Artist Banele Khoza.
Artist Banele Khoza.
Image: Supplied

As offices, restaurants, schools and galleries close their doors to curb the spread of the coronavirus, we have to embrace digital tools and platforms from our home offices to communicate, find enlightenment or escapism, and most importantly, continue to do business.

While I’m not entirely ready to expose the fish-eyed view of myself through video conferencing, most entities can cope with their staff working as digital nomads. The privileged minority are, for the most part, also happy to shop for their fashion and food online. However, for the art world, where sales rely heavily on the emotional connection to the work, its subject matter, its texture and scale, the IRL, bricks-and-mortar gallery plays a key role. With their doors shut and collectors both local and international unable to pop by, Richard Aldous and his immersive technology company 3D Tours have a solution to keep the business of art “future fit”. Using 360-degree photos taken with infrared cameras, stitched together with smart AI, his Google Street View-like virtual tours provide seamless interior experiences of galleries and artworks.

Swaziland-born, South African-based Banele Khoza is part of a new vanguard of visual artists making waves on the local scene and was ahead of the curve as the first local gallery owner – after Absa Art Gallery – to embrace the 3D tour technology to maximise the geographic reach of his artists. This means all exhibitions stay “live” beyond openings and the usual show cycles.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is the latest group show curated by Khoza and installed – behind closed doors but very much live – at his BKhz gallery in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, until April 11. The title and theme of the show is inspired by the 2013 French film and graphic novel of the same name in which a teenager, uncertain about her sexuality, meets an art student who opens her up to an unrestrained existence that welcomes desire and passion.

The colour blue is a focal point throughout the film and, according to Khoza, the show is about understanding the dynamics of blue in the arts. It includes emerging and established artists and an earlier version also featured furniture by Houtlander, which popped up in Woodstock, Cape Town, during the art fair in February. You can take a virtual tour of both shows on the BKhz website and find relevant information through tags linked to each of the works.

When you look at his list of achievements at just 26 years old, it’s no wonder Khoza gets a lot of attention. Apart from the numerous accolades and appearances, he is the co-curator with Nicole Siegenthaler of FNB Art Joburg’s Gallery Lab project, which showcases galleries and hybrid spaces from around the continent and beyond. But, most importantly, he has the unusual position of being an artist who is curator-director of his own gallery.

Artwork by Banele Khoza.
I Prefer Puppies Artwork by Banele Khoza.
Image: Supplied

Khoza established BKhz two years ago as “a space that felt like home” for himself and the emerging artists he nurtures and represents. His gallery is committed to “reshaping and expanding perceptions of contemporary art in South Africa”. Not only do he and his team give newer, often unorthodox, artists a platform, but they also impart invaluable knowledge of the social, economic, political and administrative processes of the art world. Khoza attributes the success of the gallery to having a team that is “as black, pan-African, femme and queer as the artists they exhibit”.

We asked the multi-media artist about his many guises and to unmask the narratives in his own abstract paintings.

How would you describe your work and visual language? My work is sensitive, personal and fluid. I am always led by my curiosity. The works that have foregrounded my practice are my paintings. They mirror my life. I try to immerse myself in new experiences and thoroughly listen to what people have to say and reflect on that. 

Your solo show LGBTQI+: Banele Khoza, which was part of the Curatorial Lab at Zeitz MOCAA in 2018, included dreamlike abstract male portraits and nudes, many alluding to homoerotic desire, which also seemed to mask the sense of loneliness often experienced by social media users. Is this a common narrative in your work? This applies to most of my paintings. I cannot hide myself from this practice. When I capture the eyes of the subject, it reveals the loneliness that I mask and, potentially, the one that the sitter experiences as well. We all feel loneliness together.

As a 26-year-old African artist who is part of the LGBTQI+ community do you feel you have a particular responsibility to be a social commentator or agitator? The only responsibility I feel is to be myself at all times and to reflect a healthy and ethical character to my immediate community and to those I reach – who look up to my ideas.

Why your chosen media? Acrylic because it dries fast; inks as they saturate the acrylic; curation because it is another paint brush of my thinking and digital drawing because my cellphone is always at hand, meaning I carry my studio with me. 

What is the focus of your solo show at Nuweland in Oosterzee-Buren, the Netherlands? It is titled The Boys I Have Liked and reflects on a couple of crushes I have had over the past eight years and who all said “no” when I asked them out (ha ha). I also note the butterflies, which fuel and cause an imbalance to my reality while creating. Then I deal with reality when I hear a “no”.

It’s unusual for an artist to be a gallery owner. What inspired the decision and what has been the reaction? It is an unusual one. I have embodied and gained an understanding of the many supporting heads for an artist. I felt it was important to establish a space that felt like home and that has been the driving intention of the space. As a result, everyone feels welcome.

BKhz 3D view of gallery.
BKhz 3D view of gallery.
Image: Supplied
BKhz 3D view with meta data revealed.
BKhz 3D view with meta data revealed.
Image: Supplied

There aren’t enough galleries – what advice do you have for young artists on how best to market and represent themselves? If you have a smartphone, you already have the basics. Consider your online presence as a space through which you can inform and educate your audience about your practice. Do not sell them product, let them invest in your narrative. Commit to it each day. I’m on social media every day. I utilise Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. I am able to share and guide traffic to all our activations. 

As curator and gallery owner you are always on the lookout for new talent. Which young artists should we be keeping an eye on?

As the recipient of the Gerard Sekoto Award in 2017, you spent three months in residency at the Cité internationale des arts in Paris. Another residency was lined up for April in New York, but has been postponed, followed by Brussels in September. What is most important about residency programmes for you? Gained time and space. All of a sudden, you get to reset your life and its operations. You can work with the flow or against the flow of the city or town. Residencies always impact or shift your thinking. I do most of my planning while on residencies and have time to really figure out the next step. The day after my return from Paris I began renovations on the space that would become BKhz.

Artwork by Banele Khoza.
Hope Artwork by Banele Khoza.
Image: Supplied

Who or what inspires you? Life has been my greatest inspiration. It is interesting how it will impose or shut down my plans if they aren't aligned with my soul. I always take it with humour as I know my ego is being humbled. 

Key inspirational figures include [artist] Nelson Makamo, who has been kind, supportive and encouraging to my path. And Prof Zanele Muholi, who has taught me that I am not about to arrive but that I am already partaking and active. They made me aware of my strengths. 

Did your formative years in Swaziland have an influence on you becoming an artist and on your work? My years in Swaziland taught me how to dream beyond my reality. What I have been able to establish is far outside what seemed possible. I continue to dream and manifest my heart's desires, paired with working smart and hard. Staying focused is also important.

Life hacks?

  • Pray – have a prayer journal.
  • Do not compromise your diet and rest. When you need to sleep, sleep!
  • Love yourself on the journey. In the dark times, you need your own love to walk you through.
  • Mindfulness – enjoy where you are as it is the next step [on the path to] where you should be.

BKhz, 68 Juta Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

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