SA art fairs are having to evolve rapidly in response to the international trend for collecting contemporary African art (whatever that term might cover).

You’ll be able to see this at the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (CTAF) this week — both in the range of galleries from the rest of the continent exhibiting, and in the significant presence of galleries specialising in African art from elsewhere in the world. Local galleries with an international presence will also be jostling for attention.

The CTAF has been making a concerted effort to attract international collectors in addition to serving the SA scene, which remains surprisingly parochial.

But with the increased presence of African art on the world stage — William Kentridge’s The Head & the Load at the Tate Modern last year, for example — and the launch of private art institutions in Cape Town, such as the Norval Foundation and the Zeitz MOCAA, the market is shifting, and the fair is responding.

Apart from the main section, where you’ll find a broader selection of contemporary African art than ever, there are a number of special sections worth a look. These are a few of the highlights …

Tomorrow’s talent today

What’s the next big thing? Talent spotting, getting in while young artists are still affordable, investing in new artists and nurturing the talent of the future is a big part of the fun of art fairs. Fair curator Tumelo Mosaka has given you a head start and assembled a selection of emerging artists from Africa and around the world to showcase in a special section called Tomorrows/Today.

Among the South Africans in this section are Capetonian Zyma Amien (Sasol New Signatures and PPC RE-imagine Concrete prize alumnus), whose work is often concerned with the sociopolitical issues of the garment and textile industries.

There’s also Chris Soal from Joburg, whose intricately crafted abstract works are concerned with the materiality of common, disposable objects such as toothpicks and bottle tops. But there are other new stars from Lagos, Harare, Luanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Melbourne and more.

Digital directions

If there’s one topic dominating conversations around the globe at the moment, it’s the effect of the digital world on our lived experience.

For a complex, nuanced response to the explosion and rupture the digital world is causing in our personal lives, in our concept of ourselves in a globalised digital world and our commodified immersion in a new medium, artists are as good a place to turn as any.

The SOLO section of the CTAF is all about the unstable relationship between the physical and digital space, the real and the hyperreal. "By exploring the impact that new media has had on the traditional mediums, and vice versa, we hope that a full picture will emerge of the state and future of art practice on the African continent," says galleries and special projects manager Khanya Mashabela.

Artists who have been invited to participate include Kyu Sang Lee of Eclectica Contemporary in Cape Town; Tabita Rezaire of Goodman Gallery in Joburg; Jake Singer of Matter Gallery in Toronto; and Ibrahim Mahama of Apalazzo Gallery in Brescia, Italy.

Talks programme

Talking about art is about as important as looking at it, and the fair’s talks programme is doing its bit to keep the conversation lively.

Topics include a panel discussion called "Curating in the 21st Century" dealing with the way in which curators respond to the rapid change in the art world now and towards the middle of the 21st century. Another area of interest (and confusion) for art collectors is the question of what it means to collect digital art and how a collector might go about doing so. Tegan Bristow, head of digital media at Wits University, will bring together various players to speak on the topic, including Artsy’s Melanie Edmunds from Los Angeles, Joburg TMRW gallery director Ann Roberts and independent journalist Riccarda Mandrini from Milan.

The Investec Cape Town Art Fair is on at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from February 15 to February 17.