Miracle May is a South African museologist and second-year master's student studying Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) at the University of North-West in South Africa. A pioneer multidisciplinary programme within the art and academic world. Her core courses being in art and artefact preservation.
Miracle is also the curator of the solo exhibition of contemporary Dutch artist Gemma Jonker. This exhibition is a groundbreaking exhibition that focusses on the experience of seeing and interacting art. The emphasis is on the subjective and internal experience of a visitor looking at the work of Gemma Jonker for the first time. In this interview we get to know Miracle better.
Interview: Curator Miracle May
Who? Miracle May
What? Master student Museologist at University of North-Westm South Africa,
When? Early 21s century (2021)
Where? South Africa
Why? Curator of the solo exhibition by Gemma Jonker
Museologist Miracle May
On becoming a culture expert
1. Please tell us something about yourself.
My name is Miracle Kelebogile Kekelesto May, I was born in a small, westernized country town called Potchefstroom in South Africa. I grew up surrounded by Afrikaans and Xhosa cultures and traditions. My mom loved cultivating us with refined experiences such as visiting the art galleries and Museums around South Africa which inspired me to be interested in studying cultures, art, and artefacts from a young age.
Tascha: Potchefstroom is also what would be considered a University City, like Leiden and Delft. Potchefstroom primarily aligns itself as an agricultural and industrial growth point of the North West Province in South Africa. Despite this, Potchefstroom carries a lot of cultural and economic capital.
2. How did you get into what you do right now? Please tell us more about your journey?
I got into curating by a research paper I wrote for my honours degree in Indigenous Knowledge Systems. I would constantly mention curation, but I did not have much knowledge or rather experience in the field. After seeing the curation job post on LinkedIn, I wanted to challenge my knowledge capacity and understanding on what a curator does.
Tascha: During our interview, Miracle highlighted a lot of fascinating and in-depth concepts. It was only later while developing this was her first curating, resulting in this lovely exhibition, that ended up allowing us to experience abstract art through the subjective interpretation of Miracle's experience of the work first hand.
As this is how seasoned curators at museums and galleries expect visitors to interact with contemporary exhibitions. Each visitor comes from a unique position and understanding of the world, and that this influences how presentations will be interpreted and internalised into their unique knowledge system. There is no definitive experience, and each experience is valid and profound. No person, artwork or artist is a monolith. Rather each interaction between artist and viewer brings nuance to the understanding and interpretation of the world. Doubly so with abstract art.
We are very proud of how this exhibition took form.
Curator Miracle May with her mother.
3. Who are your role models?
My life role model is my mom, she taught me from a young age to never give up on my dreams no matter how hard there are to achieve them. She says “you are made of sugar spice and everything nice” that everything I put my mind to I can reach it.
In the art world my greatest inspiration is Noria Mabasa who is a South African artist, she is one of the few female sculpture artists. Her talented is astonishing, she sculptured her work with ceramic materials such as clay from her local riverbank and wood for her art pieces. She connects her work with the cosmos.
Noria Mabasa's works deal mostly with traditional issues, particularly those pertaining to women, as well as subjects of Venda people of South Africa their mythology and spirituality. Mabasa's work focuses on access to education for Africans, as well as addressing issues surrounding gendered-based violence.
Tascha: Your mother sounds very lovely and supportive. Thank you for introducing us to Noria Mabasa's work. When I googled her further, I realised I have seen her work in Cape Town at the Iziko African National Gallery. It was in one of my favourite exhibitions I have ever seen “1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective. My grandfather took us there for Pierneef, but the rest of the exhibition was amazing and overwhelming. I loved the exhibition, because of the shift of white colonial narrative to works of Noria and Mary Sibande. It sneakily reeled an older generation of white people in to blow their mind, while also centring a progression of black artists and narratives. I lost a few hours revisiting this exhibition. For those interested in this exhibition by Dr.Okechukwu Nwafor, Professor of Art History at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria, wrote a great paper on the exhibition. The link takes you to the abstract and you can download the PDF on that page.
South African artist Noria Mobassa. A rolemodel for curator Miracle May.
4. What inspires you?
People and the environment inspire me. People are different, they sound different, and we always expand our knowledge, and we are constantly evolving and learning new things from each other. The environment is also a great inspiration, the smell of flowers, the breeze of wind and the colours of everything in nature never seems to bore me.
Tascha: This reminds me of Socrates. He never wrote any of his philosophies down, as he believed that one can only truly understand concepts through conversations and ongoing conversations. Partly because both can clarify concepts so that the listener truly knows what we are conveying. But also because our knowledge is constantly expanding and changing, so that the only real truths are during the moment of interaction.
5. Please tell us about your work.
My work focuses on putting yourself in the artists shoes without losing your subjective opinion and to find meaning in every artwork.
6. What’s your most memorable experience in your field?
My memorable experience although limited were the times we had indigenous communities expresses their interest in curating their artwork because of how it is misrepresented in media, museums and galleries.
Tascha: I look forward to how your career will continue to grow and how you will be adding to the nuanced understanding of South African art and material culture.
Keeping calm, but also fighting for your rights
7. What keeps you going when things get tough?
Listening to Yanni, who is a classical and jazz composer. I seem to calm down every time I listen to his songs.
8. What is the one thing you wish people knew more about?
People should learn to protect their rights as individuals and stand up for what they believe in.
Thank you Miracle for taking the time to answer these questions. It was very informative and lovely to get to know you. We look forward to seeing your career advance. You can read Miracle's exhibition of contemporary Dutch artist Gemma Jonker's here or on the picture below.
"A Visitors Exhibition". Solo Exhibition: Gemma Jonker, curated by Museologist Miracle May.