We speak to Anelisa Mangcu, curator, interdisciplinary art practitioner and founder of Under The Aegis with a resume that sets her apart as a future curatorial heavyweight.
Take us through your background.
I am from a township where many great Black art practitioners and intellectuals descend, including actors and playwrights Dr John Kani and Winston Ntshona, political stalwart Vusi Pikoli, and my great-grandfather, visual social historian and modernist George Pemba. Growing up in New Brighton, Gqeberha (formally known as Port Elizabeth), I was fortunate to have witnessed artists, collectors, composers, writers, critics, activists, intellectuals and persons of interest who indulge in discourse together. An observant, creative child, I would impersonate what I had witnessed for my uncle Bobo Pemba. My family not only encouraged those moments but would find ways to stimulate my thirst for creative outlets. I saw my great-grandfather paint and understood the importance of art because of how precious he was about his materials, canvases and storing art. I knew I wanted to love something as much as he did and make people feel how I felt when watching a play, listening to a great album or visiting a museum.
Where did your love for curating as a form of design start?
I was an art monitor in primary school for two years, taking care of art, storage and materials rooms. I took pride in my job and during art classes loved assisting the art teacher in showing my classmates how to protect their materials and artworks. I spent most breaktimes in the art room, not because I lacked social skills or friends, but I really loved art. Fast-forward eight years, I had a solo exhibition at Rococo Studio gallery when I was 19 of photographs, I had taken in Cape Town. I enjoyed putting the exhibition together more than I did being the artist. The gallerist Deryck van Steenderen advised me to explore curating as a potential career move. I did not give it much thought, convinced the only impactful way of engaging with art was to be an artist.
Your remarkable exhibitions, ‘BODYLAND’ and ‘Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt’, included distinct work from various talented diasporic artists, which still receive sterling reviews. What is next for you in curating significant Black portraiture?
My curatorial interest is exploring intersectional African identities, challenging established paradigms and drawing connections between the historical and the contemporary. Conceptually linking historical, traditional, modernist, contemporary African art while holding space for a polyphony of ideas and positions that expand globally. If Black portraiture becomes the central theme in my next exhibition, then I will continue to explore it even further. Naturally, I am drawn to art that speaks to me and reflects people who look and think like me.
When did you realise it was possible to open doors for yourself and others? And that you were capable of achieving your aspirations through curatorship?
I have suffered enough rejection to permanently bruise my ego, but I also developed the resilience to do it on my own regardless of public opinion. Rejection is never easy, and the bruises left are lasting. I try not to let it distract me from my work. With every opportunity I get or create, I bring in five artists whom I believe in. I am proud of my contribution to the lives of the artists I have worked with and grateful to them for their impact on my journey. The real dream is to impact the lives of Black children who do not have art or design as a subject in high school due to limited resources.
What sort of artists do you want to work with?
Those who are resourceful, strategic and imaginative. Talent in this country and on this continent is not lacking, but what is in short supply is the financial backing artists require to impact a larger audience. So, what I look for is an artist who can be resourceful with what they have, develop skills that will expand their practice, and think about the longevity of their career. I am a support structure and caretaker of their work. I cannot force discipline and strategic thinking; only lead by example.
Where would you like to see the shift with regards to advancing young, emerging curators?
Young and emerging curators are in this business of putting on a show and have a remarkable ability to capture their generation’s spirit. They do not need our permission; all they need is our support. The gallery and fair system are a crucial part of our ecosystem, and many careers would not be where they are if such structures did not exist. However, I hope the rules for participation bend a little because there are talented curators who do not work for galleries, and there are gifted artists who do not have a fine-art background. This should not be a rule that prevents necessary and important artwork from being seen.
Today, when women are breaking through in various industries, is it necessary for them to be classified as ‘female’ curators instead of simply acknowledging them?
I cannot speak for all women, but I have a feeling that there is a reasonable number of women who are less phased by the inclusion or exclusion of the word ‘female’ in their job title and more concerned about equal opportunities, equal pay and respect as intellectual and creative curators.
This article originally appeared on House & Garden SA
Words by Esihle Mngini