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Archive: Issue No. 39, November 2000

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.


28.11.00 !Xoe... Off Site
21.11.00 Questions of identity: CAP students at the SANG
14.11.00 Jane Henderson at João Ferreira
07.11.00 Day of the Dead Celebrated
01.11.00 Navigation X Cultural - Celebrate Life
24.10.00 Musa Xaba at the H´┐Żnel Gallery
24.10.00 Robin Rhode in performance at the National Gallery
14.11.00 Young artists bear down on the Goodman
01.11.00 Christine Dixie at the Market Theatre Gallery
24.10.00 Marc Chagall in Johannesburg
Kwazulu Natal
07.11.00 'Open Circuit' at the NSA

Greg Streak

Greg Streak Hermet
Mild steel, paint

Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
100 Stones

Anton Brink

Anton Brink
Glass jar, barbed wire


!Xoe... Off Site
by Paul Edmunds

"Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush", might well be the question posed by such an exhibition as '!Xoe... Off Site'. Originating in '!Xoe_ Site-Specific', this exhibition shows these works documented with photographs and short texts, moved into and reconfigured for a conventional gallery environment. '!Xoe...' was the second such project, organised by Mark Wilby of the Ibis Art Centre in Nieu Bethesda, which engaged with the landscape, history and sociology of that remote but well-known pocket of the Karoo. Artists were asked to respond to this environment with work that was firmly rooted both conceptually and physically in this context. This year the project was extended to include a related exhibition which took place simultaneously in Grahamstown during the National Arts Festival. The show which was originally fairly inaccessible to large audiences will now get a wider showing, albeit in a somewhat different form, courtesy of this exhibition which is set to tour the country.

The project has its most obvious origins in site-specific and earth art from the sixties. Much of this kind of work was also made in remote locations and was similarly inaccessible to large numbers. Artists such as Robert Smithson overcame this problem by producing related works in galleries. His concerns were of course rather different, but these two modes of work evoked inevitable comparisons. He was quite intent, though, on presenting the two as separate but co-existent and, thus, he pretty much got away with it. While I wouldn't say that '!Xoe2' is unsuccessful at all, I would say that a clear distinction is not made between documentation of the original works and their new gallery-friendly incarnations. If the show here serves only to document the site-specific work, would a catalogue not have been a more appropriate medium? If, on the other hand, these are autonomous artworks, do they need the backup of documentation?

Greg Streak's work Hermet is simple in form. A small red oxide coloured shelf is pierced by a pocket which holds what appears to be a cross-shaped roof structure. Below this, but not visible from above, are what one reads as the walls and floor of this house-like form. From the documentation, one can see that the original work was much larger and buried up to its roof in a cross-shaped hole. Perhaps the walls and floor were also submerged in this case; one can't tell. Set in a landscape of alien prickly pear and sisal plants, this apparent retreat is at once comfortable and discordant. The disc-shaped lobes of the prickly pear, the cone-shaped sisal leaves and the strict geometry of Streak's form engage in a lively formal conversation. In the gallery a similar formal language is employed; the carefully considered material, format and display of the work is extremely pleasing and somehow manages to create a space for emotional involvement with an apparently neutral object. In his documentation Streak offers several interpretations of the original work, but the gallery object and its title reveal as much. The apparent misspelling of "hermit" suggests secrecy as well as retreat, and the work reveals a human vulnerability and desire to retreat, as well as an affirmative and assertive ability to make a mark and stand fast.

Conjunctural Focus, by Georgie Papageorge and Helen Weldrick, does not fare so well. It goes quite far, I would say, in revealing just how good Richard Long, Nancy Holt et al really are. Papageorge and Weldrick created three stone circles close to one another along some axis or in some relationship I couldn't quite grasp. Given an obfuscatory title and presented in the gallery as a photographic triptych with arty cursive and stippled lines all over it, the work defied interpretation but invited formal analysis. Sure, its presentation looked impressive, but how does this contribute to its meaning or resonance? Were the stones sensitively chosen and well composed into that most unforgiving of forms, the circle? I fear not, and, without the texture, noise and smell of its original site, this work does not weather the journey from landscape to gallery and nor does its documentation cover up the weaknesses of the original piece.

Anton Brink's Colony addresses the notion of ownership and possession of the land in an appropriate and lighthearted way. Originally delineating a 1m_ section of the Karoo landscape with fence poles and barbed wire, he simultaneously presented a section of turf and plants, also fenced in, in an interior space in the town of Nieu Bethesda. For this showing he presented a 1m length of the same barbed wire, preserved museum-like, in a jar of liquid. The futility and folly of measuring, possessing or even depicting the landscape is presented in a simple and effective form. Andries Botha's piece Homeland Desire takes an altogether more serious approach to similar issues. On an existing erf in Nieu Bethesda Botha cleared all but the typical floorplan of a government subsidised house and outhouse, which remain covered in grass and look more like sheepskin in the late afternoon light of the photographs which document the work. The small, barely adequate house is the site which represents both ownership and belonging as well as the dislocation and dispossession which give rise to the circumstances in which such housing plans exist. The Mondrian-like design of the house as well as the architectural plan which is presented as documentation of the work are appealing enough but function only as that - as documentation and not as an autonomous work of art.

What the show attempts to pull off is extremely difficult and the strength of many of the project's original artworks carry it when the translation to gallery doesn't work. Conversely though, the weakness of some original site-specific works carries through to the gallery both in documentation and in reconfiguration for this showing. The show runs the gamut from the conceptually trim and formally concise nature of Jeremy Wafer's 100 Stones to the artiness of Helen Waldrick's and Freddie Jacobs' Material Represented. In the best examples, Greg Streak's for one, the gallery version of the work functions alongside the site-specific version and creates a fairly formidable pair of artworks. Every group show has its strengths and weaknesses and that's perfectly acceptable, but I feel that this show doesn't really make up its mind as to exactly what it is. In other words, sometimes a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush but occasionally, here, the bird in the hand is really only a reasonable facsimile of the other two.

The show closes on December 9.

