The New ICA San Francisco Opens Its Doors With an Artist-Curated Show About Black Women and Freedom

The Bay Area’s newest institution, the ICA San Francisco, celebrated the final phase of its opening last night, unveiling its biggest gallery space with a compelling group show on the importance of celebrating Black beauty, rest, and self expression, curated by California artists Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon.

Titled “Resting Our Eyes,” the exhibition features works from both big names and rising stars, with impressive loans by the likes of Carrie Mae Weems, Derrick Adams, Sadie Barnette, Genevieve Gaignard, and Simone Leigh.

Breon, who lives in Los Angeles, and Rasheed, who is from Oakland, met through the For Freedoms artist collective. (Group cofounder Hank Willis Thomas is among the artists featured in the show, along with his mother, photographer Deborah Willis.)

“So many people within the network just kept on assuming that we knew each other,” Breon told Midnight Publishing Group News at the exhibition’s opening reception. When they were finally introduced, the connection was instant.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at "Resting Our Eyes" at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by  Vikram Valluri for BFA.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at “Resting Our Eyes” at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by Vikram Valluri for BFA.

The two have spent the past year curating “Resting Our Eyes,” which offers a taste of founding ICA director Alison Gass’s socially minded vision for the institution, which looks to focus on under-represented voices in the art world.

The show’s theme was inspired by the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists who began meeting in 1974.

“Basically the idea is that if and when black women are free, everyone else in the world will inevitably be free, because the systems that oppress black women would have to be dismantled and everyone else would benefit from it,” Breon said.

“When T and I started thinking about the mechanisms for freedom, we kept going back to leisure and adornment,” she added. “We were looking for the artwork that tells the story how we adorn ourselves and how we prioritize rest, because we see both of those as really necessary acts.”

See some of the works from the show below.

Adana Tillman, <em>Wild Things</em> (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Adana Tillman, Wild Things (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Gaignard, <em>Look What We've Become</em> (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Gaignard, Look What We’ve Become (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Sadie Barnette, <em>Easy in the Den</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Sadie Barnette, Easy in the Den (2019).
Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter)</em> (1971/2008) from "Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America." Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Hank Willis Thomas, Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter) (1971/2008) from “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by
Corporate America.” Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Lauren Halsey, <em>Untitled</em> (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Lauren Halsey, Untitled (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Traci Bartlow, <em>Girl Boss</em> (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Traci Bartlow, Girl Boss (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, <em>Headdress 1</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, Headdress 1 (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Ebony G. Patterson, <em>...they wondered what to do...for those who bear/bare witness</em> (2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Ebony G. Patterson, …they wondered what to do…for those who bear/bare witness
(2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Resting Our Eyes” is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, 901 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, January 21–June 25, 2023. 

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A Black Aquatic: An Artist Explores the Relationship Between Black People and Water

“A Black Aquatic” by Kenya (Robinson) is an essay commissioned by PROTODISPATCH, a new digital publication featuring personal perspectives by artists addressing transcontinental concerns, filtered by where they are in the world. It was originally published by the international nonprofit Protocinema and appears here as part of a collaboration between Protocinema and Midnight Publishing Group News.


Through a hyperlinked lyric essay, and a month-long social media takeover on Protocinema channels, Kenya (Robinson) explores the relationship between Black people and water—both fresh and saltwater—as an essential part of the storytelling of U.S. histories.


I was shipwrecked once. Boat wrecked? Marooned. On St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. The unfortunate end to a failed romantic encounter—we slept on a rocky beach until sunrise, leaving a borrowed dinghy behind. My skin was textured with so many mosquito bites that I’ve retained a lingering immunity for more than a decade; a handy trick, having returned to my Florida homestate. The hike back to the eco-resort where I was participating in a work exchange program was purposefully… unchatty. “It’s just around the bend,” he said. “It’ll take no more than 15 minutes,” he said. “Can you call the Coast Guard?” he said. I was grateful for the full moon as the sun slipped beneath the horizon leaving the water a vast undulating black surface. The boat felt two sizes too small. And, of course, it started to rain. The neighboring Tortola loomed closer than I’d ever seen it. Officially we were in international waters. Cell phone dead. I recall his weak attempts to include me as a co-pilot, but I’d set out with sex on the brain and left my glasses in the cabin. Fortunately, I was so damn mad that it edged out the fear outlining the scenario. I cussed him out goodt.

