Word View

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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Going for a Wrong? Hell, it don’t matter

Mario Pissarra, 31 October 2014

One of the functions traditionally performed by auction houses is the authentification of works of art. Art historians usually stop short of selling themselves as connoisseurs, but in the auction business the sales person claiming the mantle of expert is essential to establish authority, and secure ‘value’. So, along with formal attire we have special protocols and language that includes exotic (French) terms like “provenance”, which translates into something not unlike the pedigree certificate you can expect from the Miniature Doberman Society.

In the art-world the status of the auction houses is just one floor below God’s Loft, the directors of these institutions occupy the same elevated level as the canonizing cardinals of the Vatican. However, while these mercenaries of the art market promiscuously purchase the participation of professors to prop them up, it is really their ability to break sales records that confers ‘greatness’ – Irma Stern becomes South Africa’s most important artist not because she is so startlingly brilliant but because she has the most exclusive client base. It becomes commonplace that at every auction, hitherto obscure items are declared to be “major” works of art. A dodgy Irma Stern seascape is major, perhaps because most South African seascapes are the works of ‘amateurs’, and a bowl of flowers by her that looks like a wishful Van Gogh is major, because they say so.

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The Death of OPINION? (OPINION pt 5)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: This was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 30 January 2014 They burst upon the scene with gusto, launching missiles at Iziko Mausoleums of Excellence, and then they disappeared… What happened to the terrorists calling themselves OPINION (Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not)?

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Deviant Museums Plan Secession (OPINION pt. 4)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: This was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 10 January 2014.

Following rumours of endemic discontent within the Iziko Consortium of Excellence, the cultural terrorists calling themselves OPINION (Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not) paid a clandestine visit… to the Iziko West Coast Fossil Park. There they were shocked to discover an Iziko site without its sacred logo.

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OPINION Strikes Again! (OPINION pt 3)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: This was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 19 December 2013

Babel O. Piziko, contemporary spokesperson for OPINION (Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not), has released a third set of multiple-choice questions designed to test public knowledge and perceptions of Iziko Museums of Somewhere or Other.

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OPINION: The Return of (OPINION pt 2)

Mario Pissarra, 3 February 2014

Note: this was originally posted on ASAI connect on 12 December 2013

RESPONSE FROM IZIKO = Azikho (literal translation from isiXhosa: “there is nothing”)

However, a dubious body calling itself the Indifferent Atrocity, apparently the shadowy executive of the Zippo Consortium of Amusement claimed that Iziko (literal translation from isiXhosa “a hearth”) was in mourning for the loss of a brand even greater than itself, and besides, it did not talk to terrorists, even if they were cultural.

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