Bell-Roberts Contemporary, 199 Loop Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 422-1100
Fax: (021) 423-3135

Tristan McQue

Tristan McQue
Acrylic on canvas, ceramic plate, linocut

Bangikhaya Magoqa

Bangikhaya Magoqa
Acrylic on canvas
Click to see full display

Questions of identity: CAP students at the SANG
by Sue Williamson

The Community Arts Project is one of the city's most valued art institutions, and has been instrumental in providing space and skills training for young marginalised art students since its inception in 1977, often while struggling to get the funding to survive. Many of the city's best known artists received their start at CAP. It must be said though, that in the past, however strong the work of the students, the chronic shortage of cash was too often reflected in poorly presented exhibitions with badly mounted and hung work.

Thus it is a real pleasure to view the coherent and well designed end-of-year exhibition of the CAP students in the Annexe Gallery of the SANG. Each student has produced a painting on a circular canvas, a linocut, two ceramic plates, and a piece of text. There is a central theme on which each artist has worked: 'Questions of identity: Ndingubani? Ungubani? Singobani?', a title which translates as Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? . "We chose to ask these questions, looking at ourselves from inside and out, as individuals and as members of a community of artists."

In the text, the students explore their personal histories, and how and why they decided to become artists. "Within a space of one year, I can live, I can live now without taking a bad job," writes Bangikhaya Magoqa. "I can sit at home and paint, and do mural paintings in the townships. I will not waste time - too much time has passed already." Other themes explored by the students are gender issues, the tensions between rural and urban living, and between the traditional way of life and contemporary lifestyles. It is clear that the students put their hearts into this project, and the resulting self portraits are lively and revealing.

The work is for sale - a ceramic plate costs R125, a canvas R400. The exhibition has been co-sponsored by the Truworths Emerging Artist Fund, and proceeds from the exhibition will be divided between the artists, the Fund, and CAP. The students and the project team, consisting of a consultant from the sponsor and CAP staff members, are to be congratulated.

Until November 24.

South African National Gallery, Government Avenue, Company Gardens, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 465-1628
Fax: (021) 461-0045

Jane Henderson

Jane Henderson
Our radiant selves i
Engraving, ink on perspex
22 x 25.5

Jane Henderson

Jane Henderson
A place to be
Oil, wax on canvas
165 x 165 cm

Jane Henderson at João Ferreira
by Sue Williamson

Regarding the small figures who populate the paintings and drawings of Jane Henderson, one could well be led to the conclusion that they are depictions of pain, even of child abuse. Stunted, dumpy, lacking defined hands and feet, puppy-like "ears" adorning their heads in place of hair, their most compelling feature is the soulful eyes which gaze out at the viewer.

The title of the exhibition is 'Touched' , and in an artist's statement, Jane Henderson gives her definition of the word: 'That which has been touched, a) affected with tender or painful feelings or b)slightly insane, slightly impaired intelligence.

At their best, in a series of small inked engravings into perspex of faces only, mounted in a row of lightboxes, Henderson's characters are drawn with a light enough touch to indeed evoke emotion in the viewer. Regrettably, in many of the works on show one feels the artist has taken an easy way out artistically, plomping down her figures in a shallow space in which a scratched and scumbled background or a few words of text or a child-style drawing of two houses has to serve as a completion of the painting. Somehow the pathos seems laid on far too thickly, particularly in one in which the character holds a bunch of flowers, with the words 'flowers at last' inscribed at the top. But perhaps this triteness, the victim attitude and the obvious sentimentality of the work is very deliberate, a passive/aggressive ploy by the artist to evoke strong emotions in the viewer?

Whatever one's interpretation, one must give Henderson credit for having created a tribe of little characters which carry the mark of the artist's creative spirit. Having said that, one misses any sense of rigour, or of a meaningful development from an earlier exhibition.

Until November 25

João Ferreira Fine Art, 80 Hout Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 423-5403 or 082 490-2977
Fax: (021) 423-2136

Lynne Lomovsky

Lynne Lomovsky
Homage to the Ancestors
Bread, candles, drawings
Installation detail

An unknown performer

Day of the Dead Celebrated
by Sue Williamson

One of the most important dates on the Mexican calendar is the Day of the Dead - Dia de la Los Muertos, an occasion in which those family members who have died before us are remembered and honoured. The setting up of shrines with photographs of the deceased, food, flowers, candles, and cut paper decorations are an integral part of the event.

In Cape Town this year, the event was celebrated on the first Friday of November at the Michaelis School of Art, in and around the printmaking building and drama school. Candle lit shrines were plentiful, even if they seemed not to focus on anyone in particular. In the Michaelis Gallery, amongst other artworks on the theme of death and dying, Lynne Lomovsky's excellent videos, Cross Sections 1 and 11 were on view. The gruelling subject - the ordeal of the artist, a cancer patient, had to go through getting hospital scans - is treated lightly, somewhat in the manner of a music video. In the second piece, the actual scans, moving through the artist's body from neck to crotch in speedy animation are set to the music of Ava Maria. The artist scored yet again with another presentation: in a little space under a staircase, bread, candles and drawings of ritualistic objects, wine glasses and candlesticks were set out in a homage to Lomovsky's ancestors.

Round the corner, Mexican food and jugs of sangria were set out for the large crowd of participants, and a dark shadow at the base of the drinks table turned out on close inspection to be a woman curled up in a foetal position in a galvanised bath of water - a silent, almost unnoticed and surely rather chilly performance which in its quietness provided the most startling moment of the evening.

Installation view part of Susan Hefuna's 'Navigation X Cultural' - Celebrate Life exhibition

'Navigation X Cultural - Celebrate Life'
by Tracy Murinik

A structure as part of her exhibition, Navigation X Cultural at the South African National Gallery (SANG) in Cape Town, Susan Hefuna has constructed and installed a two metre square structure out of palmwood. Conceived of and brought with her from Egypt, it is her gift to the people of Cape Town. Visitors to this installation have reciprocally offered their own gifts in turn. The work will remain in Iziko: Museums of Cape Town after the current exhibition has ended as an archive of gifts for the people of the city.

