The art of football
Why should people be invested in a football game in a bubble called the art world? “Exhibition Match,” a multifaceted installation, explores responses to this question.
- Interview by
- Sean Jacobs
In the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, held in Brazil, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) hosted Futbol: The Beautiful Game. Though the art world long held a fascination with football and football art (think, for example, Andy Warhol’s famous painting of Pele), that show, curated by Franklin Sirmans, mainstreamed a growing interest in curating shows about sports, particularly football. Since then, football as art or football art has grown in popularity and around the world. In South Africa, for example, there have been large-scale exhibits focused on football art, but they either resemble trade shows or prioritize social history. Which is where Exhibition Match, comes in. Curated by Phokeng Setai and Alex Richards, it consisted of three elements: the site-specific exhibition; a football match; and a club lounge. The exhibition ran between February 16 and 28 at A4 Arts Foundation in Cape Town. Setai and Richards now want to replicate the exhibition elsewhere in South Africa and beyond.
On a personal level, you could say that football art and art-football have been formative outlets for me in my socialization as a being in the world. These two elements are still central to the person I am today. One (football) is a hobby, the other (art) an occupation so to speak; only because the labor that I produce revolves around the sphere. But I could say that they’re both a lifestyle for me. Alex and I are Arsenal Football Club supporters and we also share a keen interest in the visual arts, not to mention the fact that we also work in the art sphere, albeit in different roles. We share a common interest in both fields and were led to create a project where the two things we absolutely love could be in conversation.
I have loved and played football since I was young and grew up in an art-world household, so it is a marriage of two things that I have always connected with. The genesis of the project was a realization of just how many people in the arts love football. Often, conversations at exhibition openings between my colleagues and I were about the sport. There was then a moment where we recognized the similarities between the two spheres. That’s when the show and match idea became more concrete.
Can you talk us through the different elements of Exhibition Match and what you wanted to achieve with each of them—that is the exhibition, the match, and club lounge— as well as these together as a unit?
The exhibition component was as much an expression of our fascination and deep engagement with visual culture, as it was about showing preexisting conversations between the two worlds. From the beginning we saw the match as the main event. I saw it as a moment for theater to occur, where we could lean in into the performative aspects of spectacle that the art world so loves and fetishizes. But perhaps more importantly, for me, it presented itself as an occasion and opportunity to create cohesion; a moment to be in community with each other. To a very large extent I consider that intervention to be an attempt at creating a social sculpture. Whatever that means and whatever possibilities it opens up for creating solidarity in our ecosystem and beyond.
The exhibition was quite simple: trying to source as many artworks that related to football as possible (preferably with a South African focus, though this was also out of logistical and financial limitations), from which a thread of team and individual or team vs individual was extracted.
The match was actually the core idea of the project. The past few years have been very isolated—no parties, no travel, not much physical human interaction. So that’s why the timing, the first physical local art fair in two years, felt right. The match also allowed people to come together who usually don’t. We had artists playing with other gallerists and art writers playing with art handlers. This type of opportunity for connection across the art world is rare and we think enriching.
The members lounge was organically arrived at. A4 Foundation’s project space has a small, enclosed area with a lot of mid-century furniture which feels nostalgic, just as with many club lounges, and we thought this would be a great space to house some of the personal archives generated as part of the show, due to its intimate setting and familiar feel. Playing with the idea of a club lounge or using a trophy cabinet aesthetic in a usually art-specific space felt appropriate for the project. In the lounge we had a Playstation console set up—this is because the actual field we were going to play the match on was a venue to play a virtual game on FIFA 19. This felt like a good way to introduce the idea of the physical match into the members lounge and to continue the nostalgic feel (for people my age, playing FIFA was a favorite pastime) while still connecting it with what was to come—the physical game.
In terms of how they all work together, I had been thinking a lot about what my personal curatorial language was and I settled on the idea of experience—in the sense of active participation by the visitor. The connection and combination of all three aspects felt like the best way to appeal to the different types of people we wanted to appeal to: something known (exhibition), something remembered (lounge) and something new (the match).