I was mostly mad at the sea, though.

Like many, I’ve been on a jet more times than I’ve been on a boat. And paid good money for the privilege of the inevitable bit of turbulence that comes along with it. Practiced at keeping my face calm as the sphincter contracts. Babies crying, foil bagged snacks, popping ears—alternately and simultaneous. But this liquid leviathan that looked so lovely in the daytime or sparkling with bioluminescence along the shore at night, could easily gobble me, and Whatshisname, up. Without a trace, or belched and blanched, sandy side. On a plane, I can always blame the vehicle, the pilot, the weather. But the ocean can kill you just by being what it is. Kind of like the IZM. I be mad at that too.

More than a few years ago The Innanet algorithimed me a message through a picture. In black and white, with Blacks and whites. Fully dressed Huite police officers in frothy conflict at St. Augustine Beach. I liked the picture. It was sublime, even when I deciphered what was actually going on. Protest. Pugilism. Peckerwoods. Poetic. Absurd. Colored. Chaotic. Choreographic. It’s a place I’ve been to many times. An Atlantic sunrise service for Easter, a day trip through Palatka or Starke (of Old Sparky infamy and while-you-wait concealed weapon permits).

You can go either way; it’s an hour-forty-five from Gainesville, irregardless. These waterfront Civil Rights Era confrontations were called Wade-Ins, and, similar to the lunch counters in Carolina, lots of folks ended up ‘wet.’ Not that there weren’t beaches for Black folks, or lakes, or springs, but leisure is a kind of learning too. Brown v. Diving Board of Education. Archival snaps of red-faced motel managers dumping acid in pools, a conditioned response to black gold in the cement pond. You never realize how ridiculous wingtips look poolside until you see it. Anyway, I like the beach shots better. More angry instead of scared. I always wondered why the one first-person account that I remember, from a kidnapped and imprisoned African, details the Middle Passage mostly in terms of depressive sadness, not a hint of rage to be found. Still, too many grown Black folks are relegated to wading. Members of the can’t-swim-crew. Feet gotta touch the bottom, and taste level at the waist level. Lest your hair revert kinky, in the age(s) before waterproof wig glue and microbraids.  Maybe that’s what that anger, tamped down in 18th century text, looks like generations later: maximum depth, three feet.

Still, there is magic in the deep too. Escape. Covert missions and scent washed away from hound dog pursuits and Confederate ships commandeered. The Underground Railroad™ wasn’t only northbound, contingent upon Abolitionists with hidden motives, histories obscured by narratives of power. Florida census records from the turn of the 20th century recognize a hidden story of self-manumission that rivals that of more popularized tales. With a sizable Native population and many topographical and geographical features to recommend it, the state became a satellite within the deep south, a consistent challenge to European colonial powers until its statehood in 1845. The journey from Southern fields to Florida wasn’t nearly as long in comparison to The North™, and the mild weather guaranteed relative ease in travel year-round, but most significantly Black people could avoid relying on white folks to foster their journey. All positive logistics for “stealing” yourself. Sometimes you left along the 1,350+ miles of Florida coastline or traversed over 11,000 miles of rivers, streams, and waterways in the state. Maybe, if you was Gullah, or Geechee, or James Brown, all you knew was water and rice; island life. Or you simply went back to the indigeneity that was stolen from you by the Dawes Rolls or the five dollar registration fee, or the assessment of hair texture as identity, Mississippi Goddamn. Sometimes you went even further, only to return a hundred years later as an immigrant from Mexico, or Cuba, or the Bahamas, knowledge of self-determination.

I minnow patched to YMCA swim safety on a 9-year-old-summer visit with my dad in Hampton, Virginia. I had this lavender bathing suit, spots radiating from a leopard’s face across my chest, and a collection of black rubber bracelets distributed on both wrists. It was the ‘80s. I could hold my breath under water, so I assumed I could swim. After failing the assessment test, a floatation belt was strapped around my middle. Three Styrofoam blocks, then two, then one. Then none. There is magic in the deep end. Plastic rings sunk to the bottom for retrieval. That’s where the mermaids live, according to Disney, and its subsidiary, Touchstone Films; made defunct in 2017—the same year as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

