Coral Bijoux works in the art and heritage sector, currently for the Mazisi Kunene Foundation. She acts as curator for the Voices of Women Museum and has an emerging career as an artist after many years in arts training and development in urban and rural areas. Embracing a collective experience of 29 years, she has conceptualised, developed and implemented several arts- and heritage-based projects and programmes.
Name three artworks that you love and why.
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk – I see it as a work of art – a museum based on a fictitious (and obsessive) love story that encapsulates the author/designer’s love of his favourite city, Istanbul. Carefully selected objects are beautifully and thoughtfully collected and exhibited as elements of the story – all imbued with meaning and juxtaposed in odd, but compelling ways. Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah’s Soft Gentle Depths – it’s a masculine work that is unashamed about its femininity. It fills me with hope. Wangechi Mutu’s Suspended Playtime because she uses materials I recognise and am familiar with having lived for a while in a rural area. It makes me feel a sense of connection with the artist while it also is a poignant reminder of our disparate worlds. This artist, like many of us, lives between two worlds, but it’s what our contemporary space is about.
Name one artist you would love to meet.
One? I have met most of the South African artists I would love to meet – barring Nicholas Hlobo. I would like to meet Orhan Pamuk to question some of his ideas… and because he is arrogant, I believe. Shirin Neshat. And Yayoi Kusama.
What are you reading at the moment?
What is in your car’s CD player?
Salif Keita… I know almost all the words even though I can’t speak the language simply because I keep the same CD in my player until my daughters force me to change it. But when I do, Bach’s Cello Suites; Zamajobe; Pavarotti; and Hugh Masekela.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
There was a time when I would give you a list of things I would change, now…I mostly like who I am – warts and all and the parts I don’t like, I will take my time to refine or work on them. Mazisi wrote that perfection/completion ‘is but a decoration for display… it has no pulse… Its power of life has ceased. It no longer can stretch itself beyond itself.’ I get that. ‘A work in progress,’ a close friend often remarks. Why would I want to change anything then?
How have the arts industries in South Africa changed over the last ten years?
There is a greater diversity in the ‘offering’ in terms of art making; who is making art and for what purpose… I think we are developing a keen sense of who we are, which is diverse, wrestling with change (sometimes we are afraid to change). We sometimes conform, but we can innovate (I look to rural areas for that) and we have set trends in the global market. That said, I really believe that we have tended to commodify almost everything. We have forgotten that to make art is also to reflect on who we are. To challenge ourselves.
Name one thing you think would improve the arts and culture industry in South Africa.
Patronage – where artists can do what they do best without having to compromise, resulting in mediocre offerings of our collective possibility. Creative work is hard enough without still having to find means to survive financially. Dialogue – good, old-fashioned exchange where we dare to be different and where confrontation is about ideas and less about personalising and defining barriers according to race, gender and set areas of difference alone. It’s exciting at a time of great physiological change and where fundamentals are shifting across the country and globe to find ourselves in a place where are part of this shift in consciousness.
What is your most treasured possession?
My youngest daughter shouted out her name, but she is not a possession, I have three children and a precious little granddaughter. And then, I am embarrassed to say, my Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (there is a new one out that won’t explode I am assured!) Other than that, I have my favourite artworks and art, spiritual and philosophy books and a few pieces of furniture that all hold meaning for me. I also have a collection of odd things which I pick up and keep. My youngest daughter and I have that obsession…
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
When I look in the mirror and I can’t see myself, who I am.
What is it that makes you happy?
Being still. Being in love. Being out in nature on a mountain, in a bush or in the desert.
Describe a defining moment in your life.
I’ve had many. Deciding to give birth naturally, without drugs or paraphernalia, the way our grandmothers and those before them did – even though I was told I was ‘quite old’ at the time – without a gynaecologist and instead with two midwives in attendance. Realising that I was my own worst enemy. Realising that apportioning blame all the time to my detractors took so much away from me, gave them too much power and made me a victim. Instead to take some of the responsibility for my failings also allowed me to take the credit for my successes.
What projects will you be busy with during 2017 and into 2018?
I continue to work on the Voices of Women Museum as not only a project, but a heartfelt intimate work to hold in trust all these narratives that are true to so many women I know, have met and have yet to meet. They speak to me about everything that is not fashionable, but classic and real, locating us at the heart of our who we are. It’s a reminder – as I say, the stories are not reflections of pain or tragedy, but rather echo the desires we have for peace. I am working towards an installation piece which could be considered an extension of the idea of the Dreams, Wishes and Expectations work. This work will once again use recycled plastic and will consider how we abuse the things we love and that nurture us: the earth; women like mothers, wives/partners; our living and working spaces; our cities. I’m also working on some research for another work which I hope to submit for an installation in a sculpture garden. And of course, to complete my Master’s degree if the University finally allows me to do so. Curating the next Conversations We Do Not Have exhibition in Cape Town, which will be in part defined by context as all the others have been.