What was the relationship between the offline and online, particularly Instagram, aspects of Exhibition Match?
Our Instagram served the purpose of something akin to an online exhibition. It gave us the possibility to connect the local to the global and demonstrate to our public(s) that these connections are not only real, but very cultural too in how ubiquitous they are.
The Instagram account was important for a few reasons. The first was we needed to get the word out and to have a central space from which to contact any participants or to generally engage with the public. Its visual nature also allowed us to post images from the show, but also from all over the place in an attempt to garner more engagement. The main reason was we needed a place to house our People’s Archive—as some elements were video and not object based, and not available to us. Neither of us are deeply into social media but we found the prospect of having another curatorial space exciting. The Instagram page itself is like an advert for the project as we would like to grow it. The platform seems the most accessible and has the ability to be a living archive.
You mentioned elsewhere that through Exhibition Match you figured out “… how to create cohesion between members of the larger arts community, in a manner that is devoid of the usual grandiosity and exclusivity that is typical of most art events.” What do you mean by that? What do you think the art community doesn’t get about football?
We were interested in creating a contact zone, a place of intersection and knowing the history of football as a very popular sport, we knew that it would have the effect of drawing attention to it. Art events, such as art fairs, have a similar effect to football in terms of attracting public interest. The similarities are very stark. In my experience football gatherings do something very different from art fairs and that is creating a togetherness that is palpable but at the same time almost illusory. Despite the latter, we have that feeling of unity and the sense of community that is in the air at sports games as a positive force. After the events of the past two years Alex and I wanted to explore this connection, more especially in the context of the art world, which thrives on creating conditions for individuation to occur.
Reading it back it seems like a bold claim. What we mean is that there are certain barriers that are set up between members of the art ecosystem, be these in the general workplace with its hierarchies, spatial divisions, and the feelings of exclusion that are often generated. A football match is something that feels accessible and what people might be more familiar with than a typical exhibition opening.
I really liked the living room set. Can you say what you wanted to convey with it?
We envisioned the living room in general to be a space for play. A space that could simulate that feeling of waiting for the “big match” to start. When I think about it now, the living room was a site where play, excitement and embodied lived experience came together. All expressions that art and football are able to elicit in their actors.
I mentioned it a bit in my earlier answer. A mix of nostalgia and a space to show artworks in a context that they aren’t usually seen in. Equally, a space to show objects and thoughts from the People’s Archive in a space more true to how they might be shown in the real world or their natural setting. The idea was to convey comfort.
You mounted the exhibit in a city, Cape Town, known for its antipathy to football. But also the city’s elites, especially the white elites and its new multiracial elites, prefer rugby. These elites are almost exclusively the products of the country and the city’s elite universities and schools and prefer rugby. Rugby connects South Africa with Britain, the English world, and Britain’s other former settler colonies. By contrast, football in South Africa is a working-class sport and connects Capetonians and the rest of South Africa with Africa and with working-class cultures in Europe and the rest of the world. It is not the pastime of the art world. Is that a correct assessment?
To a large extent, I would say that you’re right, football is more of a game that is accessible to the working-class masses, especially in Africa, than I would say rugby is. This is why I think it was the perfect mediator for us to intervene into the modes of circulation associated with the art ecosystem. Especially during an exclusive art-world event such as the art fair, which structures itself around reproducing these class and gender-based inequalities.
Cape Town is notoriously a complex place, particularly in relation to how it sits in the context of South Africa and Africa. Both Phokeng and I aren’t from here—I am from Johannesburg and he is from Bloemfontein. But we both now find ourselves here as arts workers, and thus it was the practical place to begin the project. But, I think we will both agree that this city wouldn’t have been our first choice for the reasons you describe. This being said, on the ground, football is played all over the place in Cape Town, from manicured indoor football centers, on improvised large outdoor fields and by children on the side of the highway. To disregard football in Cape Town because of what Cape Town represents would be unfair. There are also two teams in the PSL from Cape Town—City and Stellenbosch (ex Vasco De Gama)—the latter being an interesting case study of an essentially Afrikaans region and symbol, now represented by a black majority team. There is also the story of Chippa United—now based in Gqeberha, but originating from Nyanga on the outskirts of Cape Town.
