Artist and sculptor Mark Meyer - South Africa

The beginning of the final decade of the century, with the lifting of the cultural boycott, opened up South Africa to the African continent and the world and ensured this country's artists their place amongst the international art world.

Because the majority of the population have, historically, been restricted to only a limited education, the community of art practitioners, art educators, patrons, supporters and promoters make up only a very small percentage of the more than 43 million people in South Africa.

In the 1960s, the Polly Street Art Centre in downtown Johannesburg, the Rorke's Drift Art and Craft Centre in Northern KwaZulu-Natal and the Johannesburg Art Foundation started to offer art classes for black African students who were excluded from accessing art classes through the South African education system.

The Jubilee Art Centre in central Johannesburg joined these alternative art education centers in the 1970s but was forced to relocate to the Mofolo Art Centre in Soweto when the Group Areas Act made it illegal for black students to be educated in the city. More and more centers like these, eg Abangani Art Centre in Durban, Community Art Project in Cape Town, the Federated Union of Black Arts and the Open School in Johannesburg emerged in most major cities in response to demand by students who wanted an art education.

Black students had to apply to the Minister of Education for admission to white tertiary institutions and, as this permission was hard to obtain, those who wanted to pursue art as a career were forced to leave the country or turn to the alternative art centers. As demand increased for this type of education, a snowball effect emerged with more graduating artists putting their skills and time back into establishing more alternative structures. A parallel group of artists began to emerge alongside the white students who were graduating from a formal art education in the tertiary institutions.

In the mid-Eighties there was a marked change in the activities of the public art collecting institutions which generally serve as an indicator as to who is making art in South Africa. Acquisitions policies changed and previously unknown black artists came into focus, most of them as a result of the BMW Tributaries exhibition in 1985, curated by Ricky Burnett, which brought to the attention of the art world artists and art that had not been seen in galleries before. Craftspeople from the rural areas began to be recognized for their inherited traditional skills specific to their region and were represented in exhibitions locally and internationally, despite not having received any kind of recognized art education.

The changes in South Africa in the 1990s saw an introduction, for the first time in the history of the country, of a ministry with an arts and culture portfolio. The Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in its first two years has had to deal with many programs within the visual arts. It funded and supported South Africa's participation in the Abidjan Biennale in 1993; in the Venice Biennale in 1993 and 1995 and in the 23rd Sao Paulo Biennale in 1996. It also lent support for the Africus Johannesburg Biennale, South Africa's first biennale in 1995, which proved to be the largest contemporary art event on the African continent with 63 countries participating, leading to a new focus on South African art.

While the discrepancies of the past cannot and should not be forgotten, there is a growing measure of unity amongst artists from different backgrounds, some of which has been brought about by foreign curators and patrons who have responded to South African-made art rather than the background of the artists who have produced the work.

The exhibition Contemporary Art from South Africa, curated by the author and commissioned by Deustche Aerospace, in October 1994 brought together eight South African artists, some of whom met for the first time in Germany as they traveled to the exhibition opening. The Colours exhibition of South African contemporary art which was staged at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures) in Berlin in May-August 1996 put together in one show artists whose background of art training and styles of work were very different.

While some of the transformation taking place is to be applauded, art is still remote to the vast majority of the population. Soweto, the biggest black residential area in South Africa, to this day does not have an art school, art gallery or art museum.

A photographic exhibition in Orlando West, Soweto launched by the recently formed Africus Institute for Contemporary Art (AICA) in collaboration with the Gauteng Department of Sports, Arts and Culture to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the June 16 1976 uprising has proved there is a real need for more locally based museums and gallery.

The exhibition, entitled Youth Uprising Point of No Return and curated by Tumelo Mosaka was staged in 10 containers sponsored by Transnet. It was scheduled to run for one month, but the unprecedented demand for an exhibition of this type an average of 65 visitors daily from both Sowetans and tourists forced an extension first until the end of July and then to the end of October, highlighting the need for this type of exhibition in other townships.

With policy on arts and culture being finalized from local government upwards, with the formation of national arts councils in 1997, and as more local artists are being represented internationally in exhibitions focusing specifically on South African art, the dawn of the 21st century should see South African artists well placed to face the challenges of the international art world.

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A roundup of the best art to see or buy
at galleries around the country
ASSOCIATION OF ARTS PRETORIA, 173 Mackie Street, Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria presents an exhibition of works by JOHN MOORE.
Tel. (012) 346-3100.

John Moore

217 Drive Street, Ruimsig, Roodepoort hosts the annual exhibition of CORNELIUS BOSCH and MUNRO
Tel. (011) 958-1392.

Exhibition by CHERYL GAGE entitled Something Old, Something New at the RAU ART GALLERY
Tel. (011) 489-2099.


Cheryl Gage
Post Tokyo by TRACY PAYNE will be held at UCT IRMA STERN MUSEUM, Cecil Road, Rosebank, Cape Town from
Tel. (021) 685-5686.

Tracy Payne
Exhibition at THE STEWART GALLERY, 69 Eleventh Street, Parkhurst, Johannesburg. Works by BEULAH VERMAAK.
Tel. (011) 327-1384.


Beulah Vermaak

Koeksisterhood works by BARBARA L’ANGE at 3RD i GALLERY, 95 Waterkant Street, Cape Town  Barbara L’Ange pays homage to women in the form of stitched and found objects, sculptures and paintings, all coming together in a rich tapestry of images and colors.
Tel. (021) 425-2266.

Barbara L'Ange
Works by VAL ADAMSON at the DURBAN ART GALLERY entitled Bloodlines. An exhibition examining the concept of family including alternative families.
Tel. (031) 311-2262.

Work by Val Adamson
GALLERY ON THE SIDE, Pineslopes Centre, Fourways will be hosting an exhibition focusing on landscape and figurative works by artist MAURO CHIARLA  Tel. (011) 467-2475. VINEYARD GALLERY, 29 Vineyard Road, Claremont will be hosting a visually stimulating exhibition of INTERNATIONAL LIMITED EDITION GRAPHICS
Tel. (021) 683-9597.

6 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, Johannes-burg. From 7 May. The exhibition will run for about three weeks.
Tel. (011) 788-4805.

Simon Stone
Works by PIETER BADENHORST entitled Plaas at the PHOTOZA GALLERY, 153 Oxford Road, Upper Level, Mutual Square, Rosebank, Johannesburg.
Tel. (011) 880-0833.

Pieter Badenhorst
6 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, Johannes-burg. From 7 May. The exhibition will run for about three weeks.
Tel. (011) 788-4805.

Simon Stone