Mario Pissarra

Imbacu [exhibition review]

Mario Pissarra, 31 August 2007

From the outset I welcomed this exhibition since exile (‘Imbacu’ in isiXhosa) has received scant attention from South African curators and art historians, despite being perhaps the earliest form of resistance practiced by our artists. I was also curious whether Loyiso Qanya’s curatorial debut represented a shift within the SANG, an institution that has done little to create meaningful curatorial opportunities for trainees.

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Dirty Laundry: Can we think beyond Venice?

Mario Pissarra, 7 June 2007

I have previously argued that Africa’s representation in Venice is irrelevant when compared to the need to develop alternatives at ‘home’. In essence my argument is that we should not judge the success of South African art (or African or ‘non-western’ art for that matter) by its presence or absence in the prime venues of the ‘international’ arena, of which the Venice Biennale is both a leading example and symbol. The health of a country’s art should not be judged by the number of international ‘stars’ it generates, since this may provide a false picture of the state of art in that country or region. Rather it should be evaluated on the quality and extent of its art practice, galleries and museums, art education, publishing, patronage, and all the critical components of art infrastructure that are essential for the development of art.

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Beyond current debates on representation: a few thoughts on the need to develop infrastructure for art in Africa

Mario Pissarra, 20 November 2006

The discourse on contemporary African art is a comparatively recent one, and has to a large extent been dominated by issues of representation: what image of Africa is or has been communicated to the world, and to itself? Who is or who should be representing Africa? And who and what is Africa? Much of the discourse has been led by Africans in the diaspora. This generation of intellectuals has taken on the critical need to address negative, sometimes racist constructions of Africa that have been dominant, particularly but not exclusively in the West. This need to address negative perceptions of Africa, coupled with the present location of a critical mass of African artists, academics and curators in the USA and Europe goes some way in explaining why there has been an emphasis on interrogating ‘Africa’ as a concept, and why issues of representation have been fore-grounded.

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Venetian Blind: A response to Malcolm Payne

Mario Pissarra, 18 June 2006

[This is a response to Malcolm Payne’s “Viva Venice… Viva… Long live!” (ArtThrob, June 2006). Payne’s piece was a response to my “Death to Venice” (ASAI, May 2006), which was a response to Marilyn Martin’s companion pieces “Death in Venice” and “Faultlines and Fumblings” (ArtThrob, September 2003), as well as to Sue Williamsons remarks on the Venice Biennale (ArtThrob, July, 2003).] [i]

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Partial Revisionism: How the British Museum’s re-framing of Africa reflects its own institutional interests and cultural bias. A review of John Mack (ed) Africa: Arts and Cultures

Mario Pissarra, 4 June 2006

[Africa: Arts and Cultures edited by John Mack, British Museum Press, London, 2000, 135 colour & 9 b/w plates, 5 b/w maps, index, bibliography, 224pp, £16.99  An edited version of this review was published as “Defining African Art” on www.cloudband.com in 2001, but is no longer available. Apart from the title no changes have been made to the original text]
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Picasso and Africa: Are we asking the right questions?

Mario Pissarra, 14 May 2006

[Slightly revised version of a paper presented for a panel discussion at the Picasso and Africa seminar, Centre for the Book, Cape Town, 13 May 2006]

There is no doubt that Europe has stolen, and continues to steal from Africa. Thieves by nature do not usually disclose the sources of their wealth and therefore it is at times necessary to challenge and expose them. Personally I suspect that the Picasso & Africa exhibition attracted such high levels of interest and support on the part of our President and Minister of Arts & Culture precisely because here is one example where a case for Europe’s debt to Africa can be made. However I believe that centering the debate on the question of Picasso’s debt to Africa should not be the focus of our intellectual enquiry at this point in time.

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I Don’t Like Cricket, I Hate It! How the Minister’s Imbizo resurrected suppressed childhood memories and hurled me into the horrors of the present

Mario Pissarra, 16 April 2006

After five years at the local, whites-only government school I was sent to a private, then boys-only, Catholic boarding school. Sending your children to be educated by strangers with a penchant for corporal punishment was entirely consistent with the child rearing ethics of the post slavery/colonial plantation class. Where the school stood apart was that it was more liberal than most- it was modeled on Thomas More, the English chancellor who chose to lose his head rather than his principles, and the school adopted his motto of “truth conquers all”. In 1977 I attended my first ever political meeting, called by the Black Sash to protest against deaths in detention, dressed in my Sunday Best. One prize-giving ceremony a few years earlier we were treated to the Chief Minister of Kwa Zulu, Mangosuthu Buthulezi who arrived with a fleet of black Mercedes’ with number plates one to six.

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Connecting Africa

Mario Pissarra, 18 February 2006

[Paper prepared for the “Reconnecting Africa” panel at the “Transformation/Growth/ Opportunity ” conference convened by the Visual Arts Network of South Africa, Hiddingh Hall Campus, UCT, 10 February 2006]

The title for this panel discussion should really be “connecting Africa ”. Certainly “reconnecting Africa ” is misleading if it implies that “ Africa ” was once connected, and that the restoration of this connection is currently on the agenda. A number of commentators, Ali Mazrui and Olu Oguibe (1993) among them, have made observations about the fictiveness of a united Africa, and how the term Africa has historically meant different things to different constituencies. Mazrui has argued that it was in fact western imperialism that inadvertently created the incentive for the notion of pan-Africanism to emerge, and pan-Africanism has been (and continues to be) more of an ideal than a reflection of actual relations between, on one hand, African countries; and on the other, between Africans on the continent and in the diaspora.

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