I also think football is something that connects South Africa to Britain in a way that is not just elitist. There is a massive following of the English Premier League here, which I think happens throughout the continent. One thing I have always been interested in is the fact that South Africa speaks UK English and uses the metric system, yet we call it the game soccer. This might be an indication of exactly what you are speaking about: rugby as football is the focus, the other football can be called soccer.
On Instagram, you included an image of a local Cape Town club, Saxon Rovers, winning the Rushin Trophy in 1953. To any close observer, this points to segregated football in Cape Town. How much did the exhibition engage with the racial political economy of the sport in Cape Town?
The images of the Kensington-based team, Saxon Rovers, came in as a submission from a member of the public whose family history is connected to the team. This, for me, was the success of that archival component we integrated into our exhibition’s online editorial (i.e. Instagram). It enabled us to solicit these kinds of narratives/histories that otherwise would not have come out. I believe that in learning about these histories, which particularly have to do with Black/Brown lives, and creating an outlet for them to be known, we are rewriting the history of the political economy of football in Cape Town, albeit in a very small way. Those who didn’t know will now get to know.
This was a submission to the People’s Archive by Tammy Langtry, a curator currently based in Johannesburg. Members of her family founded the team in 1953. We engaged by attempting to have as varied voices as possible, with the hope that the good, the bad and the ugly about the sport would reveal itself through personal experiences, going beyond the curatorial framework. I suppose because the focus was on the relationship between art and football it is something we could only touch on explicitly, but implicitly all those relations are also laid out. For example, the member’s lounge was located inside an institution in the CBD; however welcoming and public facing this is, it still presents a near-insurmountable barrier for some. In the racial political economy of the exhibition is the story of the racial political economy of football and the racial political economy of art. The match we played had participants from across the city—people of different backgrounds and income brackets. Overall, this was the first iteration of the project. I think moving forward a deeper engagement with the host city, its past and its complex stories would provide a great generative opportunity.
You were inspired by or took advice from Franklin Sirmans, who was responsible for the Futbol: The Beautiful Game at LACMA in Los Angeles in 2014. How do you think this relationship between galleries and museums with football as art or football art has changed since then?
In my opinion, and from what I have seen in the course of doing research preparing for our exhibition, there has been very little absorption of this trend on the African continent. I cannot speak for other contexts because I am not so well versed in their dynamics in the same way as I am about the African continent. There is a huge disconnect that exists between the fields of art and sport, not just football. I would personally like to see more confluence between these two cultural genres. To answer your question: there has been minimal change, if any, and I would love to see more because I think together these two components could ignite real cultural change if instrumentalized well.
We wanted to speak to Franklin first and foremost because of his love for football. This was key to the project as a whole—trying to connect as many football-loving art world people as possible. Like most projects, you look at what came before you, and his show stood out. I am not sure how much the relationship has changed between institutions and football/art other than maybe an increased awareness of the amount of artwork speaking to football, as well as the sport’s potential to be a metaphor for other urgent ideas. We know football and art are both deeply political, yet this aspect is often underplayed in promoting both as fun or entertainment. It’s possible that this seemingly simple nature of the two could be used to engage, answer, or discuss bigger societal questions. I would also think that the subject of football might attract a different audience to a museum, particularly a younger audience.
How do you react or interpret something like Serie A club Napoli’s decision last year to commission artist Guiseppe Klain to design a limited edition Maradona “fingerprint” shirt, which they wore for only three matches?
