The Stellenbosch Triennale, brainchild of the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, takes place from 11 February to 30 April 2020 in a location renowned for its halls of academia and historical vineyards. The upcoming international showcase, extraordinary in terms of international reach and extent of art on show, will place creativity in critical dialogue with the society that fosters and exhibits it. The theme Tomorrow There Will Be More of Us provides the meeting points for engagement with the divided past, the collective present and imagined futures.
AFRICA IS NOW had a discussion with Khanyisile Mbongwa, Chief curator and renowned artist, on the event, the theme and what we can look forward to.
What is your vision for this event?
My vision for the Stellenboch Triennale is to foster a critical space for an eco-system of transformation and transition using art as a lens, a course correction, a stimulus for curiosity and imagination where creatives confront us with what is possible for a renewal to happen.
Working towards intersectional accessibility where we not only acknowledge our diverse ways of existing through race, gender, class, sexuality, differently-abled bodies but constantly finding ways of how to practice and therefore normalize intersectional existence as a lived experience.
Recognizing some of the socio-economic and socio-cultural gaps that exist in learning facilitation, education and mentorship are integral part of our programming on a skills sharing and development level.
How does one encourage community involvement in an event like this, especially from communities who have been previously disenfranchised and who may be ambivalent about art?
It is important that we introduce ourselves to communities surrounding the Triennale and that they are notified about the event driving vision and how it aims to function – so that they are aware of its existence and that there’s an open invitation to attend. This is part of working towards an eco-system, that we recognize each stakeholder as an integral part of the mechanism and that each endorsement makes us more accessible in varying degrees.
It is also of thinking of the programming permeating beyond the recognized center, and curating works within the different locales.
What is your art selection process like?
For the upcoming Stellenbosch Triennale, we used various selection processes that are invitation-based. For instance, for The Curators’ Exhibition, we listed over 150 artists all over the continent and our researcher Rashieda Witter created an information document on each artist. Myself with two other curators of the Triennale Nontobeko Ntombela and Bernard Akoi-Jackson went through the list, met for over three days to make the first draft from the list using sub-themes that emerged the main theme as a guideline. The second draft was using the sub-themes to have a closer look at the artist practices and how their work would sit in the broader theme and in conversation with other works. The third draft was to create the final list of the 20 artists.
With South Africa’s history in mind and perhaps even post-apartheid, can Art be used to heal a broken people, if so how?
I think art can be used as a moment to contemplate and negotiate healing, it can be a tool and medium over which we work through the complexities and nuances in how healing can be imagined from an individual to a collective perspective. Art does transport and suspend the artist and the viewer into a space where visual language translates lived experiences for the purpose of critical introspection and imagination. What we do witness in art is the moment of imagination (ideas/concepts) and manifestation (making of the work) and the process in between is the negotiation of finding ways actualization – and it is this moment when we view the work we experience the potential and possibility of healing. But we must always remember, for healing to happen – there must first be recognition of violence.
There are certain questions regarding social issues that the Triennale attempts to solve through art, one of them being “What relations to nature do we cherish?”, I’ll pose this question to you personally. What relations to nature do you cherish?
I experience being here from a perspective of an Aboriginal saying: We Don’t Own The Earth, The Earth Owns Us… and thus I am always at the mercy and grace of the earth’s giving. Nature is home, and until we all fully understand that we will continue to see ourselves as its masters rather than part of its eco-system.
When discussing the theme “Tomorrow there will be more of us”, you mention that “The theme asks us to think about tomorrow in intersectional ways through remembering, the ancestral, the imaginative and becoming”. Care to elaborate more on this?
We are made up of time, but time is told through particular historical narratives that don’t hold the intersectionality of our experiences. So, in thinking of how we can harness sustainable common futures, we propose an intersectional engagement with time as past, present, future. We are not one complete product, but we are in a state of becoming – and maybe if we see ourselves in this way, we allow ourselves to imagine an Us that can truly share space and resources.
Do you think your immense success as an artist yourself has provided you with either a unique perspective or certain skillsets for the role of Chief curator?
Any words of advice for young women out there who may deal with the anxiety that comes with being black?
The anxiety you carry now comes from your lived experience of navigating systems that are rigged to make you invisible. But also know that how you see yourself is more valid than any projections onto you. Though I know resilience and transcending your experience of being black and woman is tiring, I also know that radical black self love is not you being brave but you being honest that you are worthy and deserving – so love yourself radically and deliberately because self love will always compel you to choose yourself over and over again… and in choosing yourself, you can no longer conspire in ways of being killed but will instead find ways of being alive, deliberately.