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Art For Art’s Sake

William Kentridge is one of the golden names in art in Africa. What are his works worth?

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The international art world in which he finds himself is complicated, like the artist himself. South African artist William Kentridge strides confidently in this tough and demanding world, whether he is showing his work in a gallery in Sydney or Paris; featuring in a retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York or the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto; or premiering an unusual opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera or at the Festival d’ Aix en Provence.

Artist William Kentridge at his ‘Arts on Main’ studio, Johannesburg; 11 August 2011 – Photo by Brett Eloff.

The art world requires excellence in execution, but most of all, it requires a unique spark of creativity, of individual expression that sustains itself. Kentridge has been blessed with this. One cannot describe him by any glib epithet. He is South African, yet he is internationally recognised as one of the world’s greatest contemporary artists. In 2009 he was on Time’s 100 list of people who most affected the world. His exhibition, 5 Themes, was second on Time’s Top 10 list of exhibitions in 2009. He has won several international accolades, including the 2011 Kyoto Prize for outstanding contributions to society. Kentridge may frequent the art capitals of the world, but he is firmly rooted in South Africa, in Johannesburg specifically, where he has two studios. One at home in a leafy suburb, where the bulk of his solitary work is done, the other in downtown Johannesburg, in the Arts on Main complex. The latter is a large space, ideal for the expansive drawings used in theatrical performances, and for rehearsals for performance pieces.

At the time of writing this, Kentridge and his team were working on Refuse the Hour a series of live collaborative performances to be staged at the Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg in September. Among them is the lecture performance I am not me, the horse is not mine, which incorporates eight short films, and which is being staged for the first time in Johannesburg. It was inspired by the short story The Nose, written in 1837 by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Gogol’s story inspired Dmitri Shostakovich to write his opera The Nose in 1928. The main character’s nose takes on a life of its own, and thus opens the discourse around matters of social hierarchy and division of the self. In turn, I am not me, the horse is not mine formed the basis for Kentridge’s interpretation of the Shostakovich opera, which premiered at the New York MetropolitanOpera, and garnered him his “best reviews yet” at its

European premiere at the Festival d’Aix en Provence. So good, in fact that several international opera houses have expressed interest in staging the production, with its massive painted canvasses and video projections. Several large mechanical contraptions are ranged around the studio. Kentridge steps up to one, turns a lever, and the wooden machine which sprouts metal megaphones at its tips, moves. These structures are larger than life, curious. Looking at them in this space makes one aware, in Kentridge’s words, of the process of looking and seeing and making sense of the world.

Against one expansive white wall a film image is projected. It is of Kentridge walking. Behind him walks dancer Dada Masilo. He throws a book from a stack on his head back towards her. She catches it and tosses a book back at him. They continue walking in a timeless loop. It is fascinating to watch. This too will be part of the September performances. While preparations for these performances will take up the next few weeks at the downtown studio, Kentridge spends most of his time working on his own in his studio at home. For the past 18 months, he has been working on a new film and exhibition that will show at the Goodman Gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg in November.

Other Faces is the 10th in a series of animated films that he started working on 23 years ago. The films feature the same characters, and primarily use the same technique. He makes drawings with charcoal on paper. A drawing is done, then filmed with an old 35mm animation camera. The same drawing undergoes “many, many” erasures. Through the animation of these drawings, the artist leads the observer to understand the world as process rather than as fact. Kentridge continues to work on one drawing until the sequence in the film is finished.

He doesn’t work on the series constantly, but comes back to it every few years. The films are invariably about Johannesburg. The themes in this one are about xenophobia and the changing look of streets of downtown Johannesburg. It has to do with the further erasure of the mine dumps and Johannesburg memory. It’s about “one’s relationship to one’s younger self”, Kentridge says. Other Faces brings back the character of Soho Eckstein, who along with the character Felix Teitlebaum, is a constant in Kentridge’s films. It took a while for him to understand that they each represented an alter ego, a “self-portrait in the third person”. Kentridge talks about our collective amnesia as South Africans about the apartheid years. It is always easier to forget about the uncomfortable things. Yet when I look at Kentridge’s work (I was lucky enough to get a preview of Other Faces), I am jolted back into the past.