I didn’t know about this collaboration before reading this question. Since then, I read about it and looked up the jerseys that were produced. It is amazing to see and I am starting to notice more of these synergies between art and football now that I am sensitive to them. It is very nice to see, because both football and art-making are expressive modalities. This is what makes them very similar. Just thinking of kit and boot design and creative outlets such as that; these roles have been existing for a long time. Exhibitions such as ours definitely help put a microscope on these functions and how they converge in the different fields, so to speak.
I think the idea is positive, in the sense of having artists design football kits. Our own kits were designed by Dada Khanyisa (within the limitations of a kit-building program). I do think this particular idea by Napoli wasn’t great conceptually or very interesting aesthetically.. The fact that they only wore the kit for three matches interests me in its similarity to an editioned artwork—limiting its number of times used may supplement or create commercial value through that very scarcity. In general, I am interested in the commerciality of a kit and the consequent issues with sponsors. I think of the Gazprom sponsorship and the subsequent removal of “3” on the Chelsea kit and the removal of betting companies in Spanish football. I prefer kits without corporate sponsorship. The fact that kits change every season is surely very commercially motivated, but also provides greater opportunity for collaborations like the one you mention.
On Instagram, you featured an Andy Warhol painting of Pele. Sport as pop art is well established in the global north? What is that history like on the continent? Can you point to some markers, if any?
Absolutely! This trend exists on the continent too. When I think of the football fandom phenomenon I can’t help but see the numerous examples that exist, and this is but one angle. In the same breath we can talk about players such as Teko Modise, who was sponsored by big multicultural companies, and that highlights the culture of players being sponsored by football boot suppliers, such as Adidas and Nike, which have a big pop-cultural appeal. Another famous example of this is Benny McCarthy creating a song with TkZee that became a classic tune that, to this day, gets the masses going whenever it plays. To be fair, there are so many examples it’s very difficult to decide which ones to include and which ones to exclude.
I think something like the hairdressing signage we featured could be an example. Where famous footballers haircuts are offered to clients and their image used as a model. I’d argue that portraits of footballers on the sides of shops next to items to purchase could be seen as both pop art and advertising. I do think that the love for public murals of football stars on the continent is important. I think to some extent Makarapas in South Africa could be seen in this way too.
You include one image by David Goldblatt: “Drum majorette, Cup final, Orlando Stadium, Soweto. 1972.” You mention on Instagram that Goldblatt “… took another photograph on that day—one with a slightly more sinister edge, a policeman’s German Shepherd is the focus as a reminder of the times” and that “(i)n 2009 Goldblatt also photographed the refurbished FNB Soccer City Stadium with the ruins of Shareworld in front of it.” Is minimal or sparse engagement with football by South African art photographers (not news photographers) unusual, or par for the course?
I would say it is quite minimal if I think about the importance of the game of football and sport in general to the nation-building agendas of South Africa, post-1994. I have also noticed how under-theorized it is in the academic space, and these two reasons go a long way in explaining the dearth in artistic photography on football. Artworld trends tend to follow movements in cultural discourse and vice versa.
Yes most probably, although in the show we feature the work of a young photographer, Andile Komanisi, who takes photos of football games, Moshekwa Langa has a number of photos of football players from his hometown Backenberg, but he isn’t a photographer in the same way. Sabelo Mlangeni has some images of football fields but probably more under the umbrella of the city and the spaces inhabited. I would agree that the engagement is minimal. It might be because the focus is elsewhere—there are a lot of other things to photograph—possibly things seemingly more direct and more urgent.
Can you talk more about this image, “Greenfields, UKZN. Boxing Day 2004 (Courtesy of Matthew Partridge)”? What is going on here?
The image belongs to Matthew Partridge, who is an art professional. From what I understand, it was taken in his hometown of Maritzburg while he was playing with the high school football team he appears in the shot with. It was submitted as a People’s Archive, which explains why it evokes so many nostalgic memories when you see it. It tells a story about familiarity, camaraderie, and community.
