ARISE 100 Women: Kerryn Greenberg

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Words Kiran Yoliswa

Kerryn Greenberg, curator of international art at London's Tate Modern, leads the gallery's Africa Acquisitions Committee. She has curated numerous exhibitions involving African artists including Contested Terrains(in collaboration with CCA Lagos) and Nicholas Hlobo: Uhambo, as well as collection displays of Santu Mofokeng, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré and Guy Tillim. She organised the Curating In Africa symposium at Tate Modern in October 2010, and regularly publishes and lectures on art from Africa.Born and raised in South Africa, Greenberg has a MA in Curatorial Studies from Bard College, New York.

What drives you?

I want to help people experience art, not only when it is beautiful or familiar but also when it is complex, uncomfortable and thought provoking. Ultimately it is the creativity and commitment of the artists that drives me. It is incredibly rewarding helping them realise their vision and to see ideas develop and take shape.

What do you see as the future of Africa?

There is a great deal of creativity and talent in Africa although there are still few art schools, museums and galleries. While governments in Africa have largely neglected the visual arts in recent years, individuals have been working hard to fill the gaps. Independent art spaces like CCA Lagos in Nigeria, Doual’art in Cameroon and Nubuke Foundation in Ghana are playing a crucial role in nurturing artists and building audiences.

The number of important art events on the continent is also swelling, with new festivals and biennials such as the Addis Foto Fest in Ethiopia, the Biennale Benin and Picha Encounters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, attracting international visitors and enabling artists living and working in Africa to engage with each other. While recent developments have demonstrated that the arts can flourish without government support, artists and cultural producers are not immune to political instability and economic hardship. The future of the arts in Africa, like everything else, depends on good governance.

Why do you feel that art is important to the future of Africa?

Art is both a crucial element of and product of our society. Our individual and collective identities are rooted in culture, and art enables us to express this. It is through art that we are able to reflect on our past and present, our successes and failures, and to imagine a better future. This is why artists working in Africa need to be encouraged and supported, collectors need to be stimulated and educated, and hard and soft infrastructure developed. As a curator I feel that I have a role to play in all these areas to safeguard a space for art in society.

What are the main misconceptions when it comes to women in your industry?

A career in the arts is difficult, regardless of who one is and where one lives, but it is extremely tough for women living in Africa. There are very real economic constraints as well as family and societal expectations that prevent many women from following this career path. Living in London and working internationally enables me to bypass many of these issues and gives me hope that one day all women will enjoy the same rights.

What advice do you have for anyone starting out in your industry?

Be in the world. The more you see, the more you read, the more you write, the more people you meet, the more you will understand and the better you will be as a person, and as a curator.

What are the main challenges you face in your work?

Curating is not a profession, it is a lifestyle. I have met with artists at 6am and 11pm because those were the only times they could make it. Giving tours on weekends and having dinner with patrons, traveling after hours and writing texts on holiday is all part of the job. Although the salary could be better, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to do anything else.

In boardrooms and parliaments, on television and the stage, women are increasingly making their presence felt across Africa and on the world stage. The inaugural ARISE 100 list champions just some of the remarkable women shaping modern Africa today.

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