Curator and artist Tšhegofatšo Mabaso (all images courtesy Tšhegofatšo Mabaso)

The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.

Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them. If you identify as a queer art worker, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to learn more about how to participate. 

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What’s your name?

Tšhegofatšo Mabaso

Where are you based currently? 

Cape Town, South Africa

Describe who you are and what you do.

I am an artist, curator, and researcher. Currently I am the curator of Contemporary Art at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town. In my artistic and curatorial practice, I’ve been interested in experimental approaches to knowledge production, exploring new curatorial methods, and imaging new forms — whether for exhibitions, collections or institutions. I’ve tried to center collaboration and multiplicity in my projects, drawing on the wealth of knowledge and approaches artist collectives have offered us historically. At the gallery, I’ve been given an opportunity to think about the collection — what it is, it’s significance, and the histories it has or lacks.

A “walkabout” for the exhibition AND COUNTING , Johannesburg Art Gallery, 2019, curated by Tšhegofatšo Mabaso

Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.

I’m really proud of the place I am at in my career. I imagined a lot of the work I’m doing now coming much later in my life, so it feels amazing to be here. Working at the National Gallery is a challenge I’m quite proud to open myself up to. I recently motivated and got the approval for the acquisition of a work by an amazing Black woman artist whose work I admire. This was important for me, in terms of articulating works I believe should be represented in this national collection and acting on that.

Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?

I am grateful for my imagination when it comes to celebrating my queerness. I feel like it has pushed the boundaries and possibilities of what I thought my life could look like as a queer Black woman living in South Africa. Imagining currently feels like the biggest form of being happy with myself — always confirming that it is the world that needs to change, not me.

What’s been top of mind for you lately?

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened a lot of senses and emotions. It’s offered me another way to see how the system simply doesn’t work.

Lockdown views from Tšhegofatšo Mabaso’s home

Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)

I am currently leaning on my supportive partner, Lerato Mlambo, who is an amazing thinker, creative, and currently my personal crypto-wiki. I wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for my sister, family, and close friends. Openly embracing my queerness is quite new to me so my journey has mostly been about talking to myself. I had to be patient with and deliberate about the communities and support systems I wanted in my life. I can’t say I have actively sought out communities or support systems to belong to beyond my partner, close friends, and family. The past couple of years have been about finding out what being queer means to me, learning and unlearning quietly. I felt that I’d much rather think about building and maintaining support structures when it was safer for people to be around me. It feels like I am in a much better place to pursue these connections now and it excites me!

I find value and purpose in initiatives like GALA Archive, HOLAAfrica, and the Find New Words project — founded by a close friend, Khanyi Mpumlawana-Sebata.

How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?

I am deep in the archive. This pride month I have been immersed in the work of queer artists, writers, producers, thinkers, and creators. I’ve been enjoying artist Mercy Thokozane Minah’s series of digital paintings. My favorite series depicts black queer lovers in intimate domestic settings, taking care of themselves, loving each other in all the simple and beautiful ways. I am also reading They Called Me Queer, a compilation of essays edited by Kim Windvogel and Kelly-Eve Koopman.

My partner Lerato and I are working together on a project which we hope will build and bring together a community of young Black queer families.

Lockdown views from Tšhegofatšo Mabaso’s home

Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?

I think Black queer subjectivities have largely been ignored in the arts. When engaged they are often essentialized and the hyper-visibility of narrow tropes is often favored over meaningful engagement with our work and the relationship between our work and our identities. Queer artists need resources and space to make work in all forms but now more than ever we deserve deep, critical engagement with our work.

I want to see Black queer people and subjectivities reflected in the spaces I work — archives, collections, exhibitions (not just ones about queerness) etc.

I want black queer artists to have access to studios, resources, health care, places to gather, and spaces to rest.

In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?

I’d like to see [more] representation of and critical engagement with the work of queer people.

What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?

I would really love to picnic again with friends, I just want to see myself sitting on the grass rolling around with our kid.

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Dessane Lopez Cassell is a New York based editor, writer, and film curator, as well as the former reviews editor at Hyperallergic. You can follow her work here.