Matthew is a writer/editor and now works at an auction house. This image was taken while he was a student at University of KwaZulu-Natal recalled it was the varsity holidays and many of the foreign students from the continent weren’t going to go home, so the focus was on football. We liked the image because it has a sense of nostalgia, and throughout the exhibition, the team portrait or team photo seemed to be a constant theme.
Say more about the decision on Instagram to invite “members of the public” to submit their own stills and videos about football and what you got from that?
We wanted a way to make the exhibition inclusive. I kept asking myself: “why should people who are invested/interested in a football game take place in this little bubble called the artworld?” Knowing that most people out there have a story or know someone who played football and has a story to tell about it, we decided to use that as an outlet to collect these stories and give them a public platform where they could exist. In doing so, we knew we would get stories from people who were not really art workers per se, and also art workers who were not really football fans. This strategy resulted in getting different kinds of people interested in what we were trying to do with the exhibition. The People’s Archive component and the project at large were a nice meeting point for multi-vocal exchange to occur.
The term “members of the public” was a bit too broad. We wanted people within the arts to share their experiences of football to break down the silo between the two worlds. It was a way of connecting the people interested in the sport and also a moment to reflect on what part the sport has played in their lives. What we got from it was interesting inter-generational moments – how the love of the sport is passed on. We also found some interesting stories that we thought needed to be told or at least re-told—for instance the trip of Thokozani football club to Paris, submitted by Zanele Muholi.
The 1996 South African national team that won the country’s only African Cup of Nations has somewhat mythical status there. They are exhibits of the new country’s early promise; its status not just in football but in politics, on the continent, in the Third World, and the Global South. They are also associated with all the myths about Nelson Mandela. But it is mostly associated with success and promise and not with postcolonial malaise and decline, which seems to be the popular discourse on South Africa now, whether its politics or sports. In the exhibition, they’re represented by the Lucas Radebe painting, and the John Shoes Moshoeu figurine given away at gas stations at the time. I have been researching a project about that moment and that time and what I found is that the team has a number of other legacies. For example, at least one of them, Sizwe Motaung, was one of the first, prominent South Africans to die of an AIDS related illness, but his death got swooped up in the denialism that plagued South Africa at the time. Another, Augustine Makalakalane, was accused of sexually harassing and exploiting members of the women’s national team while he was the coach; two other team members died from cancers (John Moshoeu and Phil Masinga), partly a commentary on the country’s preventative health systems. So beyond the myth, their lives post-football point more to the ebb and flow of the realities of the new South Africa. In the exhibition, did you deal with these kinds of contradictions?
I would say that we alluded to these connections, but didn’t go into depth about them. We premised our show’s curatorial thesis on the relationship between the individual and the collective inside the game of football. The dialectical relationship between these two forces in the game is constantly at play. This is why I say that it is in the individualism factor, where we could have really opened up more scope for contemplation on these other underlying issues when it comes to things such as the cult of personality, which is inextricable from the culture of football as well as the art world.
We hoped that some of these contradictions would come through the relationships set up between the works on show and the archive. One of the existing works we featured on our Instagram page was “we call it Madiba magic,” which deals with the contradiction directly through text as the work; it speaks about how, during the 2010 World Cup, and the imposition of brand protection, unlicensed local traders were barred from selling their wares outside the stadium.
I don’t think we discuss these contradictions directly, but by having works on the show by Muholi and the story of Thokozani FC we touch on the issue of domestic and gender-based violence in the country. Portia Modise was part of the Banyana Banyana team when Augustine Makalakalane was exposed, and she was key in the process. And yes, the AFCON 1996 tournament is such an interesting moment in the country’s history. Even as a child it had a huge impact on me. I was eight years old at the time and I was totally in love with football. I was in a multiracial government school, and part of the so-called “Mandela’s Children” generation—not quite a “Born Free,” but also in that era. I was privileged (had money and access) enough to go to the quarter-final match against Algeria and the final against Tunisia with my parents at Soccer City in Soweto. My memory was of men selling half-jack bottles of whiskey or brandy and calling them “cellular” (I think because they were the size of a mobile phone in those days) and the delirium of leaving the stadium—waving my flag out the car window and it being grabbed by a fan as we were driving past. One thing that has stayed cult-like is the kit; it’s an interesting one because it has gold and white and for me doesn’t feel like any of the subsequent new South African kits. It feels really like a transitional one.
