Question: why didn’t my mother take me to the gallery?
Question, did yours?
There’s a strange shadow hanging over the art world and creative industry in the eyes of those who raised us. Those of us who grew up with the ambitions of creation, in whatever medium we’ve chosen, can attest to the fact at hand: black families don’t understand the arts. And yes, this is exactly what this piece is about – the warped relationship black people have with art and its institutions.
In my view, a decolonized South Africa would mean, a domestic worker in Rosebank would spent her lunch break at the Goodman Gallery soaking up the knowledge provided by which ever artist would be currently exhibiting. This is a romanticized perspective because in a decolonized South Africa, would our grandmothers still be domestic workers in Rosebank?
But surely, you can see where I’m heading with this. There’s a heavy privilege tied to galleries around the country and a bad taste about art in our elders’ mouths. In the times of Apartheid, being an artist wasn’t that big of a deal since only a chosen few had the opportunity to be anything else but a nurse or a teacher. Art also served as a form of resistance against the Apartheid regime; some of the most prolific creative voices such as Miriam Makeba and Bra Willie (rest in peace Baba) were exiled for their abilities to ignite a fire in the hearts of the young. That is what art is, right? A ritual performed or exhibited that brings out emotion. There has always been danger to art, but it was also something anyone, in those days, could do. My mother, now sitting comfortably in her 40s, recently told me a story of how she wanted to be a maskandi dancer.
“You should’ve seen me out there, I could move ntwana,” She said to me once when I told her I wanted to be an artist, “We hear of these actors who die with no money to their names.” And yes, my mother occasionally calls me ntwana, especially when she feels like she’s about to school me on life.
And that’s the ticket, that has damaged the potential beautiful relationship between black parents and art. In this ‘new world’ where you can now pursue education in Medicines and Sciences freely, industries that are popularly known to be lucrative, it becomes confusing to a parent why their child wants to do i-art.
I’ve had the same type of conversations with my friends, who also have become the black sheeps in their households because of their artistic pursuits.
The solution to this, I truly believe, is accessibility. Opening up the doors to the institutions and ideas that are driving the artists, is absolutely imperative for creative culture to become a shaping figure in black society.
Art is a form of communication, speaking on post-colonial versions of life, from a Lelo What’s Good CUNTY MIX to a Bogosi Sekhukhuni, dissecting the notions of identity in the current state and that of what looks like a distanced future. There are black bodies claiming this form of energy, a historically ‘white space in white rooms’ industry. The digital realm has allowed the young to redefine what ‘art’ means for them; as the freest South Africans since before the events of 1652. Yet, for our grandmothers and fathers, this world is still further than ever and seems to not be for us. It is the reason why scepticism erupts when a child says they want to create.
The only way to reverse this thick negative perception is to bring the gallery culture to them, where they roam and exist. A white room towering the suburban streets of a Braamfontein or Melrose Arch can feel daunting and inaccessible. The gift to be able to enter, learn and observe is a grossly underestimated tool for social development, and more importantly, the healing of a people.
After the intense 300 years we’ve had, art is the only medicine that can truly bring us back to life. We need new voices, always. We need the children to want to continue these conversations and in order for that to be a reality, there has to be a force/movement to lead the young and the old to these important works in physical spaces – work created for them by people who look like them, in spaces they are comfortable in.
Written By: Negasi
Image By: Bogosi Sekhukhuni
‘Consciousness Engine 2: absentfatherbot’, 2014