#MyJoburg interview with artist and founder of BKhz Gallery, Banele Khoza

31 Jul 2023
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people that add something unique to Joburg's creative mix, and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city. 
Banele Khoza working on a lithograph. Photo: The Artist's Press SA.

Banele Khoza is an artist, and founder of BKhz Gallery located at Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank. Known for his ability to capture the essence of the human experience through his thought-provoking artwork, Khoza sees himself as the embodiment of "the in-between space" he expresses. His incredible artistic journey is marked by a relentless pursuit of self-discovery and a determination to inspire others to embrace their true selves.

The artist says he wishes to be known as a symbol of hope for others, showing the possibility of "what one can be if they chose to pursue themselves". His commitment to promoting authentic self-expression has solidified his position as a trailblazer within the art community.

Each exhibition at BKhz gallery is a highly anticipated event, with crowds flocking to the opening. The artists showcased here are always highly distinctive talents, and often the ones to watch. Banele Khoza's second solo show at BKhz entitled "How are you doing?" closed on Sat, Jul 22, and we found it utterly captivating. As soon as we visited we knew we needed to find know more about the world of Banele Khoza.

"There are unique identities throughout Joburg and this makes you feel at home within yourself. You can be any version of yourself ..."

In a bio we read online, you mentioned that you relish the freedom you have found in South Africa. How has living in Joburg contributed to this?
I sleep in Pretoria and by the coast, but I spend most of my working and social days in Johannesburg. What immediately pulled me to Johannesburg was the cultural dialogue the city offers – this has been significant in my becoming. There are unique identities throughout Joburg and this makes you feel at home within yourself. You can be any version of yourself and the city offers immediate acceptance, and without question. We need more of this spirit in the rest of the country and continent.
"How are you doing?" an exhibition by Banele Khoza at BKhz Gallery (July 2023). Photo: BKhz Gallery. 

Your latest exhibition "How are you doing?" delves deeply into the vulnerability of being an artist. How did it feel to bring those works to life?
The process of going back to the studio has been a lot harder the last three years. In my mind I house a critic that borders [on being] a compulsive perfectionist concerned about every minute of productivity. This personality has to make space for the creative that is messy, vulnerable and patient with life’s process. Very often the critic is louder and will tarnish the creative. That has been the internal battle [in] both my worlds of art making and gallery practice. To see the body of work exist within the walls – I knew my creative spirit had won.

This exhibition is also a catalogue of the people around you from whom you have drawn the greatest support. Tell us about that.
Experiencing lockdown and going through it mostly by myself, it heightened [my] sensitivity to energy and to who occupies my living or studio space. The break made me think of portraiture and what it means to facilitate a sitting. The idea to honour stood out. My friends and colleagues had been occupying my mental space so it was somewhat easy to negotiate space with them to create again.

Self-portraits have always been a strong aspect of your work, and documenting the process of self. Why has this featured so prominently?
When I didn’t know what to paint (in 2012) I learnt of Frida Kahlo’s quote: “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” This was true for my reality then and now – the ideas I can express fluently are a reflection of self.
A Van Gogh-esque What will remain (2023) by Banele Khoza. Photo: BKhz Gallery. 

Your artworks for this exhibition led you to White River and Artist’s Press, away from this busy city. Tell us about what that meant to you and how it impacted the work on show.
I have been visiting White River since 2018. We skip a year in-between my next visit. This year particularly I learnt to slow down and enjoy time with the immediate community. This was nourishing to the experience. The space also gave me time to reflect on my personal dreams, “to see myself again” as one can get lost in trying to be there for everyone else. [Watch this video on Banele Khoza's time at Artist's Press. We found it completely absorbing.]

This exhibition is all about intimacy and relationships to others, and oneself, something you capture so exquisitely in the writing in your journals that accompany the pieces. Why did you choose to pair them and what were you hoping to reveal? 
The initial idea of the show was to focus on my artist [note]books, but I got scared to even open them as they reveal many moments – some that I did not want to revisit. It was only the day before the opening that I had the courage to select the pages we would open for the audience.

"Visit Rosebank – it is everything that you haven’t been told about Joburg."

Tell us about your artist notebooks and journaling. When did it start and what does it mean to you?
I started journaling in 2008, I still have the first journal with me. I have always thought it would be the place people will reference when I am no longer around – especially because I keep to myself even towards my family. Journals have also become reminders for my work day but I imagine in the future they will be reminders of all my lived memories for myself.

How do you feel about sharing these intimate moments and experiences?
It feels safe to share these moments in my own space.
BKhz Gallery at Keyes Art Mile. Photo: Tatenda Chidora. 

You moved your gallery from Braamfontein to Rosebank, two different Joburg worlds. What surprised you the most about the move?
Firstly I was concerned [if] our primary audience (youth) would follow us. They did and they came out in numbers. Secondly our longevity – it was a leap in rental and faith. The gallery is turning five next month and I couldn’t have predicted the life it would [take] on.

Love is a strong theme in your work. Why?
I have always thought it was outside of myself, so I felt I had to seek it, and in the many ways [I have] been looking for it outside of myself. In this pursuit I have learnt so much about love. That love can come in a form of the wide community, it could be from friends plus family, and definitely from self. I am grateful to have gone through this journey to learn of the capacity one can love and reflect it back, or hold space for it. 

In an interview we watched, you mentioned your interest in introducing an erotic aspect to what are often domestic scenes. Tell us about this?
I will keep this to myself for now, there will be another residency to follow and I will have to work with this veil.
Banele Khoza living in colour. Photo: BKhz Gallery.

"[Love] can come in a form of the wide community, it could be from friends plus family, and definitely from self."

Home is...
Where my body is.

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
It was a four-course at Wandile Mabaso's  Les Créatifs – each time it's been an experience.
Mr George at Melrose Arch. Photo: Mr George via Instagram. 

On a weekend in Joburg you’ll find me...
At BKhz to wrap up the work week, at Pantry for hot chocolate and a fried chicken burger, at Green Dot for a latte, Nirox Sculpture Park to relax with my friend Yusuf and listen to live music, and Mr George in Melrose Arch for a meal with a friend.

What do you love about Joburg?
The potential to realise one’s dreams. There is also the right mix of individuals that either stay or visit the city that will assist with this. Early this year we made it into The NY Times Style Magazine without trying to make it in New York. The conversations that happen within my friendship circles are ideas that manifest in different pockets of the city or the world.

What do you least like about Joburg?
We are always working, even on holidays. This spirit is unsustainable without rest. My work ethic is very Joburg-like, [but] I am learning how to rest.

Your number-one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Visit Rosebank – it is everything that you haven’t been told about Joburg.

What's happening in Joburg right now that you think everyone should know about?
We are all finding home, escape, stillness in each other. We are moving past, “What do you do?” to “How are you doing?”
The Bank in Rosebank. Photo: Daffonchio Architects. 

If you could buy one building in Joburg which would you choose? 
I would buy The Bank in Rosebank. It is well-located and stands in great sophistication.

Three words that describe this city...
I asked my AI assistant for this answer: “Vibrant, resilient and diverse.” This is spot on.

Check out some of our previous #MyJoburg interviews for more insights into the city:

#MyJoburg interview with Lelowhatsgood, creative trailblazer and founder of the VNJ Ball.
#MyJoburg with Charles Leonard, DJ and host of 'This is Joburg' podcast.
#MyJoburg with Sara Hallat, founder of OpenStudios.Joburg.

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