CO-OP Encounters #9: KLAYM

by Unseen2 September 04 2018

Unseen CO-OP is back for its second edition. Introduced to increase the representation of artist-run initiatives and collectives worldwide, CO-OP encourages artists to present challenging works of art, dynamic presentations and new commercial formats. In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to each of the participating collectives to find out more about the collaborative processes that drive their practice forward.

KLAYM is a boundary-busting collective actively working to promote the work of young photographers in Africa. With an extensive team of photographers, journalists and designers they promote the interface between young African creatives and international audiences. We spoke to co-founder, Flurina Rothenberger, to find out more.

What inspired you to start working as a collective?
The stimulating energy we gain from collaborating with each other, working with people across continents, cultures and beyond one's area of expertise. KLAYM was founded by an economist, photographer and graphic designer. The collective is registered in Switzerland but active and mostly based in Africa, promoting the work of young photographers from there. We also wanted to change an inefficient market situation: editorial clients, aid organisations and other employers wish to increase their work with local African photographers, but effectively many still hire foreign photographers to report on stories on the African continent. There are several reasons for this, some being that the payment process can be cumbersome, and the concept of storytelling is not necessarily a shared one.

If these challenges can be better met, cooperation with local photographers in Africa would be more efficient than booking someone from abroad, i.e. less expensive, local perspectives would be further incorporated into international perceptions, which leads to a broader and more authentic picture of Africa in terms of creativity and content, while local photographers could also be supported economically. We believe that collectives like us, who invest both in showcasing and further training young photographers will create an extremely efficient and exciting market for people on all sides, even if it's not always easy!

How has working as a collective changed the way you interact with the art market?
It has definitely made us more aware of interactions with the art market that can be tapped more efficiently as a collective. Our photographers mainly produce their work where they are based: in Africa. However, the large revenue and expenditure generators in the art market run outside the African continent, with the exception of South Africa. Art fairs are slowly popping up on different continents, including Africa, and some have begun to specialise on locality and the topic of artistic movement within a specific region. This is great, but effectively we think it will take many more years before the art market travels to artists in Africa and not the other way around. This leads to obstacles for our collective, financially but also logistically. Several of KLAYM's members are deprived of actively participating in the international community, discovering new trends, and enjoying the art simply because they don't have the required travel documents nor the funds to bring them to fairs.

As a collective we're stronger in building a cultural interface and getting active as mediators for international co-operations in this field. We are also stronger in raising the funds for travels outside the African continent, for instance, to fairs like Unseen. It’s the essence of why we are a collective. In some ways creating KLAYM was also an act to push against a certain ignorance I still oddly experience in several sites of contemporary photography when it comes to “cultural diversity”.

What sets you apart from other collectives?
We give much more thought to the perspectives we share with other collectives than to what sets us apart. The idea of knowledge exchange is at the core of KLAYM, also supporting the young photographers among us, so that they can take on corresponding assignments too. It was clear from the beginning that KLAYM did not want to impose preconceived ideas on anyone. This would be ridiculous in the light of the hybridity of all our biographical backgrounds. If we were to develop our activities within our own individual vacuum, decisions would certainly also be taken differently. But inclusivity is at the heart of what we do and working as a collective sometimes also means to sacrifice one's individual opinion for the benefit of others. It never gets boring and KLAYM, as a collective, develops much further in accordance with its multicultural collaborators and their various opinions, perspectives and ambitions.

What do you have in store for us at Unseen Amsterdam 2018?
The Nice Magazine will be on display, the first edition from Pemba, Mozambique, the second edition from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire and a bunch of zines from the current work on the new Nice issue from Katlehong, a Township close to Johannesburg, South Africa. We’ll also be exhibiting a series of works from selected members. A talk will be held addressing the current trends and challenges amongst young photographers from Ivory Coast and South Africa, while the photography duo Kader Diaby & Dadi will tour the site offering street style portraits to visitors, available for purchase in our booth.

Image: Squelette, Nice No2, Abidjan, 2018 @ Kader Diaby