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23.5.2021   |  Art And About Africa

About Tandazani Dhlakama

Tandazani Dhlakama, Zimbabwe-born, is an assistant curator at Zeitz MOCAA, Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. She joined the museum in 2017 and has been involved in the Zeitz MOCAA Centre for Art Education as Education Manager with a special focus on public programming and tertiary engagement.
Growing up in Harare Dhlakama had the fortune to attend a local school with a strong art department; thanks to these, she had the opportunity to visit galleries and cultural African institutions. Dhlakama talks about it nostalgically and happily, recalling, for example, how she and her companions often sat on the ground in the galleries, to draw the works on display.
We had a pleasure to chat with Dhlakama to get to know her and her work.

tandazani, portrait, zeitz mocaa, art and about africa

AAAA: Why and when did you start being involved in the African art scene?
TD: I enjoyed thinking about socio-political matters but also liked making and thinking about art. Later, through curating, I saw that the two were connected. By the time I graduated, I thought I would become a full-time artist. However, immediately after graduating in 2011, I started working in an art museum in Harare, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ). I soon realized that I loved everything involved in the development of exhibitions and art education. I also enjoyed working with others to conceptualize ways to make art spaces more welcoming and more accessible, especially given the colonial history of Southern Africa.
Therefore, being involved in the so-called African art scene happened very organically, as I have always had an interest in art. Living and working in Zimbabwe and South Africa meant that I had access to local art and artists.

AAAA: Tell us your experience of being a female curator in the art sector.
TD: I grew up knowing that I could be whatever I wanted to be if I worked hard at it. As a result, I have never hesitated to take opportunities, nor allowed anyone to tell me I couldn’t be who I wanted to be. Fortunately, I have had the privilege of working with amazing women leaders who have challenged and invested in me. These include people such as Doreen Sibanda, Elana Brundyn, Brooke Minto, and currently Koyo Kouoh. My MA thesis supervisor at Leeds University was the post-colonial feminist Griselda Pollock.
Furthermore, across the African continent, you may find that countless art and cultural platforms are led by incredible women. Such examples include the late Bisi Silva’s CCA Lagos, Candice Allison at the Bag Factory, Meskerem Assegued at the ZOMA Contemporary Art Centre, Dana Whabira at Njelele, Gina Maxim at Village Unhu, Teesa Bahana of the 32° East Ugandan Arts Trust.
However, when it comes to women artists and their visibility on major art platforms, that is where there is a problem. Group shows, art fairs, collections, and biennials in Africa (and also abroad), still to this day, tend to involve smaller percentages of women artists. This is problematic for me.

AAAA: What is a research or a project that you are working on at the moment?
TD: I am currently working on a few collaborative projects with my colleagues at Zeitz MOCAA. These include the largest retrospective of South African artist, Tracey Rose as well as a video exhibition featuring women artists to name a few.

AAAA: tell us something that you have done that makes you proud of and what is the next goal you are pursuing;
TD: I had a very proud moment in October 2020, when Zeitz MOCAA reopened its doors to the public after a seven months hiatus caused by the global pandemic. We re-opened with an exhibition titled Home is Where the Art Is- Art is Where the Home Is. It was an open call, non-juried, non-curated exhibition where we invited local Cape Town residents to bring us a work from their homes. We asked them to bring an artwork they made, was gifted to them, or collected. Many people had been stuck at home, and we were curious to find out what had kept them going. Additionally, Zeitz MOCAA wanted to engage with the local audiences and to find ways of making them feel at home in our museum. The response was overwhelmingly positive. 1600 residents submitted over 2000 works. Each work came with a precious personal story. Our Zeitz MOCAA team worked long hours and we managed to hang the work in a week. On the day that we opened, we had minstrels playing outside and a long line of local guests trickling into the museum. We (both the Zeitz MOCAA staff and public) were not only celebrating the new show, we were celebrating the fact that we had made it through a really challenging unprecedented time.

END

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About Tandazani Dhlakama is part of the column “Women” dedicated to the women involved in the art scene on and about the African continent.

The aim of the column is to give space to women – in or connected – to the continent’s art scene. A space in which experiences, opinions and realities can be read and loved by everyone, focused on women and their empowerment.

If you know of any woman that should take part please invite her to get in touch. Thank you, we appreciate your contribution.

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