My birthday is in just a few days, the cusp of Gemini and Cancer. Air and Water. It’s no surprise that I’ll be heading to St. Augustine Beach. But me and the Atlantic got beef. I Indulge it occasionally for sentimental reasons. My mother, of Easter Sunday Sunrise services, died in 2011. I much prefer the Gulf. It serves fantasy realness with its sugar sand beaches and clear Clearwater. My Dad lives there now. In St. Petersburg actually, near where there’s an inexplicable monument to Tadeusz Kościuszko, the unwitting sponsor of Thomas Jefferson’s Southern Planter Lifestyle. My Dad keeps a folding chair in the trunk of his car these days, his skin now a tanned caramel, after years of high-latitude high-yellow. A Florida native, he tells me that his first visit to the beach (Daytona), at age 25, was a date he’d arranged for my Mother. One in a collection of firsts, apparently. I am my parents’ only child. I mimic his leisure, seaside, as often as I can. For myself, and for my Mother too; grief sometimes reads the loss as a sacrifice. Might as well complete the ritual by living goodt. There are a number of photographs from that day. My father isn’t in any of the pictures, just his snaps of my mother in a pale fuchsia bikini. The camera worships her, as the eye behind it. She the sea nymph and sable goddess. My Mami Wata. Silver spoon rings and bangles, droplets of water clinging to her free form ‘fro. She’s the one who told me that European sailors mistook manatees for mermaids, and indulged my creekside fantasies—imagined creatures formed from the exposed clay deposits that I found there. She’s the one who explained the origin of my birthstone, “the only living gemstone,” she said, formed by irritating an oyster’s insides. Told me of the tether between the moon and the tides, explained the Doppler Effect from the cars with the booming systems. Box Chevys and Cutlass Supremes. Landlocked in Gainesville, we still tracked hurricanes using the coordinates broadcast by the evening news. Gridded maps printed on the sides of brown paper grocery bags.

“Drink water and mind your business,” so says the meme-ability of the Black American Vernacular. But the Black interns, working for the solar companies on the outskirts of Alachua County, only drink stuff with an -ade on the end. I know because I play house auntie for their Airbnb summers. I offer up a bit of unasked-for advice, suggesting that hydration from the water cooler housed in the kitchen is freer than the bottled stuff. I don’t even mention our high-quality city punch anymore, aquifer-fed. And the pool key remains on the hook week after week. Heat index 101. Still, when I go to Indian Rocks or Siesta Key, Daytona or Clearwater, St. Pete or St. Augustine, I scan for jeweled water beads on kinky hair. I tune my ears for the music so elemental that I can’t remember learning the lyrics that I’m singing. Reveling in the collective vulnerability of swimwear. Nourished in the mixing of it all; frothy and fine.

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Artist Adam Pendleton on Taking Over MoMA’s Atrium With a Monumental Tribute to Black Dada

For his first solo exhibition at a New York institution, the 37-year-old American artist Adam Pendleton has taken a big swing in the heart of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). 

Scaling three sides of the soaring atrium space, modular black 60-foot scaffolds support black-and-white text-based paintings as big as 10 by 20 feet; large-scale drawings; a massive screen for moving images; and speakers projecting a sound collage. Together, they form a single work of art titled Who Is Queen?, which opens on September 18. 

The monumental installation explores the artist’s concept of Black Dada, which has underpinned his work for more than a decade. He explores how theories of Blackness relate to abstraction and the avant-garde, and how mass movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter could influence the form of the exhibition. At the tail end of an eight-week installation, the Brooklyn-based artist took a break to talk about the long gestation of the show and the sum of its parts. 

Installation view of "Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

Installation view of “Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

How would you define the essence of Black Dada?

It’s a way of talking about the future while talking about the past. It’s about looking at Blackness as an open-ended idea that is not just related to notions of race. It looks at Blackness in relationship to politics, in relationship to art, in relationship even more specifically to the avant-garde. It’s kind of a framing device but it’s fluid and it’s unfixed. 

What was the genesis of this exhibition?

I did a residency at MoMA in 2011. It was a little-known secret that when [former MoMA associate director] Kathy Halbreich was at the museum, she invited a handful of artists to interact with the museum however they saw fit. Before meeting with her, I stayed up all night putting these different texts and ideas and artists and writers and thinkers together. I made this reader and handed it to Kathy: this is Black Dada. It was a kind of wild dream. The primary thing that came out of the residency was taking the Black Dada that existed in spiral-bound photo copies, DIY, and turning it into this hardbound book with essays from two MoMA curators and other curators who engaged with my work. Burning in the background was the idea for Who Is Queen?

