The Kizo Art Gallery, in Gateway Umhlanga, will host the official KwaZulu-Natal launch of the 2010 African Fine Art Collection from 3 July 2009. This features iconic creations by accomplished African artists that form part of the first ever fine art collection to be officially licensed by FIFA.

Could soccer kick start renewed interest in African art? ‘Definitely,’ says Craig Mark, the Durban-based owner of the Kizo Gallery and managing director of MMX (2010 in Roman numerals) Fine Art, the newly created company that will showcase a kaleidoscope of unique art works inspired by South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ and recognised as official licensed products of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

The fact that this is the first fine art licence in the history of the FIFA World Cup is a coup by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that what will soon evolve into one of the largest and most ambitious African art collections was the dream and passion of a Durban gallery and business owner is a landmark for a province that still battles to carve a meaningful niche in the larger African art scenario.

However, the firsts don’t stop there. As managing director of MMX Fine Art, Craig intends embarking on a whole new approach to marketing art – “taking art to the people” – in a sports-mad arena that is not conventionally associated with art galleries and exhibitions. He is emphatic that the football festivities cannot be restricted to the games themselves but, must inevitably spill over into a cultural celebration of South Africa as the first African host of the soccer world cup and that accessible art will play an important part.

“This World Cup is the first time in history that we have four billion people focused on Africa. There is no better opportunity to expose South African art to what I’d call a massive database,” he explains.

This 2010 fine art venture can be divided into two – the African Art Collection which is launching at the Kizo Gallery on 3 July and the 2010 International Fine Art Collection which will only begin to take shape early next year after the final draw has been announced in December.

No limits
The first comprises pieces specially selected by Craig and his team which have been individually approved and licensed by FIFA. There is no limit to the number of artists who can submit work for approval and Craig is hoping that countrywide launches of the initial pieces in the collection will actually encourage others to come forward.

The artworks on Kizo’s walls include a series of 11 bronzes entitled ‘Footballers’ by Keith Calder who is known for his sculpture in front of Sibaya Casino. This time, however, he has veered away from the “tribal” to create a universal, but contemporary celebration of the human form. Craig says there will be a limited edition of 32 – one for each of the qualifying countries.

Then there is South Coast artist – Clint Strydom’s series of breathtaking black and white photographs entitled “The Real Heroes”. These capture the passion and essence of soccer within Africa’s rural communities. Works of neo-pointillism from Gavin Rain, soccer street scenes from colourful KZN artist Welcome Danca, Bheki Khambule’s paintings of the host stadiums and a series of paintings by Kenyan artist Taju entitled ‘Cows Love Soccer Too’ are also included.

Craig says the works selected are “unashamedly commercial” and Taju’s pieces, in particular, lend themselves to use on T-shirts and other products, providing a long awaited crossover into art merchandising. “In South Africa, we haven’t realised the value of merchandising. In London galleries, you can buy (pieces) representing the work of top artists. It effectively strengthens the artists’ brands.”

It is for this very reason that Craig believes the African Art Collection can provide an invaluable platform to promote and market the work of local talents. Already the market for soccer memorabilia – from photographs to signed shirts and caps – is worth billions worldwide. Limited edition artworks, but by virtue of the FIFA endorsement, will carry significant value for years to come.

He says that his team is currently working on a number of creative concepts to market the 2010 African Art Collection and tie up busy public spaces as well as formal galleries both locally and overseas to make sure that more people than ever have access to these artworks. “The issue is how many (exhibitions) we can do. We’ve got just 12 months to achieve this. We’ve taken a big risk because we feel we can bring added benefits to African art.”

The International Fine Art Collection will feature the work of five leading contemporary artists from each of the 32 qualifying countries announced in December this year. 210 prints of each of the works of the 160 participating artists will be created, numbered and signed ahead of simultaneous exhibitions around the world during 2010.

Because many of these countries cannot but qualify, Craig says they are already recruiting artists and bringing big names on board, including Sir Peter Blake, the father of British pop art.

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AUTHOR: Shirley Le Guern
DATED: 19th June 2009