A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self

Through an eye-opening new exhibition at the Absa Gallery from 11 November 2018 to 25 January 2019, Banele Khoza shines the light on the difficulties experienced by young creatives trying to obtain an education and start their careers. One of the most promising artists to have come out of the Absa L’Atelier art competition in recent years, Khoza has curated a group exhibition that will give the next generation hope and see the development of a new foundation to provide financial help and guidance to young creatives.

A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self Absa
Banele Khoza

The inspiration for the exhibition A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self stems from personal, first-hand experience. ‘In 2011, I had days where I would sleep without food and had to result to going to school with a grumbling stomach (if I had money for the taxi fair), my concentration levels were impaired. But I could not tell anyone as I was afraid to ask for help, also I felt ashamed by my situation. I failed my first year due to my poor decision-making that was driven by hunger and a lack of help,’ says Banele Khoza.
     Now at a place in his life where his career is starting to take off and his basic necessities are covered, Khoza wishes he could let his 22-year-old-self know that there is hope. By writing an open and honest letter, he could explain what has happened over the past few years and, in essence, guide himself through it.
     Realising that his situation was by no means unique, Khoza has put this exhibition together to give young creatives hope and show them that they are not alone. He will also be using the funds raised through this exhibition to build a foundation that will assist future arts practitioners with funding for their education and basic needs.
     ‘Through the foundation, we basically want to help with those tiny needs like transportation money, money for food while you are at school, and it’s just trying to help with those small specifics. Then come registration fees, if you miss the deadline, it means you don’t enrol for the year, so it’s trying to tackle those issues as well.’

A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self Absa
Zanele Muholi x Banele Khoza, Zana Nyilenda, Los Angeles, 2013. Edition 1/1. Illustrated 2016

     Khoza has asked a number of artists and friends in his personal network to donate an artwork for this exhibition and to write a letter to their own 22-year-old-self, which will also be on display at the exhibition and hopefully provide hope, inspiration and advice for young creatives.
     Khoza approached each artist personally to ask if they would consider donating their artwork for the exhibition. ‘Having that one-on-one, and also being very honest and just saying that actually, I’ve had periods where I didn’t have food.’ It’s reaching into a personal space where ‘we’re not just creating this show for hype or anything, it’s about helping the next individual that is hungry, and instantly, everyone is willing to donate.’ Khoza was ambitious in his choice of artists and thought that some of them might not agree to it but, he says, they were the very first ones to say, ‘yes, I’m here to help.’ In reflection, he reminds himself of something he was told: ‘if you want something, just ask, and that’s what I did, I asked.’
     Excitingly, a recent collaboration between Zanele Muholi and Khoza will also be exhibited at A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self. Muholi approached Khoza in 2016 ‘and asked that I please interpret her series called Faces and Phases and I did about 40 illustrations of that work. We hadn’t found a space to exhibit the series in the past and so, two years later, I asked her if she would be open to having this series of work available for the exhibition and she said yes, so we are going to have it.’
     It’s no secret that there are inconsistencies in the South African arts education system and a lack of sufficient funding and support when it comes to the arts, and Khoza feels that ‘as artists and people in the practice, I think it’s almost our responsibility. While you are at varsity as a creative, you might realise that something is lacking, but once you’re able to earn something, try to invest it back into education because then that’s how it gives light to the next creative. I don’t think it’s something we should wait on government to actually sustain or build up, I think that we have to take it in our own hands to build it up.’

A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self Absa
Ed Young, Biscuit, 2015. South African Mohair Traditional Teddybear. 42cm

     A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self opens a space to say, ‘if you need help, we are here to provide you.’
     The foundation’s goals, initially, are to develop scholarships for creative students who are of need (not based on merit) and identify varsity individuals who need help covering registration fees, transportation costs and art material costs. Khoza hopes to also use the foundation as a platform to link creatives to mentors, and to fund masterclasses. Through these, audiences will have the ability to learn from iconoclasts both in person and online – both as videos and as podcasts.
     In terms of identifying different people to approach as mentors for these masterclasses, he looks at inviting people who are savvy in the creative industry. For example, Sylvester Chauke, a respected branding and marketing practitioner. With his own studio, BKhz, Khoza says he has learnt that ‘you have to be aware of so many aspects. Since we’ve opened the doors here, we’ve had people from different foundations coming in. We need to be able to answer questions related to business practice and teach the students to be independent in their own practice,’ which is why it is important to identify people who are knowledgeable in these fields.
     As the 2017 Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award winner, Khoza is proud to be bringing this exhibition ‘home’. ‘I’m very excited to be curating at the Absa Gallery – and that they are trusting that I will do a great job within it. I think I have times where I feel slightly unsure… but I feel I got this opportunity because I can do it, and I’m learning to trust that I will do it. They’ve allowed my visions to actually happen, like recolouring and adding a bit of comfort to the space, so I’m very happy about that.’
     The future looks exciting for Khoza, whose travelling solo exhibition will start in March next year at the Absa Gallery and continue to different venues throughout South Africa. He also hopes to expand the brand BKhz.
     In light of his upcoming exhibition, what advice does he have for his 22-year-old self? ‘I would definitely say relax, it’s going to happen, whatever you’re thinking of right now at this point, it’s all going to happen and it’s going to happen so rapidly you’re not even prepared for it and you’re going to love it.’
     A Letter To My 22-Year-Old Self is on at the Absa Gallery, Johannesburg from 11 November 2018 – 25 January 2019.