Art Decko 2
A South African Exhibition Of Skateboard Decks
A Cultural Expedition

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 12 December 2006

Take some blank skateboard decks, invite a few South African artists to create artworks out of them, repeat for the second year and you have the exhibition Art Decko 2, which has been touring the major centres in South Africa and is now in Durban until next Friday.

The Art Decko 2 exhibition is a showcase of the work of emerging South African artists and designers, as well as some more established names familiar to the alternative culture scene, whose blank canvas was the deck of an Iron Fist skateboard. About 30 artists, from Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban, were invited to take part in the exhibition.

I attended the exhibition while it was being held in Cape Town at what if the world...'s display space at The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. It has since moved on to Johannesburg, to the Moja Modern gallery in Parktown North, and is now in Durban at the Bean Bag Bohemia gallery until 22 December 2006.

The exhibition was surprisingly small but the quality of the work was excellent, although there was no particular theme (as far as I could tell) to tie the various pieces together. On the one hand that's not necessarily a problem, as it provides the artists with a blank canvas, so to speak, with which they have free reign to express themselves. On the other hand a theme helps to unify an exhibition and becomes interesting to the visitors as they can examine how, in this case, 30-odd different artists from different backgrounds and cities chose to interpret the theme. However, I must say that it could have been worse in that the artists could have been briefed to include the company's logo in the design, or something equally ridiculous, and that was not the case here. It seems that Iron Fist did nothing more than provide the decks and allow the artists the freedom to create, choosing not to disrupt this process with corporate interference. One of the press releases that I saw for the exhibition seems to confirm this, stating that the company "prides itself on giving artists a platform in which to further their goals as artists and gives them complete freedom of expression when creating their pieces".

Art Decko 2: Lingo

Another issue I had with the exhibition was that each deck had only a small tag on it, or nearby, that identified the artist and listed a purchase price (the figures ranged in value from R800 to R3 000). Again, this has pros and cons. With no background information about an artist's work or knowledge of who he or she is you are forced to look at the artwork in isolation and come to your own conclusion as to what it is saying. While this becomes very telling as to who you are as a person if you're into self-discovery, meaning in an artwork is - to me - inherently connected to the artist, so I was rather disappointed to see only a name (or, in many cases, just a pseudonym) and no other information - not even the artist's city, which can tell you a lot about what inspires, motivates, and disappoints an individual.

There is not much that I can say about most of the artists, as the list of names of artists that I have who were asked to contribute to the exhibition doesn't correspond with a number of the names on the decks, and the gallery in Cape Town was as equally in the dark as I am. However, I took lots of photographs, so I hope that the images will speak for themselves.

Art Decko 2: faith47

A few names I did notice, however, were two Cape Town-based artists - faith47 and mak1one from mattblack, who are known for, among other things, their street art, in the form of graffiti murals - both commissioned and "spontaneous" - in the city of Cape Town and surrounding suburbs.

Art Decko 2: Stretch

Some of the other artists included Marissa Noordegraaf, Adrian Day, Christo Basson and Merwe le Roux from the am i collective, Elbowgrease and Black Koki from love and hate studio, and Durban-based artist and designer Stretch.

Many of the decks had elements of (South African) political and social commentary, but some were just aesthetically pleasing, and a few made no sense to me at all, although they were all wonderful works to look at. One rather interesting piece, by Cape Town-based tattoo artist and skateboarder Tyler Murphy, and the only one that was presented in any kind of context, was exhibited with a group of photographs showing a skateboarder actually using the deck. Next to this was an explanation from the artist to say that, to him, a skateboard deck isn't really a skateboard deck until it has been used. I found this quite fascinating as you could clearly see all the scuff marks and scratches resulting from this and how they had messed up the artwork in some places. Although this had a negative effect with regards to the artwork's overall visual aesthetic the result was still quite positive as the exercise made the entire piece seem more relevant, and I loved the execution.

Art Decko 2: Kevin Love

Although cynics would probably describe Art Decko 2 as nothing more than an elaborate PR exercise for the Iron Fist company and, on one level, that is very much the case, it still provided a number of artists with the opportunity to create a unique piece, and the public the ability to buy the art. The exhibition also brought some interesting up-and-coming artists to my attention and I look forward to seeing more of their work in the future. As for the exhibition, itself, I hope there will be an Art Decko 3 next year but that more consideration is given to the structure and execution of the exhibits. By all means, promote a brand, but I think more value could be added to the exhibition, for both the visitors and the artists, if the artists were provided with a theme to interpret. To round it off, if reference (and by that I mean a brief biography) could be made to who these artists are I would be a much happier patron as it would enable me to seek out more of their work and find out more about the artistic potential that's all around us in South Africa.

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