As Zanele Muholi’s Somnyama Ngonyama Solo reaches a close, the staff at Stevenson are getting ready to put up their next exhibition, a self-titled solo show by Mawande Ka Zenzile, which opens on Februrary 4th, 2016. I am here in Braamfontien to meet up with the Galleries Associate Director Lerato Bereng to discuss her role as Associate Director and Curator. The Lesotho born curator talks me through her role and some of the other exhibitions she has curated and helped realize such as the National Arts Festival. Below is an insert of how the interview went, enjoy
Shots011: Who is Lerato Bereng?
LB: I am an associate Director at Stevenson. I’ve been working here for the past five years. After studying fine art at Rhodes University I moved to Cape Town for a young curators program hosted by Cape Africa Platform which was an institution that used to hold a biennial in Cape Town. So I have been in the art world since I graduated.
Shot011: Please tell us a bit about Stephenson, its history and your role as a curator and associate director?
LB: I pretty much do everything. There is no real hierarchy here. We realize exhibition, enter art fairs, and work with and manage artist careers I suppose. So my role is multi-faceted. It’s about seeing what’s out there, looking for interesting people and finding ways to engage with the African continent at large. It is about creatively understanding the socio-political aspect of the time we live in now and translate that into some kind of moment in a thought provoking space.
Shots011: You have also worked with several banks to realize and curate exhibitions, how did that come about?
LB: One of our artists won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award and because we are his gallery we were assisting him with installation of his exhibition. That was the extent to which I was involved there. I was also invited as a featured curator and curated several exhibitions as part of National Arts festival.
Barclays and L’Atelier invited me to be the National Adjudicator so I am doing that this year
Shots011: Your Masters at Rhodes focused on Language and the Accessibility of Art. Why did you choose that topic for your thesis?
LB: I suppose it has been an interesting thing to always have to try to communicate what I do to my parents and family, since I am originally from Lesotho. It came from a personal place where I’ve always found that Art Language is often over complicated and in a way serves as a gate-keeper. A lot of people are not drawn towards art because it is seen as elitist. That was the start for me and my investigation into Art and Language. It then turned into an Exhibition in Lesotho that was about accessibility and creating conversation with non-art audiences.
Shots011: How big of an impact has the internet and digital media played in changing the conversation on Accessibility?
LB: My interest only began after the internet did. It was really not about accessibility on the ability to see exhibition and information, which is definitely an important field. However, for me it is about engagement and what art does in creating a space for conversations. I am also interested in accessibility in relation to the people that should be having the conversations. For me it is about the conversations that art as could inspire, as opposed to its digital presence.
I think the internet is an excellent vehicle. It allows us windows into so many worlds; as a result we are exposed to things we would not be exposed to if it wasn’t for the internet. However you are surfing the internet by yourself, you are not having a conversation with other people.
Shots011: Looking at the online market, could we see a transitioning from Stevenson Gallery to an online-selling platform too?
LB: No, no. In as much as we are a commercial art gallery, we are also about focusing on the conceptual and the idea of experiencing a body of work as an exhibition. We do exhibitions; we do not hang art to sell. It is really about the actual work and as a result we are able to sell. It is because we believe in it and people that see it are often drawn to it because it’s a good, solid and thought body of work.
However, there are ways a couple of galleries are able to accomplish that through websites like Artsy.
Shots011: Does the gallery have a certain aesthetic or themes that they search for with regard to the artists they represent?
LB: Yes. Our focus is on contemporary African art, contemporary art from people who have a relationship with the continent. We don’t exclusively work with people who are born in Africa, we work with a lot of people in the Diaspora. We have artists that spend some time and are influenced by being here and they might not be African.
We are very interested in art that challenges things, and thinks through a lot of things. We enjoy being challenged and sharing this challenge with the society at large. .
Shots011: Which artist do you believe represents the South Africa Aesthetic?
I do not think there is such a thing as the South African aesthetic, so nobody.
Shots011: How do South African Photographers perform when compared to their global counterparts?
That’s a difficult question. It depends on the kind of artists. The spaces we are comparing, what kind of level of artist. I think I could not isolate photography from other arts. I think South African art is doing well on the international market.
We do the Paris Photo at the end of every year and last year we took Zanele Muholi’s and Vivian Sassen’s works and they did fantastically well, overwhelmingly so. So it does well
These 10 questions originally came from a French series, “Bouillon des Culture” hosted by Bernard Pivot. They’re better known as the questions that James Lipton asks every guest at the end of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”. Their addition to this questionnaire is to get to know a bit more about Lerato the person, instead of the curator, a bit more about Lerato outside of the art world.
What is your favourite word?
The word: WORD. I really enjoy language and words, and its nuances. The kind of miscommunication that can happen with the incorrect use of words. Just capturing things that sometimes transcends words. So the word: WORD.
What is your least favourite word?
I don’t have a least favourite word.
What turns you on creatively?
Interesting things, I like to be challenged. I like to learn things I never knew.
What turns you off?
Boring things that are not engaging, things that are purely aesthetic, that just have a formal value and nothing more than the visual.
What is your favourite curse word?
NO, I don’t have one.
What sound or noise do you love?
What sound or noise do you hate?
Music, there is music I love and Music I hate.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I would’ve been a writer.
What profession would you not like to do?
I am pretty much open-minded to those things. There are some things that I could not do, but I don’t hate it. It’s very broad. I really don’t know.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
I have no answer to that question at all.