For The People

Bronwyn Katz – It’s more than a mattress

The weird and wonderful minds are being celebrated in the art space. One such mind belongs to Kimberley-born Artist – Bronwyn Katz who has completely reimagined the use of a mattress and other conventional materials.

The 25-year-old has not only managed to make a name for herself in her art form of sculpture but through her insight into spatial politics has manipulated these everyday products into pieces of art. The old spring mattress is a recurring feature of her work and caught the attention of both local and international art heavy weights.

Through her installations and sculptures, the UCT graduate manages to put together works inspired by her collective history and memory linked to the spaces and objects around them. For example, by emptying out the contents of worn mattresses and readapting them with the various materials that make it up she creates something more than an object we sleep on – she creates what art experts have described as being “ghost forms”.

Katz uses art to reconnect the past with the present, delivering a message that is quite abstract and sometimes haunting. The artist recently returned from her three-month solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The Solomon Star spoke to Katz, to pick her brain on what it meant for a Northern Cape born artist to live her dreams in the industry.

Q: As an artist, where would you say your journey first started?
A: From a young age I’ve always been inclined to draw and to make things so that’s where my interest into the arts stemmed from. My journey into the arts I would say, first started in high school. After that I then decided to further my studies by going to study art at university. I studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art for four years which then culminated a relationship with a gallery in Cape Town, so there I started showing my work at the gallery and from there on my career grew.

Q: From this journey what have been some of your biggest accomplishments?
A: In the last two years I got to do a few residencies. Earlier this year, in July I had a solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo which is a museum in Paris. I did a residency for three-months and that culminated in an exhibition at the Palais De Tokyo. Last year I did a residency in Amsterdam and that culminated into a group exhibition with 15 South African artists and it was called tell freedom and the exhibition was about the relationship between the Netherlands and South Africa.

Q: How important is it, for a Northern Cape artist to receive international acclaim for their work in the way that you have?
A: My work is centred around South Africa, but also around the Northern Cape. Growing up in the Northern Cape there’s special politics of the province and the country in general. So it means a lot because I get to share my story about the Northern Cape and my story about Kimberley. It is about being able to create awareness about our context in other places so that was amazing. Internationally I started my first exhibition in Italy. I started working at a gallery in Italy and they were representing artists from Africa. I was the only artist from South Africa showing in this four-person exhibition with guys that were from the diaspora living in France. Thereafter I did another African focus exhibition in Paris that was curated by Maria Yemsi and she saw my work on one of her trips to South Africa and invited me to be a part of that show in Paris.

Q: Unconventional materials prominently feature in some of your work. What has been your inspiration as an artist?
A: I am very inspired by my family as well as our Kimberley-specific mining history. It actually depends on the place that I live at the time. I was also very much inspired by Cape Town and its spatial politics. When I was in Johannesburg my art was focused on the spatial planning in Johannesburg and how people live in the city. In the three months that I spent in Paris I was interested in how and where people from the African Diaspora live in Paris and what the circumstances are as people from the Diaspora or people from the continent.

Q: You completely break the misconception of ‘the starving artist’. How have you managed to achieve the amount of success you have?
A: I think it has a lot to do with being lucky. Now I’m thinking about all the people that I’ve studied with. If you study art it makes it a lot easier, because when you’re done studying you have a network. I studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at UCT and it has a very good reputation. When we have our final year exhibition the school invites galleries from all around Cape Town, and the city has majority of the biggest galleries in the country, and then if they like your work the galleries would want to work with you. By wanting to work with you they can fund you for the beginning of your relationship with them. For example, if you need like material they’ll say okay I want to invest in you, but just for the beginning. After a while your career picks up and you start making your own money, but there is a lot of luck involved. Something that really helped was forming collectives. So a group of myself and eleven other black women formed a collective and said we’re going to support each other, so if galleries decide that they don’t want to support any of us we’re going to support each other. So I think in places like the Northern Cape or Kimberley, where there are no commercial galleries, what helps is people coming together and saying okay this group of ours is going to do something together and we’re going to show each other’s work on Facebook or we’re going to talk about each other’s work or write about each other’s work that helps a lot.

Q: Any message of support to prospective artists in the province?
A: If you’re a black woman or a black queer person specifically, I would say this is the time. For so long there hasn’t been representation. So by you deciding to become an artist you stand a bigger chance than anyone else because your voice is missing, people are yearning for your voice, they want to hear what you have to say in the work you make. So this is the time. And I think it’s just like miseducation more than anything else. I remember when I said I wanted to study art everyone was saying that’s what the white people study or you study that when you have a lot of money and because of that there’s a big lack of our voices, those voices of the Northern Cape, voices from smaller places and those are the voices that people want to hear. They want to hear our stories. They want to hear what it means to grow up here. I would encourage prospective artists to study art, or if anything participate in arts festivals and forming collectives. That’s fundamental. I am saying I recognize my fellow artist in my community and I am one of them and we’re going to do something together.

Bronwyn Katz - Stainless Steel Artwork
Bronwyn Katz – Stainless Steel Artwork
Bronwyn Katz - Sunlight Soap Artwork
Bronwyn Katz – Sunlight Soap Artwork
Bronwyn Katz - Mild Steel Blanket
Bronwyn Katz – Mild Steel Blanket

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