When I enter Banele Khoza’s Braamfontein studio, I’m confronted with an idyllic, expected, timeless, art studio scene. Khoza, brush in hand, is busy with a live portrait. His subject is a young man balanced on a stool in front of the easel. Khoza hasn’t set this up for my benefit. Nor is this scene representative of his daily life as an artist. He may be a traditional artist in the sense that he works with traditional mediums (acrylic, paper, canvas) and pursues the portraiture genre, but in other regards he is utterly an artist of his time. He admits he has until recently dedicated more time to social media campaigning than painting. In other words you are more likely to find in front of a screen than an easel. That was until he heard that Kim Kardashian only spends 30 minutes a day on Instagram – “I couldn’t believe it, it changed my life.” As the number of followers, likes and dominance in social media realms has become the yard stick against which influence, relevancy and success is measured, Khoza no doubt is not alone in struggling to arrive at a work/social media balance.
It has hard to think of his practice flourishing without social media. His independence as an artist – he is not represented by a gallery – is made possible with it. It has enabled him to market his art, gallery and establish his brand – he has a logo ‘BKHZ’, and ubiquitous tote bags for sale bearing it. Many artists are on Instagram or other social media sites, but largely they are either taking banal studio shots of their artworks. Few actually use these tools to establish an identifiable ‘persona’ and one that shares a direct conceptual link with the content of their art.
The texts or speech bubbles paired with the floaty inchoate male figures that define Khoza’s art refer to statements, questions and anxieties that plague the artist or the subjects, relationships he depicts. It’s in the style of the sort of confessional type statements you might find in your Facebook newsfeed. His art is about vulnerability and exposure, being heard, the cost of doing so. The lines between Khoza’s FB or Insta newsfeeds and his art are blurred. Art has always offered a confessional space – Khoza has simply dragged this function into a new age. The interdependence between his art and social media content has solidified his presence, his voice. Not that ‘his’ voice is a confident, or unyielding one. In fact it is the degree of uncertainty that defines it that makes it valuable. He admits to feeling lonely, confused and is always asking questions.
“For me it is always about connecting to other people. I felt disconnected I always wanted to connect in an authentic way. I can only be myself.”
Khoza’s practice has been defined by this ethos. He has carved out his own path in every way. Unlike other artists who clamour to be represented by a gallery and rely on them to grow their careers, he has opted to do it his way. He has his own gallery – located in Braamfontein’s hipstery Juta Street – and is in total control of his image, career. He is what you could call the first bona-fide ‘post-gallery’ artist. He defies the conventional model. This entrepreneurial bent to him and determination to navigate his own path can be attributed to his father (now in his mid eighties), who despite having not completed his education ran a successful business of his own.
“He kept insisting and speaking about the idea of ownership. He kept saying: ‘own your path.”
First published in the Sunday Times. READ IN FULL HERE