A practice prioritising trust, reciprocity, and sociability
with Banele Khoza
Following a two-year period of reclusion, respite, residencies and artistic altruism, on home soil, the artist is marking his return with an exhibition titled How are you doing? A question often asked and answered with neglect, this week’s Re:View asks whether the attachment of visual cues gives it weight.
“My work is very personal. It’s very much about the baggage. It feels like you can’t air that out and hold a directorial position. For a while I tried to be so clean and then I realised that I don’t have to be,” he says, admitting to the tension that comes with moving between being a full-time artist and director for a gallery.
To study secure, anxious, avoidant and disorganised attachments, Banele Khoza paints figurations that gush out emotion. Uninhibited, the figures clumsily bleed into their surroundings in spite of the borders meant to hold them in; materialising the chaos that is connecting. Although referencing the artist’s personal encounters, his ever-growing document of inevitable social spills mirrors us all. Summing this up, the artist once said, “I’ve always been interested in how people relate to me, to each other and the spaces that they occupy.”
“I feel like this place is coming for my heart because of how subtle, safe and still it has been for me,” says Banele Khoza in a video documenting his time in Mpumalanga on an artist’s residency with The Artists’ Press. His fifth year working with the printing house, the residency comes after what he calls an artistic block where he didn’t have the space to be vulnerable.
Lasting two weeks, the residency sharpened the artist’s ability to persist in moments when his loss of a loved one interrupted his willingness to make. “It feels like the first time since 2020 where I have been able to come back to myself and try create from an honest place,” he goes on.
A portrait of Khoza’s cultural counsel, How are you doing? presents Kwanele Kunene, Oratile Papi Konopi, Mankebe Seakgoe, Fransesco Mbele, Rabele Mokone, Earl Abrahams, Nicole Siegenthale, Yusuf Essop and Lebo Kekana as they would be in Khoza’s studio. Friends and colleagues to the artist, the faces will be familiar to audiences who spend time engaging with BKhz and South Africa’s contemporary art landscape as a whole.
With output often being at the centre of people’s intrinsic value, the position our peers take is easily informed by what we can buy, learn from, and be entertained by. Under these sets of rules, people perceive each other based on their potential as a resource. With ease, people are reduced to brands that work to be worthy of their audience’s attention, endorsements, public affirmations, time and money. Thriving for what he refers to as “love without work” Khoza agrees when he says, “I think very often as humans we don’t have that. There has to be work, there has to be an impression that you give. Work schedules don’t give us that space.” Fixated on output, our product potential is more of a focus than our humanity. Yet we still ask, “How are you doing?” A fleeting question, ticking the box of cordial interaction, the question is synonymous with surface level (or even extractive) interactions. An opportunity to perceive the circle surrounding Khoza from his position of proximity, while challenging the norm of automated interaction, the exhibition’s function is a double-edged sword.
Removing the veil between Khoza and the audience, the exhibition offers insight into the intricacies and narratives that inform the artist’s figurations and his practice as a whole.
“Sometimes you can be lost in the service of other people. You put their needs ahead of yours. I think that can sometimes cloud you from yourself. You almost lost sight of self. I think that is what had been happening the last couple of years. There’s stuff I wanted to do but didn’t.” Encapsulated in the work It’s time to see yourself again, the exhibition as a whole invites the people (mostly the BKhz team) involved in realising the dreams of others to also pause and look at themselves with as much intensity and care as they afford those around them.