Art Curator Lerato Bereng-Moji On How Self-Honesty Improved Her Mental Health

Moving to a new environment in hopes of levelling up your career or life can go either way. Sometimes, it may take longer for the grass to finally be greener on the other side. That was the case for Lerato Bereng-Moji, an art curator, director and co-owner of the Stevenson Gallery, who soon learned that studying and living art were two different concepts.

The Root Cause

Right after graduating with a degree in fine arts from Rhodes University, Lerato joined the art scene in Cape Town. It was here where she met her art heroes and cut her teeth working in curatorship. Coming from Maseru in Lesotho, Lerato found both Cape Town and the art scene overwhelming. “Coming to Cape Town, which is kind of a mega art city, everything was a lot to take in,” she muses.

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“I was super starstruck when I first arrived. I remember finally meeting someone like Penny Siopis, an honorary professor at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, whose art we’d studied in school.” Still, she found the city a tad intimidating, which took a toll on her mental health. “Cape Town is a very Eurocentric city for starters, and has a very different landscape from many African cities,” she explains.

“While learning a lot – and I’ll always be grateful for that experience – I also found it incredibly alienating.” Lerato also struggled with resonating with the art in Cape Town.“I found that the predominant voice [in most of the art] was really unfamiliar to me. It was difficult to find my own voice and to figure out who I was, and what I wanted to do creatively in a space that had very little that I could add to my experience.” In this way, Lerato felt not only far from home geographically but conceptually, too.

The Tides of Change

Then in late 2010, an opportunity to travel to Joburg for a conference presented itself. At the spur of the moment, Lerato decided not to book a return ticket. “I was offered a return ticket and I kind of impulsively decided to ask for a one-way,” she recalls. She didn’t know much about Joburg at first, but grew to love it. “I really enjoyed the energy and hustle of the city and most people here are migrant labourers like myself,” she points out.

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Lerato started hustling to find work in the Joburg art scene, while enjoying the new Afrocentric space that spoke to her. “You immediately encounter Joburg with a punch in your face and I appreciated the honesty of the city,” she shares. Not only that, but Joburg is only a mere four-hour drive to her home country.

In late 2013, Lerato also completed a Masters thesis, centred on Lesotho, which was met with great appreciation. “I called it Conversations at Morija. The first iteration happened in 2013, and again in 2015 and 2017,” she says. Another was held in October this 2023 around Lesotho’s Independence Day, and will centre on her recent exhibition and book How to Make a Country.

“I now understand that the only way to make it, or to make something of myself in the world, is if I’m entirely honest,” she muses. And that’s a liberating lesson that she’s since carried into all aspects of her life!

Parting Shot

2010…The year Lerato learnt that Joburg was exactly what her mental health needed.

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Best Lesson…“So often, we try to fit ourselves into the moulds that are presented as what has already been, but we’re not here to occupy spaces of what’s already begun.”

11…The approximate number of art exhibitions Lerato has curated in her career.

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