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Archive: Issue No. 37, September 2000

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


26.09.00 A success: The Cape Town One City Festival
19.09.00 Stephen Inggs at João Ferreira
05.09.00 Sanlam New Acquisitions
19.09.00 Trading Outposts: 'Trapped Reflections' at the African Window and 'Outpost' at the Association of Arts, Pretoria
12.09.00 Cross Currents: Contemporary art practice in South Africa

One City Festival

A postcard by Mustafa Maluka, forming part of 'Returning the Gaze'

Brett Murray

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

One City Festival

The would that dow not bleed
Steet children project
installation detail

One City Festival

Participants in the 'Under one roof' project


A success: The Cape Town One City Festival
by Sue Williamson

Only a few short weeks ago, the second annual Cape Town One City Festival, underbudgeted and with a vast programme of events and happenings which attempted to be very widely inclusive, looked as if it might well fall short of its far reaching ambitions. It is too soon to say whether it was successful on every front - so extensive was the programme, that it was impossible for any one individual to take in more than a small part of it - but what I witnessed was Capetonians coming out in full force to celebrate and really enjoy their festival.

"Why do we have to wait a whole year for this? Why can't we have it every month?", asked one festival goer, caught up in the joyful mayhem that was Friday night on the streets, 'Night Vision', where hundreds, possibly thousands, wandered in and out of galleries and coffee shops, enjoying the music,exchanging a kiss with a mirror-visaged PMinc peformer there.

The director for the festival was Zayd Minty, and the overall theme was 'Celebrating Difference', with a sub theme, for a series of public banners and postcards, of 'Returning the Gaze' - a theme which, for instance, allowed thousands of motorists on their homeward commute from the city to ponder on a huge billboard alongside the freeway. This featured a photograph of artist Berni Searle, flat on her back, naked except for a covering of white spices, with the caption 'Not Quite White'. Other billboards appeared at Langa, and in the university suburb of Rondebosch.

In the city, the main art action was at The Granary, under the cor-ordination of Robert Weinek and Roger van Wyk. Here, a series of exhibitions under the theme 'True Stories' really brought home the theme of 'Celebrating Difference'. It was the way in which all the events in some way came back to the central theme, a narrowness of focus which still allowed for a wide diversity of contributions, that made the viewing at the Granary so successful. The 'True Stories' series included: a roomful of photographs taken by street photographer Xolile Wiseman Xego, each in a glass frame with lettering incised in paint around the image. 'Precious Objects', by Doreen Southwood, was a series of close up portraits of women from a city old age home with a written piece from each about her most valued possession. These were framed in a series of double frames. 'Good Times and Hard Times of Travelling' featured the remarkable adventures of a group of Langa women headed by Sheila Mahloane who coordinated the project with Mara Verna, determined to educate themselves by saving to travel abroad. Photographs, written texts, and souvenirs stuck on maps chronicle their surprise at finding white women street sweepers in Italy, or their reactions on reaching New York.

One of the hits was undoubtedly Greg Smith's 'Love Stories', a series of phones in a downstairs cellar, either on a table with a small lamp, accompanied by a wall video projection of a city scene, or on a bank of phones on the wall. Pick one up, and the listener becomes party to the story of a love affair, engaging in its frankness and directness. Further into the cellar, an installation and performance by Randolph Hartzenberg could be witnessed.

In 'Under One Roof", visiting artist Susan Hefuna worked with a group of women on their personal histories, helping them to produce digital images of aspects of their lives. Next to a small shebeen, was James Webb's powerful Prayer, a sound installation for six speakers, which intermingled in the tiny space voices uttering the prayers of six different religions.

"In my dreams I want to be a karate man because I want to protect myself. And in my dreams I want to save my people, my family and I want to save other people who is on the street," reads part of the text from 'Iduma Elingopiyo', a project co-ordinated by Davide Tosco and Kali van der Merwe with street children, such an integral part of the Cape Town city scene. In words and images which wallpaper a room, insights are given into why the children are where they are.