Why did you choose that name—Who Is Queen?—for the show?

Queen could be a derogatory or loving—depending on who you are—name for a queer man. But specifically in Black culture, it has different connotations. If you’re an effeminate gay man, someone would say, “Oh you’re such a queen.” A long time ago, someone said this to me, and on the one hand I was offended and on the other hand I wanted to embrace it. Then I was repulsed by having to decide between one or the other. There’s something about being a vulnerable being in society. We’re all vulnerable in different ways and at different times. That’s at the heart of Queen, this idea of who we are, what we are, and looking at that in personal but also collective terms. It’s a question I pose to myself but also a question I’m posing to the viewer. 

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (WE ARE NOT) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (WE ARE NOT) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

So many of the paintings and drawings here are text-based, including two monumental canvases densely layered with the repeated phrase “We Are Not.” Is it important to you that viewers are able to decipher these or know the source of the text used?

In this instance, I’m referring back to a series of “We Are Not” statements I made in the Black Dada text I wrote in 2008. So not defining yourself by what you are, but by perhaps what you are not. We are not what they say we are. It’s this tension between legibility and illegibility, abstraction and representation, that is embodied in the piece visually but also within the language the painting utilizes. 

One of the things I want to do is get people’s attention. I want there to be this moment of recognition where you realize there is language. It’s legible, but layered or abstracted enough to refuse an immediate or easy interpretation. I think sometimes if you immediately read something and understand it, you move on. I’m much more interested in this site of engagement, where you actually stop and think about what you’re reading and what you’re looking at. 

Who Is Queen? was originally supposed to open last summer. In terms of content, what kind of an impact has the past year and a half had on the project?

One video is called Notes on Robert E. Lee, about the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia, which is actually my hometown. That monument became a focal point during the summer of protest. It was completely transformed by graffiti. It’s fenced off and I shot it through the fences. That is something that is very responsive. [The stature of Lee was just removed from its pedestal last week.]

The statue of Robert E. Lee stands on the ground. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

I just locked the edits on all three of the video pieces that will be shown. There’s also a video portrait of the queer theorist Jack Halberstam and a piece that’s titled Notes on Resurrection City, an ad-hoc city that was resurrected on the National Mall in D.C. in 1968. It was up for six weeks. It’s commonly referred to as the culmination of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. It was a site where people from all over the country gathered—Black, white—and demanded economic justice. What really strikes me about Resurrection City was the architecture. They were using very simple two-by-fours to construct these A-frame structures that the people lived in. These structures elevated a humble material and created something unexpected out of ordinary wood. That’s an example of architecture that really influenced Who Is Queen?

Installation view of "Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

Installation view of “Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

How is sound being integrated into the work?

When the whole piece is “on” and all elements are conversant, you’ll hear the sound collage, and then when the sound collage is not audible, you’ll hear the audio from the video works. They’ll phase in and out. It’s all automated. It’s contrapuntal.  

The three core tracks of the sound collage are a 2014 phone recording of a New York solidarity protest in Manhattan with Black Lives Matter, a 1980 reading that the poet Amiri Baraka delivered at the Walker Art Center, and a 1994 composition by the composer Hahn Rowe called Yellow Smile. These are interwoven with music by Jace Clayton, Julius Eastman, Laura Rivers, Frederic Rzewski, Linda and Sonny Sharrock, and Hildegard Westerkamp. 

There’s also a series of podcasts I’m doing with people including Jack Halberstam, Lynne Tillman, Tyshawn Sorey, Alexis Pauline Gumbs—writers, philosophers, poets, musicians. They will be in conversation with each other. I’m operating as a kind of moderator. The audio [from the podcasts] will fold back into the sound collage. The exhibition is almost like a feedback loop. It’s generative. It’s basically an algorithm that does not allow for the same thing to repeat, even if it is using the same elements. Very much like life. No day is the same. 

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (HEY MAMA HEY) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (HEY MAMA HEY) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

I can’t think of another artist who has taken over this atrium so completely.

I don’t think they’ve ever had a piece that’s used the entire height of the atrium and transformed it into a space for painting, for drawing, for sound collage, for moving image. The piece becomes a different thing depending on where you are in the museum—on the third floor, fourth floor, fifth floor, sixth floor. You can look down and see it. It really plays with the experience and the architecture of the museum on multiple levels. I really think of Queen as a kind of beautiful machine. It’s an insertion of Black Dada into an institutional space—conceptually, theoretically, and just physically. 

