Portia Malatjie On The Open Stoep Residency at The AVA

INTERVIEWED BY Malibongwe Tyilo

Since 1971, No. 35 Church street in Cape Town has been home to the AVA gallery (Association for Visual Arts), the city’s oldest non-profit art gallery. With all the galleries that have popped up on Church Street in recent years, it’s easy for spaces to get lost in the mix. We met up with the gallery’s brand new director, Portia Malatjie to chat about the Open Stoep Residency, just one in a series of projects she is spearheading at the AVA.

What is the Open Stoep Residency?

There are quite a number of galleries around, most of which have windows where you can actually see into the space and engage with the art without even walking in.

One of our challenges at the AVA is that we have walls with no huge windows, allowing people to walk past without noticing that there is a gallery space inside.

The idea is therefore to draw attention to this building as a gallery space and a relevant one at that. We are essentially a community space and we want people to engage with that, we want them walking in and out all the time. The Open Stoep Residency invites artists to engage with the space. We’re essentially taking the art outside the gallery to the surrounding community.

First Thursdays in May marked your initial Open Stoep Residency evening. Tell us a bit more about that.

Our first artist was Sethembile Msezane. She did a performance conceived in response to the xenophobic attacks. She wore a dress with African flags and stood on the stoep and invited people to “hug an African.” She also had a large piece of paper next to her featuring all of the African flags. The idea was that people had to write next to the flag the name of the African country they represented. Even after the performance, we still had people from the streets engaging with the flags. It was amazing.

How often will you have artists occupying the stoep?

We initially wanted to have a resident artist each month, but when we launched during First Thursdays, people absolutely loved it and other artists wanted the opportunity to get involved, so now we’re going to be doing it twice a month. Although each artist or group of artists will have two weeks to work with the space, each residency will differ. Some will last two full weeks, while others will be once-offs.

What else can people expect to see with you as the new director of the AVA?

Well, this is quite a vibrant space to begin with. So many artists who are well known now began their careers here. It was an important space then and it is an important space now. I am working on a programme that utilises the energy of the space, to remind everyone that new and interesting things are happening here all the time. I’ll be making sure we are consistently visible. The Open Stoep Residency is just the beginning of that. We have film screenings and talks coming up that run alongside our exhibition programme. One of the things that has characterised the AVA is that we’re Western Cape-based and that we appeal to Western Cape artists. I’d like to open that up a bit more. I’ve worked with people from Joburg, Brazil and the States and I’d like to keep conversations going with some of those people.

How do readers find out about future artists and events on the programme?

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