Johannesburg-based curator Londi Modiko on her mission to empower creative black women

Londi Modiko unabashedly decided to change the South African art world.

For more than a decade, the Based in Johannesburg curator and artistic advisor has worked on an innovative program that defends the artists, institutions and curators of the country.

“As a black woman from farming KwaZulu Natal, I am very aware of my responsibility to show black children that this is something they can do too, that it is something that is within their realm of possibility.” , she explained.

Currently associate director of the Goodman Gallery, Modiko has led a multitude of cultural and institutional initiatives aimed at rethinking the landscape of contemporary art.

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

She even tried the art fair model, co-founding Underline, a fair for independent curators, publishers and print studios which was a big hit of Johannesburg Art Week 2019.

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

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

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

I have always had a perpetual curiosity and I have invested a lot of time immersing myself in everything related to the visual arts. After graduating from art school, I was hired as an intern at an intaglio printing studio in Johannesburg. This was the start of my interesting journey in the art world, which now spans just over 13 years. I rose through the ranks in several artistic institutions. However, the highlight of my career was the last three years, where I worked independently as a curator and artistic advisor.

I’m often asked if I intended to be an arts practitioner and curator, but in truth, I didn’t really know it was a real profession until I graduated from undergraduate degree. I thought I would become an artist after graduation, but my journey has led me to prefer being in the background. It’s probably because I’ve always been drawn to learning, history, and the little things most people don’t have time for. It was all born out of pure curiosity and my interest in the creative manifestations of the human mind.

As a lifelong art lover, what was the first piece of work you bought for yourself?

I have collected art throughout my career, even when my salary could barely cover my needs. The one that stands out is a carved wooden 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 keen observation of life. I also really appreciate the way the features on the faces, the buttons on the clothes, the ties and especially the shoes are rendered with such care.

Have you had any mentors in the art world?

I haven’t really had a mentor in the art world. The industry here is young and most of my older colleagues have focused on finding solutions on their own. However, I have been fortunate to have a network of people in non-creative fields who have been very generous with their expertise and advice, which I have been able to apply to my artistic career. My business partner and co-founder of the Independent network for contemporary art and culture, Lara Koseff, who is an exceptional curator, was also a great confidante.

Can you tell me more about INCCA and why did you feel attracted to the creation of this association?

INCCA is a non-profit cultural organization that carries out 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 be the pioneers of new ways of sharing art and cultural ideas. We are working on a number of exciting projects with various collaborators.

What is your role in the art world according to you?

As an art practitioner, I hope to encourage people of my identity to open up to and appreciate art. When it comes to the work I have done and hope to do, I firmly believe that my role is to move the art world forward by launching 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 projects are you working on that are you passionate about?

The work I do through our INCCA fascinates me. The possibilities are endless. I like to explore my passion outside of the artistic systems of the “white cube”. The INCAA is currently working on a collaborative traveling public art project. I coach a group of women artists as part of a mentoring program. It is gratifying for me to pass on the artistic knowledge that I have acquired throughout my career. I also recently returned to the world famous Goodman Gallery to take on the position of Associate Director of Johannesburg Space.

Which artists are you most passionate about at the moment?

I take this moment in the art where there are hardly any rules. Over the past four years, artists based in Durban have interested me a lot. I am also the program at Bkhz Gallery up close, because I think it’s the most exciting young gallery in the country. The BKHZ gallery is a space founded by the artist Banele Khoza. His vision of the space is for young black creatives to present their art with a support system. I love everything they do and what they represent.

I understand that today when this question is asked of people like me, it is aimed at highlighting which artists are likely to be a good return on investment. Some art collectors want to predict who is going to hit hard, but honestly you never really know. You have to go out, talk to the artists, and seek your own excitement in the discovery. You really have to start there.

What do you think the art world of the future could look like?

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

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