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A Sensitive Interview with the artist Banele Khoza

From trauma and creative self-doubt to finding your voice (and faith in the world)

By Piet Smedy  | February 4, 2022 | Art

Earlier this week saw the opening of The Norval Sovereign Arts Prize Group Exhibition – a 30-artist-strong showcase at Norval Foundation in Cape Town aimed at raising awareness for African artists globally, while also working towards funding for arts education programmes around the continent. Among the artists showing this year is Banele Khoza, an artist who’s made little secret of the pain and trauma that have come to inform his most visceral, sticks-in-your-mind pieces. It’s a creative output that places Banele at an interesting intersection, sought after in the halls of high art institutions while simultaneously garnering an enviable Instagram following. After all, who doesn’t stan a sensitive king?

The Norval Sovereign Arts Prize Group Exhibition now open, until 28 February 2022.

‘I Have Never Told Anyone About My First’

H&G: What has the journey been like leading up to The Norval Sovereign Arts Prize Group Exhibition?

Banele Khoza: The journey leading up to the exhibition has been affirming. I feel like I fell off the saddle creatively most of 2021, especially post “27” [Banele’s solo exhibition at his gallery, BKhz]. I lacked confidence in my art afterwards, I had questions like, ‘why does your art practice matter in this landscape?’ Really tough questions that I couldn’t answer immediately and, as a result, the questions were crippling, I didn’t make any art. I now know that my practice matters just from my perspective and my unique experience of life.

Why was I Have Never Told Anyone About My First the right piece, for you, to include in the group showing? How do you think it captures the overall narrative and style that pervades the oeuvre of your work?

I knew it was an institutional piece when it was featured in my past solo exhibition; it was the anchor and the skeleton of my show. Mostly because it was a recording of two life-altering traumas, ones that I brushed off but have been the root of the sadness that has been omnipresent in all the pieces that I have created since 2010 till at present. I’ve always been asked why my figures are empty of joy, and I had no link to the why till it surfaced in these works – and knew I had to heal the past.

His Aura Will Tell You Everything’

You’re one of 30 artists showing at the group exhibition at Novral Foundation – sharing the space with, among many others, Esther Mahlangu – what would you say is your impression, and perhaps, what unifying message or feeling comes through to you from the exhibition as a whole?

That every voice matters, including mine (even though it is very often followed by self-doubt).

Of the group, which works – or artists – speak most powerfully and directly to you both as a fellow artist and, more so, on a fundamentally human level?

I was taken by the work of Bonolo Kavula, ‘Tswelopele’. It was the first time encountering her work in real life and the intricacy of her punched Shweshwe – the process was almost unbelievable. You can’t miss the piece but as you get closer, you are puzzled by the how. It is an honor to also show amongst Esther Mahlangu, Frances Goodman and Thania Petersen

Everything in life is a lesson, what would you say being part of this showcase has been your most salient take-away?

For as long as you can believe and acknowledge that something within you is special and you continue to work and show it to the world, no matter where you’re from – the world will conspire in your favour to get you exactly where you wish to be. Very often the world has a higher plan than we have for ourselves.

Spring Will Find You Too’

And what is the plan for yourself?

I am opening my retrospective show in Germany on the 19th of February. We have been working on it since late 2019 and finally an audience will be able to experience works I have kept in studio from 2012 - 2021. I will also be performing readings of my personal writing for the first time.

I am managing WonderBuhle [a visual artist] who has seen an astronomical rise in the global market, and I’m excited about working closely with him and seeing his first project come to life in Amsterdam this March and, later in May, with BKhz in NYC.

I’ll also be taking on a fellowship to NYC from May to June with the Ampersand Foundation. It will be my first time in New York and I’m thrilled at the prospect of getting to spend so much time.

Lastly, BKhz is turning four this year. It has been an incredible time to be the creative director and seeing unique narratives formulated per show with my team.