Bongani Njalo is a man very much in demand; he’s worked on art projects in several cities already, despite being only 28 years old.
His latest move took him to Bloemfontein as the project co-ordinator for the Programme of Innovation at the University of the Free State, a long-term art project bringing together internationally established artists and the communities around Bloemfontein.
Njalo is a fine arts graduate from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where he specialised in stained glass. His works have been bought by private collectors and are on display in public galleries in South Africa and abroad.
Before his graduation in 2011 he was an intern with Mandela Bay Development Agency, where he compiled the book Art & Artists of the Eastern Cape, encompassing more than 200 local artists. Njalo also organised a 2011 Grahamstown National Arts Festival exhibition featuring works by these artists.
His impressive work as an intern saw him hired by Port Elizabeth Athenaeum, a hub for emerging creatives, as its administration and marketing co-ordinator. He also carried on creating his own artworks, and was commissioned to create two pieces for the Nelson Mandela Bay’s Route 67 Arts Journey, a public art route in Port Elizabeth.
In 2012 Njalo was invited to curate an exhibition for the Cape Town International Month of Photography Festival, showcasing works by unknown Eastern Cape photographers on an international platform.
Next he moved to Johannesburg to work at the Market Photo Workshop, before taking a job in Cape Town with the Arterial Network, an organisation dealing with issues affecting artists and cultural practitioners across Africa. That exposed him to broader issues facing artists, such as freedom of artistic expression and cultural policy.
Meanwhile Njalo’s own work won him the David Koloane Mentorship Award in 2014, and he returned to Johannesburg to focus on his art. He briefly worked as the manager and curator for the HAZARD Gallery and still serves on the curatorial panel of the State of the Art online gallery.
Soon he’ll be on the move again, because he’s been accepted into the international leadership program in visual arts management at Duesto Business School, which takes place in Bilbao in Spain in November and New York next March. The course aims to provide experienced arts and culture professionals with the global skills necessary to thrive in this industry. — Lesley Stones