Recognizing that there are few opportunities for emerging professionals to receive practical training and guidance, and reflecting the potential for building a pan-African curatorial network, the Curatorial Intensive in Johannesburg, the first Intensive produced in Africa, was developed by ICI in collaboration with The Bag Factory Artists’ Studio. The program was targeted toward self-motivated individuals—working independently or in institutions in Africa—who would benefit from a week of intensive conversations around the issues and questions that regularly arise for curators. The decision behind organizing this intensive recognize the importance of creating a platform for dialogue that will evolve into a network for collaboration and exchange among emerging and mid-career curators.
The selected 11 participants came from 6 different African countries (Mali, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe, and Uganda), and there were 2 auditors from South Africa and Belgium. There were 4 male and 7 female participants, whose ages ranged from 26 to 50, which shows the program was attractive both for people at beginning stages of their career as well as to curators with broader experience.
The Intensive, Contemporary Curatorial Practice, took place in Johannesburg March 7-12, 2013. It examined the pragmatics of organizing exhibitions, while addressing the specificities of curating in the African context. The program considered experimental approaches to exhibition-making and other curatorial forms, as well as new ways of working within institutions. Speakers were strategically selected based on their knowledge and expertise, and also for the focus they could bring to the program. The criteria for the selection of speakers emphasized professionals working in Africa that are building infrastructure and promoting both a local and international dialogue, as well as two speakers that provided a global south perspective.
An international roster of speakers was invited to lead the seminars, site visits, individual meetings, and roundtable discussions. Speakers and faculty included: ICI staff María del Carmen Carrión (Associate Director of Public Programs & Research) and Renaud Proch (Executive Director), as well as Zdenka Badovinac (Director of Moderna Galerija/Museum of Modern Art, Ljubliana), Koyo Kouoh (Artistic Director of RAW MATERIAL COMPANY, Dakar), Riason Naidoo, (Director of South African National Gallery, Cape Town), Gabi Ngcobo (Creative Director of the Center for Historical Reenactments, Johannesburg), Michelle Marxuach (Co-Director of Beta-Local, Puerto Rico), Didier Schaub (Co-founder of Doual'art, Douala), Zen Marie (Artist, curator, and manager of The Substation, Johannesburg), Nontobeko Ntombela (independent curator, Johannesburg), Kelly Gillespie (Co-Founder Johannesburg Workshop of Art and Theory, Johannesburg), and Sara Hallatt (Director of The Bag Factory Artists’ Studios, Johannesburg).
The week-long course focused on exhibition development—from building working relationships with artists to the theoretical aspects of understanding how to turn a concept into a project—and explored key curatorial strategies for working in a range of exhibition spaces. Each day of the Curatorial Intensive, participants convened as a group for workshop seminars led by the invited professionals who addressed critical topics in curatorial practice. These included the specific issues of curating in the African context, curating in the public sphere, durational pedagogical projects, the production of events, as well as working within institutions and engaging context.
Alongside the sessions conducted at The Bag Factory, participants convened at VANSA, The Substation, and the Wits Art Museum (WAM) in Wits University. These visits served as case studies for the many issues pertinent to curating, from understanding the commissioning and installation process with artists, to working with various institutions, funders, and audiences. Central to all sessions were conversations discerning relevance and urgency, audience and publics, and the considerations between history and politics in relation to issues addressed in curatorial programming.
Throughout the program, each participant took part in two individual meetings with select ICI staff and guest lecturers. These 20 to 30 minute sessions provided the opportunity for one-on-one advising on topics that were specifically relevant to developing their project proposals.
At the beginning of the program, participants presented their project proposal to their peers and ICI staff. At the end of the program, they were required to give a longer presentation that outlined their full proposals after developing the concepts over the course of the program. The final presentations were held in a semi-public, professional forum where participants had the opportunity to receive feedback from their colleagues and the general public. The public symposium was extremely well attended, with an audience of approximately 60 people, who were eager to learn more about the program and engage with the participants.
The final stage of the program allows participants the possibility of publishing their written proposals on ICI’s website. Giving them the opportunity to revisit their ideas and promote it in an international platform. Successful proposals will go up on ICI’s website by the end of June.
This workshop brought together an emerging group of curators that were able to connect with each other and also meet a more established group of African curators. This allowed for the formation of a cross-generational pan-African network. Being the pilot program, ICI expects that in future intensives some of the participants would be involved as presenters and facilitators, as has happened in the past with other programs.
Through the open dialogue methodology implemented during the week participants learned from each other’s practices, shared mutual interests, and were able to provide peer-to-peer feedback.
Mika Conradie, Josh Ginsburg, Hama Goro, Nkululeko Khumalo, Portia Malatjie, Bongo Mei, Robinah Nansubuga, Karen Obling, Marie Helene Pereira, Mthabisi Phili, and Maria Fidel Regueros.