The concept is a simple one - unpretentious, humane and quietly beautiful. A desire to collect together markers of goodwill and meaning from a random and unpremeditated mix of people in the city who choose, freely, to contribute; bringing together moments of diverse familiar references that gently map out a terrain of intermingling difference and their common ground in Cape Town. The theme is also appropriate in exploring and reflecting upon the concerns of the Cape Town One City Festival, entitled, 'Celebrating Difference', that the exhibition is a part of.

It is a telling accumulation of gesture and personal declaration. Origami birds, a dried protea, a beaded Zulu love letter, sachets of henna, crocheted doilies, red ribbons, calligraphied Islamic prayer sheets, RSA stamps, miniature new South African flags; scarves, pigment, a hat, a folded jacket, a copy of Big Issue, a book entitled Plants of the Qur'an; incense, curios, sweet wrappers (former contents very likely sampled since initial display), a wooden crucifix, sugared almonds, Sabbath kitka cover, Berocca Calmag, shells, wedding cake, wire flowers, a decorated ostrich egg, letters, mebos, small tied bundles, a bamboo fan, a candle holder, Madonna and Child letter cards, moulds of clay brought by the artist from the Nile delta where much of her family still lives.

All of these rest within or are positioned on the structure.

Framed visions Hefuna articulates a complex web of physical references in her construction of this immense, and quite astonishing palmwood structure. The associations she infers are numerous - and precariously contradictory. They beckon affinities within very specific cultural domains: the palmwood basket/cage carriers used to carry daily shopping and groceries around the streets of Egypt; the grid-like lattice of a mashrubiya screen which reframes a woman's vision looking out and obscures all potential of a gaze being returned back in; the grill in a confessional booth.

Hefuna has an intimate awareness of and familiarity with the spaces of Egypt and of Europe, and religiously, of Islam and Christianity, having grown up in a family where her father is Egyptian and her mother German, and dividing her time between Egypt and Germany. Her personal history speaks of exposure to a diverse array of cultural codes and rituals: an extensive knowledge of their beliefs and social habit. As an offering, the structure reflects and reveals the melding points of Hefuna's personal references, and parallels the richly diverse selection of objects that have, in turn, been introduced into the installation.

Psychically, these connections are also a delicately ambivalent balance that declare and undeclare themselves, not allowing their associations to be pinned down conclusively. They might appear warmly familiar, and then decidedly exotic. It is a maze of cubes and frameworks that build upon themselves, that assemble and uncover new views and images, simultaneously revealing and obscuring, making the network more obvious and infinitely less obvious. A structure capable of containment as well as seepage.

There is both an excavation and an accretion that happens in the process of looking and attempting to unravel these mazes, that leads you to insights, and then to greater binds. These are intricate games that play themselves out not only here, but in all of Hefuna's projects, in her immaculately dense drawings and in her bold digital prints and photographs.

Acts of consecration Like a type of shrine, people have responded with incredible openness and faith in entrusting their personal belongings and items to this installation. Objects have been consigned with confidence of their safety and their acquired and cumulative meaning, like personal talismans or artifacts to be uncovered. One senses a dens spirit of investment in these subsequent offerings. They are small, carefully or arbitrarily chosen markers of lives in the city or of visitors to the city; abridged narratives deposited for safekeeping to an archive dedicated to co-existence and well-wishing.

Until November 12

SANG, Government Ave, Gardens
Tel: (021) 4651628
Gallery hours: Tues - Sun, 10am - 5pm

Musa Xaba

Musa Xaba
Chairman Mao
Charcoal drawing

Musa Xaba at the Hanel Gallery
by Paul Edmunds

"The visualisation of a feeling" could perhaps describe the process of making many an artwork, and this is what Musa Xaba subtitles his exhibition 'Remembering my Dream'. This can, of course, be done with varying degrees of success, which Xaba's exhibition achieves in some departments while not faring so well in others: he manages to realise images quite successfully, but I'm not convinced by the content of his dreams. Xaba was born in Durban, where he studied at Technikon Natal, and has lived and worked in Cape Town since 1993. This is his first one person show, and as such he must be commended for a bold début.

The show consists of black and white figurative drawings, well framed and on a moderate scale. The images range from larger portrait-like works to smaller figures. Xaba employs a bold technique involving laying down a dark ground on which he works, removing with an eraser in parts and embellishing in others with directional marks. In two adjacent works, both entitled Comrades, Xaba depicts Mandela and Chairman Mao in this manner. The large heads and shoulders stand out against a consistent grey background. Their faces are completely scored by vertical eraser marks leaving only a bare trace of their features. The form of Mandela's head and Chairman Mao's characteristic hairline provide just enough clues for a viewer to reassemble their features in a familiar way. The works muse on the legacy of these political giants, and ponder their memorialisation in image form.

Other works, such as Dreamgirl, are perhaps not as strong. Xaba in his statement which accompanies the show speaks of "The exterior vision of an interior world" and I would speculate that the above work is just that. A large flowing, unspecific portrait drawing may well feature in Xaba's interior world, but I'm not sure it features quite so strongly in a viewer's. I find that in the works which are ostensibly more private, a viewer feels slightly excluded and I'm not sure that Xaba is too comfortable with these works as I find them formally less strong. The marks he has made don't seem to say as much or to say it as confidently. There is one curious work entitled 'Telling a Dream'. Depicting a pupil-like sphere seen inside the jaws of a shark, its symbols seem less obvious, more intriguing and indicate something which Xaba may find fruitful to explore. Xaba's work is most successful, formally and intellectually, when he investigates not only the objects of his interior world but the process by which they arrive there and by which they are extracted and rendered.

The show closes on November 30

Hanel Gallery, 84 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 423-1406
Fax: (021) 423-5277
Gallery hours: Tuesday to Friday, 11am to 5pm; Saturday 10am to 2pm.

Robin Rhode

Robin Rhode
Charcoal drawing on wall

Robin Rhode

Robin Rhode
In performance

Robin Rhode in performance at the National Gallery
by Paul Edmunds

The first thing I noticed about Robin Rhode is that he was not wearing the Johannesburg artist's de riguer black clothes. He was, rather, dressed in primary colours - red hat, yellow top, blue jeans and shoes. This, against the black and white drawing he made on the wall, put me in mind of Mondrian. The formal references made by this stood in stark contrast to Rhode's relative casualness and the informality of his performance. He interrupted his short attempts at mounting the upside down charcoal bicycle he had drawn on the wall with jokes and comments made to the small audience and a photographer.

