Artists We Love: Keneilwe Mokoena

INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring IMAGES courtesy of Keneilwe Mokoena

Johannesburg-based artist and curator Keneilwe Mokoena chats to us about digital collages, bio-art and career highlights.

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?

I’m not quite certain exactly when I first thought of being an artist. I suppose we all have considered ourselves artists at some point in our lives, like how every one of us made art when we were younger. Unfortunately, most of us later choose to ignore the artist within.

I think I only really began contemplating making art my career choice at the end of high school. I went to a technical high school hoping to one day become an engineer of some sort, but soon realised I wanted to go to an art school – a suggestion my mom turned down. We didn’t have art as a subject at school. The closest thing to art (which I enjoyed most) was technical drawing. So it was only after high school that I pursued it intently. Ironically, as much as I didn’t want to be in a technical high school, my work is now greatly influenced by technical drawing and a STEM education background.

You’re both a visual artist and curator. What do you enjoy most – creating your own work or curating the work of others?

The obvious answer to which I enjoy most is the art making process, but I think of curation as a form of art making. Both require an acute sense of creating an aesthetically stimulating experience. They tend to feed into one another.

What do you love most about being creative?

I most enjoy the problem solving aspect of creativity. It’s a process of figuring out ingenious ways of creating and interpreting ideas into something awe-inspiring and immensely meaningful.

ONE. Tape String installation.


Your recent digital work, showcased at BKhz in Joburg, includes a collection of beautiful collages. What inspired this series?

The series of digital collages was inspired by my deep fascination with magnifying parts of myself and the universe around me. The work presents profound contemplations of my place in the cosmos through dismantled pieces of text, symbolic imagery and self-portraits in an attempt to piece together seemingly disparate fragments of information – creating a sense of order out of the ever present chaos of existence. I’ve recently rekindled my obsession with collage. There’s something beautiful about the process of creating new meaning from old ideas and constantly discovering ingenious ways of interpreting information. For this work, working digitally has felt liberating, with an endless supply of images and words to choose from – I’m able to create freely and easily.

#0260. Digital collage. 2019.

You work across a variety of artistic disciplines. Is there a medium you prefer?

For a long time I preferred drawing as a fundamental part of my creative process. But I’ve always been interested in a variety of mediums. There are novel aspects I love about each and every medium I’ve explored, and it’s immensely important to me to keep reinventing the ways I choose to express ideas. I never want to get stuck in monotony.

Untitled 2. Pen on paper. 2013.

What has been a career highlight so far?

One of my biggest highlights was a Bio-Art collaboration with microbiologist Aurelie Deroubaix. The body of work, titled The Unseen Self, was an intimate exploration of the unseen parts of myself, my bacteria. I’m fascinated by scientific understandings of the natural world and it was an honour to be able to work in the lab with a scientist.

The Unseen Self 1. Microscopy and photography. 2018.

Another highlight was being invited by Eden Labs Africa to come and explore, experiment and play with the latest technologies in art making, such as virtual reality sculpting, 3D mapping and 3D printing. I love exploring the intersection between art, science and technology.

My debut solo exhibition Deconstruction / Reconstruction, which ran from 4 – 25 August at The Project Space, was successfully received – beyond my wildest expectations. This is followed by my new position as Project Manager and Curator for The Project Space organisation. It has been an exciting series of accomplishments in a short period of time, after long years of hard work and dedication.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

There are exciting projects that I look forward to implementing for The Project Space, starting with the Co-Create Residency Program aimed at fostering and nurturing a collaborative environment for young female artists. Applications are open until 20 September 2019.

Follow Keneilwe on Instagram to keep up to date with new work and upcoming exhibitions.