“Most of the work is not glamorous, however it provides great insight into the profession of curating.” These are the words of Thembakazi Matroshe, describing the journey to her curating enterprise. Here, she shares her path to becoming a sought-after independent art curator.
In the male-dominated industry known as “the art world”, Thembi has found her niche and is relentlessly pushing her venture, Creative Curations (Pty) Ltd – as well as her accompanying brand @Thembi.Matroshe, @CuratedbyThembi and #ArtofDining. “I work with African curators, artists, art spaces and non-gallery spaces such as restaurants,” says the Girl Boss.
She chats to Modern Living Magazine about the local art scene… and the artists to watch
“I am a Johannesburg-based independent art curator, art advisor and art project co-ordinator who is passionate about uplifting and empowering marginalised groups in society; particularly black, queer, femme and gender non-binary individuals. I was born in Mthatha, and pursued my tertiary studies at the University of Cape Town – a BA English Literature and Art History Honours Curatorship. I am currently a Masters candidate in Heritage and Public Culture at the University of the Witswatersrand.
“I have always had a keen interest in the arts. From a young age I enjoyed drawing, painting and sculpting. I took visual art as a subject in high school and was encouraged by my high school teacher to take Art History in university. It was only later in my university career that I was introduced to art curating, and the myriad other opportunities within the art world.
“After studying my Honours in curatorship I did not want to wait around for a job, given the high levels of unemployment in South Africa. I began working on independent projects within a curatorial collective as well as small exhibitions outside of the traditional ‘white cube’ or gallery space. In 2019 I founded Art of Dining – an event that would intersect fine dining and fine art, to allow young and aspiring collectors with the opportunity to learn about and purchase the works of local, emerging artists. This then grew into a larger art dealing and consulting business that became a platform for emerging artists to sell their work, as well as to enable aspiring art collectors to build their personal collections.
“I love the local art scene because it is so layered and heterogeneous. There is a lot of diversity in aesthetics, themes and subject matter explored. I also really love how South African artists place emphasis on collaboration, so the work is always complex and nuanced and conveys non-linear narratives.”
These are the artists to watch:
Yolanda Mazwana, Yonela Makoba, Zandile Tshabalala, Cow Mash, Selloane Moeti. “All of these artists work within and across mediums such as painting, sculpture, photography, video. They are all black women who have been highlighted as promising artists to look out for. When I advise people on their personal collections I always say that their purchases must align with their taste, interests and politics. These picks are slightly biased because they cater to my particular interests and aesthetic sensibility.”
Being able to provide a sustainable and growing platform for upcoming artists is the core of Creative Curations. The business model is one which is collaborative, promoting multicultural and contemporary engagement among Thembakazi’s industry compadres. It seeks to build a greater understanding, for the everyday person, of the role which curators and visual artists play in the industry and in society. On a more practical level, Creative Curations is a platform for emerging artists to sell their work, “as well as enabling aspiring art collectors to build their personal collections,” says Thembi.
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Advice to art graduates keen on becoming an art curator
When asked to give tips on how aspiring curators can break into the industry, Thembi says: “Curating doesn’t have a prescribed route that guarantees your success.” But… she does give four foolproof strategies that can go a long way. According to Thembi, having the right amount of “exposure, access, education and information” places you at a major advantage.
Our Girl Boss holds a BA Hons in Curatorship from the Michaelis School of Fine Arts and her BA majors are in Art History, English Literature, and Media and Writing. She recommends studying Visual Art and History in high school, to which she attributes her initial passion. “Get a degree in the Humanities with a focus in Art History or Fine Art and look at curatorial courses for your post-graduate studies,” says Thembi, as she delves deeper into the foundations for her growing success.
Saying that, while a qualification is advantageous, it doesn’t necessarily spell success. “The major thing is having a keen interest in attending exhibitions and festivals, interacting with other artists and curators, [and] starting a blog or social media platform where you can post reviews on local shows,” she explains.
How to break into the industry
Breaking into the industry is made easier by a range of local internships offered by galleries and museums. Newcomers, she explains, will usually start off as gallery or curatorial assistants. So, what does a curator’s assistant do?
– Managing social media
– Assisting with event or exhibitions
– Stock intake and returns
– Building relationships with clients
– Mounting and installing art pieces
– Gallery walkabouts and tours
These are some of the duties Thembi outlines as valuable experience for young curators.
Internships usually run on six- to 12-month learnership. When it comes to funding and employment, Thembi advises young curators to explore opportunities from the Visual Arts Network South Africa or VANSA. “There are also a number of art editorials and magazines such as Art Throb, In Your Pocket, Art Times to name a few.” Thembi also hosts an online platform – @CuratedbyThembi – which helps to create a space for artists, curators and the like to stay informed and connect with one another.
So what keeps this art boss babe motivated?
Thembi is most passionate about working with and uplifting young and upcoming artists. Her mission is to provide recognition for independent curators, as well as “teaching black audiences about investing in and collecting art.” She is proud and passionate about the community of black artistry she’s worked herself into. She keeps pushing her brand, and hopes to inspire other black artists to claim their space in the art world.
Women in art
The art world boasts many skilled, sufficiently qualified and capable women. But they are “somehow not granted the same faith and opportunities that men with less capabilities receive”. Another challenge Thembi mentions is the ageing tendency of the industry. To remedy the lack of inclusion, she advises young individuals in art to assert themselves and grow through hard work.
What book should every young woman read?
“There are so many!” she cries. Among her top picks, Thembi recommends Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes; We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang. She also enjoyed reading Kopano Matlwa’s Coconut and A Guide to Sexual Health & Pleasure by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng.
This young entrepreneur has built her brand on social media. When she needs to take a break from her work and the online buzz, you’ll find her at home. “I enjoy cooking new recipes, watching TV and being alone at home,” she tells us. She also enjoys shopping for homeware and clothing. And when she’s feeling extra, a trip to the spa, for a facial and massage, is the cherry on top.
How to stay confident in the art industry
Our Girl Boss is no stranger to imposter syndrome and says it often creeps up when she regards her youth. “The art world is saturated with older people,” she says. She keeps herself motivated and unmoved by realising the value of doing the work. “The fruits of that [hard work] mature over time, and there [are] no quick fixes,” she says. As with any other industry, things often take time to mature.
She says there aren’t a lot of dominant black women in the industry and she hopes to change that. “I’ve learnt that I deserve to be where I am and to be seated at those tables,” she says. We love her energy and are super-inspired by a young woman with so much power. “Sometimes I might forget, and need to affirm myself daily,” she concludes.
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