As lyrical music sometimes juxtaposes with his stark images, deep passions rip around my interior. I am struck by the horror, the poignancy, and the irony of his themes and the beauty of his art He strives to evoke or recreate the strength of a passionwhen first experienced, whether it is anger or distress. He does this so successfully that the viewer cannot remain distant from his work. It engages one on a deep, even subconscious level. The Goodman Gallery will show the film as well as about 30 or 40 drawings that were made in the process of the film. These will be for sale, but the artist won’t talk about value. This is where one of the grey areas of the art world comes in. Artists create art for the sake of creation. They are not motivated by money in the same way as investors and stock market traders are. And yet, there is an art market. And there is always a local art market and an international art market.

So I ask Lisa Essers, the owner of Goodman Gallery, for an estimated comparison of the investment value of a Kentridge work. If, in the late eighties one had bought a Kentridge drawing for around R40 000 ($5 600), today it could fetch somewhere between R1.6 million and R2 million ($235,000-$280,000). Kentridge is one of only a handful of contemporary African artists who are part of international art history, and therefore part of the international art market. Essers says the South African art market is quite far behind the curve as far as other art markets in the world are concerned.

The top international curators handpick the talent that is brought to the art markets, and it’s the collectors who put a price on the work. Often, it is on auction that works bring in the largest amounts, and more often than not it is the collector who benefits, rather than the artist. In brief, there is one essential difference between investing in art and investing in stocks. Stocks are more liquid and offer dividends, whereas an art investment takes a number of years to mature. The joy of investing in art in the short term is about aesthetic pleasure and status. In the long term, the value of a work is determined by a number of variables, one of them being the name and reputation of the artist. That, Kentridge undoubtedly has.

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31% Of Small Businesses Have Stopped Operating Amid Coronavirus: Sheryl Sandberg Shares How Facebook’s Latest Product Aims To Help

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The coronavirus pandemic has continued to take a catastrophic toll on America’s small businesses. According to Facebook’s State of Small Business report, 31% of small businesses and 52% of personal businesses have stopped operating as a result of the crisis. 

“What we know today is pretty sobering,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “We’re in a really hard economic situation that is hitting all businesses, but particularly, small businesses really hard. We also know how critical small businesses are for jobs—long before coronavirus,” she says. “Two thirds of new jobs in this country happen because of small businesses and so that means what’s happening with small businesses has always been important, but it’s more important than ever.”

Especially concerning is that only 45% of business owners and managers plan to rehire the same number of workers when their businesses reopen. That number is just 32% for personal businesses. 

“If these businesses are letting people go, it’s not that they don’t want to rehire them,” Sandberg says. “It’s because they don’t think they’re going to be able to. That’s a pretty serious thing for us to be facing.”

Businesses that have been able to maintain operations still face significant hurdles, namely access to capital and customers. Some 28% of businesses surveyed say their biggest challenge over the next few months will be cash flow, while 20% say it will be lack of demand. 

The report, conducted in partnership with the Small Business Roundtable, was based on a survey of 86,000 owners, managers and workers at U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees. It is also a part of the company’s broader data collection initiative with the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the Future of Business.

“We were already in the process of developing this report before the coronavirus pandemic hit,” Sandberg says. “We expected it to be a pretty rosy tale back then of low unemployment, flourishing entrepreneurship, and jobs growing all over the world. Fast forward to today and we’re in a very different position.”

An example of Facebook’s new Shops feature, which creates digital “storefronts” for businesses.
 
FACEBOOK

Now, the company is launching Facebook Shops, an ecommerce product that allows businesses to set up online “storefronts” on Facebook and Instagram. Businesses can customize their digital shops, using cover images to showcase their brands and catalogs to highlight their products. And just as customers can ask for help when shopping in physical stores, they can message business owners directly via WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram Direct to ask questions, track deliveries and more. “Our goal is to make shopping seamless and empower anyone from a small business owner to a global brand to use our apps to connect with customers,” wrote Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post announcing the new product. As was the case with the survey, the rollout was planned prior to the pandemic, but was accelerated as businesses have turned to online tools to adapt in the face of the ongoing crisis. According to the survey, 51% of small business owners have  increased their online interactions with customers, and 36% of operational businesses are now conducting all sales online. 

“One of the things I find so amazing is how much of the activity has migrated online and that we’re doing things we never thought were possible,” says Sandberg. “If I had asked you or you had asked me, could I work entirely from home? Can my whole company go home? I would have said ‘No way.’ But we did it. Small businesses have even more entrepreneurial spirit.”