Rhode's work has consistently made reference to art history and the rough neighbourhoods of his upbringing in the same breath. His work characteristically involves him interacting, often fruitlessly, with a charcoal drawing he has made on a wall. These drawings have their roots as much in San rock painting as scrawls on public walls. The recurrent image of a bicycle refers to a high school initiation ritual he experienced where young boys were made to climb onto a bike drawn onto the wall of the school toilet. The transformative states depicted in San rock art might well depict as extreme a change of consciousness as what would be required to climb aboard a two-dimensional rendering of a bicycle. The process of learning and initiation are also recurrent in his work and the awareness of art history which his work maintains becomes more important when you notice the regularity with which Rhode points out that there was no art education at his high school. I made a curious connection when I saw him preparing his wall drawing of a bicycle. Taking a small charcoal depiction of a bike from his sketch pad, he turned it upside down and copied it this way onto the wall. I was reminded of an exercise in a book entitled Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain which is often used by people, untrained in art, to teach themselves to draw by copying an image upside down.

Rhode's interaction with his drawings and reference to art history in these performances also reflect the movement from the public walls of his upbringing and the neighbourhoods into the formal, traditional space of the art gallery. The difficulties and frustrations of his actions reflect the deep chasm between the two as well, I suspect, as the contradictory feelings he harbours about that transition. His works often reveal an irreverence for the art institution while happily adopting its conventions and conveniences. While at the SANG Rhode repeated a work he had earlier performed at the Rembrandt Gallery. Drawing a urinal, this time signed R. Moet, he walked up to it and took a leak in the gallery. Duchamp's oft-quoted readymade is given an even further irreverent twist. It would be a mistake though to make heavy weather of Rhode's art historical references while ignoring the delinquent schoolboy. He claims that many of his actions simply "have to be done" and that he has no regard for the consequences.

Rhode is engaging, articulate and entertaining and his work contains carefully and accurately culled images, actions and circumstances. He manages to situate himself comfortably in art history's vast trajectory and explore issues pertinent to his personal and social situation while producing works in an area which is both highly accessible and very sophisticated at the same time. He details this slow and ambivalent entry into the formal and historical art-making context in a both witty and original way.

Rhode is artist-in-residence at the SANG until November 12 where he will be performing and interacting with visitors at the following times:

Thursday November 2, 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. at the Slave Lodge in Parliament Street
Friday November 3, 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. at the South African National Gallery
Performances take place just after 12 p.m.

SANG, Government Ave, Gardens
Tel: (021) 4651628
Gallery hours: Tues - Sun, 10am - 5pm

Thembinkosi Goniwe

Thembinkosi Goniwe's billboard from 'Returning the Gaze'

Brett Murray

A postcard by Brett Murray, forming part of 'Returning the Gaze'

'Returning the Gaze' at the Cape Town Festival
by Mgcineni Sobopha

The 'Returning the Gaze' exhibition organised by Blac in and around Cape Town as part of the recent One City Festival helped us extend our visions and see through the eyes of the artists, as they reflected on the legacies and vestiges of our past/apartheid. Blac's concept in 'Returning the Gaze' called upon black cultural workers "to return the gaze, turn the tables of history by creating a platform and structure for representations of whites by blacks". The exhibition took the form of outdoor billboards and a series of postcards. In its conception, this project seeks "to prise open a unique and unexplored space in the [South African ] cultural landscape,[however], not by crystallising whiteness to its essence but through exploration and unpacking the nature of power and social relations between black and whites from a black perspective". In the event, its participants included the very same whites it sought to return the gaze unto. Do not misunderstand me, I am not advocating the exclusion of whites. Rather, I am being honest about what I do not understand, hence question and search for answers to what is important to me so that I can better understand. Hence, I find it relevant to ask myself, Can whites see black? Or for that matter, can they see whiteness?

Art is situated in history and the individual/ artist's choice of subject matter reflects that situatedness. The politics of racism and sexism in South Africa created a cultural context wherein the white male artist works in an art world that is predisposed to extend him recognition and visibility, locally and internationally. In the South African visual culture images of power and freedom are symbolically personified by white subject in relation to whom all others beings are constructed as unfree "objects". Interesting examples of this are the statues of white male colonial and the late apartheid ochestrators, Cecil Rhodes, Jan Smuts, the list is endless. In sharp contrast to this are the mis/representations of the black people in the South African National Museum.

Most of the works on 'Returning the Gaze' exhibition show some common features as they reflect artist's constant preoccupation with the legacies and vestiges of apartheid. While interrogating the racism and sexism which has shaped the artistic vision of our past dominated by white art practitioners, presenting to us representations that question white supremacy, artists from different backgrounds and various hues articulate the link between that whiteness which claims the black body in representation, only to hold it captive. Questioning such representations, Berni Searle, Cameron Platter, Donavon Ward, Selvin September, Thembinkosi Goniwe, Mustafa Maluka and Zen's work challenges the audience to look and see in a new way.

Searle's work questions and challenges the use of Black bodies as a space where whiteness can be defined as the legitimate agent through which black stories can be articulated while denied the subject position. Berni Searle's work on a billboard adjoining the Boulevard highway confronts us as we go to and come from the city with some of these issues. Through the use of a photograph of herself, lying naked on her back and covered in a layer of white powdered spice, her own body is used as a site on which she maps, critiques and signifies, while imaginatively dismantling the structures of race, gender privilege and relations in representation. Photography as an artistic medium is revolutionised here, freedom of expression is stretched and made more inclusive as the work takes a form and scale normally used for advertisement in our country. The work speaks of a free world where art, race issues, and identity are not static but always changing.

Race or racism has become a big issue in contemporary South Africa. I might as well admit to being fascinated by it, however do not incriminate me of blowing it out of proportion. But we can not run away from the reality that it is alive and kicking. It is precisely because of its existence that we have to constantly re/visit and re/examine it if we are to better understand it so as to be able to see beyond what is given as fact or fiction. Cameron Platter's work on the exhibition reminds me of this. A post card piece with four portraits on which the word race is altered and super-imposed is the word "care". This leaves us with something to eat for breakfast as it challenges us to stretch our minds and reconsider our use of the word race with its loaded historic meanings. In a regretful manner, Platter states "race" is a delicate, yet overplayed issue in our society.

