Panga Management is thrilled ( as in goddam happy ) and confused ( as in how did that happen) regarding South Africa’s pavilion on the 54th Venice biennale in 2011. SA has the artists/talents to kick every other countries ass at the biennale, no doubt there. But that is not what’s confusing PM. So let’s start with a point of clarity. PM does not wish to disrespect the artists or curators but might through default. Yes, PM does not particularly like the contributions of a couple of the artists selected that however, is irrelevant to this discussion as even the ones PM does not respect from the “good contemporary artists” perspective, are enjoyed from the “easy to flog to the market” perspective , and hence have a place. If you wish to read the press release about SA’s inclusion click here from the South African Art Times courtesy of the biennale website
PM feels it important to note that International pavilion curator Bice Curiger has selected SA artists David Goldblatt and Nicholas Hlobo, and Costa Rican curators Francesco Elisei and Dino Leoni have included South Africa Artist Gavin Rain in their national pavilion. These details are not in the above linked press release.
Okay so back to the South African pavilion ; Zwelethu Mthethwa, Mary Sibande, Siemon Allen, Lyndi Sales Curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe and Commissioned by Lethole Mokoena. So this is where PM gets confused and concerned, who is Lethole Mokoena ? obviously somebody from the NAC board as confirmed here Lethole Mokoena is Mr Isaac Lethole Monna Mokoena interviewed by National Arts Council Board on the 7,8.9th December 2010, and we can only assume as the Commissioner of the curator of the VB, that he did well in his interview . PM has cut and pasted the below from the previous mentioned NAC link as it should be remembered going forward.
“In the spirit of transparency and good corporate governance, the Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile invites members of the media and public to attend the National Arts Council Board selection interviews. The interviews started on 07 and will continue until 09 December 2010.The National Arts Council of South Africa (NAC), formed in 1997, is a statutory public entity with the Minister of Arts and Culture as its Executive Authority. The institution is subject to a governance framework that includes the NAC Act (1997) and the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) amongst others. The NAC is governed by a Council whose members are appointed by the Minister of Arts and Culture after a process of public nominations. The NAC plays a strategic role in our effort to realize our vision and mission of developing a sustainable sector. Therefore, the selection of the board is a welcome development for the institution and the arts, culture, and heritage sector at large.”
Now this sounds all super and everything , but in the spirit of transparency and good corporate governance, who is Mr Isaac Lethole Monna Mokoena? Maybe PM is going out on a limb here but he can only be Monna Mokoena owner of gallery MOMO click here for website
And here’s where PM starts to feel uncomfortable. Monna Mokoena is a respected and dynamic player in the visual arts sector for sure, but that is besides the point . Lets recap Lethole Mokoena AKA Monna Mokoena commissions Thembinkosi Goniwe to curate the South African pavilion at the VB and then Thembinkosi Goniwe curates two of the four selected artists onto the exhibition (Lyndi Sales, Mary Sibande) both from Monna’s stable of artists. Hmmmm….. this is only going to be really good for Monna’s bank balance in the short and long run. You don’t have to be the brightest crayon in the box or the sharpest tool in the shed to see that this is very unethical, and in the spirit of transparency and good corporate governance one has to ask why and how this blatant conflict of interests could be allowed. Now maybe PM is wrong and Lethole Mokoena is not Monna Mokena, and PM will be quite pleased if they are not the same person, but if they are, this is very very problematic. Even Zimbabwe included in this year’s biennale click here has a Commissioner independent from commercial market conflict of interests; Doreen Sibanda ( and Zimbabwe is not exactly high on the scale of corruption free countries) . What makes it all a lot more suspicious is that her profile is spelled out loud and clear everywhere . However If you Google Lethole Mokoena’s profile you find jack shit, besides off course the NAC interviews mentioned above. Could this be a conscious decision by Monna Mokoena to conceal a very problematic conflict of interests from the visual arts sector? PM does not want to “ground and pound” Monna Mokoena, as he has been worthy of respect in the past and PM hope’s he still is. So will somebody clear this up for PM; is Lethole Mokoena the same man as Monna Mokoena? If he is why would he place himself in a position the screams unethical behavior like a Santon trannie at a Channel sale? And why would the NAC place the South African artists selected in a position that suggests that they were selected not because they were the best choices, but because they are in the MOMO stable? And surely the NAC wants to believe without a shadow of a doubt that these choices are the best ones to represent South Africa at the Biennale? PM is not convinced!