Media and members of the art community thronged together at the AVA Gallery in Cape Town on 13 December 2019 for the launch of the Nando’s Creative Exchange 2019, in partnership with Spier Arts Trust.

Nando’s Creative Exchange was first established in 2011 to recognise emerging, South African fine artists who demonstrate exceptional ability. The four artists selected for this programme enjoy the opportunity to take part in an exhibition sponsored by Nando’s, as well as mentorship opportunities and sponsored art materials. This year’s artists are Wonder Marthinus, Robyn Pretorius, Thembalethu Mangunyana and Adolf Tega.

Kilmany-Joe Liversage, celebrated South African artist, shared her own journey with Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust with event attendees, detailing how she began by taking part in the Creative Block programme (where artists are given blocks of a specific size on which to create their art, and then submit these regularly, with the best ones purchased by Spier Arts Trust). She recalls it being a way she could help to cover her bills, but from there, her work was recognised, and she was soon invited to join other Nando’s artist development programmes.

“I had my first solo exhibition right here at the AVA Gallery, and a few other exhibitions here thereafter,” she recalls. “Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust have had a huge impact in my career as an artist. Nando’s saw my art and said, ‘We love what you’re doing. Let’s make murals.’ Since then, I have been lucky to travel all over the world because Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust have believed in what I’m doing, from Australia to Canada and the USA.”

Liversage is interested in the role of street art and its influence can be seen in her art. She has thus enjoyed Nando’s helping her to take her work to the streets. “It’s awesome that they have such enthusiasm for what we do as artists, and that they give us the freedom to take our art to the next level,” she says.

Kirsty Niehaus, who heads up the Nando’s art programme, thanked and acknowledged the hard work and perseverance of the artists in preparing for the exhibition. “These are world-class artworks and we hope to see these artists’ works in our restaurants soon,” she said. “In terms of why Nando’s and art… Chicken and art – what is the connection? Most people know Nando’s for our delicious PERi-PERi chicken and many don’t know about our deep commitment to Southern African art. The Nando’s art initiative was started 18 years ago in 2001. We are now the biggest collector of southern African art in the world, with more than 21 000 pieces of art. Firstly, we are a proudly South African company and we believe in investing in the people of South Africa, and using our global footprint to showcase their art to the world. We believe in shared value and the art initiative is a true example of this. The artists benefit from the career development opportunities. Nando’s benefits because it helps us to a build beautiful brand and restaurant spaces. And our guests get to enjoy their delicious PERi-PERi chicken in a beautiful authentic creative space, which I’m sure helps to make the chicken taste even better.”

Mirna Wessels, CEO of Spier Arts Trust, shared about the importance of creating symbiosis between art and business. “The collections we curate all publicly viewable,” she says. “Our patron partners buy into the idea that art is not reserved for the elite, and they appreciate its role in promoting innovation.”

Sepideh Mehraban, the Iranian-born artist who mentored the four 2019 Nando’s Creative Exchange artists, thanked Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust for helping to make artists’ dreams come through. She detailed each artist’s interpretation of the them, Home, and their art practice, and touched on the process of mentoring. “Over the course of the last few months I’ve had the privilege of mentoring these four artists’ journey as part of Nando’s Creative Exchange programme,” she says. “Seeing their vision and the power of art to narrate stories that haven’t been heard yet was an exceptional experience. The collaborative processes of monthly studio visits and having conversations around our practice, created new spaces for thoughts and imagination. Surely, these creative activities made us all feel at home – free from where we are coming from and our social-political background. The sense of belonging and having freedom to share our experiences gave us agency. The universal language of art vanished uncanny moments of feeling dislocated and rather felt ‘homely’.”

The launch has resulted in several potential opportunities for the exhibiting artists. For example, Charl Bezuidenhout, owner of Worldart Gallery (which has represented key local artists like Liversage), invited Pretorius to present her portfolio and discuss gallery representation.

Home runs from 13 December 2019 until 16 January 2020 at the AVA Gallery.

Photos by Marc Berman.