Portrait of Siwa Mgoboza.
Portrait of Siwa Mgoboza.
Image: Tatenda Chidora/Supplied

The Demonstration at Constitution Hill, presented by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Moleskine Foundation, is a 10-day experience to empower and promote the artistic community of Johannesburg. The four-part programme consists of an Art Experience, Art Academy, city tours and public programmes at the heritage-imbued site of the apartheid-era prison complex, Constitution Hill.

The South African visual artist and cultural curator, Siwa Mgoboza, will curate the experience which is themed ‘Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past,’ while Simon Njami will guide the AtWork educational programme. The Smithsonian’s Race Initiative uses art and creativity to spark key conversations, as part of the museum’s co-ordinated global initiative to address inequity and systematic racism.

“Art confronts, art comforts, and it puts you within important discourses — often ones we are not ready to reckon with and are often shared,” says the curator, Siwa Mgoboza.

He adds:

“Holding onto the past has not proven to be productive, but forgetting is a tough pill to swallow, as its legacy is so alive. Day in and day out, we read headlines about how race has been and continues to be a factor in tragic events that disproportionately affect people of colour. We could be focusing on that, but the alternative is brighter — rather, let’s look forward to joy — at the energy on the streets, the exuberance in the youth and the potential for growth, the healing, and progress, A tool as simple as paper could be used to imagine a reality so much bigger than all of us. A book, as a means to allow creative expression, is an incredible tool for young South Africans to be equipped with. Moleskine Foundation and NMAFA Smithsonian recognise the power that our racial communalities have, and it is evident in the partners in this endeavour."

The MoleskineFoundation’s innovative AtWork art academy will be hosted in Johannesburg from August 26 to 30, and is titled What Comes Next?  The tours, and subsequent outputs, are focused on the youth and use unconventional teaching tools and experiences to foster critical thinking, continuous learning, and creative agency. Yearly themes aim to foster and stimulate collective and community-focused reflection on issues such as identity, diversity, and culture. The intensive five-day programme uses community-focused pedagogy to enthuse the building of an equitable and empathetic society through art, creativity and culture.

Simon Njami.
Simon Njami.
Image: Aida Muluneh/Supplied

“The curatorial to prompt, What Comes First?, not just artists, but for the creative minded, to reckon with our shared present and racial past — above all have the amazing opportunity of getting critical feedback from someone like Simon,” says Mgoboza. “AtWork is an educational initiative that utilises creative processes to stimulate critical thinking and skills. The programme aims to bridge educational gaps, to reach those outside the benefits of educational institutions, and to bring about social transformation.”

Notable curator and academic Simon Njami founded the AtWork methodology to promote personal and social transformation through the engagement of participants with artistic forms of creation and criticism.

The ideology of Freire’s Theatre of the Oppressed, along with the lenses of Bell Hooks and Henry Giroux, are critical in unlocking the creative potential and subsequent ‘emancipatory imagination’ of participants in the programme and their movements after its culmination. The participants, led by Njami, will engage in discourse and debate around the theme while creating a personalised notebook which will reflect and express their ideological views and growth. The notebooks will be exhibited at the Old Fort before becoming a part of the Moleskine Foundation Archive.

Lwando Xaso .
Lwando Xaso .
Image: Supplied

In tandem with AtWork programme, local artists and those from across the African continent have been commissioned by NMAFA Smithsonian, curated by Mgoboza, and will reflect on the theme through engaging in indoor and outdoor installations. The public will be provoked by the challenges and possibilities of racial reckoning, allowing healing, progress and introspection through art, the historic location, and the diversity of creation.

Numerous venues in the area will be open, and active, to allow the public a space to witness and partake in demonstrations and conversations about race, creativity, and the ethos of a shared future. Walking, running, cycling, bussing, dancing, laughing and crying are all elements of humanity that are intrinsic to the City of Gold as well as being key human-aspects of the regenerative possibilities of spaces and places. The public, as a part of the experience, is encouraged to explore Johannesburg through the eyes of creatives in multisensory encounters.

The Demonstration: Reckoning with our Shared Racial Past will take place from August 27 to September 4 at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg.

Applications for the AtWork programme are open, with space for up to 25 participants between the ages of 18 and 30.

The diversity of applicants is an essential aspect to the experience, and people from all walks of life, whether in creative, blue-collar, or white-collar fields are encouraged to apply. The output of the AtWork programme will be available for public viewing from August 30 until October 30 and will thereafter be housed in the foundation’s public collection in Milan, Italy, with the likes of South African household names: Lwando Xaso, Colin Richards, Cameron Platter, Ruth Sacks, James Webb, Sue Williamson and Nicola Grobler.

Find out more here.

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