The Future of Curating in Africa….

INSPIRATIONAL, empowering and enlightening! Those are some of the words used to describe the four-day Curatorial Forum and Workshop that took place in Bulawayo from the February 25-28.

The event was organised by the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in partnership with the National Museum and Monuments and sponsored by the British Council.

This platform engaged 20 participants working in a diverse range of art and museum organisations from various parts of the country, as well as one South African participant.
Internationally acclaimed guest curators were flown in to our City of Kings to engage with these emerging young professionals.

These curators included Tessa Jackson, chief executive officer of Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts), London; Jimmy Ogonga, curator and project owner of the Nairobi Arts Trust/Centre for Contemporary Art of East Africa, Kenya; Suzana Sousa, curator of the Luanda Triennial, Angola; Thembinkosi Goniwe, independent curator and art historian, Vaal University of Technology/curator of the South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and Candice O’Brien independent curator from Cape Town, South Africa.

Local facilitators and presenters included Doreen Sibanda, executive director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe; Raphael Chikukwa, chief curator and deputy director of NGZ; Voti Thebe, regional director of NGZ in Bulawayo; Lilian Chaonwa, conservation and collections manager of NGZ; Clifford Zulu, curator of NGZ in Bulawayo; and Dr Moira Fitzpatrick, regional director of the Natural History Museum

The purpose of this event was to create a firm foundation on which emerging curators could build strong African centred curatorial practices.
In the past 27 years, the role of a curator has dramatically shifted from simply being a keeper of a collection of art works.

Today, a curator is a cultural activist, one who tells a story by highlighting relevant concepts using objects, or in the words of Raphael Chikukwa, “a curator is simply a visual deejay”.

The role of a curator encompasses several aspects outside of realising exhibitions. This is because curators build networks, collaborate, fundraise and educate. In recent times it has become shockingly apparent that there is a concerning void in curatorial work within the continent.

This may be caused by gaps within educational systems or lack of sufficient exposure to museums and contemporary art spaces.
As a result there are more curatorial forums about African art that occur outside the continent than there are within the continent.

If curating is about storytelling, then it means that those outside of Africa are telling the African story, when Africans should have more ownership of their own stories.
Strategically themed, “New Ideas and New Possibilities”, this forum and workshop was truly ground breaking as it was the first of its kind in Southern Africa.

It proved that important curatorial discourse can occur in the region and that it is never too late to develop ideas and install skill sets in young professionals.
Various topics were presented in order to challenge the participants and deliberate on possible solutions that affect the practice on the continent.

Biennales are said to be important spaces of knowledge production. Issues pertaining to biennales in Africa brought about debates about whether or not Africa has the capacity to host successful biennales. If it does, why were the biennales in South Africa and Zimbabwe discontinued? Some argued that the biennale maybe a European model that cannot be implemented in Africa, while others suggested that more funding and collaboration is needed to make such momentous events effective.

Practical information about how to drive a curatorial vision and engage new audiences was obtained.
Plans regarding synergies between scientific/historical museums and contemporary art institutions were made. The importance of documentation through publications and journals was raised.

Often professionals in this field have little to refer back to because of failure to adequately document exhibitions, artists and artefacts.
Drafting of curatorial concepts, conservation of artwork and skills needed to approach key institutions were also discussed. The participants were introduced to new ideas such as online curating and ways that social media can promote gallery or museum programming.

Bulawayo was indeed the best location to host this forum and workshop as participants were able to tour Cyrene Mission and attend the opening of the Remembering Pachipamwe Exhibition.

The mission school was founded by Scottish-born Reverend Canon Patterson in 1940.
His emphasis on visual art in the school curriculum helped to equip many internationally acclaimed black Zimbabwean artists pre 1980.

Cyrene Mission is named after Simon of Cyrene, a historical African figure who was tasked to carry Christ’s cross. Frescoes depicting black mythical and biblical characters adorn the walls of the Cyrene Chapel, which still stands.

It was important for the participants to tour the school to create a better understanding of the impact that art education can have on a society.
In a similar vein, the works in the exhibition were the product of the Pachipamwe Workshop that had taken place in 1992 in Bulawayo. Having these works displayed exposed the young professionals to the possibilities that can occur when there is effective networking and collaboration within their practices.

All presenters, facilitators and participants agree that this Curatorial Forum and Workshop needs to evolve into an annual event since it had such a tremendous impact.Currently, documentation of the event is being compiled by the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and will appear in one of their publications this year. Thank you British Council, National Gallery of Zimbabwe and National Museums and Monuments for making this platform an enormous success.

I wrote this and itCuratorial Forum in Bulawayo IMG_7299 was published by the Herald here:

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