SIWA MGOBOZA ON CURATING THE DEMONSTRATION: RECKONING WITH OUR SHARED RACIAL PAST

Written by Katlego Kganyago

The fantastic artist and curator Siwa Mgoboza chats to us about their latest project exhibiting at Constitution Hill titled The Demonstration: Reckoning with Our Shared Racial Past from 15-25 September 2022.

 

Katlego: Congratulations Siwa on your role as curator for The Demonstration at the National Museum of African Art. May you please tell us more about Siwa Mgoboza? 

Siwa: My name is Siwa Mgoboza, I am 29 years old. I was born in Cape Town but grew up in Peru and Poland, I came back to South Africa at the age of 18 and studied a BA Fine Art at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT. I returned to South Africa because I was longing to understand myself as Black Queer African… In my search to understand myself and my culture, I looked inwards towards myself to answer the questions I had been asking myself for years. 

I graduated in 2015, the year of #FeesMustFall – it is because of it that I am passionate about education and using creativity as a means to empower youth and help them become contributors to the creative economy, and as a means to their own economic liberation through their creativity. 

 

K: Carving a career path in the arts is not easy as it looks. How has your journey in the creative industry been? What have you learnt about yourself?

S: Well, I am 10 years in the game and I am celebrating it with a show with ArtMeets and Aspire Auction house in Cape Town in October 2022. I have always played on my own terms. I have prioritized my values with everything I do and ensured to be a positive contributor to regenerating the art ecosystem in South Africa. No one owes me anything; I and only I have the responsibility to make me happy. I have learnt to be selfish, if I do not put myself first, no one will.

 

K: Being a curator and artist comes with heavy responsibility, what are the challenges you encounter with audiences engaging to artworks?

S: I think the greatest challenge for a curator is to find the patterns and thread them together. Like an economist, it is my responsibility to look what is happening in and on the scene in all aspects. It’s like studying the market and through that knowledge and data is where I find prompts to curatorially prompt me to asking the big question to artists. I cannot and do not have any solution to any problem but have questions that could be creatively discussed in a safe environment. 

Curator, in Latin, curare, to take care and, or of… I have been given a seat at the table and it is my duty to make sure the door stays, and remains open for others. 

 

K: Do you have a life struggle you would like to share? If so, how are you dealing with the conflict/ problem/ loss?

S: Creativity is my means of healing… Often the work I do is cathartic. It starts with a personal question, word, form of curiosity, and it is thereafter I find ways in healing. Often the work is labour intensive and long, reflection is used as a means to graft towards the healing. 

Problems and loss are a big part of life. I always think of the bigger picture, visualize it, write it, speak it and so it shall be done. Life is linear, our problems are just the obstacle to reach the bigger picture. I often encourage young artists to fail, one can too, fail forward, but one needs to be aware of the moment, recognize it, reflect and be critical thereafter. It’s tough work but it reveals a level of self-awareness from within. Once you’ve strengthened there, I believe no one could ever tell you anything about yourself that you do not already know. You need to heal or you can stay mad… 

 

K: The theme for The Demonstration is race. What aspect of race is the exhibition addressing and who is being confronted?

S: Heavy ones, race and incarceration, race and media, race and representation, race and housing and finally race and resistance… 

 

K: May you please give us a brief tour of The Demonstration exhibition and what audiences can look forward to experience?

S: A unique and experimental show, with conversations, city tours and activations (fashion show, film screening, performance and installations) that is highlighting some of the systematic problems across the diaspora.

 

K: Your beautiful exhibition titled Africadia is showing at Matter Gallery in Toronto, Canada. What has the reception been like?

S: One of the best nights of my life… I felt like such a Rockstar, I was collected from the airport, changed in the car, showed up to a full-house gallery and ‘played’ the gig. LOL. It was because of Matter Gallery, that I have had a few exhibitions in Canada and I am collected by a few prominent collectors in Canada, such as Wedge Curatorial and the National Museum of Ottawa. 

 

K: What has been your favourite career highlight so far as a multidisciplinary artist?

S: I am living it… I thought I’d peaked in my twenties, I cannot think of a better way to close off my twenties, after being unemployed for two years, and now a world of opportunity has opened to me because Smithsonian NMAFA, recognized the scope of my work and that recognition from an institution is the most rewarding highlight of my life I could ever think of. An institution is only as relevant as the people who walk in and out of it, and a large part of that is bringing in people from other art systems and find a way to bridge access.

 

K: What advice would you give to young, gifted and queer artists who would like to follow your path?

S: “If them bitches ain’t payin’ yo bills, pay ‘em no mind.’’ – RuPaul 

 

K: Who inspires you and why?

S: My geographical specificity and the souls that inhabit it. I am nothing without them. They inspire me. #UmntuNgumntuNgabantu 

 

K: Any final thoughts? 

S: Please come see The Demonstration: Reckoning with Our Shared Racial Past, collaboration between myself, Smithsonian NMAFA, Washington, D.C., Moleskine Foundation, Milan, IT, Constitution Hill and Basha Uhuru open on the 15th of September and runs till the 25th of September 2022. The show features artists who are dealing with the big elephant in the room, race, as a means to reckon with our shared racial past with America. After all, our local is now global, in fact, we live in a glocal world… We have more in common than what separates us and this institutional show is a prime example of a role an institution can and should be playing in trying to empower youth and reckon with heavy subjects. We have activations for the next ten days, featuring artists extraordinaire: Blessing Ngobeni, Ayana V. Jackson, Nelisiwe Xaba and Mocke Jansen van Veuren, Patrick Bongoy and UNI FORM by Luke Radloff.

You’re invited. Our demonstration is nothing without the people, because WE THE PEOPLE SHALL RISE TIME AND TIME AGAIN! SIYABANGENA! 

K: Thank you.

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