Curated by Anelisa Mangu and Jana Terblanche, Everything was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt is an exquisite assemblage of works by several contemporary African artists whose heritage, identity and selfhood are centred as part of a moment that rejects archetypal representations of black life.
While each artist works through their own unique style and medium — from Patrick Bongoyi’s conservationist sculptural work to Lwando Dlamini’s idiosyncratic figures — all of the pieces highlight the many different and nuanced portrayals of black subjectivity in this era.
This refreshing group show takes the viewer into a nuanced account of the longings, spiritedness, and radical joy found in each portrait’s colours and textures — as well as a sharp sense of being of and in the present moment, unapologetically.
We spoke to Anelisa Mangu to find out more about the exhibition, which is part of FNB Art Joburg 2021.
What brought you and Jana together, and how would you describe your complementary approach to this type of curatorship?
We were approached by the FNB Art Joburg to collaborate on a commissioned exhibition around the theme of black portraiture. In our curatorial practices, we have both explored aspects of this theme and movement numerous times, but had never curated an exhibition together. We believe in fostering strong relationships with artists that exist outside specific exhibition-making. A curator and artist relationship is intimate and ongoing. We approached the artists in this exhibition because of their relevance to this conversation. Artists were provided with a curatorial abstract which they were free to interpret according to their own practice. Our approach is hands-on, from ideation to the realisation of the exhibition.
Thinking about the state of the world today, why do you find it important to focus on more quotidian themes like rest, joy, relaxation, and leisure, instead of something that could be perceived as more of a “spectacle”.
The interest in portraiture is built on a long history of black artists writing their experiences into the historical canon through their art. We wanted to steer away from visual themes focusing on oppression, poverty and pain and flip the proverbial script. Black identity, which was once a site for trauma and unfettered joy, in this exhibition explores the complexity and duality of black identity in modern culture.
Was there anything that surprised you when putting together this exhibition about some of the different ways that these artists found resonance with each other across their different locations?
What surprised us most is the strong camaraderie and connection all the artists have with one another. Some artists are part of collectives where they are constantly sharing each other’s works when an opportunity arises, proving to us that community is far more important than individual success. Their connection transcends geographical and physical space, and we are honoured to have been privy to the love and support they displayed.
How do you envision this exhibition living beyond this moment?
Art is never static. The desire to be reflected in the things we make started at the beginning of representational art-making and will outlive us all. We were not necessarily reinventing the wheel, but instead bringing a conversation that is often addressed in other continents, back home. Our vision with this body of work was to distil the essence of the Black Portraiture movement and to predict where it is moving towards. Artists such as Lulama Wolf Mlambo and Lwando Dlamini veer away from the representational realm and towards the abstracted, which adds another dimension to the dialogue.
Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt is showing at Keyes Art Mile as part of FNB Art Joburg's Open City until November 14.