12 Jul 2022 ///

Alternative Pathways to Artistic Expression with Lebo Kekana’s “FEDE Arthouse”

The traditional gallery model is a necessary function and incubator of artists and exhibitions – yet a gallery is fixed to the space in which it exists, and although a space can always be transformed to suit the thematic needs for a particular exhibition – what if there was no confinement to one single venue? This is precisely the task of FEDE Arthouse – as a nomadic gallery launched by founder and artist Lebo Kekana, FEDE acts as conduit, curator and community-centric initiator of exhibitions that play with varying notions around the inextricable link between art – in multiple mediums – and its surrounding environment. Without the pressure of a venue – whether rented or owned – Lebo has tapped into the wellspring of vision and adaptability in himself, and his peers across art, fashion, music and design. Interestingly, FEDE Arthouse is not a counter-reaction to the traditional gallery model – in fact, Lebo feels it is intrinsic to our growing artistic landscape – but rather that there should always be alternative ways in which any artist can seek expression of their work out into the world. FEDE Arthouse is rooted in a very grassroots idea; that art arises from the ground upwards, among friends, family and communities – and that somewhere deep inside us all, our greatest longing is to create and share such creations with each other and have a great time doing it.

I’m an artist and predominantly a painter. I really wanted to get into the art scene in Cape Town, but  I wasn’t very familiar with the channels or which doors to knock on. I have always had ideas around curation and how I would, in my own practice, like to see art being shared or experienced – so it made sense to start my own gallery. At first, not having a physical space was challenging – one has to really envision what a gallery is, as independent of a physical space. It became an opportunity to create exhibitions that feel dynamic – so far we have just done group shows, and each one is entirely different from the other. Currently FEDE is Cape Town based, but I’d love to see it spread across the country.” Lebo says, speaking to the tenacity of the artist to create what they require for their own development; this is a powerful sentiment, and one that is deeply encouraging for anyone who has an idea to bring a space or experience into being.

Although FEDE is a relatively young initiative, having been founded in 2020 with all the pandemic constraints many of us experienced, its foundations allows Lebo to meet his collaborators in a liminal space quite different to a physical gallery setting particularly this year in 2022, I’m big on creating really immersive experiences. Being nomadic means that every show or experience is totally new, and comes with its own set of considerations that are unique – honestly, this keeps projects and exhibitions fresh; and it becomes an even bigger collaborative journey between myself and the respective artists; it shifts the dynamic in which I’m not inviting them into “my” space as a venue owner, rather we are entering and creating a new space together each time. I’ve seen how this evokes an entirely different energy around exhibitions.”

Engaging in art through various mediums is a central tenet to FEDE Arthouse – in turn, opening up the exhibition format to a wider spectrum of creators. Dissolving the boundary between what constitutes art as physical or material exhibition within a set of mediums is something we continue to witness in the world; in which “art” as in the industry, becomes more and more a function of exclusivity, while realms like fashion, music and digital lenses such as 3D illustration and graphic design constitute art, with the creators of multiple mediums identifying themselves as artists. Being an artist himself, Lebo is the figure behind FEDE – yet each new show brings with it a collective-style effort of collaboration. On this, Lebo says, “FEDE is just me, but depending on each project I have a variety of makers who come on board. It’s a temporary, project-based dynamic. I think there’s an impression that FEDE is a collective – which is great, because it is in a way – it’s a collective that is always changing and adapting to what is required, with the direction of it and myself being the only the constants. I love that this is the nature of the space – because with just one individual, none of this would be possible. I can begin and implement, but FEDE comes together and comes alive once more creators are involved and in space. I like the impermanence of it right now, but I hope in the future there will be a cohesive unit both with projects and outside of them too.”

The first exhibition put on by FEDE was at a house in Woodstock, with the spatial considerations emphasizing elements such as furniture and seating. Within this domestic space, a stripping away of the seriousness and rigidity of traditional gallery spaces and rooms, allowed the attendees to feel into the space, and connect with each with comfort and ease. Most recently, FEDE showed at Ghost – with the element of music being central to the experience alongside The Other Radio, on this Lebo says,That was a great experience – but challenging too. With the feeling of an event, art is not the central focus or purpose at any given moment, but I really relied on the idea of someone suddenly finding themselves, mid-conversation at a party, surrounded by art.” This show featured a panelist of speakers; With the panel for our last show, I really wanted to bring in an intellectual element, in which there was direct contextualisation for the experience coming from a select group of artists. I think galleries can be intimidating, so to have a more relaxed environment of conversation and interaction allows the show to be more accessible – and introduces people to a variety of artists and mediums in a single space, from writers to musicians and so on.”

Recently, Lebo spoke to Bathandwa Ngwendu at Maak ‘n Plan HQ at the Exchange Building (Lemkus’ home for all themselves and all their collaborators) – a podcast I encourage you to listen to. Powerful conversations and actions are happening, and FEDE Arthouse is a central space for the evolving landscape for art in South Africa. We are excited for the upcoming showcases and releases from FEDE – info dropped at @fede_arthouse as when it happens, it happens.

Written by: Holly Bell Beaton

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