Word View

The Imvaba Arts Collective: A brief history of its activities and significance (1)

By Eben Lochner

As political conditions were changing following the unbanning of political prisoners on 2 Feb 1990 there was a sense among activists that the conditions and goals of their work would shift. Already, activist and Judge Albie Sachs made an infamous call in 1989 to ban the use of art as a weapon of struggle. This drew responses from various cultural activists that challenged the legitimacy of his assessment of the state of art in South Africa as well as his suggestion for moving forward. (2) Inherent in Sachs’ critique was the idea that artwork representing the political struggle was somehow not appropriate for a new democracy. This was due to a shallow agit-prop visual culture which relied on re-using the same slogans for legitimacy and disregarded aesthetic quality. Examining the history of the Imvaba arts collective in Port Elizabeth gives us insight into the productive role played by artists in visually articulating vision for a new South Africa. In this article I will show that Imvaba’s approach to art was not about simple sloganeering, but the promotion of a value system that was believed to be vital to a non-racial South Africa.

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African Phoenix: Sfiso ka-Mkame, then and now

By Sithembiso Sangweni

From the days when his explosive visual art exposed the injustices and inhumanity of apartheid, Sfiso Ka-Mkame is maturing with time, but he is still a rebel with a cause. His artistic manifestation and focus is no longer only about South Africa but about Africa, particularly the heroic roles of African women warriors.

In tune with the fluid technological revolution, Ka-Mkame’s art is grabbing attention via social media platforms bringing local and overseas customers knocking at his door in his transformed government subsidy house in Mbomvu street, Nazareth, outside Marianhill. The house is both a studio and home to his family, where he lives with his wife, son and daughter. The lounge is stacked with books he keeps at hand as his great source to find metaphors to tell forgotten heroic stories of African women warriors.

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Questions of Abjection in Two Paintings by Mxolisi “Dolla” Sapeta

By Nkule Mabaso

Mxolisi “Dolla” Sapeta was born the third child of four children in New Brighton, a township outside Port Elizabeth, on January 26 1967. At the age of six he would, after school as he waited for his older siblings to arrive and grant him access to the family home, draw on the gravel outside the house and this over time became his favourite past time. The young Sapeta predominantly drew stick figures and sees this as the time that he developed what would later be his present relationship with the arts and a love for drawing.

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Dogs on Duty: The unsettling aesthetic of Trevor Makhoba

By Mario Pissarra

Editorial note: This was originally commissioned by the Africa Centre, London and published on their now off-line website, Contemporary Africa Database, c. 2001, with the title “Trevor Makhoba Profile”. Apart from the correction of minor typographic errors, the essay is retained as in the original. It can be noted that the retrospective exhibition referred to at the conclusion of the essay was cancelled, due to unforeseen problems arising from negotiations with the late artist’s family. A photocopied series of essays commissioned for the catalogue can be found in some South African libraries (universities and museums). Makhoba’s work can be viewed in H. Proud (ed), ReVisions, SAHO and Unisa Press, 2006.

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Time to stand up for the South African National Gallery: or why no one cares any more…

To begin: why is it that we hear criticism of Zeitz Mocaa, and that the Department of Arts and Culture is routinely condemned for its handling of the Venice Biennale, but we hear next-to-nothing about the ongoing crisis at the South African National Gallery (SANG)? Can it be because Zeitz Mocaa and the Venice Biennale represent power and prospects, whereas the National Gallery has already sunk so low that no one really thinks it is worth fighting for?

To continue: why have I sat on this for months? Certainly, in part, because I was involved in a project that included an exhibition at the SANG, and I did not think Iziko’s management would know how to separate issues if I’d dropped this then. But also because one tires of raising issues about the SANG, and becomes despondent with the deafening silence that inevitably follows…

So, here we go, again…

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Owning your Liberation History: Nise Malange on the work and lessons of the Culture and Working Life Project

Note: Nise Malange, poet, activist, archivist and director of the BAT Centre, Durban, was interviewed by ASAI’s Mario Pissarra, Tasneem Wentzel and Scott Williams. The interview took place at the BAT Centre on 24 March 2017, and forms part of ASAI’s Community Arts Legacy Archive, funded by the National Lotteries Commission.

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Imvaba in the ‘hub of the struggle buzz’, an interview with Annette du Plessis

Mario Pissarra, 23 June 2017

ASAI: What were the factors that contributed to the establishment of Imvaba? How was Imvaba established?

ADP: Following in the footsteps of the 1970’s struggle, and more specifically during the mid-1980’s, as well as after the establishment of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a large number of activists from Port Elizabeth and surrounds, increasingly arose from the masses. In addition, the local establishments of workers unions were particularly taking off more.

The need for arts and cultural support in taking the anti-apartheid revolution forward was urgent. The local liberation movement needed new logos, banners, art backdrops, leaflets and pamphlets, t-shirts designs, resistance poetry and literature, as well as support from all other art disciplines – and Imvaba became a vibrant vanguard tool in the forefront of the Struggle.

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GATHERING STRANDS: Keynote address for opening of Lionel Davis retrospective exhibition, Iziko South African National Gallery, 21 June 2017

Mario Pissarra, 22 June 2017

(It is indeed a great honour to have been invited by Lionel Davis to open his retrospective exhibition. I wish to congratulate the curators, Tina Smith, Ayesha Price, Ernestine White and their team, as well as District Six Museum and Iziko Museums for this historic occasion, and for making the artist’s 81st birthday an unforgettable one, Happy Birthday Lionel!)

Many people know of Lionel Davis as a former District Six resident, and as a former political prisoner. Many will also be aware that he has a long history as an educator in the arts and heritage sector. Many too will know that he is an artist.

Lionel has often said that he has been fortunate to have not relied on his art for a living, as this has allowed him to pursue it on his own terms, unfettered by the commercial pressures that beset most professional artists.

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Making Art History in Africa: a review of Making Art in Africa, 1960-2010

Mario Pissarra, 19 August 2015

Making Art in Africa is an important contribution to the development of an African art history. It deserves this accolade because of its centering of the voices of artists on the African continent. But it is also a book that takes a bit of work to clarify its purpose, and it is only once this is done that its value becomes evident.

Any publication that takes the kind of title this one does will provoke a necessary, if somewhat predictable response. The title sets up the expectation of the book being a representative, historical survey. Such projects inevitably solicit responses that centre on perceptions of whether the ‘right’ artists have been selected. At a glance, the inclusion of canonical artists such as John Muafangejo and Malangatana suggests that a historic perspective is indeed at play. But there are few of their celebrated peers present, which means that anyone looking for an authoritative, historical overview may be disappointed.

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More or less ‘Co-existence’? Some thoughts on the Ir/relevance of the idea: opening remarks for the exhibition ‘Co-Existence part II – Manfred Zylla, Garth Erasmus and Antonin Mares’, Erdmann Contemporary, Cape Town, 28 July 2015.

Mario Pissarra, 15 August 2015

This group exhibition, the press release reminds us, constitutes the second installment of a curatorial project established in 2014. The inaugural exhibit featured, again in the words of the press statement, ‘three artists from three continents’.

Now, I will begin by making what may seem to be a very disparaging set of remarks. As an idea for a group exhibition, ‘co-existence’ may be considered to be a pretty lame concept. It is lame, in the sense that it lends itself to a very passive approach to the world. It implies a disengaged acceptance, perhaps tolerance, of global diversity and difference. Now what is wrong with that, you may ask? The problem with ‘co-existence’, I would argue, is that we need more of a critical engagement with the world, not simply an acceptance of the way things are.

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