The art of inclusion an illusion for many

A piece from the Nirox Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Human Kind. The writer laments that not a single black South African artist was included in this year's Amex Winter Sculpture Fair in Franschhoek.
A piece from the Nirox Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Human Kind. The writer laments that not a single black South African artist was included in this year's Amex Winter Sculpture Fair in Franschhoek.

As a young coloured child living in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, a special outing with my parents often entailed visiting the Cape Winelands.

Though I enjoyed visiting the city centre, where my parents would regale me with tales of their own memories, I always related more to the rolling hills of the north than the skyscrapers of the south.

A Sunday drive to Paarl was quite a treat, but Franschhoek was the real prize.

I was yet to realise just how privileged I was to have these experiences, even if I was only a voyeur allowed to observe for a limited time.

We would visit many more times.

Casting my mind back, I remember the magnificence of the mountains and the leafy laned, bistro-lined streets laying at their feet.

At the time I didn't notice that in all the splendour of Franschhoek's white utopia, black people were carrying all my short-lived pleasures on their backs.

Black people cleaned the streets, farmed the food and wine, served the menus with the required hospitality, all while being completely decentralised from the experience.

Even now, the faces of old white men rocking up in their luxury vehicles come to mind.

Waltzing into their restaurants to check that their investments were taken care of, they came once again to take all the glory.

I have not been to Franschhoek since I relocated to Johannesburg seven years ago, but I recently had the experience come to me.

The Amex Winter Sculpture Fair teamed up with Franschhoek Tourism to bring the best food and wine from the "famed Cape valley".

At the suggestion of such an affair, I became curious to know what I would be in for.

The annual fair, in collaboration with Artlogic, brings an exhibition of artworks from around the world too - a great platform for young black artists, it would seem.

This year, not a single black South African artist was included in the exhibition.

The curators, Argentinian and Danish respectively, presumably do not understand the importance of representation and instead focus on the art.

With a little bit of effort, this could be understood, but it does beg questions of us as South African creators, curators, hosts and consumers of art around why we are not investing more in transformation.

This is particularly relevant in such a historically exclusionary space as visual art.

Are we asking enough questions about how to achieve fair representation of black art?

The reality is, because of exclusion, the likelihood of finding fewer black artists is high, but this should not deter us from finding them. It should encourage us to try harder.

Likewise, when I browsed the various culinary offerings, I saw no faces resembling the people I remember to have done all the work in serving me in Franschhoek.

If the best food and wine can be served by black people on their home turf, why do they not travel to represent their work personally when their goods are sold to the world?

It is a well-known fact that the people who do the labour of growing and preparing the produce that ends up in our glasses and on our plates are mostly black.

Despite this, they don't seem to make it beyond the kitchen.

When we think about transformation in South Africa, it tends to escape us that the idea should apply to every existing industry, field and institution.

There is no sphere of society, symbolic or material, that has not been constructed by the injustice of inequality in the form of colonialism and apartheid.

There is nothing about our society that exists coincidentally and failing to understand this will always lead us astray.

As big corporations which dabble in lifestyle branding, entities such as American Express stand to gain much more from investing in more deliberate participation in transformation of South African art than leaving it to chance.

Granted, they may not control the curation of the events they sponsor, but they can choose the conditions on which they associate.

If we hope to make honest livings, we are compelled to use our power to institute retributive justice both materially and symbolically through making sure black people of varying competencies are represented and paid fairly in every sphere.

It is easy to conclude that transformation is not the responsibility of everyone and that it is not of relevance to everyone.

This is not true, in a country which was orchestrated to be unjust and unequal.

If we are truly going to live up to our numerous slogans expressing pride and hope for a beloved South Africa, we will have to look beyond just creating jobs but to the meaning and quality of the jobs.

We have to take it upon ourselves to make sure that we are as deliberate about engineering an inclusive society, as imperialism was about engineering our demise.

It is for all of us to transform South Africa and we must try harder.

*Jamil F. Khan is a PhD candidate in critical diversity studies.

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