‘My dreams are valid’ – Visual artist Banele Khoza on winning the 2017 Gerard Sekoto Award

For Pretoria-based artist Banele Khoza winning the 2017 Gerard Sekoto Award at the Absa L’Atelier competition is validation that persistence pays off and proves his dream of pursuing art as a career is possible. Note Making, his series of digital drawings that scooped the award, is an intimate reflection of modern-day masculinity. Fleeting moments and psychological states are rendered as multimedia images with text, carefully considered colour and expressive line drawings underpinned by a tumultuous interior emotional world.

Banele began drawing as a young schoolboy with pen and paper in journals, which afforded him the privacy and freedom of expression. We chat about his journey as an artist, what winning the Gerard Sekoto Award means to him and his hopes for the future.

Absa A'tlierAbsa A'tlierWhat made you decide to become an artist, and what has the journey been like so far?
I have been curious since a young age, and my curiosity began with expression. “How do I express myself?” I thought. At first, it was playing with dolls, and my parents said no. Then, it was trying to braid hair, and again it was an obvious no. What drove me to work on paper and expressing myself was the privacy that my journal offered me. Throughout the years, I have been creating in a bubble, and now I am sharing these ideas through my work.

How has your upbringing influenced your work?
Being born in a small town, I had always wondered what was going on in the greater parts of the world. Even today, I am still curious and want to explore. Luckily with my parents support, I was never told that I could not do anything and that has helped me achieve what would have seemed impossible or could have taken a lifetime to reach. I am also able to express complex ideas that people would be too afraid to touch on as it would perhaps shame their parents. My family just lets me be.

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Who were your favourite Absa L’Atelier finalists, and what appealed to you about their work?
I liked Bright Ackwerh’s work. I enjoyed the satire behind it and the play and awareness of celebrity culture, especially the reinvention of Famous by Kanye West. It’s current and impressively digitally painted.

As a young artist, what does winning the Gerard Sekoto award mean to you?
First of all, it confirms that my dreams are valid, as well as other people’s from unprivileged backgrounds. With hard work and persistence, it seems anything is possible. I am also so grateful for the support I have received so far from the art community, which gives me the platform to live my dream on a daily basis.

How do you feel your work has progressed since you first started?
It has improved drastically. When I started, I was appropriating well-recognized artists’ to find my voice. I have slowly found my signature style. I still try to improve on it. People are able to recognise my work from a distance, which is a huge compliment.

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You created this series of drawings digitally. What kind of relationship do you have with technology?
I am embracing the dependency and also the convenience that technology has brought to us. I wake up and sleep next to my cellphone, tablet and laptop, which highlights that intimacy. However, it is a convenience that has helped me make work. Lately, I am always on the road or headed somewhere, so I can work on my projects on the go and reflect instantly and share my ideas too. My career has been built on technology and social media.

Tell us about the journey of creating Note Making.
It was an organic process. I had been working on these sketches from early 2016-17. When submissions were due, I selected sketches and pieces that were related by theme. Colour was important too. I play with the psychological and societal associations that colour provides.

The title of the work implies observation. What notes do you have on masculinity within South Africa and broader social context?
The old notion of masculinity is in a critical state, especially with the younger generation. We are more experimental with our presentation. In the greater community,  we are owning identity and not conforming to old ideas. This has also been led by access to global dialogues portrayed in media.

What do you hope to achieve through your art?
I hope to raise uncomfortable questions with my art and liberate minds so people can see their true selves.I am hoping to transform my brand BKhz into a global-reaching business. I also hope the BKhz Foundation will be helping over 100 school children per year. Follow Banele.

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