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Stellenbosch Triennale: Tomorrow there will be more of us

Ibrahim Mahama, Strangers to Lines II

Stellenbosch Triennale

Tomorrow there will be more of us
11th February -  *like all other exhibitions globally now closed and soon to be online as a virtual tour.

By PETRA MASON, March 2020 

On the Southernmost tip of Africa in the wealthy Cape winelands town of Stellenbosch -- a traditionally conservative, predominantly white Afrikaans speaking enclave, a pan-African, non-commercial Triennale (now on view until April 30th) is ‘painting the town black’ with an all black artist line-up.

In an (art) world of haves and have nots, in a South African town defined by wealth that’s notoriously run by The Stellenbosch Mafia aka the Billionaires Club, the local elite raised more than eight million ZAR in private money, almost half a million euros, to organize a triennial for contemporary art with international ambition, slightly inspired by the Venice Biennale. The Stellenbosch Triennale breaks the chains of the commercially driven art fair model bravely offering a ‘free to the public’ two month art festival. The Triennale, the first in the Cape, marks an intentional point of contact to engage with the surrounding areas fractured past, thorny present and complex future.

Hellen Nabukenya, Abalamu Baseesa Gwaka

Stellenbosch Triennale breaks the chains of the commercially driven art fair model bravely offering a ‘free to the public’ two and a half month art festival. The Triennale, the first in the Cape, marks an intentional point of contact to engage with the regions fractured past, thorny present and complex future.

Featuring three curated exhibitions, a film festival, performance art and an architectural pavilion and held at several historic and re-imagined venues dotted around the town, the inaugural event showcases 40 acclaimed pan-African artists who interpret the theme ‘Tomorrow there will be more of us’.

Stellenbosch University undergrad alum and chief curator Khanyisile Mbongwa's ‘The Curators Exhibition’ headlines at the industrial Woodmill venue and features 20 artists: among them Cape born Igshaan Adams (who currently has an installation in Savannah, Georgia at SCAD’s new de:FINE art exhibition, Victor Ehikhamenor, Sethembile Msezane, Stacey Gillian Abe, Reshma Chhiba, Kivu Ruhorahoza, Tracy Naa Koshie Thompson, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Hellen Nabukenya, Patrick Bongoy, Zyma Amien, Nástio Mosquito, Kaloki Nyamai, Kelvin Haizel, Donna Kukama, Ronald Muchatuta, Bronwyn Katz and Mongezi Ncaphayi. International art stars include Ghanaian installation artist Ibrahim Mahama (whose flags recently flew in New York during the Rockefeller Plaza Frieze Sculpture Fair) and a Sunny Dolat film premiere.

Victor Ehikhamenor,  Saints & Sanctum

One bright, warm morning with curator Khanyisile Mbongwa (who not only produced ‘Tomorrow there will be more of us’, but also gave birth two weeks before) the one-time student activist described how her curatorial process tuned into ‘ancestral time’ asking questions about ‘what this place (the white enclave of Stellenbosch) means’ while listening to ‘what the land has to say’. The resulting ‘The Curators Exhibition’ aims to ‘decentralize power structures’ and for the duration of the Triennale at least, achieves its goal.

The three exhibitions : ‘The Curators Exhibition’ (curated by Khanyisile Mbongwa and Dr. Bernard Akoi-Jackson), ‘From the Vault’ -- an exhibition that exhumes archives and engages with buried museum collections to contextualize and map contemporary society and culture -- providing context is more relevant than ever in a time when cultural context is missing. From the Vault is curated by Dr Mike Tigere Mavura (a lecturer and change agent at Stellenbosch Academy of Design & Photography) and Gcotyelwa Mashiqa. The soft spoken Dr. Bernard Akoi-Jackson is the curator behind the youthful, transgressive ‘On the Cusp’ -- an exhibition representing eight African countries and the powerful 'Asafo Black Collective'.

Stacey Gillian Abe, 'Sylvia's letters to my future Self'

The performance art showcase portion of ‘On the Cusp’ curated by Mbongwa’s ‘curatorial crush' Jay Pather includes, by extension, rather delightfully, a water goddess offering at the beach by artist Indira Mateta from Angola that captures her ancestors’ offerings to nearby Luanda island.

In a country where only 7% of schools teach any art subjects, free to the public art festivals are few and art museums almost non-existent, audience initiatives like the Stellenbosch Triennale are highly welcome as an entry point into the elitist art world. Ports of entry and visa themes ran throughout the programming and created chaos for some of the attendant artists, a few of whom got tied up in red tape and missed the opening. Not even Ghanain artist Ibrahim Mahama was spared travel woes as his visa was not ready in time.

Nastío Mosquito, No One Gives A Mosquito’s Ass About

The Triennale opening events were charged with energy - the kind that only pops when history is in the making. Arriving at the migrant labour built main Woodmill venue directly from the magnificently luxurious art property ‘Le Jardin Private Villa’ was nothing short of surreal. Le Jardin has a Lewis Carol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme so I could easily have fallen down the rabbit hole. Witnessing the sound of the slave bell toll and performer Jethro Louw aka Kerneels Persoon aka Tanneman ! Xam take stage rapping in the reclaimed language of ‘gam taal’ while the art makers themselves took to the dance floor, shifting the gaze right before our eyes. WM  

Photographer credit: (c) Thekiso Mokhele @obscure_studio


Petra Mason

Cultural historian and vintage photography book author published by Rizzoli New York. Founder Obscure Studio and ArtHit. Whitehot arts and culture contributor since 2016.

Photography by (c) Thekiso Mokhele / Obscure Studio


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