The word ‘curate’ come from the Medieval Latin’s curatus meaning ‘care’ or ‘to take care of’, with a reference to the spiritual. This etymological context conjures a more nuanced understanding of the curatorial role in the art space. Considering that art often makes a direct call to emotional or spiritual states, the evolution of curatus to curate speaks to the larger positioning of art in our minds.
The work of Khumo Sebambo, an emerging curator, can be viewed as a great-great-grandchild of this idea of curating being connected to care. Starting out as a writer Sebambo covered content related to art and design in Africa. However, after moving back to Johannesburg from Cape Town she was faced with the challenge that most writers face – finding work. Fuelled by a passion to serve artists and represent their work justly, she transferred her skills into the space of commercial galleries. ‘I started at HAZARD Gallery in Maboneng and after a year working there, I was given the opportunity to curate a show. It was called YOUNG NOW and loosely focused on the status, perception and representation of young people in contemporary society through the artists’ experiences – past or present. The exhibition features artists such as Troy Makaza, Thuli Gamedze and Bonolo Kavula. That was the beginning!’
Text still serves as a fundamental pillar in the structure that defines Sebambo’s work, taking into account that different spaces require different levels of textual engagement. This care for context and audience is evidenced by the simple pamphlet produced for her latest show ‘Conversations in Texture’ at Berman Contemporary versus the more involved editing of the magazine for ‘NOT A SINGLE STORY’, the 2018 Winter Sculpture Exhibition at Nirox. By emphasising the written text that accompanies a show, Sebambo demonstrates her recognition of the part this plays in connecting artists, curators, spaces and audiences.
In addition to marrying curatorial strategies with textual engagements, Sebambo is also positioning herself as a curator guided by collaboration: ‘I like to get to know the artists and join forces with them. I like to work with artists I can learn from and ultimately I’d like to use these collaborations to create shows that appeal to different segments of society.’ ‘Conversations in Texture’ draws on this method. The connection to curation and care-giving, and Sebambo’s understanding of her role as a link between artists, galleries and audiences is felt throughout the exhibition. Selecting mostly female artists with varying levels of experience as professional artists, Sebambo’s curatorial hand has woven together a visually stimulating tapestry of works that tap into political and historical explorations of fabric. The work of Zyma Amien, Odette Graskie, Bev Butkow, Sarah Grace, Lizette Chirrime, Kresiah Mukwazhi, Mark Rautenbach and Lebapalo Tsiki are represented as conversation points on their own and collectively threaded as a larger dialogue on the social currency of textiles.
Reflecting on her role as curatorial assistant for ‘NOT A SINGLE STORY’, Khumo highlights the experience as one that has helped to elevate and open up her view on what a curatorial practice entails. The cross-continental, cross-cultural collaboration between Wanås Konst in Sweden and NIROX Sculpture Park demanded quick learning about the finer working about creating an outdoor exhibition, presenting an opportunity for skills growth beyond creative input. ‘The NIROX Foundation has a prominent residency so I regularly met and spoke to artists from around the world – our conversations and their practice definitely gave me a different perspective on my role as a curator and cultural practitioner. An important aspect of the exhibition was an arts pedagogy program, this was memorable because it challenged me to think of myself as a teacher and rewardingly it allowed me to have engagements with children and youth over contemporary art,’ Khumo explains.
Khumo continues to add to her curatorial toolbox. In September she will be curating a photographic exhibition at Through the Lens Collective in Victoria Yards. The exhibition will focus on photographs taken by filmmakers and will examine the intersection between cinema and photography and highlight the connections and tensions between the two mediums.
With the curatorial space becoming populated with young aspiring curators, there are new methodologies for the presentation and contemplation of art in South Africa. Khumo’s work is a representation of this brewing energy and re-definition of care in the curation.