Opening address for the 2022 Creative Academy Graduation Ceremony by Khanyisile Mbongwa
“Art and design are visual languages that allow us to see the world in different hues – that allows us to imagine a world, to suggest a world, to a heal world, to make a world”
Khanyisile’s ist of accomplishments and accolades are too expansive to list here, but some of the highlights include:
Khanyisile Mbongwa is a Cape Town-based independent curator, award-winning artist and sociologies who engages with her curatorial practice as Curing & Care. Thus using creativity to instigate spaces for emancipatory practices, joy and play.
Mbongwa’s list of accomplishments, accolades and experience is rich and expansive. Some select highlights include being the Chief Curator of the Stellenbosch Triennale 2020, working with the Norval Foundation as the adjunct curator for performative practices and recently being appointed as the Curator for the Liverpool Biennial 2023.
Mbongwa is the curator of Puncture Points, founding member and curator of Twenty Journey and former Executive Director of Handspring Trust Puppets. She’s one of the founding members of the arts collective Gugulective, Vasiki Creative Citizens and the WOC poetry collective Rioters In Session. Mbongwa was a Mellon Foundation Fellow at the Institute of Creative Arts at UCT, where she completed her Master’s in Interdisciplinary Arts, Public Art and Public Sphere.
In 2012, together with the late Unathi Sigenu, Mbongwa won the MTN New Contemporary Award, and in 2014 she won the Africa Centre – Artist In Residency Laureate and took up residency at JIWAR in Spain in 2015. Mbongwa was the Special Guest at Liste Art Fair Basel in 2015 and in 2018 she took up a curatorial research residency at CAT Cologne, Germany focusing on the public sphere, interventions and public policies.
Mbongwa has been a guest lecturer at the Cape Town Creative Academy, UCT (University of Cape Town), DUT (Durban University of Technology), University of Zurich, University of Basel and Rhodes University.
“learn to do the mundane, everyday, boring admin stuff to be able to understand how to do the big, bold, visible things”
Here you are, at the precipice of your lives ahead – not to say you have not lived yet. But there will be many lives and living, some will be extraordinary successes but some will be epic failures – be present and grounded for all of it.
Because I wish somebody would have told me that, that to be great you also need to be so ordinary – that you are two sides of the same coin. Both light and shadow – spend time knowing both sides.
So, what can I really say to students who fortified their degrees during a pandemic? You have had to learn how to shape shift, to move between space time dynamics, to imagine and create when the world was on fire and deep panic, this is who you are – remember that! and use the skills you learned during that time to make sense of yourself, of your practice, of your politics, of your positionality and the kind of world you want to create.
There isn’t a time where creative practices did not hold the world, it either suspends it in its own illusions, or mirror its own visions, or push it towards revolt and revolutions, or question it into a halt, or imagine it into its future – that the power of creativity. Think Lionel Smith to Tracey Rose, Gladys Mgudlandlu to Kemang wa Hulere, William Kentridge to Ronald Muchatuta, Goerge Pemba to Lhola Amira… I could go on – in design: think Olalekan Jeyifous (Nigeria), Sindiso Nyoni, Aldo Pulella, Jeff manning (USA), William Santiago (Brazil) all draw from the African context to imagine and make.
And so, the African perspective and aesthetic is important in how we negotiate ourselves in the global world – in not only how we choose to tell our stories but also – how we hold them as spaces and traces of wisdom, knowledge, lineage, intellect and becoming. Because of our complex and nuanced history of violence, racism, gender/sexuality oppression and various forms of subjugation and inequality that finds its ways within our current society you not only have a responsibility to yourselves but also to your ancestors to use your creative gift as a marker towards transformation, as a tool towards emancipation, as a moment where we can all gather – for all the wounds, all the healing needed and a future that accepts all of us as we come and as we are.
And you, all of you here – have that seed but also the technical skill to execute. Art and design are visual languages that allow us to see the world in different hues – that allows us to imagine a world, to suggest a world, to a heal world, to make a world (or at least a version of it lol). What I am trying to say here is that I believe you have the ability because of both your gift of the creative and your technical skills. Then add the salt of theory and the pepper of life experiences – you are truly at the precipice of what you can truly become.
And I have walked this journey as well, (but I have never attended any of my graduations so this is slightly weird but also an honour – lol) and I am still on it! As an independent curator, it’s been a hell of a ride. I have had to create space where there wasn’t any. I had to be brave enough to own the narratives that my soul yearned towards even at a time where they were not fashionable or the in-thing. I had to learn to do the mundane, everyday, boring admin stuff to be able to understand how to do the big, bold, visible things. I had to invest in myself and my visions and I realised very soon in my journey that no-one is coming to create the path towards where I need to go, so I will forge and everyone else will find me on my way should they choose to. But this does not mean I became me all by myself – I had to recognize the people soldiering with me like my ancestors, my mother, my sibling, my community (very small but they exist). We all need people, please remember that – one hand washes the other type of thing.
It is important to also build relationships within the industry you are working towards – because relating is a human element that is vital to creative practices. When you think about how to sustain your practice – the first thing is to be aware and understand your strengths and shortcomings, because this helps how you position yourself. My most valuable lesson in my journey: Trust Your Intuition, because no matter where it leads you – it knows how to lead you out.
CONGRATS for making this moment into your story and journey, I hope you keep pouring into yourself so that you can imagine and manifest the work you want to do and the world you want to live in.
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