Murray's piece I must learn to speak Xhosa raises complex issues around the politics of language and its function as a career of culture. This piece takes on, in a 'comical manner' the problems which South Africans, white in particular, are faced with and their adamant stance pertaining the learning and respect of other people's languages in the new South Africa. Would it not be amazing and wonderful to sit in a coffee shop with Murray and share a Xhosa joke other than him writing in his English that he must learn to speak Xhosa and maybe also raising consciousness to his fellow whites that they must learn to speak it. It makes one wonder how far has he gone in his efforts to attain the skill since the execution of this historic I must learn to speak Xhosa piece. The effort is appreciated, however how many of them have been saying this? Thus this work can be easily seen at face value and be regarded as sensationalist and just trying to cash in on the name of relevant art.

For the better understanding of this culturally diverse, yet one nation, Maluka seems to be providing leads when he says we have to reckon with the fact that too much indulgence to anything is dangerous. Mustafa it seems suggests that we have to be brave enough to leave a wolf with a lamb and wish for no harm to happen to the lamb. Maluka says that if we consume too much of one culture, the result will be that we end up neglecting the others - something which is not healthy for the well being of any society.

Can the healing of the apartheid wounds be healed with the use of the Band-Aid plasters? Thembinkosi Goniwe's work left me thinking of the meaning of his piece. Goniwe, in his rather strange work, is concerned about what is left behind after the advent of colonialism. Issues of racial classification, power and authority are invoked. Presented to us in a form which reminds us of the reference book/dompass snaps, a portrait of himself and a white friend clearly shows how issues of race and skin colour has preoccupied the minds of our medical practitioners. This is conveyed through the use of the Band-Aid plasters pasted on their faces. The differing visibility of the plaster in their faces says it all as it blends well in the white face while it jumps out on Goniwe's black face, alluding to the fact that the plaster was designed by a colour conscious mind and specifically with a white pigment in mind with the exclusion of black.

Although most of the works in this exhibition are executed in different styles, forms and media, one finds a common theme emerging from them, engaging with social, economic and political realities of its time and the historic imbalances and responses to the current globalisation phenomenon. Where this power is located and how it is used by who for whom seems to be the question Donovan Ward tries to unpack. His work suggests that not everyone is empowered, as a large sector of our black society is still living below the breadline and the lack of proper housing increases everyday. Thus it can be said this work is challenging the "official truth" projected to the outside world by those who wield the power.

Speaking to us in multiple voices, the works in this exhibition made us realise while we contemplate their beauty and strangeness how blessed a nation we are. Only if we can realise the richness of our diverse cultural heritage and learn to appreciate this diversity will we be able to work towards the achievement of healthy social relations in our country.

- Mgcineni Sobopha, is a fine art graduate of the University of Cape Town, currently in his final year of a masters degree. His email address is or

Moshekwa Langa

Moshekwa Langa
Installation detail, 2000
paint on paper
dimensions variable

Moshekwa Langa

Moshekwa Langa
Installation view, 2000
dimensions variable

Moshekwa Langa

Moshekwa Langa
Installation detail, 2000
mixed media and found objects
dimensions variable

Frances Goodman

Frances Goodman
Connie, 2000
mixed media
dimensions variable

Frances Goodman

Frances Goodman
Voice of Reason, 2000
sound piece
dimensions variable


Young artists bear down on the Goodman
by Kathryn Smith

Moshekwa Langa is something of a prodigal son in the South African art world. Whether you are familiar with his work or not, his name is bandied about such a way that no matter what you say or how you say it, you seem to end up somehow complicit in the mythology that is Moshekwa. But that does not detract from the fact that he can produce work that seriously calls into question the expectations that both local and overseas critics and practitioners expect from young African artists.

Once describing himself as a "new curio from Africa", some five years after a landmark exhibition at the Market Theatre Galleries, Langa remains very aware of the way he is regarded, a perception that he has worked hard to shift. He admits to frustration that despite radical successes, he is still viewed as quaint and naÏve - an oddity who comes from Africa yet doesn't make work that "looks African enough".

His new body of work is dubbed 'Another Time, Another Place'. Those who expected more of Langa's sophisticated 'arte povera' (poor art) for post-1994 euphoria may be disappointed. No more cement bags as simulations of flayed skin here, but rather a series of densely hung, riotously coloured drawings and paintings on paper, surrounding four pieces of what he calls "Emergency Architecture": a make-shift shelter, reminiscent of those for informal roadside trading; a screen with a hole cut off-centre at waist-level; a metal sheet stating "he vanished into thin air" in spray paint; and a circular tower of stacked bricks. The absence of the objects or people these forms are designed to protect make their presence stronger, as beacons of vulnerability.

Text-based works stating "I am so sorry", "it wasn't how it really happened", "during the hours of darkness", and a personal favourite, "you give me the creeps" punctuate the colour-field and figurative works on paper, speaking to a range of emotions that derive from deeply felt personal experience.

Langa's technical and conceptual virtuosity has always been a source of amazement, as well as the ease with which he snakes between and across media, working as effortlessly in ephemeral installation work as he does in painting and video. And is strategically capricious about it all.

The artist says of his new work: "You know, you do these ephemeral things, and it's great, but you also want something to hold on to. But I didn't want to make objects because the constraints that came with making objects was that everything I touched in Amsterdam was misunderstood. I could make a simple gesture, but it would be 'a gesture made by an African and then by a South African. It would carry a lot of weight just because it was me. It's been described as 'too clever'. Making stuff that you can't quite pin down is a way of dealing with the situation without really dealing with the situation. "

His pleasure in his process is obvious. It's not long before you are drawn into what he conceives as a dialogue, or the early drafts of a script. You are provided with the ingredients of a loose and non-linear narrative - how you construct it is up to you. And because the text-bytes are double-edged and ambiguous, speaking of loss, absence, ghosts, the pursuit of gratification and excess, Langa draws you into a game that ends up revealing more about you than it does himself.

