Is there room in the white inn for everyday black art?

Heidi Sincuba set up a performance piece in the middle of the entrance hall. She wanted to display this as a norm, as the art form that braiding hair is. /Supplied
Heidi Sincuba set up a performance piece in the middle of the entrance hall. She wanted to display this as a norm, as the art form that braiding hair is. /Supplied

This past week I had the privilege of attending the RMB Turbine Art Fair, an event that prides itself in making high art accessible (pieces go for as low as R1,000) and create a space for young artists to grow.

From sinuous sculptures to immersive virtual art, it was a feast for the eyes.

This was all exciting and posh until artist Heidi Sincuba set up a performance piece in the middle of the entrance hall.

Surrounded by exquisite art and installations, Sincuba got herself a chair, a hairstylist and had her bright green dreads braided in polychromatic fibre.

This would be an absolutely welcomed sight if it were happening downtown Johannesburg.

For Sincuba, it was important to display this as a norm, as the art form that braiding hair is.

While it may have been heart-warming and exciting to see an artist put something so common place and cringeworthy in a space where you would least expect it, her performance piece was not appreciated by many.

Sincuba was told multiple times to leave the space as her art was compromising the "aesthetic" and (I kid you not) unhygienic. Sincuba's art piece went from a performance art piece to protest art. Sincuba had somehow irked the refined palette present and yet intrigued many (foreign) non-black audiences who watched it with a fetishistic eye.

Leaving Sincuba's eventually completed work of art I couldn't help, but wonder: is there really a space for black art even when it is not up for sale?

There is almost a fetishism about blackness in white spaces. If it is not refined enough to hang up on the wall, our representation and celebration of our views on black history, the present and our future become obscene and unwelcomed.

Perhaps a loud echo towards this problem is the fact that spaces with fine art, especially featuring black artists, are not accessible to black communities that should be engaging these critical works.

How can we expect youths from townships to attend art fairs when entrance costs just as much as the price of commuting to work and back per week?

But looking at the likes of Turban Art Fair we have to consider that these artists need to be fed.

As much as materialism is not important to artists, how likely is a Thabo from Soweto, who could barely afford entrance, going to buy a piece at an exhibition that costs R15,000?

The historic exclusion of people of colour in multiple spaces, especially black, limited us in terms of access to many spaces of luxury and high art.

While we are stamping green thumbs that blossom hangovers at the nearest club or tavern, is supporting black artists a responsibility that actually lies in the white spaces that has come to define and revolutionise what makes great art?

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