doubt that this space will be in a constant critical evolution, injecting new life-blood into any unnecessarily stagnant aspects of the South African art system.

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