He shows alongside fellow young South African Frances Goodman who has recently completed an MA(FA) at Goldsmiths College, London. What the pair of prodigals drive home is what faces semi-permanent expatriates like themselves who pursue a career in the visual arts in countries with the infrastructure to seriously support emergent talents. The kinds of expectations from both sides of the equator are different, but equally pressured.

Goodman presents two collections of work, flanking Langa's on either side: a collection of paper shoes christened with women's names that are either the designers', or derived from the designer labels of their originals (Vivienne and Donna remain, but Converse becomes Connie and Prada Priscilla). The labour-intensive process gives way to the pleasure of taking the piss. Facing the shoes is a series of black and white photographs of naked feet. But the real strength behind these works are the sound pieces titled Voice of Reason, which you have to listen to communally, seated in institutional red plastic chairs not unlike those found in tube stations. These function as the neurotic flipside to the commodity fetishization of the sculptural works.

Goodman's voice, relayed through headphones, is measured and rather Victorian, relaying several contemporary scenarios that revolve around phobias, fears and obsessions. Beds, faces, shoes and feet, crowds, stray hairs and illness are all treated with a self-righteous and almost evangelical tone that every so often borders on the hysterical. An embroidered duvet cover flanks the sound bank, boldly stating in two shades of red the "Always" and "Do Not" statements for bed etiquette.

The British press has criticised Goodman and her work as "fascist". She is often described as "the white South African artist who makes works about germs" - a fact that is translated into a "fear of the other" and therefore, her work must be about apartheid.

But she is quick to point out, this is a persona, one who likes to gauge the public response to works that delve the most private of thoughts, speak to suspected invisible threats and rituals, and question the boundaries between the beautiful, prophylactic and dangerous. This is not about pointed discrimination, but an ironic and self-effacing strategy. She has carried out similar exercises in both public and domestic spaces, watching an unsuspecting public become increasingly self-conscious and bearing the brunt of their confessions afterwards. It's the Spice Girls meets Dickens and as fresh as you can get.

Young artists appear to haemorrhage when picked up on the world market too soon. Tracy Rose's thin show at the same gallery this year is a case in point, although it had its moments. Many of the YBA's (Young British Artists) bear testimony to this, producing formulaic but oh-so-clever work that may provoke a giggle, but no lasting tingle.

Although some may vociferously argue, there is a notion that contemporary art from South Africa is so "down to the wire", so rooted in a specific context that it makes it difficult to show overseas, requiring a certain anthropology of its context to be appreciated. At the same time however, that it can hold its own in terms of quality is rarely disputed.

Both artists seem exquisitely aware of this, seeking to create work that can function as autonomous objects in themselves without being absolutely dependent on an explanation of autobiography or socio-political dynamics to situate it. As Langa commented: "It's about currency of thought. Everything is there, but nothing is there at the same time. If it does confuse the viewer, if it doesn't bring a sense of completion or coherence, then it succeeds. "

Would they return? Neither has any immediate plans to settle here. What for, considering the poor state of galleries in Johannesburg, which has somehow managed to maintain a grappling grasp on its status as the 'centre' of the South African art scene. The opportunities, admittedly of a certain sort, are elsewhere. But we can enjoy it while it lasts.

Ends November 25.

Goodman Gallery, 163 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Tel: (011) 788-1113

Christine Dixie

Christine Dixie
Springbok Landscape I - IV, 2000
dimensions variable

Christine Dixie

Christine Dixie
Instalation detail, 2000

Christine Dixie at the Market Theatre Gallery
by Merryn Singer

Made up of installation, found objects, photographs and mixed media, Christine Dixie's Exhibition 'Track' at the Market Theatre Gallery examines the spaces, histories and narratives around the now disused railway tracks that run through the Karoo landscape.

Dixie has photographed, documented and taken rubbings and found objects from abandoned carriages from a remote railway siding on the Sneeuberg Mountain. "Collecting the debris and making rubbings from the carriages felt like documenting traces from ancient empires. Tracking memory down by integrating traces of imagined personal stories evoked by the debris, in between or on the other side to that of official history, became an important component for me in documenting these carriages"

Dixie refers to the history of railways for use in transporting diamonds and gold by both the Boer Republic and the British Empire in order to connect the ports with the mining fields.

There is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that these vehicles of colonisation of the land, precisely for its own exploitation are over time slowly dissolving back into the very landscape that they were imposed upon. It would be very easy for Dixie to get caught up in the romantic notion of the earth reclaiming the land and the aestheticisation of the decay of these markers, but she manages to make it about more. The very act of her finding, photographing, intervening and placing these objects in a gallery space is an interesting notion in itself, in a way playing on the idea of colonisation - of ownership, of taking, of documenting, of claiming, and of recording narratives.

She manages this by not really giving the viewer clues on how to read the show - there are no labels to tell us what is found, what is authentic, what is intervention even what is art. Initially I found this absence of labelling frustrating, but after spending time with the objects, I realised it was in essence irrelevant - the narratives, whether they are authentic or whether they are invented by the artist, speak of a time and place so specific of a physical and cultural era. The nondescript photographs of the landscape become akin to the journey of a train, seeing this monotonous scenery go past the window, perhaps something exceptional catching your eye, but there is no stopping or slowing down to look.

Part of the installation involves a series of found train windows with photographs or objects added by the artist. These are hung parallel to each other in a grid like system so that they represent the passageway of a train. The stillness of these fragments adds to the feeling of absence, of mournful loss and desire for preservation and historical recording. In a way it is about longing for something that has been, an era that has passed, but then Dixie adds a sharp reminder of what that history really was. She has included an anonymous journal with access to a single entry recounting part of a train ride - "8 Saterday, Dec. 79" - Part of the entry describes the breakfast they ate and what books the author was reading, but then "We have now stopped at Orange River. All these black little boys sing under your window and it is very uncomfortable" and "For the first time in my life I really want a bath, I feel dirty"

Dixie reminds us that looking at landscape is a mediated process, mediated further by her own intervention and its context in the gallery. She explains: "Significant too for me is the insistent motif of the engraved springbok head on the train window. The springbok whose shadow falls over personal memories and through which our vision of landscape is still filtered, so that looking out through the glass of a train window, one can only see the landscape darkly."

