Bogosi Sekhukhuni is a young South African artist who is chiefly concerned with notions of identity in a post-apartheid South Africa. In Bogosi’s work his medium is, in many regards, his message – as the Internet and the plurality of self that the Web 2.0 enabled becomes a kind of metaphor for the questioning, constructing and redefining of what being young in South Africa means, and can mean, today. His aesthetic is strongly influenced by popular media, he is fascinated in the conceptual possibilities of teleportation and neuroscience, and is currently on residency in France. Growing up on Mxit and matriculating on Tumblr, Bogosi represents a new generation of young artists who’re defining their parameters based on their lived, or constructed, realities.
Your bio opens by stating that you are “a product of the Rainbow Nation”, and elsewhere I read that you “make art about being a coconut in post apartheid [South Africa]”. In what ways are you interrogating notions of identity in your art?
Honesty is central to my practice right now. Honesty, more than whatever ideas we have about what ‘truth’ is, offers a wider space to exist and engage with. I’m trying to reconcile my personal journey through this terrain, with a need I have to contribute towards an alter-pan African agenda that takes things a few steps further than so-called Afro-futurism, which I think is no longer a helpful school of thought.
Beside identity, what are the other themes and ideas that you are currently exploring in your work?
I think I tend to channel my interests though my life (because maybe it’s important to practice what you ‘preach’), so, overcoming the phenomenon of death is a big deal for me. I’m currently working on a drawing project to teleport and upload myself onto the internet using my DNA, but it’s essentially a speculative conversation about what can come to represent who we are or understand ourselves to be.
Neuroscience suggests that consciousness comes from the brain, Western philosophy tells us that it is an action, and genetics just fucks everybody up by digging closer and closer into our pink matter and playing around with the building blocks of life. If science fiction has caught up to the present then there are conversations that we desperately need to start having, particularly as black youth.
Do you think that art has a specific role and function to play in our current society? If so, what is this?
Self-reflection is such an amazing strategy to answer questions about one’s future, which is what everyone is interested in. Because of its visual nature, art can become an effective channel for a self-reflection that becomes communal. The function of art is something that most people aren’t really aware of. Art only has to try make you think about yourself in a way you didn’t when you woke up this morning. You’d be surprised how difficult that is for many adult folk to do.
You work predominantly in video, installation and performance. What appeals to you about these specific mediums?
Nothing in particular; my only interest is figuring out how to come to represent these conversations I have with myself in the most comprehensive way. I suppose sometimes I like to respond to the way we have been trained to receive images and information, by mimicking the way our visual culture is presented and television and body-specific performances are ways to do that. But I generally like to play around with mediums that are accessible. I really want a TV show on SABC 1.
What about the Internet interests and inspires you?
I feel like post 1976, Mxit was the most important liberation force for South African urban kids; we really explored our curiosities about sexuality, race and love. I remember hanging out in really crazy chat rooms and I used to talk to this one random white girl from Port Elizabeth who was really emo and dark and I guess I liked that…The internet is such a powerful weapon for the kind of self actualization I want to promote.
Please tell us a little about your stylistic and aesthetic references…
I just watch a lot of rap music videos and a lot of self-help programmes. I draw a lot from how music makes me feel. The first time I heard Venus in Furs I wanted to create work that reflected the chaos I heard and felt. I think that’s what some of my past direction was inspired by.
What is more important in an artwork – concept or execution?
I think neither can be valued in isolation to the other. Our challenge is to create visual languages that are stimulating enough for people to stay interested. I also personally value comprehensive conceptual discussion, as it’s important for me to rigorously question what I do.
How do you interpret the phrase, ‘the medium is the message’, in relation to your work?
I don’t know. I downloaded a McLuhan documentary narrated by Laurie Anderson the other day, it’s nice.
Do you think that cyberspace allows for ways and forms of expression that are perhaps not possible in real life?
Definitely, the Internet is telepathy. I met my best friends in cyberspace. All over the world kids are talking to each other and recognizing affinities and celebrating that, it’s an amazing time for history and we’re going to create special things. Cyberspace also really challenges the perimeters of how identity can work. But it’s becoming more apparent however that we need to regain control of these spaces.
What are your thoughts on the current obsession with self-documentation and ‘selfies’ that is so prevalent on social media?
Social Media is such bad news right now. Just know that every time you take a selfie, you’re letting really smart programs who work for American intelligence build a clearer and clearer profile of who you are so that you are easier to monitor. It’s a reality about the Internet that I find deeply troubling.
How would you describe the current local ‘creative scene’?
I would like to see the same regenerative youth spirit that we are experiencing in our politics, reflected in the visual arts industry. Things are a bit stale; the 80s babies have become complacent and maybe too comfortable in this weird role of the Artist as social commentator but not social re-imaginer. I work with a group of Jo’burg-based artists who try to challenge that. But there’s a whole school of kids who matriculated on Tumblr that have the Madiba black magic light in them and I’m really excited about that.
What is the best thing about being young and creative in SA now?
I think a lot about how lucky I am to have been born at the turn of a new millennium. It is significant. South African youth culture is really progressive right now, I continuously feel blessed and driven because some of my favorite cultural products are being made by my friends.
What are your goals for the next ten years?
I live with a lot of fear because I don’t have any goals like that.