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Nature and culture collide at SculptX - Africa's largest sculpture fair
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Nature and culture collide at SculptX - Africa's largest sculpture fair

Posted on 2 September 2021

Sculpture is a traditional art form and as it historically has been conceived to exist outdoors it has been an ever-present feature of public spaces, often manifesting as bronze casts of political heroes. Yet despite and perhaps due to this legacy, it has remained a vital form of expression for artists, often functioning as a conceptual tool to question who society literally places on a pedestal. Visually, artistically it has remained open to so many different permutations. Particularly now that artists are employing this three dimensional art form to tune back into the natural world or dial back to precolonial art forms as a means of 'decolonising' the western history of sculpture.

With over 200 sculptures on show, the fourth edition of SculptX, which opens this spring in Joburg, will offer visitors a glimpse into the different artistic approaches being applied to sculptural works. The materials they are fashioned from vary as do the modes of expression from figurative works, to depicting the human body, the natural world, or the built environment to abstract works, where form, texture and line entertain the eye. In short, SculptX is a celebration of all manner of sculptural expression.

This vital fair was established by The Melrose Gallery in 2017 in association with Melrose Arch, and will be on view across multiple venues from September 3 until October 24 2021.

Left: Anton Smit, Crouching Man | Right: Nicola Roos, Obsidian Samurai XXIII, 2020

SculptX provides a space for artists at different levels in their careers. Established artists - Anton Smit, Botha, Willie Bester, Pitika Ntuli, Andre Stead and Strijdom van der Merwe amongst numerous others - will show alongside a younger set of artists pushing the boundaries of the medium such as Sophie Van Wyk, Bucktowar, Mandy Johnston and Kenneth Shandu as well as other emerging artists still exploring the possibilities of sculpture.

Female artists are represented strongly in the fair with works by well-known artists such as Noria Mabasa, Wilma Cruise, Elizabeth Balcomb, and Ledelle Moe among many others, dispelling the myth that sculpture is primarily the preserve of male artists.

"We have put much effort into sourcing female and young artists from the previously disadvantaged communities to give them the benefit of this valuable platform as they are often overlooked and under-represented in this genre," observes Craig Mark, the director of the Melrose gallery.

Nindya Bucktowar, Reef Fragments, 2021
Nindya Bucktowar, Reef Fragments, 2021

A number of artists participating in this year's SculptX are pushing the boundaries of sculpture in interesting ways. Notably, the recent popularity and interest in ceramic art has infiltrated this year's edition, with clay works by Nindya Bucktowar and Chuma Maweni standing out. For Bucktowar working with clay helps the artist reconnect to the earth. "Clay is an elemental material with an ancestral link to our evolution as a species," says the architect-turned artist of her clay installations, which consists of hanging clay forms and larger organic sculptural ones that echo both the natural and built environments or where the two might have once met.

Andries Botha and Jacques Dhont are collapsing the natural world into the manmade one though in quite different ways. For Botha this is done through the fusion of natural materials such as leadwoods and Nguni cow skin with galvanised steel to arrive at his characteristic elephant forms. Dhont opts to draw our attention to nature by presenting giant plant forms in his towering 'vessels'. As Dawid de Villiers observes of Dhont's plant structures; "these intriguing shapes could be prehistoric or extra-terrestrial plants, or perhaps microscopic organisms magnified to formidable proportions, they command something more than a routine scrutiny."

This year the event will also be paired with an online viewing room where more details about the works and the artists will be available, allowing those near and far to enjoy and browse through the vast content this fair offers. Panel discussions and talks focussed on the artists and sculpture as a form of expression will be held during the two-month run of the fair.

SculptX runs from 3 September to 24 October 2021 at Melrose Gallery, Melrose Arch, Diamond Walk.

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