By Melissa Hinkin , Curadur a chynhyrchydd llawrydd, a Swyddog Arddangosfeydd Artes Mundi

18 June 2019 - 12:49

three people laughing
The three artists involved in the project; Kago Monageng, Leo Makgekgenene and Tumelo Bogatsu ©

Lerato Motshwarakgole

Cardiff based Melissa Hinkin was selected to take part in Echoes of [Un]Silenced Voices; a partnership between British Council – Botswana and Thapong Visual Arts Centre to support young emerging local artists in Botswana to create engaging cross-disciplinary contemporary and innovative art work.

Melissa Hinkin is a freelance curator and producer, and also works as Exhibitions Officer for Artes Mundi in Cardiff, Wales. Three years ago, Melissa visited Johannesburg in South Africa with another British Council initiative and despite the two countries being neighbours, she’s already had very different and stimulating experiences in Bostwana  through this programme.

Echoes of [Un]Silenced Voices, a collaborative project came about through an open call to create connections between creative practitioners in the UK and Thapong Visual Arts Centre, which is the only established centre of this kind in Botswana.

Here Melissa tells us about her experience taking part in the arts project in Botswana;

I was really excited to respond to that call off the back of my other work, including that in South Africa a few years ago.

Since 1998, Thapong Visual Arts Centre  has worked to promote collaboration and excellence in the visual arts sector in Botswana through sharing skills, enabling personal growth and developing and promoting arts locally and internationally through networking, using the gallery, studio spaces and vibrant programme. Since 2010, the centre has offered residencies for international artists to work in Botswana with local artists, including opportunities to conduct outreach workshops and exhibitions. This programme built off the back of and was an extension from other projects which had happened in more cities in Africa with more established visual arts networks and practices, and this was a chance to support an emerging arts scene in other African countries. 

The aims of the programme are:

  • To create an opportunity for early career artists in Botswana to connect with new audiences
  • To create opportunities for engaging with communities
  • To support Thapong to become an inclusive space for creatives to gather, connect and collaborate.
  • To promote co-creation, collaboration, and co-production of new art by early career artists.
  • To facilitate connections between contemporary African and UK visual arts sector by connecting the artists in Botswana to the UK visual arts sector.
  • To develop unique and compelling content that is experimental and innovative in delivery and approach.
  • To support the local curator to build confidence working with contemporary visual arts and supporting emerging artists in that space. 

I worked closely with Thuthuka Tumelo, the resident curator at Thapong, not only on the input of criteria and selection of the three projects, but also to provide mentoring support to Thuthuka and also to Tumelo Bogatsu,Kago Monageng and Legakwanaleo Makgekgenene, the three artists who were recruited via an open call for an exhibition. These artists – all aged 18-35years old - are all working in different mediums to develop their sharing skills with my support, as they all had university training but very limited professional experience.

In my work across the UK and now Botswana I’ve noticed many differences and the experience has given everyone involved many opportunities to learn. I was able to showcase my own experience and other possibilities, including the Folkstone Triennial, Artes Mundi, and the Barbican, and I found it exciting and challenging to be part of the very early stage development of the sector, and witness the enthusiasm for that locally. The challenges have included managing levels of expectation and experience, the usual things around remote communication especially when working interculturally, and navigating some of the cultural and historical sensitivities about how I and the partners work together. 

My next step is to go back to Botswana in early July to set up for the next stage of the project, the exhibition called 'Echoes of (Un)Silenced Voices', running 12 July until 8 August 2019, and to keep having conversations about how to maintain the momentum and development potential. I am really keen to continue the relationship that has begun through this work, and am looking for other stepping stones to enable that. 

Three people laughing
(Left-right) Reginald Bakwena, Director of Thapong Visual Art Centre, Melissa Hinkin, Echoes of [Un]Silenced Voices curator and Thuthuka Tumelo, Resident Curator at Thapong Visual Art Centre ©

Lerato Motshwarakgole