Losing Virginity
By Alexandra Dodd in Alex Dodd’s Column
Published in Business Art, South African Art Times

Part of the rare appeal of the Bag Factory's international residency programme is that it brings contemporary artists from afar to Johannesburg to immerse themselves in an atmosphere and urban culture that is new to them. This period of initiation lends a freshness and originality to the work they make while they are based at the downtown studios. Although Johannesburg has a very alert and socially engaged arts community, it is possible for local artists and residents to become immune or shut down to certain aspects of our own culture. So it sometimes takes a friend from afar to reveal to us anew something about our everyday lives to which we may have become perceptually or emotionally blocked. 

Su Tomesen was one such artist, who, through her shebeen installation in the Bag Factory's gallery, recreated the vibey social atmosphere that thrives within township drinking holes, reminding people of the distance that persists between township and downtown people's culture in South Africa. Although progressive South Africans are achingly aware of the social chasms that linger despite the demise of Apartheid era divisions, Tomesen's installation brought this fact home again in a visceral and productive way. Instead of operating from a detached critical distance, she shone a light on contemporary spatial relations in the city in way that was positive and upbeat, forging new personal connections.

Alexandra Dodd is independent writer & editor from Johannesburg, and connected with the Bag Factory