Ralph Borland is an artist, curator and interdisciplinary knowledge worker based in Cape Town, South Africa. He was born in South Africa, and grew up in Cape Town and Harare, Zimbabwe, and has lived and studied abroad, in New York and Dublin.
He has a degree in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town, and a Masters in Interactive Telecommunications from New York University. His PhD, in the School of Engineering at Trinity College Dublin, is a critique of first world design interventions in the developing world. His post-doctoral work has focused on Southern agency in the face of North-South knowledge inequalities.
Across his work, Borland pursues an interdisciplinary approach to teasing out issues of power, activism, social engagement via designed objects, the aesthetics of make-do and ad hoc design, and the pleasures of pop culture, sound and music, multimedia and sculpture, and collaborative artistic practice.
His current project African Robots is a collaboration with street wire artists in Southern Africa to introduce electronics and mechanics to their practice. An African Robots vs SPACECRAFT project, Dubship I – Black Starliner takes its name from the Black Star Line shipping company established by Jamaican political activist Marcus Garvey in 1919. The shipping company was founded as a wholly black-owned and staffed shipping line with the eventual aim of repatriating the descendants of African slaves from the Americas and the Caribbean back to Africa.
The sculpture, Black Starliner which is featured in the Zeitz MOCAA exhibition, Still here tomorrow to high five you yesterday… takes these elements to produce its own ‘version’ of an imagined spacecraft, a ‘Dubship’ operating not between the continents of Earth, but into space and between stars. It speaks of a desire for return or a new home which is both rooted in the African diasporic experience, and more universal – the desire for a refuge, a homeland; and a transportation through technology.
His art-design piece titled, Suited for Subversion (2002), a protective/performance suit for street protest, is in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. He co-curated the exhibition, Design and Violence in collaboration with NY MoMA at Science Gallery Dublin in 2016.
Ralph Borland has been awarded several awards including: the National Arts Council South Africa funding award (2016); the SA-UK Seasons Creative Catalyst Award (2015) and; the Pro Helvetia Ant Funding Award (2015).
A number of his works are part of the following collections: The Design and Architecture Collection, New York Museum of Modern Art [Suited for Subversion (2002)]; Jetty Square, Cape Town, South Africa [set of public sculptures: Jetty Square (2005)] and; the City of Cape Town [Public art commission: Kruskal Avenue (in progress 2018)].