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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Podcast with Ross Douglas of the Joburg Art Fair

Ross DouglasRoss Douglas’s voice has risen to prominence in South Africa’s resurgent art world with the success of the inaugural Joburg Art Fair in early 2008 – and with the second edition planned for 3-5 April this year.

Douglas brings with him an eclectic mix of skills gained in a career that has seen him working in ecotourism, documentaries, commercials, film production and art events. He is a man with deep convictions and a passion for the things he gets involved in – and it is clear that his big bang entry into the world of art is set to leave a lasting impact.

Join me on the Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast as I chat to Ross about the Fair, the response of government to art and the role that art plays in creating lasting social and economic value. In our conversation, he makes a number of suggestions that could transform South Africa’s arts industry – it will pay players to tune in.

Ross Douglas I spoke to Ross in the lounge of Artlogic’s offices, which were a hive of activity – clearly indicating the amount of forward planning that is involved in putting together an event of the scale of the Joburg Art Fair.

My interviewee read for a degree in Philosophy and Economics at the University of Natal (now University of Kwazulu Natal) before traveling to the Okavango Delta in Botswana to work in the then emerging eco-tourism industry. In 1993 he left the Okavango Delta for Mozambique, a move that he describes as “premature” because that country had just emerged from a long and brutal civil war and it had not yet held its first elections. Whilst in Mozambique, Douglas got a job to produce a documentary on the demobilisation of Renamo and Freelimo soldiers.

In 1994 he returned to South Africa and consolidated his career in television making documentaries for TV and a three part series for National Geographic. A switch to commercials followed what Ross calls the emergence of reality TV; in his own words, “When reality TV started to gobble up documentary budgets in the late 90’s”, he chose to follow a route into commercials.

Using his understanding of film production, Douglas approached the celebrated South African artist William Kentridge to re-produce the animated Soho Eckstein series into an event with 35mm film projection and live music. The event achieved great success with performances in Central Park New York, London, Berlin and Milan.

Ross Douglas For Ross this was a turning point in his professional life: it led to the founding of Artlogic, a company that produces art events by selling the branding rights to corporates that are eager to have a presence in art spaces. Artlogic’s undoubted triumph was its involvement with Kentridge’s version of The Magic Flute, which sold out in South Africa.

Ross may have traveled an unusual path to achieve prominence in the art world – but it is clear that the combination of philosophy and economics at university prepared him for an environment where questions of taste are as much in focus as those of value. It is telling that he regards the Joburg Art Fair as primarily a “marketplace” for South African and African Art that brings together buyers, sellers and ideas.

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