Ernestine White is a Cape Town based South African artist and currently the curator of Contemporary Art at Iziko’s South African National Gallery. Her experience within the arts and culture sector spans a period of fifteen years. White spent a decade living in the United States and in 2001 returned to the shores of South Africa to complete her studies at the University of Cape Town. She holds a Bachelors degree in Fine Art, an Honours degree in Curatorship, a Master Printer degree in Fine Art Lithography as well as a Masters degree in Fine Art.
As a curator for a national museum the concept of putting art into public spaces has been an ongoing personal mission. When I was asked to participate in this competition I was excited to see how the concept of public art could be translated using something as iconic as the South African minibus taxi.
Based on personal observation and engagement with the arts on a wide spectrum of projects and initiatives, it is clear that large segments of South African society still have a rather traditional understanding of museums and galleries - as the proverbial white cube, as spaces of power for the enjoyment of a privileged few. These kinds of perceptions unfortunately alienate the majority of citizens from appreciating the very same work that is meant to be seen by the general public. Public art as a result has become increasingly important as a tool to broaden the public understanding of the diverse ways in which art can be showcased and experienced. I see the SA Taxi Foundation Art Award as an important public art initiative and intervention that breaks free from those age old perceptions and traditions. Through its existence public art enhances our environment and transforms our perceptions. It questions our assumptions and heightens our awareness of various issues. Public artworks are a reflection of how we as a society see the world. The appreciation of public art is a communal activity with its benefits felt further than the immediate communities and neighbourhoods that experience the work.
As a visual artist I find the idea of placing one’s work as a movable display, on our local form of transportation, genius! Such an initiative provides a unique opportunity for the selected artists to showcase their works to a more diverse audience, and more importantly to their own communities, providing an opportunity for much needed understanding that the arts is a viable avenue for personal development and income generation. Since a large majority of passengers spend on average two hours a day commuting from one place to the other, perhaps the next step would be to include artworks not just on the exterior but to actualise an exhibition experience within the taxi!
For the top 6 winners this is an amazing opportunity to firstly realise that your chosen field and your dedication to your craft has paid off, and that this local as well as national exposure is a stepping stone to encouraging you to continue on the path of personal development. It is hoped that this opportunity will serve as a springboard in your career path as artists. I would also like to congratulate the artists who made it through to the semi-final selection, may this too be an opportunity for you to grow and develop.