At Entabeni Farm for the launch of the Knysna Saffca residency programme, hosted by Axon, is (from left) the first resident artist Benon Lutaaya, Knysna councillor Cathy Weideman, one of Saffca's directors Pierre Lombart and Axon director Greg Barnes. Photos: Nwabisa Pondoyi
KNYSNA NEWS - The Southern African Foundation for Contemporary Art (Saffca) launched an artist residency programme in Knysna at Entabeni Farm last month, along with an exhibition of works by the programme's first resident artist, Benon Lutaaya, who is from Uganda.
The residency programme will involve two African and/or international artists staying in Knysna for a two to three-month period, three times a year – which means six artists a year.
This programme is sponsored by Axon Investment Services, and the accommodation and food are being provided by Entabeni Farm, which is situated on Welbedacht Road and overlooks the estuary. The farm is owned by Axon.
Sharing his journey, Axon director Greg Barnes said his history with Knysna goes back to 1965 when he was six years old and his father brought them on holiday to Knysna and taught him to fish. “My father brought us back year after year and we enjoyed many places available around Knysna. When I became a father, I too returned to Knysna with my children and grandchildren. We have made many wonderful memories over the years,” said Barnes.
He met architect Pierre Lombart, one of the Safca directors, in 1994 and they formed a strong bond and property investment partnership. Barnes commented on how he became interested in art.
"I am sure you all know the story of Pooh bear and will know you cannot dip your hand into the honey jar without getting a little sticky. This is what happened to us and Pierre and his passion for art. He has taught my wife and me a little about the art world; much more about art and its meaning. This has had a tremendous influence on how we see life and the enjoyment of being," Barnes said.
"At times, Pierre’s relentless drive investing in art has been downright scary, especially from an ex-banker’s perspective. My wife Lizette and I resisted the temptation of investing in art as an asset class until early last year when he introduced us to the work of Benon Lutaaya. Lizette immediately, and I more slowly, fell in love with his work and we jumped when an opportunity arose to acquire one of his art pieces.”
Around the same time Barnes acquired the property now known as Entabeni Farm. He said that their immediate thought – underpinned by their philosophy that they are "only transient custodians” – was that this Knysna treasure could not be kept for just one person or even one family to enjoy.
"We want as many people as possible to share this beautiful view of the estuary and lagoon, and so we have approached the Knysna city officials for a licence to operate the house as a tourist centre with a small restaurant and B&B.
"Over the longer term, we want to interact with the community, not only around art and culture but to create a self-sustaining residential 'agrihood', a community where the roadways and pavements have fruit and vegetables professionally grown and shared among residents, workers and the wider community," said Barnes. “We have created five sustainable jobs and with the farm stall, B&B and restaurant this will increase to between 15 and 20 new jobs."
Lombart explained a bit more about Saffca, saying they have three aims: "Sharing – if I have expertise on a subject by sharing the skills or knowledge with the second person I am exercising the economy of sharing and I lose nothing in the process, to nurture, promote and support artist from the southern African region and to participate in taking local artists and their work global."
Lutaaya, the first artist in residence at Entabeni Farm, shared the story of his journey as an artist, as well as his proudest moments, challenges and finding a voice through art.
"I’ve always had to find different ways to go through life. After I obtained my BA in fine arts with education from Kyambogo University, Kampala in 2011, I struggled to buy paint and pens. I therefore collected old newspapers and tried to do what I could do if I had the pens. I had no pens and no money to polish my skills."
Lutaaya said that in 2015 he had an opportunity of a lifetime which he says luck bestowed upon him. "I will call it luck because people who qualify for the residency programme are people who have at least five or seven years of experience or have an exhibition history, and I had none. I spent seven days on the road travelling from Uganda to Johannesburg," he said.
When he arrived in Johannesburg the residency programme at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg organised a studio, a house and material for him for three months. He said when he ran out of the material he went back to the streets again to collect old magazines and “created wealth from trash”.
“That is when I first met Pierre, who later became like a father to me and exposed me to so many different ways of thinking,” said the African artist.
His proudest moment he said was in 2016, "when I wanted to give back to South Africa, the country that has offered me so much. Last year I gave more than R700 000 to supporting artists. “I had observed that even though females dominate art schools, the commercial art world is predominantly comprised of males, so I decided to start a six-month residency programme for female artists."
Lutaaya said that after struggling for so many years to find his voice through landscape art, he finally found a voice in his human form art pieces, whether it be through painting or collage.
For the second and the third Knysna residency of 2017, two South African artists will share the studio space with two European artists. This will become an opportunity for cross-cultural art conversations, said Lombart. The South African artists will be Nompumelelo Vuyisa Tshabalala from Johannesburg and Dan Clarke from Cape Town.
Some of the locals discussing the art on display and enjoying the wonderful views at Entabeni Farm.