Cape Town artist takes up residency at Zeitz MOCAA

Artist Thania Petersen will take up residency at the Zeitz MOCAA.

Muti-disciplinary artist Thania Petersen will take up an artist residency at the Zeitz Museum for Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA).

The Atelier artist residency on the museum’s second floor is for five months and will include her exhibition called KASSARAM from Thursday May 27 to Sunday October 17.

A still from Thania Petersen’s art film, KASSARAM

Meaning a “big mess, out of place or upside down”, KASSARAM is taken from the title of Ms Petersen’s most recent art film, which analyses strategies used in creating and perpetuating cultural divides amongst people of colour through art – from colonialism to the present.

It is also a fitting word to describe the open and experimental nature of the Atelier space Ms Petersen will work from over the next five months.

Launched as an experimental platform and residency that provides artists with an opportunity to create new work, conduct research and develop ideas for future projects, the Atelier is a multi-gallery area situated on the museum’s second floor. The Atelier is also open to the public, allowing visitors to Zeitz MOCAA to have unique access and insight into the artists’ modes of production and processes.

Ms Petersen, who lives in Mowbray, grew up in Athlone. At the age of 10, along with her sister, she joined her father in exile in the United Kingdom. She spend her life between the UK and Cape Town, raised by her mom, aunt and grandmother.

She said her father was and still is incredibly anti-establishment. “I was not encouraged by him to study art through an institution as he felt institutions were not designed for us to flourish but to mould us and stunt our growth.”

Ms Petersen said she was attracted to the idea of attending a prestigious institute like Central Saint Martin’s School of Art in London – so she did. She then left the UK for Zimbabwe after meeting a stone sculptor who offered her an apprenticeship.

There she met a Korean artist who offered her a job at his studio in South Korea, and she headed to Yeojoo.

“Soon after I arrived, I met the most amazing ceramic artist at a dinner party at her house and she asked me if I would like to learn about the art of ceramic sculpture. She was an absolute gift in my life.”

“I participated in the Ceramic Bienalle with her. I lived with her for a year before returning to London to paint props and make floats for the Nottinghill Gate Carnival. I learnt so much about community arts and the importance of it through the Nottinghill Gate Carnival. My education has been magical. I learnt from people who do not practice art but live art.”

Ms Petersen, who uses photography, performance and installation to address the intricacies and complexities of her identity in contemporary South Africa, already has her work as part of the Zeitz permanent collection, and was invited to be part of the residency programme.

“I am extremely excited at the opportunities the Atelier presents. My new film KASSARAM will be on view and I am hoping to turn the fictional set into reality in one of the studio spaces.”

Through her projects, she attempts to unpack contemporary trends of Islamophobia through her analysis of the continuing impact of colonialism, European and American imperialism, and the increasing influence of right-wing ideologies, all anchored by reference points that sit largely in Islam and the awareness of its religious, cultural and traditional practices.

Tandazani Dhlakama, Zeitz MOCAA assistant curator and the organiser of Ms Petersen’s residency, said: “Petersen’s work remains relevant, especially at a time of shifting global perceptions of Africa and its diaspora, as well as the world at large. Despite the impacts of Covid-19, which have – to a certain extent – compelled people to become more insular, technology has allowed for an increased awareness of other cultures, religions, practices and so forth.

“It will be interesting to see how these themes further unfold in her work during the residency, especially as it relates to the social and cultural impact of westernised consumer culture, her Cape Malay heritage and the practice of Sufi Islamism.”

She said the Atelier provides an opportunity for artists to use the museum as a studio – to create new work, conduct research and develop ideas for future projects.

“It is a great space to think about processes and the public.”

Ms Dlakhama said that when an artist is invited to take up the Atelier residency, Zeitz MOCAA supports them in various ways, including covering production costs.

“There are a few artists that Zeitz MOCAA is currently speaking to, who are up for consideration for the Atelier space in the next few years.”

She said all of the work that is produced during the Atelier residency programme belongs to the artist.

“It was important for us to ensure there was no pressure or expectation for the artist to produce work towards a specific project or goal. The programme is really open-ended. At the end of the programme, Zeitz MOCAA merely assists in the transportation of the work back to wherever the artist needs it to go.

“The aim of the Atelier programme is to open up artistic processes and offer artists an opportunity to think about their practice in new ways whilst engaging with audiences. In turn, the Atelier provides museum visitors unique access and insight into artistic processes.”