Guns & Rains is a curated online gallery of contemporary fine art from southern Africa, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana. Most of the artists are emerging artists while some are already established. Art lovers can purchase the art online and it will be delivered anywhere in the world.
The founder, Julie Taylor is an anthropologist, communications guru, and art entrepreneur, interested in the intersection of technology, the creative spirit and the under-representation of African fine art in the global economy. Before Guns & Rain, Julie ran Google’s communications for Africa. She is currently studying for a Masters in History of Art at Wits University in Johannesburg/.
Our Farm Truck by Lok Kandjengo
You left Google and create an online platform fueled by your love for African art. What inspired the creation of Guns & Rain?
I’ve always been interested in art, and my initial training in anthropology and archaeology fueled my passion for material culture of various kinds. The idea for Guns & Rain came about when I saw the hardships endured by Zimbabwean artists in the mid-2000s, and I started exploring the internet as a platform to raise awareness about their work.
There are now dozens of online art platforms globally. But despite a recent explosion of international interest in African contemporary art, African artists are still hugely under-represented online. I founded Guns & Rain to help fill the gap for thoughtful representation and curation of this art. The demand for online art — whether for education or collecting — will only grow as people’s comfort levels with digital channels increase.
How do you select the artists you feature on the Guns & Rain platform?
Guns & Rain helps raise the local and international profiles of mostly young emerging artists, but some mature artists too. The artists are all currently from southern Africa, primarily South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana. In terms of how I select them, well, there’s a back story: The name ‘Guns & Rain’ comes from the work of South African-born British anthropologist and playwright David Lan, who wrote about guerrillas and spirit mediums in Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle — for its reference to nature, culture, identity, land, struggle, change, and many other important African themes. These themes were, and still are, of strong interest to me both personally as a white female southern African. They certainly influence the selection and curation of works in the Guns & Rain, because I’m more likely to resonate with artists and work which engages with those themes.
I now have a regular stable of artists that I’m working with, but I’m always on the lookout for new talent, and take on new artists and work accordingly.
Aftershave by Admire Kamudzengerere andStreet Barber 2 by Bambo Sibiya
When you look at Southern Africa, East Africa and West Africa, what are the differences in the business of art? Also, is there much collaboration taking place in terms of exposing artists from these regions? Or is there a need to create such platforms?
South Africa has by far the biggest and most vibrant visual arts scene, and we’re starting to see other countries grow as well, particularly Nigeria and Kenya. Kenya has recently established an annual fine art auction, for example. In places like Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the art scenes are small, gutsy, often cash-strapped yet committed. We also see different art aesthetics and tastes in each region and country.
There is some collaboration taking place, and we do see artists from across the continent being showcased at big fairs such as Johannesburg Art Fair. That said, there is need for much more collaboration and intra-continental education. I’m often surprised at how little South African audiences know about artists from neighboring countries, for example
Namibian Boat by Lok Kandjengo
What are some of the challenges you face in your work? What infrastructure is required to take African art to the next level?
Selling art is very different from selling a pair of shoes, an accessory, or even software, because buying art involves nuanced, subjective and emotional decision-making. In the US, a recent survey found that people think that buying art is scarier than buying a car. Another challenge is how to best use the virtual online environment to sell a highly tactile good.
I think the main challenge is lack of knowledge about, or understanding of, contemporary fine art on behalf of wider publics. In part this is due to the fact that art is neglected as a school subject in most countries in the region. Furthermore, there is often little government funding for arts institutions. In some cases the corporate sector provides significant support, for example, the big banks in South Africa, but if you look at countries like Zimbabwe, the environment is extremely tough for the arts, and often gives rise to individual and nonprofit initiatives.
Arches by Nicky Marais and Parquet Inside & Out by Nicky Marais
In terms of gender, how active are women in this field?
There are, but we need to do more to support female artists especially in environments where there is not much social or cultural support for women, especially those from less privileged backgrounds, pursuing careers as artists.
There is however a proliferation of independent women-led art initiatives — Circle Art Agency in Kenya; Boys Quarters in Port Harcourt; Njelele Art Station in Harare; First Floor Gallery in Harare; Cecile Fakhoury in Abidjan. And then there’s also the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair run by an almost all-women team, headed by Touria El Glaoui from Morocco. They are an interesting mix of commercial and non-profit initiatives — and sometimes both at once. This is great to see.
Julie Taylor – Founder of Guns and Rain