Until November 11.

The Market Theatre Gallery, Market Theatre Complex, Wolhunter Street,Newtown
Tel: (011) 832 1641
Fax: (011) 492 1235

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall
La Danse,1950-52
Oil on canvas

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall
Etude pour Les Tois rouges, 1952-53
Black ink, gouche and watercolour on paper

Marc Chagall in Johannesburg
by Kathryn Smith

How do you begin to review a show by an artist whose status in the annals of Western art history is so confirmed? With an artist like Chagall, what can you say about line, shape, tone, colour and form that hasn't already been said? The exhibition of paintings from his 'Mediterranean period' that has been curated for the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg seems to want to not push the point of Chagall's 'Jewishness', a point so often laboured in most of the writing about his work. There is a strong sense of spirituality, but not evangelism. The show has been carefully designed to stress Chagall's humanity, lust for life, and the need to reconcile a sense of self through fantastical images and iconography strongly influenced by Hasidic folklore and many years of exile.

When the exhibition was announced at a lavish reception at Standard Bank headquarters earlier this year, I thought "why Chagall?" If the French wanted to showcase their cultural heritage, why not choose a contemporary (and preferably living) artist whose language is of the moment, like Christian Boltanski? Other than the obvious privilege of being able to view such work in its original form, how is this work relevant to contemporary South Africa?

Marc Chagall, who died in 1985 at the age of 98, is considered to be one of the twentieth century's great masters and sophisticated colourists. Born in Vitebsk in White Russia (now Belarus) his biography is traumatic, fraught with periods of exile in France and the US, eventually returning to France which adopted him in much the same way as they did Picasso. This experience of exile, repatriation, memory and reconciliation (standard fare for many contemporary South African artists) fundamentally informs Chagall's relevance here. Alan Crump goes so far as to draw parallels between his experience and that of George Pemba and Gerard Sekoto. Taken this way, Chagall makes a fascinating point of access into the grand narrative of Western art for many local audiences who can't afford to get their art-fix in museums abroad. The fact that the works are visually appealing also helps!

But the conditions and consequences of hosting such a show, particularly in Johannesburg, are infinitely more interesting than the art itself. It is the first major show of a European master to be held on the African continent with works borrowed from public and private collections across Europe. Needless to say, this is a hugely expensive undertaking. Two separate exhibitions, conceived of as two parts of a whole, opened within a day of each other at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg (paintings and works on paper) and the South African National Gallery in Cape Town (lithographs) respectively.

'The Light of Origins' is not some package-deal show that trawled the international museum circuit for years, ending up here at the end of its run. The show was conceived of and curated specifically for a South African audience, and other than being the first such exhibition, it is also very rare that national museums in Europe lend such treasured work to a private, corporate institution. French museums required much convincing to assure them that a third world country could pull this off.

The kind of infrastructural necessities an exhibition of this sort required major renovations to the Standard Bank gallery (the show arrived in isothermic crates), such that it now stands as the only space in Johannesburg that conforms to international museum standards with regards to both display and conservation. South Africa doesn't have a museum culture to speak of, thanks to years of cultural isolation, so what this really boils down to is a well-conceived and socially responsible PR move by Standard Bank and its many co-sponsors and affiliates, who are closing a gap left wide open by the slow but persistent demise of the JAG. Without corporate money, the show - and future shows like it - would have been impossible.

Taking two years to facilitate, with tangible attempts at sustainability being considered at every turn, the catalogue texts reveal that the team of thinkers and cultural workers involved anticipated virtually every criticism. The stakes are simply too high. An intensive six week-long education programme for school learners of all ages has been devised, running concurrently with lunch hour lectures and walkabouts. The education programme is accompanied by a wonderful task and information booklet, that any visitor would do well to look at. The approach is to encourage an active, informal and highly communicative visual experience, and long terms goals include curatorship and museology training exchanges between France and South Africa.

And while the spin-offs have been strategically calculated (this show opens the door to similar shows of its kind), the real socio-cultural import of this project was best noted by bank chairman DR Conrad Strauss : "It is wrong to assert that a society like ours cannot afford the so-called luxury of engaging with the highest levels of artistic achievement. We cannot afford not to." Those who criticised the Biennale as public money wasted should take note.

With the exchange of cultural assets internationally now a reality, the success of such a show rests as much with the audience as it does with organisers. Attendance levels could radically affect future funding. The confidence that European nations are prepared to instil in South Africa, illustrated through the loan of national treasures, bespeaks something greater than simply good faith and an endorsement of the process of transformation. There's more than money at stake.

Ends November 25 (JHB)* and January 14, 2001 (SANG).
* The exhibition has now been extended until December 1 2000

Gallery hours: Mon - Fri, 8am - 4.30pm; Sat 9am - 1pm

Sharmila Samant

Sharmila Samant

Sharmila Samant
Global Clones
Installation view

Sharmila Samant

Sharmila Samant


'Open Circuit' at the NSA
by Paul Edmunds

The title of the exhibition, the name of the project of which it forms part as well as that of the organisation which facilitated its realisation, all seem to contain an inordinate amount of contradictions. An 'open circuit' is both a broken-down system and one which is inclusive. The exhibition (and the conference which it accompanied) came about through the Pulse project, initiated by Durban-based artist and former Rijksakademie student, Greg Streak. Pulse is a term which incorporates both the cold blue light of an electronic signal and the warmth and texture of a heartbeat. This project is taking place under the aegis of RAIN, the Rijksakademie International Network. The name of this organisation brings with it the promise of fertile ground and growth along with the spectre of acid rain from first world industry, falling on the developing world to the South. These apparent contradictions, however, prove themselves to be the extreme poles between which the rich and vigorous dialogue takes place in this exhibition. This aspect of the project set out especially to explore the juxtaposition of technology with tradition which is so characteristic of many countries in the developing world. South Africa, and Durban especially, with its unique cultural diversity, is an ideal context in which to undertake such a debate. Several Durban-based artists participated as did a number of artists from Johannesburg. Former and current residents at the Rijksakademie, who are involved in other RAIN projects, came out for the show, and there was also work from an American.