Installation view of “Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

In the wake of the last year, when institutions have been held accountable on racism and equity in a new way, which kind of critique or disruption would you hope Queen delivers?

I hope that one of the things that Queen does is productively overwhelm the institution. Outside of just thinking about this institution, I hope as a concept, as an idea, as a form, it disrupts and reconfigures institutional spaces. I hope it breaks down the things we think are known. 


“Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from September 18, 2020–January 30, 2021.

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10 New Murals Will Pop Up Across New York This Summer Thanks to a New Professional Development Initiative for Black Artists

This weekend, on Juneteenth, a new mural celebrating the labor of Black women activists will be unveiled in Brooklyn.

The work of Harlem- and Brooklyn-based artist and activist Helina Metaferia, the mural depicts a fellow young creator, Wildcat Ebony Brown, atop a picture of a plinth; collaged throughout the scene are archival photos of civil rights-era protests and pictures culled from old Ethiopian and Kenyan travel magazines. A small text reads, “Where would democracy be without Black women?” It will be located at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in Fort Greene.

The idea, Metaferia told Midnight Publishing Group News, is to “amplify the people in my life that are doing amazing work yet are often chastised in the media. [It’s about] reclaiming that image and offering another perspective on these activists in a way they can essentially get their power back.”

The piece will be revealed this weekend amid a flurry of other events scheduled for Juneteenth Jubilee 2021, a free outdoor event co-sponsored by arts organizations The Blacksmiths and the Wide Awakes that Metaferia—a member of the latter group—helped organize. 

Metaferia’s mural is the first of 10 public artworks set to appear across New York’s five boroughs this summer through Not a Monolith, a new professional development initiative for Black artists organized by ArtBridge, an initiative that works to transform New York City’s many miles of construction fencing and scaffolding into a venue for art.

Through the project, five New York artists have been commissioned to create two new artworks each. Paul Deo, Jeff Kasper, Dana Robinson, and Glori J. Tuitt join Metaferia as the Not a Monolith fellows.

That title “Not a Monolith” harkens back to the impetus behind the initiative: “to showcase a multitude of Black identities that are more complex, nuanced and abundant than than media’s traditional representations,” ArtBridge’s website notes. 

The artist cohort was selected this spring by an advisory committee comprised of artists Rashaad Newsome and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh; artist and curator Kendal Henry; curator and critic Larry Ossei-Mensah; and producer Natasha Logan. Each fellow has been granted professional mentorship from the committee moving forward, as well as free studio space, art materials, and a $12,000 stipend. 

“We were looking for artists who are bringing fresh ideas and engaging with a broader community,” said Ossei-Mensah, noting that the committee was equally drawn to makers who have and haven’t worked with public art before. “For me it was a question of, how do you utilize public art as a meeting point for conversation?”

Ossei-Mensah has long been an advocate of putting art in the real world rather than the white cube. Concurrent to his work with ArtBridge, he curated an installation of billboards and kiosks across Pittsburgh—a city officially celebrating Juneteenth for the first time this year—by local artist Mikael Owunna. The project opened this week. 

“This traditional idea of art being experienced only in galleries and museums is a myopic approach,” the curator said. “Particularly when you’re thinking about Black and Brown communities—you have to bring the conversation to them. And I don’t think the art world has always done a good job of that.”

“In the past there have been very few opportunities for Black and brown voices to build in the arts,” said Metaferia. “Now, I’m hoping there are more experiences like this.”

“We’ll benefit as artists and makers,” the artist went on, “but more importantly communities will get to see art—especially socially engaged works—in a new context at a time when it’s really needed.”

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Johannesburg-Based Curator Londi Modiko on Her Mission to Empower Black Women Creatives

Londi Modiko has unabashedly set out to change the South African art world.

For over a decade, the Johannesburg-based curator and art advisor has been working on innovative programming that champions the nation’s artists, institutions, and curators.

“As a Black woman from agricultural KwaZulu Natal, I am very aware of my responsibility to show Black kids that this is something that they can do too, that this is something that is in their realm of possibility,” she explained. 

Currently an associate director at Goodman Gallery, Modiko has driven a bevy of cultural and institutional initiatives focused on rethinking the contemporary art landscape.

