SA’s Khanyisile Mbongwa new curator of Liverpool Biennial 2023

Khanyisile Mbongwa, chief curator of the 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale, has just been appointed curator of the Liverpool Biennial 2023 – the UK’s largest contemporary visual arts festival.

About Khanyisile Mbongwa

Khanyisile Mbongwa is chief curator of the inaugural Stellen­bosch Triennale, an event that showcases world-class contemporary art from Africa.

The Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust (SOST) could hardly have selected a more apposite chief curator for the 2020 Stellenbosch Triennale. Khanyisile Mbongwa is a star within a new generation of curators whose fingers are on the global pulse of art production. Not only are they fully clued up on current philosophies, but they also show a deep sensitivity for the local and African connection and our convoluted histories.

An accomplished artist and curatorial specialist, Khanyisile completed her BA in humanities at Stellenbosch University in 2012 and a master’s in interdisciplinary arts, public art and public sphere as a Mellon Foundation Fellow at the University of Cape Town in 2018.

She has been applauded for her work with public space and interdisciplinary and perfor­mative practices, in which she aims to unpack the socio-political, economic, racial and historical contemporary complexities and nuances of the everyday. She is the perfect pick to lead the Stellenbosch Triennale 2020 project.

The Stellenbosch Triennale 2020 team included co-curator Nontobeka Ntombela, researcher Rashieda Witter, chief curator Khanyisile Mbongwa, project director Andi Norton and co-curator Bernard Akoi-Jackson.

Khanyisile Mbongwa said to Liverpool Biennial: “I am excited to work with the Liverpool Biennial team on the 12th edition and am curious to find out what the city will show me about my curatorial processes during my time there. I am looking forward to co-creating with individuals, collectives and organisations both within Liverpool and beyond and am interested to see how the city has established itself historically, how it sustains itself in this moment and how it imagines its future.”

Stellenbosch Visio editor and SOST trustee, Francé Beyers, says: “We are immensely proud of her and look forward to her heading up the next Stellenbosch Triennale in 2024.”

Stellenbosch Triennale attracted global media attention.

Highlights of Stellenbosch Triennale 2020

The inaugural Stellenbosch Triennale 2020 attracted more that 6,000 visitors and 287 pieces of media coverage from across the world.

48 artists from 14 countries across the African continent participated in the 5 exhibitions.

Exhibitions showed more than 200 works of art, including a collection of the most important Black masters in the world from Fort Hare University, show in the Western Cape for the first time ever. The talks programme, Creative Dialogues, included artists and experts from Norval Foundation, Zeitz MOCAA, A4 Arts, Greatmore Studios, and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago amongst others.
The Curators’ Exhibition featured the works of 20 artist from across the African continent.

Job creation

The Stellenbosch Triennale only used local artisans and hired craftsmen to assist with building the exhibitions and installing the artworks. All supplies were bought locally and the town’s business community supported the Triennale in return. The Triennale paid unemployed local youths to man the exhibitions.


A free online platform called The Imaginarium was created to explore and encourage creativity and critical thinking skills. Exposure to art has been proven to stimulate problem-solving skills and imagination which are critical to producing a new generation of entrepreneurs. The content for the platform was created after thorough research including a six-week workshop programme for learners from Devon Valley Primary and Kayamandi High.

Focus groups were conducted at six schools to test the content. The workshops formed part of an honours thesis entitled Creating immersive learning experiences for primary school learners: Creative workshops and 21st century learning skills. From this research a board game called Solve It! was launched at the Stellenbosch Triennale and is available as a free printable resource on The Imaginarium website. The manufactured version can also be bought or donated to schools for children to play. The online version has been a valuable resource during the lockdown home-schooling period.

Education and knowledge transfer was facilitated through a lot of engagement between artists and students. Victor Ehikhamenor, Kaloki Nyamai, Euridice Kala and Bernard Akoi-Jackson all gave lectures to students at the Academy of Design and other lecturers from the academy also took students to Triennale venues and held lectures there.

Honours students wrote reviews of the Triennale that were published on Arthrob so the Triennale provided essential training for the next generation of art writers.


The inaugural Stellenbosch Triennale 2020 had to be closed after barely four weeks due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The scale of interest and support the event received from both the public and media globally, indicates that Art in Africa is on the rise.

The next Stellenbosch Triennale is scheduled for 2024. Visit their website for more information.