'Where Art Thou' Highlights The Diversity Of South African Art In First Season
Without a doubt, art is intimidating, Yes, it's beautiful and can tell a deep story but for the vast majority of us, it's a whole world that's ever-evolving. Travel host Terhys Persad hopes to change that with her new series Where Art Thou.
The 28-year-old flew to South Africa for the first season where she got a crew of local videographers to film the interviews. After visiting galleries and shows, she was able to sit down with nine artists who share their message through their respective mediums.
As one of those rare people who quit their job to pursue a life of travel and adventure, we had to talk to Terhys about her show on Youtube.
1. What's your relationship with art? Did you study it formally?
Actually, no! I went to school for Women's Studies and Child Development. I have always been a casual art lover, but I felt intimidated by galleries. A few years ago, I lived my wildest dreams and quit an unsatisfying job to travel, with no return date. I ended up spending a lot of time in galleries and art museums because I was traveling solo.
Since I was alone, gallerists would often teach me about the work, and I became much more interested in contemporary art because quite simply, it is often a reaction to the society/politics/history of a country. I think this is an easier concept to understand with music; we all know about American protest or counter-culture songs of the '60s and '70s, and even today (shout out to Solange!). Well, that extends to contemporary art too.
Now, I try to learn as much about contemporary art as I can by reading, visiting galleries, and watching anything related to contemporary art online.
2. How did the series come about and did you feel like there were specific stories that needed to be told?
Before I left for my long trip, I had the idea that a travel show about art would be cool. Because of my experiences I mentioned earlier, I saw just how good contemporary art is for learning about a country, and I started thinking about a show that used art as a learning tool.
After a year and a half away, I came home and took film classes and began researching and planning the show by reading everything I could and by asking around. I started completely from scratch! I choose South Africa for the first destination because South Africa's art scene is so varied, and the social and political climate of the country has changed so much within the last 30 years —making for some powerful work.
I focus on artists who don't get much attention in traditional art spaces, so a lot of the artists are women or gender non-conforming people, people of color, and/or queer. I also hire crew along the same lines. All of my crew in South Africa were POC and most of them were women.
I also want to avoid travel narratives that are done to death in western travel shows; you won't find any talk of safaris, Mandela, or wine in the South Africa season; the goal is to introduce outsiders to a part of a country's culture that doesn't feed into stereotypes.
3. Who is this series for? Can non-art enthusiasts follow along?
Truthfully, this series is for me; I wanted to see sides of a country I hadn't been shown before, in a creative and engaging way. I wanted to hear from people of marginalized identities, and it was very important to me that they not be exoticized. Where Art Thou is an escape, but an informative one.
Anyone who values media with similar qualities will enjoy watching —even if they've never stepped foot in an art museum, or out of their neighborhood.
4. Where are some your favorite places you visit in the series?
Since the focus of the show is on the people and society/history rather than the places, I can more easily tell you about my favorite topics.
I really enjoyed learning about Coloured culture in South Africa, which has seemingly a million different facets that are largely unknown to outsiders. The Coloured population is big, but interestingly it is largely ignored in the narrative of South African culture and politics; we'll get into that more in a later episode. The artists I talked to about that are Rory Emmett and Thania Petersen, whose work is really visually dynamic.
I also liked learning about the practice of traditional Southern African healers, or Sangomas, from artist Buhlebezwe Siwani, who is a dope photographer, sculptor and performance artist.
Separate from the show, I did explore quite a bit; I loved hiking the Skeleton Gorge, and hanging out at Muizenberg beach in Cape Town, and chilling in downtown Johannesburg (Joburgers are a fuuuun.).
5. If someone were planning a trip to South Africa to enjoy art, where should they start their trip?
I recommend checking out South African site 10and5.com for pop up art shows; many artists, especially those whose art is overtly political tend to organize their own productions outside of official art spaces. Going to galleries can be fun in areas like Maboneng and Rosebank, but they tend to be small, and often get criticism for their role in gentrification. WITS university has an art collection that can be a nice visit if you're in the Braamfontein area; the Stevenson Gallery, which represents the famous photographer Zanele Muholi, is also in the area.
In Cape Town, there's First Thursdays (where the galleries open at night and have wine and nibbles the first Thursday of the month) which can be very fun but try and plan your route ahead of time! What If The World, The Goodman, Stevenson, and The South African National Gallery are also good spots. The latter houses the famous 'Butcher Boys' Sculpture. The former are also implicated in troubling gentrification activity.