Leading SA Female Curators Fly SA Flag High at Venice Biennale

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Early this year when South Africa’s Department of Arts and Culture and SA commissioner to Italy, Consul-General Titi Nxumalo, announced the team to represent the country at the 58th International Art Exhibition, University of Cape Town based art curators, Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu became the first black female curators to be bestowed the honour of curating the SA Pavilion in Venice, Italy.

Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu
Nkule Mabaso and Nomusa Makhubu have curated “Fantastic”, a touring international group exhibition in 2015; and “There are mechanisms in Place”, a solo exhibition of the work of Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum in 2018, and are currently working on a creative publication of the same title.

The exhibition, titled under the theme: “The Stronger We Become”, features the works of talented young South African visual artists, Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tracey Rose and Mawande Ka Zenzile. This provocative thesis is premised on notions of resilience and resistance, and is set within historically-charged motifs of land, dispossession, and institutional knowledge and power.

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The curatorial duo which has worked together on “Fantastic”, a touring international group exhibition in 2015, and has outdone itself by creatively conceptualising a truly South African exhibition that reflects and ponders the country’s political transition in the context of post-1994 South Africa. The SA Pavilion which launched on 09 May and continues until 24 November, is an exhibition, presented to rouse and provoke critical engagement with South Africa’s collective past, present and future. As the country honours and celebrate women during the August month, the two phenomenal curators’ work can not be left unnoticed, in addition the role they have both played in ensuring that South Africa is adequately positioned at this year’s exhibition.

“We are proud of the work displayed in Venice, the work that encapsulates South Africa’s spirit in a creative manner, bringing together the uniqueness and diversity of our nation. As we look back to 09 August 1956 and remember those fearless women that included Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams De Bruyn, we can only be filled with pride knowing that even after their time, women continue to fight for what they believe, in addition continue to be in the forefront of ensuring that South Africa and its people are recognised by the global world,” says Sports, Arts and Culture Minister, Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

The 58th Venice International Art Exhibition – curated by Ralph Rugoff – is titled “May You Live in Interesting Times” – drawing on a phrase of English invention that has long been mistakenly cited as an ancient Chinese curse that invokes periods of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil. The creative concept of the South African Pavilion (The Stronger We Become) responds to Rugoff’s suggestion that “uncertainty, crisis and turmoil” necessitates focusing on “art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking”. The stronger We Become is about reflection and interaction.

Each of the three artists – Dineo Seshee Bopape, Tracey Rose, and Mawande Ka Zenzile – bring unique perspectives to the multifaceted predicaments of contemporary South African life through humour and satire. The exhibition interrogates : How are social disparities mediated? How are certain conditions overcome? How does continuous social engagement reinforce social resilience? Through the artworks of the selected artists, the exhibition seeks to display the many sides to a story and a plurality of knowledge.

Having worked and admired the works of the three artists both Mabaso and Makhubu agree that the SA Pavilion presents art lovers with leading artists whose works are admired and venerated the world over for their ability to confront contemporary life and lived experiences of South Africa and its citizens.

“The theme engages with the determination and tenacious spirit of South Africans.” It is also informed by the emphasis, in South Africa, on social cohesion in a previously divided country, which tends to “overlook and downplay that the tenacity required to overcome difficult histories and harsh socio-economic conditions” many South Africans, have and continue to find themselves in. “Resilience then becomes one of the crucial aspects in understanding South Africa and its people. We need to be able to celebrate our many achievements, while we also confront our shortcomings. While South Africa remains a fragmented society with a fragile political landscape, there is still urgency reflected in these artists’ works that buoys social resistance,” the curators explain.

The South African Pavilion with its provocative artworks continues to be one of the popular Pavilions in Venice. The exhibition ends on the 24th of November 2019.

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