South Africa squares up against Brazil, not on the soccer pitch as one would expect but in an art space made available for the meeting of two countries and cultures, both hosts of the soccer world cup, now and in 2014.
The Eleven Football and Art – South Africa 2010 x Brazil 2014 brings together an interesting representation of some of Brazil’s most prominent artists and South African artists. The artists give expression to their response to the global obsession with ‘the beautiful game’.
The temporally converted offices work surprisingly well to showcase artworks from the two continents alongside each other. Soccer is of course the binding theme as evidenced by Brazil’s Jose Zaragoza’s Quadrado Mágico, oil pastel on digital printing, as he captures the striking colours and swift movement of the players on the field.
Zaragoza’s players seem to be supported by The Spectators, 2010, oil on canvas, the work by South Africa’s Karl Grietl. With both boldness and sensitivity the artist captures another very important aspect of the game, the committed followers without whom the show would not go on. Grietl reveals something of each individual with a dose of wit giving the work its strength and charm.
Antonio’s Peticov’s Paz Global, 2010, acrylic on canvas, locates the game, the ball, the African continent and planet earth within a stadium shaped heavenly sphere and the greater universe. With clarity he illustrates the overreaching importance and universality of the game in both the conscious and unconscious realm – and its reach beyond the physical game.
Sandile Zulu’s Defending the Cross, 2010, is created using fire, water, earth, air on canvas. Zulu employs his signature geometrically placed shapes and circles culminating in a skillful rendition examining how the game is venerated, and the religious intensity with which followers worship the game.
Wayne Barker explores the complexities of hosting of the global event in South Africa within a historical context in Fighting Field – Steve Biko, 2010. Typically he incorporates his trademark reference to early 20th century ‘nationalist’ artist, Pierneef here in conjunction with liberation struggle icon, Steve Biko, as well as other national and soccer objects and symbols.
To my mind one of the most successful works on show is the multi-layered Heavenly Money, 2010, by Samson Mnisi, mixed media on canvas. The artist has with subtlety and insight integrated the essence of the game. He has captured its fetishes and, above all, the darker side of its excesses, the obscene amounts of money involved in the ‘greatest show on earth’. The canvas is nuanced and he poignantly touches on many of the facets of the sport. Mnisi’s work is well placed next to Brazilian artist Gregório Gruber’s Pacembu, 2008 (oil on canvas).
Local co-curator Fred Scott has pulled off an interesting cross-cultural approach to art and soccer. Local artists compare favourably to their Brazilian counterparts but there are a couple of paintings that do not measure up to the standards set by some of the star works on show.
The exhibition also confirms that the football arena remains a male dominated one, on and off the field, with only one woman artist represented, Annette Laubser, who takes a more whimsical approach to the sport in South South Embrace, 2010, oil on canvas.
The Eleven Football and Art – South Africa 2010 X Brazil 2014 runs concurrent with the global soccer game at Commerzbank, 5 Keys Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg.