Recreating a culture of art in Knysna

Historically Knysna had a reputation as the place to find and indulge in art. Now the Knysna Art Project is set to reclaim the town’s position as a “must go” destination on the art map.

The Knysna Art Project has been a year in the planning but will soon be rolled out with the installation of a show-stopping 2.2m sculpture of a Rastafarian priest at the iconic Judah Square in Concordia, home to South Africa’s biggest Rastafarian community. Local ceramicist Eugene Lewis is working on the final touches under the mentorship of well-known sculptor and artist Suzanne du Toit.

So far six iconic Knysna sites have been earmarked as spots for unique art installations: the impressive sculpture at Judah Square, a giant nautilus made from stainless steel and indigenous wood at Thesen Harbour Town on Thesen Island, in front of SANParks offices; stainless steel impressions of Knysna fynbos and butterflies at Belvidere and Brenton on Sea; a series of surfboards painted by local artists will create a “boardwalk” at Buffalo Bay, and in Sedgefield a mosaic VW beetle by NPO Masithandane will be the latest addition to the town’s Mosaic Route. In time, Knysna’s CBD will also be cheered with existing “Knysna in Bloom” pots along the Main Road being turned into creative canvases; the initial installations of the latter being outside the Visit Knysna information office.

The goal of the Knysna Art Project is to encourage locals, domestic and foreign tourists to explore more of the greater Knysna area, discover all it has to offer, Instagram it and share with the rest of the world.

The project is a collaboration between the Knysna Art Society, Visit Knysna (Destination Marketing Organisation), Knysna Municipality (local economic development) and The Western Cape Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Wesgro).

The Knysna Art Society (KAS) is overseeing the project, their aim being to revive the culture of art in the town – at a time that could not be more opportune. KAS is involved in the actual art installations and is playing an instrumental role in encouraging local artists to contribute.  The KAS is also playing a pivotal role in the general art resurgence in Knysna by becoming a magnet for artists, a place to encourage and grow their presence in the town. The number of KAS members has seen a phenomenal increase, driven by artists wanting to participate in the exciting art initiatives underway.

Another significant project that the KAS is busy with is an art route/map which will be finalised in time for the 2021 Knysna Oyster Festival. Once completed, the Art Route will guide visitors on a meander of art, sculpture and working studios in the greater Knysna area.

Art Society chairperson Helena Gerber says this is the perfect time for the art renaissance in Knysna and that there has been a silver lining that has come from Covid-19 with artists finding time to enjoy and explore their creativity. “During Covid-19 and the 2020 lockdown periods artists took to their palettes and homeowners began moving furniture, renovating and doing DIY projects – with many seeking that perfect piece of art to complement their home improvements,” says Helena.

Taking advantage of this, the KAS is now on a mission “to inspire, to create vision and a platform for all artists in the community in a way that is authentic, creative and supportive,” says Helena. 

Helena explains that during 2020 when galleries were closed artists were compelled to take to digital platforms with the result being that the KAS website www.knysnaarts.co.za has become a busy and vibrant platform connecting artists with one another, but also a place where those looking for art can explore and connect with talented artists.

A Facebook group, Artists Unite set up by the Knysna Art Society has also become a place where artists are empowered and encouraged to brainstorm.

 “The energy of art in greater Knysna is very special. The area is densely populated with talented artists, attracted by the natural beauty and the lifestyle. Art generated here ends up all over the world,” says Helena.

Visit Knysna and the Knysna Art Society are working hand in hand to expand and grow the art route. “The listings on the Knysna Art Route are growing weekly. There is still a lot of work to be done on getting all of the art experiences available to the public mapped out. Greater Knysna has a treasure chest of uncelebrated gems that are yet to be added as we create the art route,” says Colleen Durant, GM of Visit Knysna. 

Knysna executive mayor Ricky van Aswegen says of the Knysna Art Society, “It is a community linking artists, galleries, studios and crafters and an integral and notable contributor to the visitor appeal, but also the economy of the town. Greater Knysna boasts a creative history but over the years the area has become a destination for leisure activities with the focus on art and culture dwindling.” 

Check out www.knysnaarts.com and get lost in a virtual tour of the talent that abounds in greater Knysna. This website gives a peek into the world of local artists, details an art-crawl of the various galleries, and is also the place to look for art-related news and relevant events in the area.

At www.knysnaarts.com you will also find several local artists whose work has winged its way to the far corners of South Africa and the globe. Explore the world of Artwell Musungate whose African art rocks, check out iconic Guy Thesen’s work. See Veronica de Voogt’s passion for wildlife which she explores through bronze metal statues. Richard Henley was a boat builder so see what he can do when it comes to making amazing furniture from indigenous wood. Browse the talent of Knysna:  Nanna Joubert, Julie Tugwell, Gavin Foster, Jan Raats and others – some household names and some emerging artists. 

Explore the Knysna Art Route at www.knysnaarts.com which introduces galleries, studios and other art venues, giving visitors the opportunity to engage with local artists and encouraging them to get out and experience art first-hand. Included on the map are a wide range of arty places from the newly established Art on Queen,  Jandreart Studio on Thesen Island to the latest happening at Entabeni Farm which hosts international artists a few times a year. Visit the bohemian Faithfully Yours, Blaze Jewellery Art or find hundred percent unique South African and local design at Iphupho Creative Designs.

The aim is to have the first edition of the Knysna Art Route map ready for this year’s Knysna Oyster Festival in July but it will be updated regularly with new artists and art spaces. The Art Route will also feature the installations currently being created as part of Visit Knysna’s Interactive Art Project.

In the rundown to the Knysna Art Project being rolled out, keep your eye on www.knysnaarts.com to see ways you too can become part of this revival. Whether you are an accomplished artist or an aspiring artist, there is place for everybody living in the greater Knysna area to contribute to the beauty of this town in many different arty and creative ways.

Contact Helena Gerber from the Knysna Art Society on email knysnaartssociety@gmail.com for more information, or call 082 657 4122.

Images from the recent “’United Emergence’’ exhibition at the Old Gaol attached –an example of the efforts being made to reunite artists in Knysna. Photo credit: Jose Faria

Recreating A Culture Of Art In Knysna

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