In 2020, she co-founded the Independent Network for Contemporary Culture and Art (INCCA), a nonprofit organization that supports independent curatorial projects. For several years before that, she ran An Art Agency, through which she advised major South African collectors.

She even gave the art-fair model a go, co-founding Underline, a fair for independent curators, publishers, and print studios that was a major hit of the 2019 Johannesburg art week.

Recently, we caught up with Modiko to hear her thoughts on the future of the art world and what she’s focused on now.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

How did you find your way in the art world and to your current career?

I have always had a perpetual curiosity and invested a lot of time in immersing myself in all things visual arts. After graduating from art school, I was hired as an intern at an intaglio print studio in Johannesburg. That was the beginning of my interesting trajectory in the art world, which now spans just over 13 years. I have worked my way up in a number of art institutions. However, the highlight of my career has been the last three years, where I worked independently as a curator and art advisor.

I often get asked if I planned to be an arts practitioner and curator, but truthfully I didn’t really know it was a real profession until I had graduated from undergrad. I thought I’d become an artist after graduating, but my path led me into preferring to being in the background. This is probably because I’ve always been attracted to learning and history and the little details that most people don’t have time for. Everything has stemmed from pure curiosity and my interest in the creative manifestations of the human mind.

As a lifelong art lover, what was the first work you ever purchased for yourself?

I’ve been collecting art throughout my career, even when my salary could barely cover my necessities. The one that stands out is a wooden carved sculpture of a couple by the late Johannes Segogela. I acquired the piece from the Goodman Gallery. His attention to detail in these small sculptures reveals a close observation of life. I also really appreciate how the features on the faces, clothing buttons, ties, and especially shoes are rendered with such care.

Have you had any mentors in the art world?

I’ve not really had a mentor in the art world. The industry here is young and most of my older colleagues have been focused on trying to figure things out for themselves. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a network of people in non-creative fields who’ve been very generous with their expertise and guidance, which I’ve been able to apply to my art career. My business partner and co-founder of the Independent Network for Contemporary Culture and Art, Lara Koseff, who’s an exceptional curator, has also been a great confidant.

Can you tell me more about INCCA and why you felt drawn to found this non-profit?

INCCA is a nonprofit cultural organization that realizes independent projects and creates new platforms for visual artists, collectives, curators, and other cultural practitioners. My partners, Lara Koseff, Nthabiseng Mokoena, and I founded the group because we wanted an alternative art world. We wanted to pioneer new ways of sharing art and cultural ideas. We’re working on a number of exciting projects with various collaborators. 

What do you see as your role in the art world?

As an art practitioner, I hope to encourage people of my identity to be open to engaging and enjoying art. When it comes to the work that I’ve done and hope to do, I strongly believe that my role is to advance the art world by putting out exciting projects that empower artists, curators, and cultural practitioners. I hope to become a powerful advocate for art.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

What are some of the projects you’re working on that you’re excited about?

The work I do through our INCCA excites me. The possibilities are limitless. I enjoy exploring my passion outside of the “white cube” art systems. At the moment INCAA is working on a collaborative traveling public-art project. I’m mentoring a group of women artists through a mentorship program. It is fulfilling for me to impart the art knowledge I’ve acquired throughout my career. I’ve also recently returned to the world-renowned Goodman Gallery to take up the position of associate director at the Johannesburg space.

Who are the artists you’re most excited about right now?

I am enjoying this moment in art where there are practically no rules. Over the last four years, artists that are based in Durban have been of great interest to me. I also follow the program at Bkhz Gallery closely, as I think they are the most exciting young gallery in the country. BKHZ gallery is a space founded by artist Banele Khoza. His vision for the space is for Black young creatives to showcase their art with a support system. I love everything they do and what they stand for.

I understand that nowadays when this question is posed to people like me, it is meant to highlight which artists are likely to be a good return on investment. Some art collectors want to predict who’s going to hit it big, but honestly you really never know. You need to get out there, talk to the artists, and look for your own excitement in discovery. You really have to start there.

What do you imagine the art world of the future might look like?

I hope the future of the art world encourages transparency and goodwill when it comes to the sharing of art ideas. I also hope that the art environment that is entrenched in white capitalist patriarchy will evolve and realize the importance of having Black women occupy a range of executive roles in the arts without tokenism. The future of the art world is here. There are now smaller economies with more utopian underpinnings. In summary, I imagine an alternative art world!

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