There are more than 30 million small businesses in the U.S., many of which are struggling to stay afloat amid forced closures and are still hoping to receive financial relief from the government. According to a recent survey by Goldman Sachs, 71% of Paycheck Protection Program applicants are still waiting for loans and 64% don’t have enough cash to survive the next three months. As of April 19, more than 175,000 businesses have shut down—temporarily or permanently—with closure rates rising 200% or more in hard-hit metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, according to Yelp’s Q1 Economic Average report.

Employees of these businesses are disproportionately affected, with 74% and 70% reporting not having access to paid sick leave and paid time off, according to Facebook’s survey. For hotel, cafe and restaurant employees, those figures are over 90%.

Facebook, which relies heavily on small businesses for advertising revenue, was among the first major tech companies to provide much-needed aid. On March 17, the company announced $100 million in grants for small businesses, the majority of which will be distributed in cash, with some ad credits for business services. Of those funds, $40 million will be distributed across 34 American cities, with 50% being reserved for women, minority and veteran-owned businesses. The other $60 million will be distributed to small business owners throughout the world. In addition to financial assistance, the company also rolled out various product offerings including digital gift cardsfundraisers and easier ways for businesses to communicate service changes to their customers. 

Small businesses are resilient, even during times of crisis. According to the report, 57% of businesses are optimistic or extremely optimistic about the future, with only 11% of operating businesses expecting to fail in the next three months, should current conditions persist. 

“The report raises awareness about the struggles small businesses face from the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Rhett Buttle, founder of Public Private Strategies and co-executive director of the Small Business Roundtable. “But small businesses have brought us out of previous economic downturns and they will do so again.”

Maneet Ahuja, Forbes Staff, Entrepreneurs

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Birds Of A Feather: The Stepchickens Cult On TikTok Is The Next Evolution Of The Influencer Business

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Like any self-respecting cult, the Stepchickens follow a strict code of conduct as dictated by their absolute leader, Mother Hen, a comedian named Melissa who posts on TikTok as @chunkysdead. Mother Hen has widely preached a message of peace, telling her 1.7 million TikTok followers: “We do not rule by being cruel, we shine by being kind.” Further, she has asked all Stepchickens to make themselves easily identifiable and make her photo their TikTok profile picture.

Mother Hen has created TikTok’s first “cult.” (Her word.) Boiled down, she is a social media influencer, and the Stepchickens are her fans, just as more famous TikTok influencers—Charli D’Amelio, Addison Rae and the like—all have their fanbases. But Mother Hen’s presence and style is quite singular, particularly in the way she communicates with her followers, what she asks them to do and how the Stepchickens respond to her. After all, not every member of the Charli hive use her image as their profile pictures.

“These influencers are looking for a way to build community and figure out how to monetize their community. That’s the No. 1 most important thing for a creator or an influencer,” says Tiffany Zhong, cofounder of ZebraIQ, a community and trends platform. “It’s become a positive for Gen Z, where you’re proud to be part of this cult—part of this community. They are dying to be part of a community. So it’s easy to get sucked in.”

Mother Hen, who didn’t return a request to comment for this story, already had a popular comedy vlog-style TikTok account on May 6 when she asked her followers to send suggestions for what they could name their cult. From the ideas offered up, she chose Stepchickens, and in the 19 days since, her following has more than doubled. (It was around 700,000 back at the beginning of this month.) She has posted videos about taking ediblesher celebrity lookalikes and her relationship status (“all this cult power, still no boyfriend”). And perhaps in violation of her first-do-no-harm credo, Mother Hen has implored her followers to embark on “battles” and “raids,” where Stepchickens comment bomb other influencers’ videos, posting messages en masse. She has become the mother of millions: TikTok videos with #stepchickens have generated 102 million views on the app, and her own videos have received 54.6 million likes.

Mother Hen is now concentrating on feathering her nest. She has launched a large range of merch: smartphone cases ($24), hoodies ($44), t-shirts ($28) and beanies ($28). Corporate sponsorships seem within reach, too. TikTok accounts for the Houston Rockets, Tampa Bay Rays and one for the Chicago Bulls mascot, Benny, all changed their profile picture to the image distributed by Mother Hen. The Rays sent her a box of swag, addressing the package to “Mother Hen,” of course. She dressed up in the gear (two hats, a fanny pack, a tank top) and recorded herself wearing it in a TikTok, a common move by influencers to express gratitude and signal that they’re open to business sponsorship opportunities. Mother Hen has launched a YouTube channel, too, where she’ll earn ad revenue based on the views that her 43,000 subscribers generate by watching her content.

