Banele Khoza using BKhz as a vessel for his newest exhibition
Benele Khoza’s gallery and studio, BKhz has allowed him to express himself more than ever before. Over the past 30 months, he has used it as a platform to explore a variety of narratives, both external and internal. His latest exhibition, ‘27’, uses it as a space of solace where Banele can speak his truths.
We talked to him about the role mentorship and community have played in his maturation as an artist and how he continues that practice through BKhz. Here, we explore the multifaceted nature of Banele’s gallery and studio, and the artist himself, who has experience in fashion, interior design and art, to understand what makes his work so unique.
You founded the BKhz studio in2018, and it is a space that defies any singular definition, serving as a studio, gallery and creative hub. What prompted your multifaceted approach?
In 2018, I intended to open a gallery, but when you first establish one, you have to be open to the different narratives that could unfold within the space. That is why I did not want to define it immediately, allowing the space to shape itself instead of me saying what it is. over the past 30 months, we have explored conversations happening in South Africa and abroad. I think when you define something as one thing, then it limits you. That is why, initially, it was very open-ended, and I think now, 30 months later, it is starting to take the shape of a gallery, but we are always open to different conversations happening in the space.
Has having a gallery of your own affected how you operate as an artist?
My research over the last 30 months has informed and guided the body of work I have been able to create because the more you engage with other artists, the more you open up something bigger than yourself. suddenly, you are having a different conversation than the one you could only facilitate in your practice and studio. Before I opened the gallery, I realised it was starting to become a constant conversation about ‘me’, whereby every space you go into, people are only curious about what I am working on or what I have worked on. I felt it was unfair to be the only person occupying a seat at the table. So it was important to open the doors, and that is how BKhz came about.
In the past, I would never have worked on that scale, but now I am learning that it gives me more space to engage with the work than a smaller piece does.
Can you tell us about what you are currently working on and the ideas or experiences that inspired it?
The body of work I am sharing at BKhz is a narrative I would never share in any other space given the topic is sensitive. The main image informed the rest of the body of work. I experienced trauma in 2010, which resurfaced in 2012, and because it happened when I was unconscious, I could neither immediately process it for what it was nor its magnitude. I sought out therapy in what was supposed to be a safe space, but even then I did not want to touch on the topic. I could only finally process my trauma in the studio.
Your work explores gender norms, with soft and almost surreal works of art speaking to the sensual side of masculinity. What inspired you to depict such diverse ideas of masculinity?
It was immediate battles with myself about what society wanted from me. I remember, as early as in primary school, I wanted to play with the girls. I wanted to own a Barbie doll. everyone around me denied me that experience, so I started drawing the dolls with which I wanted to play. all the experiences I wanted to have unfolded on paper, and that became a secret world I would work on privately, and I could choose to share or not share it with other people. only in 2009 did I have the confidence to own up and say: ‘I carry a diary to explore my emotions.’
Was there a specific event in your life that pushed you to pursue being a full-time artist, or was it a natural progression?
I think it was a natural progression. as I was growing up in Swaziland, I knew I had many emotions I had to express in one way or another. When I was young, I found journaling to be the best way for me to do that. I would draw sketches and write to reflect on each day. I think that is why going into fine art, the moment I started practising in school, felt like home. Throughout my schooling in art, I have received constant affirmation. In grade 8-11, I was in a school whose focus was on science and maths. We did not have an art class. By grade 10, I had started an art club that still exists today. one exchange teacher, who came from the Netherlands, gave me watercolours and acrylic paints when I was in grade 10, which allowed me to continue exploring what I was already doing. That was all because they recognised there was something within me worth cultivating.
Would you say your current work still retains that element of journaling that initially pushed you towards art?
definitely. In The Letter, which is the main work in the exhibition, I am writing to my younger self. I am turning 27 now, and I feel like I know way more than I thought I would have by now. Many people say that by 18 or 21, you are a full-grown adult, but I would say it is only now I feel like an adult. It talks about the different seasons that I have experienced as an individual growing into myself. I have experienced a lot of trauma through out my journey. What The Letter is saying is that winter comes to an end. spring will always find you where you bloom again.
Interview by James Nash