In the conference and publicity which preceded the opening of the show in Durban, much was made of the centre / periphery debate. This dialectic was seen to operate on many scales, starting with the works themselves, the issues they explore, radiating out to embrace the whole context in which artmaking is created and received. It was pointed out that Durban itself exists in the margins of an already marginalised art world. The works deftly and effectively explored this dialectic in all its forms from the personal to the political, and from the physical and sensual to the intellectual and spiritual. As part of a growing dialogue, facilitated by the RAIN project, the exhibition and project as a whole was, I believe, a highly effective and well-realised event and will contribute considerably to the South - South dialogue it is fostering between countries with similar cultural circumstances.

Perhaps it would seem unfair to single out Streak's own piece on the show, for fear of accusing him of designing the whole affair around his work, but to my eye it was a real standout. Situated on the steps leading from ground floor to the mezzanine, entitled Artist's Breath, the work is infused with pathos and mystery. A compressor, operated by a timing device, is connected by a clear tube to a balloon mounted on the wall above. The compressor intermittently inflates the balloon which then slowly returns to its sorry, flaccid state. The relative crudeness and simplicity of its mechanism belies the true poignancy of the piece. Simultaneously debunking the myth of the heroic artist and his products and commenting on the loneliness and seriousness of the creative endeavour, Streak presents the artist as both the source and passive receptacle of inspiration. Without a life-supporting blast from the compressor, or technology incarnate, the balloon, the artist, is limp and useless. The origin of the word "inspiration", with its roots in the Greek word which means both spirit and breath, comes to mind. It is quite extraordinary the way Streak extracts a personal and sociological metaphor from a simple, non-representational and neutral mechanism; how he manages to invest this fairly benign setup with so much humanness.

José Ferreira's video piece, entitled Sububurbia, takes up where Streak leaves off (Ferreira was a student in Durban at the same time as Streak and is now resident in Johannesburg). Equally simply, he takes a more ominous, almost dramatic look at the intrusion into the personal by the technological. A pool of light filled by the silhouette of what looks like a massive military aircraft, moves over the landscape of Ferreira's cool blue bedclothes. This is accompanied by a low, relentless rumbling. Although somewhat more spectacular, the work is not as metaphorically rich as Streak's but succeeds in creating a threatening, almost futuristic atmosphere.

Sharmila Samant from India, also a former Rijksakademie student, presents a video piece entitled Global Clones. Her video monitor is mounted at the mezzanine level in such a way that one looks down onto its horizontally-oriented screen. While resident in the Netherlands, she collected women's traditional shoes from countries which described the path from there to India. At a slow, steady pace, each disembodied pair of shoes takes one step before it slowly segues into another pair which follows, on the path to India. The idea of a painstaking journey from the First to the Third worlds is invoked. The lot of the women who might still wear these shoes in countries further to the South, as well as those who did in the past in countries further to the North, is marked by these steps. The true distance between the First and Third world is measured by this journey.

David Bain, currently resident at the Rijksakademie, pulls off a work which is almost a subversion of technology and has a wonderful maverick air about it. In Sense City, he places geophonic sensors in various hidden places in the architecture of the gallery. (Geophonic sensors are small electronic devices used by geologists to investigate geological structure and events). These sensors pick up vibrations in the building's materials, some of which are caused by external noises travelling through the building. He then broadcast these sounds with a small radio transmitter, providing an old radio and headphones in the gallery on which one could "listen to the building". The signal could be picked up within a 1km radius as well. You could make out voices, music from the adjacent restaurant and a series of unidentifiable vibrations, moans and creaks. I was reminded of high school physics where we learned that solids conduct sound better than both liquids and gases. It was hard, I recall, to tangibly experience such a fact. In an interesting way Bain deconstructs the solid, permanent materials of the building's structure and reconfigures them into a series of waves and pulses which are so insubstantial one needs an electronic device to decode them. The use of a common, simple electronic appliance like a radio, straddles the distance between the specialised researcher and the garage enthusiast. Bain evokes a murky, ephemeral sense of the impressive, solid building in which you find yourself.

Siemon Allen, formerly from Durban and now resident in the US, is showing the piece he made for the FNB Vita awards in 1999. Pictures and Words consists of Tintin comics cut with the text altered in a really "lo fi" way. In this series he muses, often ironically, on the complex political and historical landscape in which the art world operates. Issues of cultural appropriation and colonialism come to the surface against a backdrop of often confusing or nonsensical vignettes from various Tintin stories. Jeremy Wafer blurs the boundary between artifact and mass production in the two horizontally mounted dimpled and textured staff-like objects which he has left untitled. Andries Botha gives local audiences a rare glimpse of part of his large series entitled What is a Home?. A lone missionary figure, stooped and shielding himself from the sun with a steel umbrella, sails an insubstantial corricle-like boat on a sea of nylon rope. He appears from the position of his umbrella, to be sailing South from someplace in the North, in search of either a home for his doctrine, or judging from his demeanour, hands clasped to his chest, for himself.

The show was opened with a performance by Robin Rhode and other participants include Kendall Buster from the US, Isaac Carlos who is Angolan born but now resident in the Netherlands, as well as Stephen Hobbs and Kathryn Smith from Johannesburg. James Beckett, from Durban and off to the Rijksakademie next year, produced a piece especially for the show too.

Streak's curatorial hand is succinct, accurate and firm, granting the works the discression and privilege they require in order to flourish in the way they do. There is a fit and vigorous air to the show as a whole, and for the most part the debates have been opened up in a fresh and competent way. There was certainly no evidence that young artists are not capable of dealing with the complex landscape which this show attempts to navigate. This project is hopefully the first of at least four which will take place, each choosing to engage with issues pertinent to the practice of artmaking in developing and Third World countries. Similar projects are running concurrently in various other places including India, Argentina and Brazil.

The show closes on November 22

N S A Galleries, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban, South Africa, 4001
Postal address: P.O. Box 37408, Overport, Durban, South Africa, 4067
TEL: (031) 202-2293