Speeches & Statements

Madi Phala: what place in ‘our’ art history?

by Mario Pissarra, 7 November 2007

This was written for the opening of ‘Madi Phala: A Tribute Exhibition’ at the AVA, 10-28 September 2007, and was originally published on Phala’s page on asai.co.za

I am honoured and pleased to have this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on Madi Phala, particularly on his contribution as an artist to our art history.

I say ‘our’ art history, conscious that most who have included Madi in their books have placed him within the frames of very particular art histories. Madi first features in an emerging inclusive South African art history (Ricky Burnett’s Tributaries in 1985). This is followed by his location within African art (Matsemela Manaka’s Echoes of African Art, 1987). He appears as a township artist (Gavin Younge’s Art of the SA Townships, 1988). He is included as a black South African (E.J. de Jagers Images of Man: Contemporary black South African art & artists, 1992). Ultimately where Madi has not been overlooked, including ironically The Neglected Tradition (Steven Sack, 1988) he has been situated within a myriad of qualified arts. A recent, possible departure from this may be found in his international debut in John Peffer’s soon to be published manuscript. Judging from an exerpt which appears as a tribute to Madi on the ASAI website, Peffer appears to be primarily situating Madi between discourses of Negritude and black consciousness, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the influence of western Modernism.

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Some thoughts on Peter Clarke [1]

by Mario Pissarra

This text was originally published on Clarke’s page on asai.co.za, 17 April 2014

Peter Clarke was, indeed is, a giant. Evidence of his achievements is (and will continue to be) narrated in numerous tributes, obituaries and testimonies. Evidence of his legacy as a mentor, across many generations, will increasingly become apparent.

With so many dying before their time, there is something so quintessentially Peter that he circumvented a traumatic death, stayed a very full course, and left quietly, on his own. And yet it is this image of Peter as ‘alone’ that I would like to reflect on.

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Affirmations of humanity: Sfiso Ka-Mkame’s dialogues with himself

by Mario Pissarra

Unpublished text for opening speech at opening of Sfiso Ka-Mkame’s ‘Dialogues with myself’ solo exhibition at the African Art Centre, Durban, 2016. It was originally published on Ka-Mkame’s page on asai.co.za in 2016.

I wish to thank the artist and the African Art Centre for inviting me to open this exhibition. I am indeed honoured to have this opportunity to share some thoughts about Sfiso ka-Mkame, an artist who I hold in high esteem.

I first became aware of Sfiso in the late 1980s. His ‘Letters to God’ was one of the most widely published artworks in that period, and I came to learn that it was not a work that was produced in isolation. Rather, it was part of a series of “letters”. Formally, these works consisted of semi-autonomous images, combined to form a dense composition. Notably, when many works from this period were large and imposing, Sfiso’s Letters were intimate works, modest in scale and requiring you to look at them closely. The series was also remarkable for having been produced with oil pastels, a medium. usually associated with preparatory rather than finished works. Thematically, the work of this period related directly to what was happening in the artist’s environment, noting that this was a time of mass resistance to apartheid.

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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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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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Rasheed Araeen’s Letter to Third Text Editorial Board, Advisory Council & Supporters

Rasheed Araeen, 6 December 2012

Dear members of the Editorial Board, Advisory Council, and the supporters of Third Text.

I must first thank you all for your tremendous support in this difficult time not only for me personally but, more importantly, for Third Text in its historical struggle to maintain the continuity of its pursuit for truth and its radical vision.

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Open Letter to the Trustees of Black Umbrella (Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, René Gimpel, Paul Goodwin, Joanna Mackle, Lord Bhikhu Parekh and Ziauddin Sardar)

Third Text Advisory Council Members, 5 December 2012

With this letter we announce our collective resignation from the Third Text Advisory Council.

With the full sadness of a long look back, we take our leave from a journal that has occupied a vital place in our critical lives and, for many of us, our artistic and intellectual formation. We do not leave gladly, but we are bound to accept that Third Text, under its current Trusteeship and editorial leadership, is no longer the journal we knew and loved.

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Trustees of Black Umbrella/Third Text Reply to Open Letter

Trustees of Black Umbrella, 30 August 2012

Trustees welcome your support for Third Text. We hope to allay your concerns through reaffirming that we have no intention of undermining the collective vision of Third Text and that our priority is to sustain its future. The Trustees are long supporters of both Rasheed Araeen and of the journal and have the highest regard for his achievements. Rasheed has not been ‘ousted’ from Third Text. Our decision that he should pursue his international role was made with full regard to Rasheed’s status as Founding Editor and to the current and long term needs of the journal and Black Umbrella Trust. The current dispute is perhaps a disproportionate response to a decision made with the best intentions for all concerned.

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Second Supplement to Open Letter to Black Umbrella Board of Trustees, Taylor & Francis Group & Arts Council England

Third Text Advisory Council Members & Third Text Contributors and Supporters, 22 August 2012

To Black Umbrella Board of Trustees, Taylor & Francis Group and Arts Council England:
Please note that the following people have added their signatures to our Open Letter of 13 August 2012:

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