The Bag Factory – Promoting Inclusion and Diversity in Art

Established in 1991, the Bag Factory was one of the first art studios to open up access to resources and networks for local artists to establish themselves in the South African art world. At a time when the walls of apartheid were being dismantled in South Africa, the Bag Factory focused on the principles of inclusion and diversity, and artists took advantage of the opportunity to make use of the creative space and facilities provided. This artists’ collective has moved with the rapid changes in South Africa, and particularly Johannesburg, over the past two decades. Located between the vibrant Newtown Cultural Precinct and the Oriental Plaza, the studios are easily accessed from the city, with many of its artists based in Soweto.

As part of an international network known as the Triangle Arts Trust, the Bag Factory is involved in workshops and residencies facilitating interaction between artists to exchange ideas, promote innovative thinking and encourage experimentation. Some of the well-known South African artists who have been associated with these initiatives include, Deborah Bell, Rookeya Gardee, Kendell Geers, Penny Siopis, Verna Jooste, Dominic Tshabangu, Stepphen Maqashela, Ben Arnold, Kay Hassan, Tamar Mason, Paul Emmanuel and Fatima Fernandes. Presenting their own distinctive styles, each of the artists has contributed in some way to the ongoing development of talent among budding artists.

The residency program has been instrumental in assisting artists from throughout Africa and beyond, including Sao Paulo, Delhi, Montreal and Zurich, to spend some time working in Johannesburg, and at the end of their residencies, visiting artists display their works to the public. Moreover, a number of South African artists have had the opportunity to visit overseas countries to broaden their horizons.

Fifteen art studios are made available to artists to allow them to develop their talent and participate in the activities related to the promotion of art. Many of the resident artists have their work displayed in corporate and public collections, thereby contributing to the collective. The Bag Factory‘s skills workshop program runs professional workshops for artists, as well as outreach projects aimed at introducing art to those who would otherwise not have the opportunity. Regular exhibitions offer a host of themes, many of which are very experimental and off-beat, contributing to the vitality of the Johannesburg art scene.