Shenaz Mahomed: an artist using two simple words to celebrate diversity and encourage inclusivity

There's no better time to cast the spotlight on artists who have created works that incorporate our country's unity in cultural diversity than in the month of September, when we commemorate our heritage. One such artist who has managed to celebrate our country’s diversity while also embodying the concept of ubuntu is Javett-UP’s curatorial assistant and logistics manager, Shenaz Mahomed.

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Shenaz Mahomed in the University of Pretoria’s and Sanral’s newly built Future Transportation Research Hub.

Mahomed is a Pretoria-based curator and artist who obtained both her BA (2014) and MA (2019) degrees in Fine Arts at the University of Pretoria. She has successfully curated three group shows; served on the advisory committee at the Tshwane University of Technology and participated in a number of prestigious art competitions in South Africa, including the David Koloane Mentorship Award that she won in 2016. She also exhibited at the 2017 Nirox Winter Sculpture Fair.

Mahomed is known to mostly specialise in the medium of hand-cut paper. Her work can be found in the art collections of Absa; the University of Pretoria; the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation; and Tiwani Contemporary (United Kingdom), as well as in the private collections of Wayne Barker, Gavin Rajah, Diane Victor, Harrie Siertsema, Raimi Gbadamosi and Vusi Beauchamp.

Her most recent work can be found in the University of Pretoria’s and Sanral’s newly built Future Transportation Research Hub. The piece was inspired by the very same “Engineering 4.0” facility in which it is currently housed while it was still under construction.

“The artwork is called Be Civil. It’s a play on the BEng civil engineering degree, while also doubling as an appeal to humankind to ‘be civil’ and kind to one another,” says Mahomed, explaining the meaning of the title of her installation that is housed at Africa’s first independent transport reference and testing facility.

The Be Civil installation (currently hanging from the structural steel beams of the engineering facility) is made up of laser-cut wooden panels, acrylic and stainless steel, with patterns of tyre marks and treads that intersect throughout the hub. This is meant to emphasise the transdisciplinary nature of the facility as a place where people of different cultural backgrounds and skill sets come together to meet and create.

Mahomed’s artwork also makes an important reference to the significance of a society being grounded in kindness and being receptive to ideas if we are determined to build a thriving nation that is progresive, protects human dignity and promotes a culture of people collaborating together with respect and openness. “Which is why the panels feature the words ‘Be Civil’ translated into all 11 official South African languages as a way of celebrating our diversity and encouraging inclusivity. It’s the engineering department’s way of saying that this field of study is not just about logic and rational planning; it also has a very human aspect to it beyond just the design and construction of physical structures. It is about coming together and making human lives better, and that is something that I am trying to bring to the fore with this artwork,” concludes Mahomed.

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The Be Civil installation currently hanging from the structural steel beams of the engineering facility