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Photograph by Andy Mkosi

In Bloom // Not just another white cube exhibition

In Bloom is Ja.’s first exhibition held at the KZNSA Gallery. The exhibition features 11 South African artists but what differentiates it from the traditional exhibition is that each featured artist’s work received a personalized backdrop. I spoke to the curators for the exhibition, Niamh Walsh-Vorster, Youlendree Appasamy and Dave Mann to find out more about the featured artists, their curatorial strategy for the exhibition as well as the work on display

The team tells me that the exhibition came about after their launch of their free studio and workshop space within The Green Camp Gallery. After this launch, they joked about doing an exhibition that became a serious goal for them and was met with the generous sharing of space and resources provided by the KZNSA gallery. They continue to tell me that they decided to pursue the idea to have their first exhibition, as they wanted to move from an URL space to an irl space.

Expressing that there is no overarching concept for the exhibition the team explains that the works featured celebrate a variety of art forms such as poetry, short stories, paintings, illustrations, films, photography, and graffiti. Having read the artists’ statements, however, I feel like there is a definite link to artists creating work that speak about topics such as sexism, identity as well as mental health.

‘Fantasma’ by Hannah Shone

This is illustrated for example when looking at the artist’s statement by Nosipho Nxele where she explains her work ‘Shared Greatness’ as follows, “The greatest threat to women and by extension humanity is the growth and acceptance of male chauvinistic, illiberal and brutal culture of hawkishness. This system then requires that women raise up their voices to empower themselves and those without any voice to fight against society’s systems that belittle women. Meaning we are greater together than apart. My inspiration [for the piece] was drawn from the great saying of Pakistani activist for female education, Malala Yousafzai: ‘I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back’. The illustration embodies the spirit and passion of Mahala.” This statement speaks not only of sexism but feminine identity as well as solidarity among women.

The team tell me that the title of the exhibition ‘In Bloom’ was chosen as the artists’ work in the exhibition represents an exploration and engagement with one’s identity. “Coming into bloom is a difficult act but the bloom itself is a beautiful thing. Even though some of the work unpacks uncomfortable themes it’s through the experiences of young artists who are finding imaginative ways of expression.” The title is also a reflection of the opening during spring, a time that flowers are in bloom.

Artists for the exhibition were selected by medium and geographic region as an attempt to showcase work that was as far reaching as possible by means of concept and geographical location of the artists.

‘Blazers’ by Shalom Mushwana

When asked about the curatorial strategy that was followed for this exhibition they explain that the exhibition features both written and visual work and expresses that finding a way to situate literature within a conventionally visual space was a fun challenge for them. They continue to explain that written works were incorporated in the form of postcards, small zines, a poem draped down a stairway entrance of the Mezzanine and film-based work created by the guest visual editor, Mandisa Buthelezi.

Focussing on various points of entry and layouts for visual works they experimented with placement for the works that fell under this category. With the help of graffiti artist, Kev Sevin backdrops were painted for each artist’s work allowing them to come into their own as distinct clusters the team expresses. This strategy alone lends a different element to the ‘In Bloom’ exhibition and aids in tying the work rather seamlessly.

The team express their hopes for ‘In Bloom’ as follows, “We hope that it contributes to the careers of the artists involved, as well as inspires more artists to create new work. And also, to show that it’s possible to pull off an exhibition on a shoestring budget that’s successful and engaging without the usual white cube nonsense.”

‘In Bloom’ opened on the 26 September ran up until the 15 October in the Mezzanine space at the KZNSA gallery in Durban. Featured artists included Robyn Perros, Hannah Shone, Nosipho Nxele, Shalom Mushwana, Dani O’Neill, Andy Mkosi, Maya Surya Pillay, Werner Goss-Ross, Kev Sevin and Julie Nxadi with a visual adaptation of ‘This is Not a Sad Story’.

‘Rat Dog’ and ‘Existential Zebra’ by Werner Goss-Ross

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