The Portfolio: Manyaku Mashilo

An artist liaison is simply the link between the artist and the gallery. Most artists have a strong core group of gallery staff to manage their affairs. Together we are responsible for, among other things, being a point of support for the artist, sometimes in a personal capacity; communicating the artist’s ideas and general practice to the rest of the gallery staff, so that they are able to assist in executing the work with the necessary integrity. It also involves managing certain areas of the artist’s public image like interviews with press and other media, shielding them from exploitation when necessary. As a group we have to be perfectly aligned with the artist to ensure their success.

Working in a gallery means you are in contact with artists’ life stories and works on a daily basis. I work particularly closely with artists such as Lhola Amira and Mongezi Ncaphayi, who speak specifically to black lives and lived experience, and resonate with me personally.

So, it is important on a professional and personal level that I assist the gallery in representing the artists’ work faithfully. Black artists, especially black queer womxn artists, must be able to hold a space within this industry. We need to make sure we are protected, through access to these safe spaces. Shared experience is important so that the integrity of the work is not compromised.

Black womxn professionals are at the bottom of this food chain. For me, my position has really helped me to take myself seriously in a world in which few people do. Institutional racism or marginalisation is an experience every black womxn professional has to endure and so you do have to be your own cheerleader, but there are many black womxn I work alongside who I am continually inspired by. They are not public figures, so I won’t name them, but I count them as my biggest influences.

Our industry is slowly making space for black womxn professionals. My personal view is that this is happening because of the relationships institutions have needed to create with the artists themselves. With African contemporary art being at the forefront in this industry, it makes sense that black professionals are at the forefront too, to bridge the gap in communication between those who usually own the spaces and the artists who transform them. I try to be a force for change within our system by holding space along with the few black professionals who are doing so much work behind the scenes in this industry for their artists.

With this being a period of massive adjustments we are doing our best to try to create a digital presence and keep our artists relevant and their audiences informed about how they are also navigating the pandemic.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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