Word View

6a

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

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-existance’? 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.

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

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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Deviant Museums Plan Secession (OPINION pt. 4)

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)

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)

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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Our Public Institutions Need Intervention or Not (OPINION pt 1)

Note: this was originally posted on ASAI Connect on 5 December 2013

Desperate terrorists have hacked their way into ASAI’s facebook page, where they have released a weapon of crass distraction code-named OPINION. According to the Ministry of Counter-Intelligence in the Newly Independent Bantustan of the Mind, OPINION apparently translates “Our Public Institutions Need Intervention Or Not”.

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South Africa in Black & White

Note: originally published as editorial to Third Text Africa vol 2 no. 3m 2010

When, in 1989, Albie Sachs presented his paper “Preparing Ourselves for Freedom”, he was addressing two audiences. In immediate terms, he was addressing his comrades in the ANC, in anticipation of a transfer of power and the concomitant shift from resistance to governance. But he was also speaking to a much broader audience, much of which was not present at the ANC seminar in Lusaka, namely the nascent, democratic South Africa.

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