Banele Khoza: Changing The Carbon Of South African Art

Mamaili Mamaila

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BKhz Gallery A Safe Haven For Artists Of Colour

BKhz Gallery A Safe Haven For Artists Of Colour

“We all have a space somewhere. It is just about finding the right relations because there are people who are willing to take you on. The more relations you pick up on, the more people will allow you into the scene”, says eSwatini-born Banele Khoza.

Now based in South Africa, the art enthusiast delves deeper into his creative journey following the establishment of BKhz – a contemporary art studio affectionately named after his alias.

We meet on a rainy afternoon at his comfy loft-like base in Braamfontein, which is nothing short of a sight for sore eyes. Displayed around the studio, are images of artworks by local names. Having just concluded an interview with one of South Africa’s leading glossy print publications, I continue to look around the gallery while he takes a moment to recalibrate.

Banele, who is no stranger to mainstream art competitions – many of which he has gone on to win – most notably took part in SABC3’s interior decorating ‘Win A Home’ reality show as one half of Team House And Leisure.

“It took me a really long time to get to the point where I won major competitions so I realised that it was not about winning, but it was about the journey and continuing to push harder. With a lot of artists, if they do not win, it is almost like they are not valid as artists. I have long since made the realisation that my work is actually valid,” he enthuses.

Describing himself as an underdog, Banele states that with the level of exposure that many of these competitions have, it is easy to find yourself drowning from being in the spotlight. “I do not think that competitions make your work any better but they give you confidence. The pressure to perform is high but I am able to re-centre and find myself within everything, and it has helped in terms of affirmation from collectors and the public as they really started grabbing into my message,” he adds.

Industry And Art
At the time of our interview, the gallery owner had just returned from a work trip in Paris – a city which he describes as a dream – for an art fair. Having been in the city of love prior to that for a three-month residency, Banele noted how, even with the high cost of living, artists living there are still able to run their businesses. This ultimately influenced him to open up his space.

“I think I just gained the confidence and took a leap of faith because there was no point in delaying. The whole idea was to delve in deep and introspect. It gave me a lot of courage and since then I am no longer afraid to take risks. That reflection sometimes comes easily but that is not the case for everyone,” he says.

This is further illustrated in his work, with love as its central and overall thematic sequence. He adds that, “it is that risk that we speak about in our subjects. Right now the series I am curating, called, ‘a letter to my twenty-two-year-old self,’ about love which is also my daily topic, although some people never speak about such subjects. Not every creative is open to sensitivity as it could seem a bit shameful when revealed. However, I speak easily online about things like rejection, for example, as those are important topics to tackle.”

While travelling, Banele highlights that the road can sometimes be lonely when working in a foreign country. This is not made easier by the social media wave, especially with the perceptions that ordinary onlookers may have – that it is all a walk in the park.

“At some point I found myself crying in trains. I have literally had two breakdowns while I was in Paris and I think that it is important to reveal the true side of things. However, I have been lucky because I do have friends and a community that side and I have always created a space for myself wherever I go. Even when I make reservations somewhere, I try to go for something that resembles home,” he says.

BKhz, as a new voice in the industry has been operational for less than a year but it has managed to be a much needed space for a lot of upcoming artists. Hot on the heels of the controversial, “open up the industry,” chat on the creative field, it is more than just another structure. According to Banele, it represents a body of many bright ideas from outside. A young boy who does not look a day over sixteen years-old walks into the gallery and he is met by Banele’s smile. His nod gives him the approval he needs to comfortably take his place on one of the couches and begin sketching in his sketchbook.

“We have had great media attention with interest in all the artists who are showing here. There are a number of artists of colour and it is important to me that they have this space. A significant number of the artists who are here did not have a space elsewhere before this gallery so it is important that they have this platform. I am always trying to bring in as many artists as I can wherever I go,” says Banele.

Pushing boundaries in the creative scene comes almost as second nature most times as it is such a small space. Also owing to its exclusivity, you will often find the same cliques running the arts scene across the board. This is how Banele, who now mainly operates in Johannesburg managed to transition from the more closed up city of Tshwane where he completed his education and got his foot in the door.

This is now heightened by the fact that he also runs BKhz which, as expected, comes with its fair share of challenges. “I experience a lot of anxiety but it is important to be in the present and absorb what is currently happening. I do not like to worry too much about the future because I don’t really know what might happen,” he adds.

A major highlight for him is seeing people that he has looked up to give him a much-deserved pat on the shoulder – validation, of sorts. “I do not necessarily think that it was something I was seeking but for them to actually give me their nod of approval and let me know that I am doing well is amazing. These are the artists that I look up to, who are in their 40’s, and them walking into this space and admiring my courage is great. I also have been surprised by artists who agree to work with me in this space because when I started it was just to fulfil a passion. With one show we easily had more than 150 people coming in and their presence and support was really incredible – not to mention the general support of the entire arts community.

BKhz gallery is located at 68 Juta Street in Braamfontein and is open on weekdays between 10h00 and 17h00, and from 10h00 to 15h00 on Saturdays.

Images By: Tshepiso Sibeko