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Then there is the Stepchickens app available on Apple devices. This digital roost is a thriving message feed—it resembles a Slack channel or a Discord server—where Stepchickens congregate, chat and coordinate their raids. They can also use it to create videos, ones “to glorify mother hen,” the app’s instructions read.

The app launched last Monday and has already attracted more than 100,000 users, a benchmark that most apps do not ever see and the best reach within months of starting. Since its debut, it has ranked as high as the ninth most popular social media app in the world on the download charts and in the Top 75 most downloaded across all types of apps. The Stepchickens have traded 135,000 messages, and the app’s most devoted users are spending as long as 10 hours a day on it, says Sam Mueller, the cofounder and CEO of Blink Labs who built the Stepchickens app.

“There’s this emergence of a more active—a more dedicated—fan base and following. A lot of the influencers on TikTok are kind of dancing around, doing some very broadcast-y type content. Their followers might not mobilize nearly as much as” the Stepchickens, says Mueller. Mother Hen’s flock, by contrast, “feel like they’re part of something, feel like they’re connected. They can have fun and be together for something bigger than what they’re doing right now, which is kind of being at home bored and lonely. There’s untapped value here.”

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Op-Ed: How Nigerians Can Unlock Their Potential In The Digital Age

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By Uzoma Dozie, Chief Sparkler

Nigerians are some of the world’s most creative, energetic, and entrepreneurial people. We are rich with talent, enthusiasm, and passion.

Nigerians are a global force bursting with potential and an enviable track-record of success. But in a more complex and fast-paced world than ever before, many of us struggle to find the time or have the ability to fulfil their potential.

Ultimately, this comes down to the lack of effective solutions in the market to support the lifestyle and finances of Nigerians and our businesses. For too long, we have been underserved by the traditional physical retail environment, which is limited by bricks and mortar infrastructure and legacy technology – the weaknesses of which have been laid bare by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Unlocking Nigeria’s digital economy

While Nigerians are being underserved by current circumstances, there is also an exciting opportunity to start filling a gap in the market.

Nigeria’s digital economy is thriving, but it remains informal. Nigeria has a population of 198 million people – 172 million have a mobile phone and 112 million have internet access.

Many of us access social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram through our phones and use them as valuable sales tools, especially female entrepreneurs. Data and digital applications have the potential to revolutionize the daily lives of millions of Nigerians.

Therefore, new digital-only solutions are required. These should not just focus on finances though – they have to be intrinsically linked with everyday lifestyles, rather than thinking about linear processes and transactional outcomes.

Let us take one example. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence have long been used to provide financial advice. But these chatbots could do so much more and evolve to provide support for more sophisticated usage, such as a personal adviser or lifestyle concierge.

Furthermore, these solutions should not just support Nigerians at home, but the ever-growing diaspora across the world.

Introducing Sparkle

The opportunity to play an integral role in transforming Nigeria’s digital economy and lead the charge in growing the digital economy across Africa inspired the creation of Sparkle.

Sparkle was founded with five core values – freedom, trust, simplicity, inclusivity, and personalization. We are adopting these values and embedding them in everything we do.

We will be leveraging technology and data to create and apply new digital-only solutions which bring more Nigerians into the formal economy thereby benefitting Government, businesses, and individuals.

Starting with the launch of a current account, we will co-create with our customers and collaborate with our partners to improve our services and increase our user base. We embrace collaboration and we are

working with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Google, Microsoft, Visa, and PwC Nigeria, to achieve our vision.

In addition, we want to create a more inclusive economy and break down barriers by accelerating the role and influence of female entrepreneurs, many of whom already operate in the informal economy with the help of Instagram and other social media apps.

At present, we are facing a global crisis in the shape of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has shown us that we need a strong digital infrastructure to ensure the economy continues to function. It will likely completely change the way we operate and conduct business in the future.

COVID-19 has only reinforced our belief that new digital solutions like Sparkle are required now more than ever before to serve Nigerians, boost the formal economy, and unlock potential in the digital age.

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