September 9, 2015

Art Blogger of the Week: Layla Leiman in Johannesburg, South-Africa

I caught Layla Leiman at the right moment: last week she became the editor-in-chief at the South-African creative showcase Between 10and5. This means that her blogger time might get scarce, which is a pity, but I checked out Between 10and5 and it's such a great art site that as editor-in-chief Layla will be bound to flourish some more. I saw, for instance, that Between 10and5 features VLOGs (cool!) and did so recently about Tony Gum, a very cool Capetown artist blogger I've been following too. How cool can it get! Since 2012 Layla's blog with the funky name Derriere has featured young upcoming artists like the Johannesburg artist Bogosi Sekhukuni, while also covering more established events like the FNB Joburg Art Fair. And Layla assured me, she's not about to leave art blogging behind. So follow her blog, or check out her Instagram, and if that's not enough, there's always her personal website to explore.

Art Scene
"The South African art scene has quite a distinct split between the two main cultural capitals - Johannesburg and Cape Town (of course this doesn't mean there aren't dynamic art scenes in other cities in South Africa, only that I don't have the insights to speak to them). In Johannesburg (where I live), the art scene is influenced by the energy of the city, which has a gritty, urban and economic edge. The gallery scene is quite polarised though, with big-name commercial galleries on one side and small independent spaces on the other. Because collectors are still largely white and conservative, it's difficult for galleries and artists to transition from 'emerging' to 'established'. But these are art market concerns I'm sure the world over. In Cape Town however, the contemporary art scene is characterised by self-referential irony and in-jokes, which is often also part of artists' visual language. (Obviously, opinions of this vary, depending on how near or far you are from the Mountain). Over the last few years, and it seems like this year in particular, there's been a frantic hustle for the main commercial galleries to put on 'African' shows and sign artists from other African countries to their stable. Similarly, there's been a lot of emphasis on South African art as African art at international shows. This is evidently in response to the global interest in art from African. Personally however, I find this trend slightly concerning as without consideration, intricate cultural-contextual nuances can be overlooked and the meaning of a work lost or misconstrued in relation to some vague overarching notion of 'Africanness'. What's African?"   

"I started my blog in 2012 with the intention of cataloging for myself, and possibly anyone else interested, the exhibitions happening in Joburg at the time. I was also semi-between jobs at that time, and saw it as a form of writing exercise and means to engage further with the shows I was attending. I don't have a very large following, but was so surprised to learn that (some) people were actually reading my blog. In South Africa there's a vast lack of arts writing and criticism, and artists, especially young artists, are looking for a space in the media to have their work featured, read about their peers and grow their network. I think that perhaps starting my blog was my 'in' into the local art scene; it showed my interest and keenness to be part of it, which lead to other things. Shortly after starting my blog I began also writing for the South African creative showcase site Between 10and5, where I've gone on to play a significant part in growing the publication's art content. Over the years I've interviewed many of South Africa's emerging and established contemporary artists for the site, and today 10and5 is highly regarded within the industry for its showcasing of contemporary SA art. (We're the media partners for the third year for the FNB JobrgArtFair - happening this weekend). Blogging and writing about art has definitely played a large role in connecting me with the art community as well as other art bloggers, most notably Mary Corrigall (who in February this year invited me to take part in a contemporary dance writing workshop she was facilitating for the Dance Umbrella Festival. The outcome of the workshop was a 3-part gazette for the festival and national newspaper coverage)."    

"I have a BA Honours degree majoring in English Literature with an undergraduate Journalism degree. While I don't like to consider myself a writer, I do write for a profession. In the past I worked in advertising as a copywriter, but have been lessening that line of work to focus more on arts and creative related work. Recently (last week) I became editor-in-chief at 10and5, so now although I'm woefully behind on my personal art blog, I get to be involved in and cover art and other creative people and projects as my day job." 

"I don't monetise my personal art blog - it never occurred to me to try; I've always seen it as a personal project and way of engaging with the arts community. I hope that it adds some value though, however small, to the local arts scene simply by being another space for arts to be featured and discussed." 

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