THE READER: Lerato Bereng

Born in Maseru, Lesotho, Lerato Bereng is a curator living and working in Johannesburg. In 2007 she received a Bachelor of Fine Art and in 2014 graduated with a Masters in Fine Art from Rhodes University, Grahamstown. She is currently an associate director at Stevenson gallery in Johannesburg and has been working there since 2011.  From 2007 to 2009 Bereng was selected as one of five young curators in CAPE’s Young curator’s Programme for which she curated “Thank You Driver“, an exhibition on mini-bus taxis as part of the Cape ’09 Biennale.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m Not Your Weekend Special edited by Bongani Madondo. I’ve been meaning to read it for the whole year and stillness would not be found. Finally reading it and I wanna be Brenda Fassie.

How do you decide what to read next?

I read quite spontaneously. Either a book will be recommended by a friend or colleague, or I will be interested in a particular thing and read books around that, or see something on someone’s shelf that catches my eye. Mostly I read on flights, stillness doesn’t often avail itself in Jozi.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

I don’t have a single favourite anything but one that is gentle and memorable is a book called The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacquot de Boinod, which I discovered in a book sale pile years ago. The book is a dictionary of words that only exist in certain languages. For example the word “Mukamuka” is defined as Japanese for so angry one could throw up. I liked the idea of feelings that often transcend language but are universal. I certainly have been so angry I could throw up. This actually inspired an exhibition at some point. I have a thing for language and translation and the spaces between.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Tricky. I have many favourites for different days. An artist created one favourite of mine: Kemang Wa Lehulere has a character named The One Tall Enough to See The Morning, who features in his work – he made a drawing of him.

What’s your favourite book about art?

Oddly, I don’t have a favourite book about art. There are many that I find insightful or stimulating like Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Do It: The Compendium which is a collation of several DIY art works collected by Obrist of several years. I liked the approach of multiple versions of the same work / exhibition happening in people’s living rooms, project spaces etc. across the world.

What were your favourite books as a child?

Well we grew up hearing unwritten stories in Sesotho, and some of those like the story about “Tselane – a girl that was fooled by a sweet singing voice – are engrained in my memory. Roald Dahl’s Matilda had me captivated for a long time. Beverly Clearly’s series of books about a girl called Ramona taught me spunk at age 9.

Your favourite magazine?

I used to read Elle in my formative years, traded that for Art South Africa and Frieze when I first landed in the art world, and now I read whatever I come across. Chimurenga is still one of the gems.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

I bought my niece Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and gave my mom my copy of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as a hospital read.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I’ve had it for years, read it, but didn’t really read it and have had to re-read it a few times more.

What book do you turn to for advice?

My uncle Patrick Bereng wrote a book called Haboo. This tells the history of Lesotho’s royal family and its many branches. It is not really advice that I look for, but definitely a go-to-book to remember where I’m from when things get a little abstract.

Do you read mostly paper books? On your iPad? Kindle? All three?

Only paper books. A little old school of me, but weird not to turn a page or find an old receipt/note/flyer used as a book mark from 5 years ago.

THE READER: Emma Vandermerwe — curator

Emma Vandermerwe was born in South Africa but grew up in Switzerland and France, studying fine art at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, before completing a master’s in art management at City University, also in London. She worked in that city’s arts scene for more than a decade, and in 1999 was appointed as assistant curator and registrar of the Cranford Collection with Andrew Renton. In 2011 she joined the SMAC Art Gallery when its Cape Town space opened.

What are you reading at the moment?

The latest Artforum. A practical manual on beekeeping in South Africa — my partner has given me a beekeeping course for my birthday. Celebrating Love by H. H Sri Sri Ravi Shankar the founder of the The Art of Living. And a recent Monocle magazine reviewing the top global cities. (Monocle also has an amazing radio station.)

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

Toni Morrison’s haunting Beloved. A powerful, dense novel. Here the spirit of a murdered child in the shape of a mysterious young woman haunts the Ohio home of a former slave Sethe. Dazzling and raw, the poetic narrative builds to its unstoppable painful conclusion and I feel it is arguably her best work to date.

What is your favourite novel of all-time?

Pride and Prejudice — I am a romantic and a closet Jane Austen reader. Combining wit, truthful social commentary in the nineteenth century and observations of a young women as she searches for her self, there is sharp humour, scathing social judgement and unsavoury gentry.

What were your favourite books as a child?

Closest to my childhood heart is my mother’s recipe book for baking, full of chocolate stains and hand amended notes.

Also Le petit prince by the French aristocrat, writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. With simple and yet beautifully profound conversations between a little prince and various satirical characters, it still retains so much more each time I read it.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

At the end of last year I gave Willem (Boshoff) my first edition copy of Fragments of a Poetics of Fire by Gaston Bachelard. Having spent time together and spoken for weeks at the gallery I felt he would enjoy it thoroughly. His smile suggested he would.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

I have started Emotional Intelligence by Dan Goleman’s a few times, but ……

What book do you turn to for advice?

Since the age of sixteen it has always been Julia Child’s The Way to Cook — it is a lifeline and a fountain of knowledge.

The most influential art book?

For myself as a young art student studying in London in the late 1990s, there was  Art in Theory 1900 – 1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. It is a comprehensive and exhaustive collection of writings by artists, critics, philosophers, politicians, and literary figures from Lenin to Julie Kristeva and Richard Serra. The newer edition extends all the way from 1900 to 2000.

Your favourite book illustrator?

Although not a “book illustrator” per se,  I have found Raymond Pettibon’s drawings impressive. Reflecting on the highest through to the lowest culture, his comic like, ambiguous and often sexually-charged imagery is complied in numerous monographs, animations, LP covers and billboards.

What is the best inscription anyone has written in a book for you?

My mother has always been my favourite inscriber. On my twelfth birthday she referred in a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet about raising children. A few decades later, I feel blessed to understand what she meant.

If you could have dinner with a dead writer, who would you dine with and where?

It would be John Keats the poet in the gardens of Le Jardin du quay Restaurant, in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France. He suffered terrible tuberculosis, and I think the warm Provençal night air would help, while we enjoyed the lovely seasonal set menu.

If you could be one fictional character, who would it be?

I think Virginia Woolf’s Orlando — a reincarnating romantic character who lives 400 years as various men and women throughout the ages of English history and literature… need I say more?