Creative Arts at ALA Adds Student-led “Curating Africa” to Curriculum

In its new offering titled “Curating Africa”, our Creative Arts department is deconstructing and reimagining the concept of curation. Year 2 student Towela “Kams” Tembo ‘19 from Botswana is leading this 10-week program whose curriculum is stripping down the concept of curating with the aim of using tools learnt in these classes to solve a variety of Africa’s socio-economic challenges.

The class forms part of a newly rolled-out Creative Arts extra-curricular programme at ALA which aims to ensure that all students access art education at some point during their 2-year diploma journey. Other programme offerings include Marimba and Mbira lessons, Poetry & Short Fiction classes and a Design Club, providing a diverse catalogue of opportunities for students and staffulty to explore and celebrate different art forms on the continent. 

Curating Africa’s curriculum was developed by Towela over several months as she leveraged both her personal interest in curatorship and inputs from London-based curator Katherine Finerty. The course covers curatorship holistically by journeying with participants through the history of curatorship, exploring new and progressive forms of curatorship, discussing its importance in Africa and, finally, requiring participants to submit a practical portfolio of all that has been discovered through the classes. “Ms Katherine brings a wealth of knowledge and experience given her curatorial background and working with artists in Africa. Her input has been so valuable in terms of thinking about introducing a fresh concept of curatorship as we both felt that the traditional understanding of it is somewhat outdated, and reimagining how to portray the continent and the narratives therein”.

In 2019 Katherine visited the ALA campus and worked with students and staffulty to co-create a seminar around the power of art in a contemporary and international cultural ecosystem. Mentorship and collaboration are key pillars of Katherine’s practice which created synergy for working with Towela on the curatorship class. “Towela and I have been talking about how we feel art is a tool for change on the African continent and beyond, and how curating can function as a call to action through storytelling. These ideas have been powerfully integrated in Towela’s current interactive class, which also functions within the greater context of the AL for the Arts Campaign to integrate a substantial and sustainable platform for creative expression on campus which I’m very excited to collectively bring to life.” Katherine remarks.

Katherine Finerty

The class’ uniqueness lies in its curriculum extending beyond the art world. That is, curatorship can be used to collect, organise and present thoughts and ideas for personal projects, assist in collating research in academia and, as Katherine breaks it down, entrepreneurship: “I aspired for the programme to be accessible and transferrable – open to all types of future leaders, whether they be artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, or all of the above – to encourage multi-disciplinary thinking and producing. In Towela’s current class, she contextualises curating as a practice grounded in understanding not only artists but also audiences, thinking about context, communication, criticality, and care – how to create with impact. I think this approach powerfully establishes tools that are key for an entrepreneurial ambition. One of my favourite questions from Towela’s second lesson is: How can curatorial agency be integrated into different fields, everyday thinking, and beyond to address / highlight Africa’s seven grand challenges? For me, curating is about inter-disciplinary thinking and collaborative problem-solving, ultimately empowering us to transform these challenges into opportunities.”

Director of Creative Arts and Events, Dr Sarah Kgagudi, shared her thoughts on the program: “A need in the community was identified for more opportunities to take art classes or to practice art in some form on campus for those who may have not been able to because of the diploma program’s rigorous course selections. We hope that the extra-curricular program will offer a solution to this problem by offering weekly lessons that will introduce or strengthen existing interests in a variety of art media.”

Halfway through its curriculum and the class is already having an impact on participants such as Senegalese Year 1 Student Khadidiatou Doucoure ’20, who notes: “The classes have allowed me to understand that curatorship is necessary in innovation. Mostly interested in sciences, I believe the curating classes will allow me to strengthen my critical thinking skills. The classes are also giving me a new perspective on how to innovate in whichever field I will pursue in the scientific domain. Curatorship draws my attention to representing scientific works in a simplified and more accessible way for people to understand it”.