Steve Bandoma graduated in Fine Arts in Kinshasa. Based in Cape Town today, he interrogates post-colonial politics in Africa. Besides his participation in local and international exhibitions, he got awards and fellowships such as Art Buzz (USA) 2009, a Pro Helvetia residency fellowship in Zurich as well as the Visa pour la création Afrique et Caraïbes 2009 in Paris. In 2010 Bandoma exhibited at FOCUS in Basel, and at the Space: Currencies in Contemporary African Art exhibition in Johannesburg.
Steve Bandoma types out responses to my questions whilst in residency at Cite Internationale des Arts in partnership with Mains d’Oeuvres in Paris, where he received an art award and is working on his new work there. Barely 30-years of age, he has managed to swoop up the South African art industry with his take on the conceptual realms of art. So good his work that he received an honourable mention award in the Art Buzz Book 2009 Collection (USA) and also managed to secure a fellowship with the Swiss Arts Council (2009). Many-a-artist will tell you their first encounter with an easel or attempt at art occurred during their early childhood days. However Bandoma believes he was born an artist: “I use this term „artist‟ very carefully though! Because there is a lot of confusion today.” He warns. “It is not because you can sing or play with Photoshop that makes you an artist. I mean you can sing and as such can be called a singer. Or you can paint and be labelled a painter, but to be an artist is something far more complex than singing and painting.” Fair enough considering he believes his artistry is an innate ability and as the old adage goes – “each one to his own.” But in order for one to nurture and establish a natural born talent it is important to factor in how they were socialised and how living in Kinshasa shaped this artist‟s contemporary perspectives. “My birthplace is an environment which is associated with producing African Art in traditional sense of being an artist and has not much room for the more contemporary practise or conceptual side of art. In 2003, in Kinshasa, we [Francis Mampuya, Vithois Mwilambwe, Alain Mwilambwe, Apolinaire Wantina and tree others] created a movement called “ Librisme Synergie” protesting against academic education system in Congo for not establishing new media or contemporary practice. At colleges I had a desire to develop my career towards the more contemporary side of art.” With such limitations, a move to South Africa was an inevitable card soon to be dealt in this artist‟s life. “It‟s was very important for me to spend times out of my country, so I moved to South Africa in 2005. And thereafter I spent almost a year looking for the right contacts in art circles – first in Johannesburg then in Cape Town. South Africa was just where I wanted to be –every hour, minute and second spent here just inspired me further towards being an artist. And I was not going to give up, even after many rejections. There was no other option for me, not even going back home was an option. I had to get what I wanted. I reflected upon every rejection letter that came my way and was further encouraged to do my best.” Coupled by a determinism to be recognised and established as an artist – the opportunity came towards the end of 2005 in the Cape 07/ X-Cape Festival. Since then there has been no looking back. Today, having exhibited at numerous exhibitions, there still stands a difficulty in defining his style. Bandoma laughs candidly before pronouncing that, “some white artists here in South Africa told me not to consider myself as a conceptual artist. Maybe because I am black? I don‟t know. Maybe black artists are not supposed to do conceptual art?” So not only is there an attempt to break into art circles but there is also a subtle urge to break stereotypical notions on what black artists can practise. Should black artists be limited to pottery or dare I say sculpture and perhaps painting. It becomes further difficult to examine what artists such as Bandoma can and cannot do largely because his vast exposure to contemporary art practise and many other cultures has led to him producing cultural diverse works that cannot be limited by racial barriers. Besides the colour lines of art practise, Bandoma identifies three other challenges that have made his art path so much more vexing that the ordinary artist: “It has been though working as a full time artist in another country, for years, with no family around. But then again that was my decision. At times my art has been commercial unviable and as such I have had to lean on my family for support. Another thing about living in South Africa has been my inability to articulate myself fluently in South African languages which is made worse by my not being a South African Citizen. Now imagine the implications of that.” But I still ponder on whether or not for an artist such as Bandoma, or for any African artist, in this particular day in age where African Art is exoticised and commands a growing demand from those with a penchant for the spectacle of the other, wouldn‟t it be just easier to make traditional art. “I am a conceptual artist. Okay!? I believe that good or inspired art brings meaning in life and also allows an intellectual body to grow,” responds Bandoma as he justifies his choice to dabble in conceptual art as opposed to what he dubs the less mentally stimulating traditional art practise. The journey is far from over. The challenges come and go. Optimism precedes a quest to be established internationally as an artist: “I see myself in Documenta, Venice Biennale, etcetera!” smile Bandoma as he releases that was the last question.