top of page

Artists daring to go it alone

It is a hard to pinpoint exactly when works by artist Nelson Makamo became so hotly coveted. If you study auction records, his art was fetching handsome sums before Oprah Winfrey posted an image on Instagram of herself virtually hugging a newly acquired artwork by the Joburg-based artist. Then there was the artwork he made for the cover of Time magazine and the Trevor Noah interview in 2019. He has over 180 000 followers on Instagram. Yet despite his celebrity status and the rising value of his art, he is not represented by an art gallery. He has staged exhibitions at galleries – often the Everard Read - but has maintained his independence. This may be due to the perceived lack of institutional appeal (from museums and curators) his art presents, which may have been a barrier to him landing a spot at Goodman or Stevenson – two of the country’s most powerful art galleries and art marketing machines.

Whether Makamo was waiting to be courted by a powerful gallery or had no interest in this is a moot point for he has now completely taken control of his destiny and set up his own gallery. Botho Project Space is adjoining his studio in Selby and it is here that in November last year he opened possibly the largest exhibition of his works to date.

The gallery is unconventional in a number of ways. They sold tickets - R450 for two - to attend the opening nights (due to Covid-19). This idea was surprisingly well received; they sold out (over 300 tickets) three days before the opening. The opening show, naturally was a Makamo solo – a mass of new paintings filled the capacious destination, which includes one large gallery, a corridor and another smaller gallery space.

Adding conceptual weight to the opening night was a keynote address on the role of artists in postcolonial Africa. A comprehensive catalogue on Makamo’s art was published.

“It made sense to open with Nelson; he had not shown a solo show in South Africa in a long time. We won’t only do solos but group shows, where we invite writers, curators to curate or contribute. We are also working on an international strategy to promote our shows. We don’t