Tamlin Blake is a South African fine artist and the chief curator for the Spier Arts Trust. Part of her job is to look after the Nando’s art collection (which is the largest collection of Southern African art globally, with more than 21 300 pieces). She also curates and manages collections for other partners. We chatted to her about her role and her passion for Southern African art.
Tell us a bit about your role as a curator – what does the job entail?
I look after the art collections of Nando’s, and our other shared value partners, by buying new work into the collections and maintaining their quality and diversity. My team and I also look for opportunities to exhibit selected portions of these collections.
The job also entails conceiving and administering artist career development programmes supported by shared value partners, like Nando’s.
I review the applications for participation in these programmes and engage directly with artists about their current practice, providing feedback and constructive criticism, and looking for opportunities that we might be able to offer them at their current level of experience. For example, this might be the opportunity to put together an exhibition at a local gallery through the Nando’s Creative Exchange. Or it could involve collaborations with the Spier Arts Academy, where the artists have an opportunity to work in large-scale mosaic.
I am also responsible for signing-off on artwork production quality at Spier Artisan Studios.
What most excites you about your work?
Working with such a diverse group of artists and seeing their work develop and change with time is very interesting and exciting. It is a privilege to be invited into the often private studio spaces where creativity is at its most raw and engaging.
What is the hardest part of the job?
There are hundreds of artists in South Africa and the most difficult decisions revolve around who to engage with and in what capacity.
Why do you believe the Nando's art development programmes have value for Southern African artists?
Nando’s partnership with Spier Arts Trust and the programmes that they run provide an opportunity for artists to examine their practice in a critical but supportive environment. This ensures the continued growth of their work as well as the opportunity to meet other artists with whom they can collaborate or from whom they can learn. This community spirit encourages creative thinking and entrepreneurship.
For some, the income provided through the sale of Creative Blocks helps with the buying of art materials or goes towards studio rent. Other programmes focus on public interfacing, applying for exhibition spaces, interview skills and social media representation. Through Nando’s restaurants globally we are able to expose Southern African artists to the international public and art market.
You're a well-known artist in your own right, and you work with a broad range of full-time artists every day. What are some of the key challenges facing artists in Southern Africa?
The art market in Southern Africa is constantly changing. There are no hard and fast rules to follow in order have a successful career and finding your own path can be very challenging. It can be a lonely or scary space. There is constant financial uncertainty and most artists have to consider taking on teaching or design roles to make ends meet. While this can be fulfilling, it takes time away from the studio and the development of one’s work.
Where an artist lives often impacts what sort of engagement that artist has with the art market. The closer you are to a city like Cape Town or Johannesburg, the more opportunities there are.
Engaging with galleries in other countries can be a logistical puzzle as well. Often, one needs the support of a local gallery or art agent to achieve this, which for some makes the engagement even more expensive and unattainable.
How does the work Spier Arts Trust does help to address these challenges?
Through the Creative Block programme, we aim to provide a meeting place for artists where they can share information, build relationships and create new opportunities amongst themselves. There is also a financial benefit to selling blocks on a regular basis and being paid promptly. In order to reach out to more of South Africa’s artists we now run this programme in Durban and Port Elizabeth, as well as Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Through Nando’s global network we are able to offer some artists the opportunity to exhibit internationally and gain access to other art markets.
Having Nando’s as a shared value partner has been crucial to the success of Spier Arts Trust and the continued support and development of art in Southern Africa. It should not be underestimated how much Nando’s has invested in the cultural heritage of South Africa.
If you’re a full-time artist in either Cape Town, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth or Durban, we’d love to hear from you about getting involved with the Nando’s art initiative It’s simple – just follow these steps:
1-54 is the first leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora with annual editions in London, New York and Marrakech. Nando’s, in partnership with Spier Arts Trust, is a Silver Sponsor of the London event and once again helped to fire up the 2019 edition in early October this year.
The name 1-54 refers to the bringing together of art from the 54 countries that make up the African continent. Founded by Touria El Glaoui in 2013, it is a sustainable and dynamic platform that is engaged in contemporary dialogue and exchange.
In 2019, the London edition of the fair expanded, welcoming 45 carefully-selected international galleries, showcasing the works of 140 multidisciplinary artists of established and emerging profile. More than 18,000 visitors attended the fair.
Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust exhibited as a 1-54 special project, presenting work by four Southern African artists: Nelsa Guambe, Sepideh Mehraban, Qaqambile Bead Studio and Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta.