Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
A frank discussion with art curator, consultant and Gaze founder Khumo Sebambo
Whether you are new to the art scene, an expert or just an onlooker, there is no doubt that we could all do with some art education on some level or other. After all, art is a representation of our society. A mirror reflecting the times we are living in and a way to make sense of these crazy, beautiful, difficult, awe inspiring, wonderful times. We sat down with art curator Ms Khumo Sebambo and discussed the importance of representation and staying curious.
Phindile Sithole-Spong: I’ll be honest, I’ve known you for some time now but it took me a while to understand the magnitude of what you do. Not only do you run Gaze advisory but you are an impressive art curator who’s curated some monumental shows. How has it been working in the art world as a young black woman?
Khumo Sebambo: It has been like an interesting journey that has come with its fair share of ups and down. Definitely more ups — I have met interesting arts practitioners, seen incredible art and had unforgettable experiences.
PSS: What are some of the challenges you have faced, especially being so young and navigating a space which can be very white?
KS: The biggest challenge has been not having my efforts recognised — I often walk away from projects or jobs feeling dejected because the value I know I bring wasn’t acknowledged in a meaningful way. That’s been hard.
PSS: How do you pick yourself up in those instances and continue doing what you are doing?
KS: After allowing myself to be upset about it, I dust myself off and allow my passion to pull me back into it.
PSS: I feel like for so many people of colour, art and art appreciation is reserved mainly for white people. Maybe it has to do with the artists we learn about in school and the vast amount of white male artists that are considered to be THE GREATS. As a young black woman working in the art space what are your thoughts about this and how did you overcome this idea that only one skin tone and voice made great art? And when and how did you start to feel like people that looked like you and I belonged in this space?
KS: What is taught about fine art in school reflects an art ecology that is dominated by white men. But mixed in there are places where art made by black people and women is recognised — I remember being taught about Dumile Feni, The Rorkes Drift Art Centre, Helen Sebidi and Gerard Sekoto. These works appealed to me so I never adopted the idea that interesting art only came from white men.
And to your question about belonging, I wouldn’t say I feel like I belong now.
PSS: Looking at past shows that you have curated, it is easy to see how much you appreciate and advocate for black artists. How did you start advocating for black artists? Especially when so few are visible?
KS: I advocate for black people so it was natural to advocate for black artists. Because I advocate for black artists I spend a lot of time reading about their work, researching their practice and scrolling the timeline for their work and it doesn’t seem to me that there are few black artists visible.
PSS: Inclusivity and diversity are terms we hear thrown around often nowadays but what does this actually mean and how can it be translated into the art world?
KS: To me it means that every aspect of the art community has to dedicated inclusivity — exhibitions, curatorial teams, gallerists, scholars and collectors. The business of art is ruled by white men and it’s important to factor in the economics when speaking about inclusion and diversity.
PSS: Let’s shift gears and talk about Gaze. How did the idea to open an art advisory business come about and what do you do at Gaze?
KS: I’d been working in galleries and institutions and so my friends and family would ask for advice about buying art. This year I felt that my time working in galleries was up and this was a natural transition for me. What do we do? Gaze is an art advisory — I connect with art collectors, budding and seasoned, to guide them in making decisions about collecting art. Gaze also has a projects “space” that will host exhibitions and workshops in the future.
PSS: Thats exciting. Do you plan to work exclusively in South Africa or are you planning to work in other parts of the world too?
KS: The collectors that I’m working with are in various locations around the world but I’d like to grow this network. And in the future, I’d like to become an art tourist and learn more about different art communities.
PSS: As you know, my husband and I recently bought our first piece of art with your help via Gaze and it was such an exhilarating experience. In part because like I’ve said before, I always felt like art was reserved for a select few. But also because you didn’t make us feel like we were some dumb kids and you really took your time with us and made sure we were both comfortable and well informed. Can you break down the process we went through together and the process you go through with your other clients looking to buy art?
KS: First I interview collectors and we speak about who they are, what art they like and why they collect or want to collect. When I know this information I’m equipped to introduce them to works they’ve never seen — sometimes the process is easy and people take a liking to things I show them immediately, other times its far more challenging… But no two people are the same and I’m always learning about what works for different people. But my job in the end is to share insights on artists and artworks so that collectors walk away with something they love.
PSS: One of the best parts about working with you was feeling like I could buy art again and was really equipped to do so either with you or alone. What advice would you give a first time art buyer looking to make a purchase? What are some things they should keep in mind?
KS: It seems that people don’t think they can buy art because it is inaccessible. My advice is to be curious.You’re on your phone all the time anyway, why not keep up to date with what’s happening in the arts? You’ll find art that appeals to you and at your price point. Also keep in mind that there may be other costs involved like shipping and crating. Be prepared for this when you budget. And lastly buy what you love and you’ll never stop collecting.
PSS: As a black art curator and advisor how important do you think it is for more people or color to buy art?
KS: Absolutely vital — we need to be involved in the entire chain. We need to be in the museums, the galleries, we need to curate the show, and review them. We need to be the scholars and we also need to be the buyers. I always get frustrated when I see amazing black artists being given the support by white owned institutions and white collectors when we also need to come in and form strong communities around the artists.
PSS: If you could curate your ideal show where would it be, what would be the theme and who are some artists works you would like to showcase?
KS: It wouldn’t be a show — it’d be a series of shows, workshops and talks around textile arts. I already started this long research project when I curated a show two years ago titled Conversations in Texture. I’d showcase work by Kresiah Mukwazhi (again), Sepideh Mehraban, Kimathi Mafofo, Anya Paintsil and Bulumko Mbete among other incredible artists working in this medium.
PSS: Apart from Gaze and curating art shows what else do you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies or things you are interested in?
KS: I’m moving house in a few weeks and I’m bordering on being obsessed with shopping for home decor — trying to find the right item in the right colour, at the right size and price. Other than that I’ve always been an avid reader and I’m trying to be more dedicated about giving myself that time — I have books by James Baldwin, Ben Okri, Sello Duiker and Toni Morrison on my bedside. Also — walking is a big lifesaver at the moment.
PSS: Final question, what does self evolution mean to you? And how do you make sure you are constantly growing and evolving?
KS: Evolution means learning to recognise that that I’m the author of my life — capable of change, healing, creativity and personal transformation.”
To learn more about emerging artists and get in touch with Khumo follow Gaze on Instagram @gazeartadvisory or email [email protected] for more information or assistance buying art.