What you say is true—that starting 11 and their stories are a great microcosm, mirror, or starting point to discuss many issues still happening in South Africa. I would argue too that Clive Barker being a white coach and Neil Tovey, a white captain, could be compared to many ideas around white people still holding positions of power at the time and to this day.
Looking at Penny Siopis’s “Pinky Pinky (Ronaldo),” my colleague Zach Rosen pointed out that in professional football, black players expressing themselves often get heavily criticized. Take Paul Pogba and his different hairstyles or Raheem Sterling tattooing a gun on his leg (he was protesting gun violence that killed his father). White players who change their hairstyle this radically or have tattoos, don’t face the same criticism. Also, the black player is part of the team and a hero when they win. When the team doesn’t win, then black players get most of the blame and their haircuts and tattoos have something to do with it. Ronaldo’s haircut could be read in that way. The funny thing is Ronaldo won the World Cup with this haircut, so this seems off unless Pinky Pinky is a good luck charm. What appealed to you about this image?
I absolutely agree with you and your colleague about why you say this, and was thinking about that when we were framing the piece into our show’s parameters. The mystical figure of the tokoloshe is a feared one amongst Black people, and when I think of the scourge of negrophobia and racism in football I find myself going to racial tropes/stigmas such as the swart gevaar. Siopis’s “Pinky Pinky” is a concoction of these elements and I would also say that it slightly touches on genres of “Black mysticism/magic/muti” in football. So, having said that, it could easily be a good luck charm seeing that Ronaldo led Brazil to victory donning that hairstyle against Germany in the Korea 02’ World Cup.
I would agree that this kind of criticism of black player’s hair, tattoos and general appearance is constant and disturbing. I think someone like Mario Balotelli has suffered similar unfair criticism—leading to his “why always me” goal celebration. When speaking about players’ hair, I always remember someone like Taribo West—when he played for Nigeria he wove bright green into it and blue and black for Inter Milan. This interests me as it’s a moment where individual style can connect with support or recognition of the team. Ronaldo’s haircut is an interesting one—at the time I remember him being ridiculed for it—and I think that Pinky Pinky is possibly making fun of him, sticking his tongue out. According to the artist, “As much as Pinky Pinky is a perpetrator of violence, it also seems a victim of, and scapegoat for, violent, uncivil actions—a constructed ‘something’ to blame for social problems.” This could be seen as a visualization or metaphor of the criticism you mention in your question.
For us, Zanele Muholi’s portrait of Portia Modise perhaps addresses how soccer and its relationship to media can be progressive forces for inclusion and understanding (given the marginalization of the women’s game and widespread homophobia in soccer and society). Do you see football as this force for advancing social causes? Does it have that potential?
Most certainly! Because of its popularity and ability to bring people together, football can be a force to bring about societal change. This is what I think Alex and I are still trying to figure out with Exhibition Match—how can we make that connection more tangible? I think we’re missing something and I am constantly thinking about ways we could strike that connection and instigate that process.
I think it most definitely does. Muholi’s inclusion is key in this regard as is the sitter themselves. Portia Modise is the only African (female or male) player to score 100 international goals, and also fought gender norms or stereotypes throughout her career. I remember when Modise fought the South African Football Association (SAFA) on the suggestion of tighter fitting kit and etiquette classes for the team to be less like their male counterparts.
I think football can definitely advance social causes, but the difficulty is which ones. With the recent invasion of Ukraine, Russian sponsors and teams were speedily removed. but where is the same attention to other conflicts in the world? We see this play out with the players kneeling in the EPL—where it will happen before the game and there will be all the anti-racism banners and statements, but there is still racist abuse hurled at the black players by supporters during the game.
