ARTISTS’ GUIDE TO CAPE TOWN – WITH UKHONA MLANDU

Interview written by Valeria Geselev

What role do you play in the Cape Town arts world?

16 years since making “the art world” my world, I exist in this world here in Cape Town and anywhere else that makes sense at any given time. Given the opportunity, and sometimes creating the opportunity and navigating the politics of value creation in this world, I am aware of how those politics are not devoid of other power dynamics of this city and the world at large.

I’m obsessed with the future I do not know. I wish more of us would recognise the opportunities these time present for creatives. Artists are good in navigating present, past and future. Imagination for me is political, one of the ways I see as a forward is to re-imagine Cape Town, the world.

In 2015 I curated 100 African Reads public art project, working with youth from Cape Town. Reading a book in a public space became an act of performance. Inserting black bodies (although I still struggle with the term black bodies because we are people with dreams, hopes, aspirations, fear so the reference as a body sometimes can feel weird) into the architecture of the city, in a graceful manner – not serving tea or cleaning after, is an act that creates a dialogue. His project proves there is body of knowledge from Africa to feed into the conversation on decolonisation.

When I was working for Artscape I conceptualised the “new’’ Resource Centre – a hub for artists. The aesthetics of the space are urban and African and I facilitate a process where the design and aesthetic was negotiated with the end user in order to make a statement on the kind of imagination that the institution could embark on to move forward.

Artscape Resource Centre

Which artwork tells best the story of contemporary Cape Town?

There are a few but there aren’t enough. There could be more. There should be more. I could never hand over the huge, loaded and contested responsibility to one art work. Let there be more!

The programming of Infecting the City public art festival is interesting. But the audience is still not diverse. Marginalised people of this city are very slowly getting access to the art world, so I see the same faces in the festival. Those dynamics create the risk of problematic anthropological gaze on performance of black pain.

There are a few places where you do see new faces, like Makukhanye Art Room and Open Book literature festival.

100 African Reads

Where would you take a visitor, if you had one place to choose?

I really like Greatmore Studio events. I love Jazz in the Native Yards. Brown Sense Markets and other such markets that are based on the ethos of inclusion should keep on keeping on. I love a lot of things in small doses because I am based here but I do enjoy the thrill of seeing Cape Town through the eyes of people I’m hosting when I have people from outside Cape Town or South Africa.

Jazz in the Native Yards _ musician Mandla Mlangeni

How do you see the role of arts in the social life of Cape Town?

It’s a huge part of my social life but then I work in the sector. There is a community of regular faces at these events and so from an audience cultivation perspective, as a sector we could do more to make it less of a peers reviewing peers set-up and expand our reach and that takes actively doing this consistently over a period of time.

 

What is the most interesting thing that happened in the local art world recently?

In 2016 there was a performance by the musician Mthwakazi at Lefa la Ntate exhibition by Mohau Modisakeng at Iziko National Gallery. The silent space of a gallery was transformed with a multi-sensory experience. That kind of experience appeals to our over-stimulated generation and also its rooted in imagination and re-imagination.

WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery and Iziko Museums
Mthwakazi performs at the opening of Mohau Modisakeng’s exhibition, image courtesy of the artist.

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