A multifaceted exhibition rooted in one of the most pressing challenges facing South Africa today – the support and empowerment of young creative artists – is currently being presented at the Absa art gallery.
Titled A Letter to My 22-year-old Self, the exhibition speaks to the moving personal story of Absa L’Atelier award winner Banele Khoza and his struggle to find his way as a young artist and financially support himself through his passion.
Khoza is acutely aware that he was not alone in his plight and that thousands of young South African artists faced the same challenge. As such, A Letter to My 22-year-old Self is a group exhibition, curated by Khoza and featuring the works of 34 artists who want to help him raise awareness of the difficulties faced by South Africa’s emerging artists.
The exhibition features both these artists’ works as well as letters to their own 22-year-old selves offering advice for the sometimes-difficult journey that lies ahead.
“I remember it so clearly, it was 2011 and I had no money,” Khoza explains. “There were days when I would go to sleep hungry and wake up hungry and go to school famished. That was if I could even afford the taxi fare.
“Because of my circumstances, I couldn’t concentrate on my school work. But I was ashamed of my situation and afraid to ask for help, so I didn’t tell anyone. As a result, I failed my first year.
“There I was, 22 years old, freshly graduated and with my qualification in hand. I’d made it. But now what? I did not know who to reach out to. Who would lead me in good faith in this industry?
“Again, I felt completely alone. A Letter to My 22-year-old Self is a response to the cry for help from young creatives who find themselves alone in their hour of need. It’s about not having the mere basics like food, transport and school fees, or essentials like art material that separate a pass from a fail.”
More than just using the exhibition to raise awareness of this situation, Khoza is using it to generate funds for students who find themselves in these challenging situations.
To this end, all the participating artists are friends in Khoza’s personal network who have generously donated their works to be sold, the proceeds of which will be put towards Khoza’s newly founded NGO, BKhz Foundation.
Directly aligned with the objectives of the exhibition and a tangible way to address the issues raised by the artists, the BKhz Foundation seeks to develop scholarships for creative students in need (not based on merit) and assist art students at university with registration fees, transport costs and art materials.
Khoza sees the foundation’s mandate growing to also include connecting creatives to mentors as part of a broader mentorship initiative, and funding master classes hosted at the foundation by industry icons, to be filmed and shared later as podcasts.
“It was only years later that I realised the full impact of my situation and the devastating effect it could have had on my career. I want to help where I can to make it easier for future creatives to overcome these challenges,” he said.
• The Absa gallery starts on Sunday and runs until January 25, 2019.