The Viviane Sassen image, “La Lutte #2,” is not about football, but about Senegal’s other equally popular sport: traditional wrestling. What do you think that says about the cultural influence in African communities?
Peter Alegi writes about how when football arrived in Africa, Africans really appropriated it and in a sense gave it more meaning. Because of histories of colonial oppression and football being such an accessible sport, it makes sense why the game took off in the way it did on the continent. How the La Lutte wrestlers got to wear those jerseys as wrestling gear definitely speaks to football’s enormous cultural influence. It says to me that the game is so hugely popular on the continent that its motifs permeate into and influence distinctive things such as dress code/uniform in other sporting codes.
I think it speaks to what we see across the world, football jerseys being worn during the playing of other sports, at special events or even at work. But in Africa it seems like many people like to wear football jerseys, even if that isn’t their first choice of sport or not their first love. I personally have found wearing a football jersey leaves me open to conversation and engagement. Wearing a jersey will give a stranger or passer-by the opportunity to tell you how good or how bad your team is. This is the kind of connectivity, even friendliness that football brings and a jersey is a symbol of that.
Finally, what do you understand by the phrase “South African football”? Is there such a thing? How do you make sense of its divergent histories and entanglements?
The history of South African football is complex indeed. SAFA is the oldest official football governing body on the continent and the first officially organized football team on the continent is from Maritzburg in Kwazulu-Natal. This speaks to the prestigious legacy of the game in South Africa. However, there is the other much darker side where football was racially segregated in the country pre-1994. Post-1994, the Premier Soccer League became a desired destination for footballers from the continent because of the professionalism of the league and the presence of big money invested in the game. Then there are matters that related to style of play and what is known as a distinctly South African flavor of football known as “diski nine-nine,” or “super diski,” or “shoeshine and piano” football, renowned for showboating and ostentatious display of skill, and whose major antecedents are people like Jomo Sono, Doctor Khumalo, Shakes Kungwane and latterly Jabu Pule, Scara Ngobese and Steve Lekoelea, just to name a few. All these facets contribute to making South African football so rich in history and so entertaining both in how pregnant it is discursively, but also how colorful it is in its cultural and artistic expression.
I think South African football is definitely its own thing. I would argue that the style of play is comparable to other parts of Africa and possibly even South America, but is largely unique. When teams are leading, near the end of the game, all sorts of skill moves, which aren’t really affecting the game and sometimes hardly involve the ball, generate massive interest or noise from the crowd. This is seen by some as showboating, but I think it is bigger than that and actually is deeply part of the game in South Africa. It is seen at all levels and ages. Some pop culture references—such as TKZee’s smash hit “Shibobo” (the local word for a nutmeg or panna) at the time of the 1998 World Cup, featuring a Benni McCarthy rap verse and cult classic imagery of Amapantsula groups playing with bucket hats as if they are soccer balls—also point to the uniqueness of South African football.
I think that all the divergent histories make it richer. Bloemfontein Celtic was based off its Scottish counterparts, but became an incredibly special club through its local fans. Ajax Cape Town was a feeder and sister club to Ajax Amsterdam, with the same kit but a uniquely South African supporter base—a large group of Rastafarian fans of the Cape Town side see the emblem of Ajax (based on the Greek hero “Ajax”) as rather a version of Bob Marley or suchlike. They possibly enjoy the connection to Amsterdam for similar reasons.
I think objects or tools like the makarapa or vuvuzela highlight some of the uniqueness of the game in the country. Players’ nicknames are also something that makes the South African game interesting (this happens in other places but I don’t think with the same levels of creativity). Some of my favorite examples are; Jerry “legs of thunder” Sikhosana, Arthur “10111” Zwane [10111 is akin to 911—the number to call the police], Doctor “16v” Khumalo and Lesley “Slow Poison” Manyathela.
How did you both come to your interest in football and art, or football art? Tell me about the genesis of the project.