#MyJoburg with MJ Turpin and Matthew Dowdle, directors of Kalashnikovv Gallery

18 Apr 2023
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people that add something unique to Joburg's creative mix, and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city. 

The bad boys of Joburg art scene are now 10 years older. Before 2011 MJ Turpin and Matthew Dowdle were creating art and curating music separately. In their version, it in "this fateful year" that they came together to stage exhibitions under the name "The Untitled Gallery". Within two years this developed into Kalashnikovv Gallery (named for the weapon) with their first space in Braamfontein. From here a whirlwind 10 years began which has seen them go from a young, upstart gallery known for their music events and provocative exhibitions to one of the central galleries within Johannesburg's art scene. Having just celebrated 10 years at Kalashnikovv, we wanted to find out what the journey has been like, what's next and what Joburg looks like for two of it's most interesting individuals.
Kalashnikovv Gallery directors MJ Turpin and Matthew Dowdle at FNB Art Joburg 2022.

How has 10 years in this city changed you both?
It has made us extremely flexible and resourceful. We have become creative hustlers to a T.

Kalashnikovv – the name is heady with revolution. What were you revolting against when you opened the gallery? 
Convention has made art a pastime of the elite. Kalashnikovv aims to re-imagine traditional art world structures through transparency and innovation; to foster the creative journey of our artists and enrich the quality of public experience in our field.

Are you still an art liberation movement?
To some degree, Kalashnikovv currently represents a range of artists with emerging to established careers. The gallery and its staff work in conversation with these artists to build networks, exposure and foster personal growth through exhibitions, residencies and exchanges. The gallery is both a commercial art space as well as a project space for experimentation with an ethos of socio-political engagement and accessibility. This sentiment operates at all levels of the gallery structure in order to facilitate new benchmarks of value for artists, collectors and visitors from within, and outside of, the existing art ecosystem.

What's the answer to ageing gracefully – while maintaining an ethos of subversion of the dominant paradigm?
As Kalashnikovv Gallery is a work in progress so shifts our ethos to varying degrees. Our mandate is also to be constantly expanding our scope both conceptually and logistically to partner with creators and communities across the world. These interactions with local and international networks continually help to deconstruct and interrogate the idea of what a contemporary art platform can be in order to facilitate the changing role of art in modern society.
Kalashnikovv Gallery.

Does art still have the power to shock? And should it? 
It does and that's completely up to each individual viewer. What shocks one person may not even move another.

How did you both get started? 
Matthew and myself both worked in the creative economies sector under varying capacities, Matthew in live music and MJ as an artist and musician. The hybridisation of both the visual art world and music was a natural next step.

Ten years in this city – three highlights? 
Founding and Directing The Kalashnikovv Gallery in collaboration with Playbraamfontein, Basha Uhuru Music Festival and Constitution Hill, and co-producing The Amaze Indepnedent Gaming Festival (Berlin) with Wits Digital Department and The Tshimologong Precinct.

You must have seen it all in a decade – what's the one thing you still can't believe happened? 
Franadilla performs at Kalashnikovv's FNB Art Joburg after-party.

KG has made a name for supporting emerging artists, an exciting crop of cutting-edge and sometime controversial and feisty people. Who stands out above all and why? 
There have been so many to isolate in this fashion but I suppose in the cutting edge emerging artist category we would place: African Ginger, Goodgoodboy, ScumBoy, Natalie Paneng and Tyra Naidoo.

With parties and other cultural activations, your gallery has always attracted people who might otherwise avoid the traditional white cube. What do you think needs to be done in Joburg to get more people engaged with and viewing its art?
Dare we say it, more of this very thing but with the next generation or cultural producers and content creators.

Kalashnikovv has now built itself an international footprint and you have gone to LA, Paris, Italy and more. What is the response to the artists you represent overseas?

The response has always been varied, from interest to ignorant amazement that work of this contemporary nature and quality can exist in and from Africa.

'We have become creative hustlers to a T.'

Ten years is a significant marker and will also see you make the move out of Braamfontein. What happens next? 
Only time and our Instagram will tell. IG: @kalashnikovvgallery.

Goal for the next decade? 

To open our Cape Town gallery, swiftly followed by a new international location (LA, Seoul, London, who knows?).
Matthew Dowdle, Tyra Naidoo, Alka Dass, Saaiqa and MJ Turpin.

What's the one work you each wished you had never sold, and had rather hung on to?
Too many to choose but nice try.

The secret of a good business partnership is...

Your gallery has moved across this city, taking with it an immense and loyal following at every stop. What's the secret? 

Authenticity and accessibility.

What is your favourite incarnation of your gallery?
It will always be our founding location, Playbraamfontein.

Party starters? Firebrands? Or Gallery owners?  Which order for MJ and for MD. Anything we left out? 
As the gallery develops and matures, so have we. So for the next ten years, it's Gallery Directors, collectors and property developers.

What's the one thing that stands out about how Joburg has changed over a decade? 
The multitude of new and exciting institutions, foundations and centres. WAM, JCAF, Javett, NIROX and The Centre for the Less Good Idea.

Home is... for MJ

Home is... for MD
In my car, as Joburg is everywhere.
Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why you choose it?
For old times sake – Braamfontein and for the future, Parkhurst.

What 3 things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?

Nirox, Inside Out Centre, Centre for the Less Good Idea and JCAF.

What’s the one thing no one would expect to hear about Joburg?
It's criminal how nice people are here.

The most underrated Joburg sight or experience?
Ponte Tower – a true African brutalist wonder.
Kifto at Little Addis – Minced beef, butter, chilli powder served on white injera.

Favourite restaurant or cafe, and why?
MJ : Café 28 – Best Pizza in the city hands down.
MD : Little Addis – Best Ethiopian in the city hands down.

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
When Glory catered our 10-year dinner at the Gallery.

If you could buy one Joburg building which would it be?
54 on Bath, in Rosebank.
Willem Boshoff's Stone Circle at Nirox Sculpture Park.

Favourite way to spend a weekend in Joburg?
Nirox Sculpture Park and Farmhouse58.

Favourite Joburg brand?
MJ : Superella

On a weekend in Joburg you’ll find me at ..
MJ : City Rock / Yoga Experience
MD : Pirates Bowling Club

What makes someone a Joburger?
A never-give-up attitude
Kalashnikovv Gallery prepare for their 10 year celebration.

Your number one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Spend more than one day here. Table Mountain is going nowhere we promise.

What's happening in Joburg right now that you think everyone should know about?
The Padel Plague.

What do you love most about Joburg?
That she doesn't love you back.

What do you least like about Joburg?
That she doesn't love you back.

Three words that describe this city.
Authentic, incomparable, innovative.


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