In a video room, the programme included this-location, in which artist and Lueen Conning had her own body filmed in a journey from foot to head, and standing next to the projection, in words and song and accompanied by Garth Erasmus on a San bow, interacts with the screened images. The body as landscape. In Cross-Sections I and II, artist Lynne Lomowsky, who has used her own cancer as the subject of her work, has herself filmed as her body is scanned and tested for the disease, and in a second video, animates the sectional scans from shoulder to hip and back again to the song Ave Maria.

And those were just some of the offerings at the The Granary, which was just one venue amongst venues across the city and into the townships, where buses took festival goers to Bonteheuwel and to the new cultural centre of Gugu s'Thebe in Langa.

One of the festival sponsors was the city's morning newspaper, The Cape Times, and one of the best features of the festival was an excellent supplement detailing all the events, times and performers on offer. Rain undoubtedly interfered with the plans of some festival goers, and the next festival will be planned for March 2002, that glorious late summer period. In the meantime, one hopes that the cameraderie and delight Capetonians took in each others cultural offerings stays with us well into the future.

Stephen Inggs

Stephen Inggs
Wing 2000
light-sensitive emulsion & charcoal on BFK Rives paper
106 X 120cm

Stephen Inggs at João Ferreira
by Paul Edmunds

Rhopography, says the inscription at the entrance of the exhibition, is the depiction of everyday, often overlooked objects. It is a Victorian term, and the show 'Continuum' takes this as its starting point. Fittingly this body of work continues from Inggs' last show, over a year ago at the AVA.

The works depict found objects, both human-made and naturally occurring, in monochromatic prints. The majority are large (120 x 107 cm) and were made by painting liquid photographic emulsion onto paper and exposing these to photographic images Inggs has made. There are a few smaller three-colour lithographs. All the works are entitled Continuum, sometimes followed by their subject matter in parenthesis. Inggs has for some time been collecting detritus and flotsam from an area a short distance from Cape Town where he spends a lot of time. The objects he collects are worn, weathered and replete with their own history. He invites us to contemplate these evocative objects which have something of a Victorian quality to them. This quality is not so much to do with their vintage as the idea of collecting and categorising which so characterises that era. Inggs suggests that the works provide an occasion for reflection and slowing down in an age that is more to do with quick turnover and information saturation.

For me the show is highly attractive, but I at first wanted to ambush that attraction. The images are extremely beautiful, that is indisputable. The broad swaths of emulsion vary in saturation and one can really feel the image coming slowly into existence on this seductive support. The exposures are made in a narrow register, in a rich variety of grays. The lithographs, made with a silver ink, have a dense crystalline surface. A dessicated frog, a dismembered bird's wing, or a bunch of spinach are poignant, almost sad. They have the quality of wrought iron or an icon. They seem to stand for something else, be part of a larger, invisible whole. Other images, like an enamelled jug, watering can or plate are equally seductive, but somehow I want to second-guess this attraction. I know these objects appeal to me and I know how this has happened. We have seen the enamelled crockery, we know it from cottages and kitchens where we grew up and we have seen it adopted as iconography in the new South Africa. For that reason I want to dismiss it, to smother the appeal it has for me until I realise that Inggs' adoption of this image goes one step further. He not only wants us to reflect on these objects, but on these images too, to reflect on our perceptions of them. He taps not only into our memory of these objects, but invites us to contemplate the map which lead them there. The works carry with them their own memory and ours too. This, I believe, is how he transcends the potential sentimentality of the objects he has chosen to depict and I am willing to travel this circuitous route to like the work because it is so undeniably appealing.

To return to the inscription above, the show unquestionably attains its objective. Not only are the weathered neglected subjects of Inggs' works overlooked, but so too is the process by which they become etched into our memories. Just as the slow, accumulative and miraculous materialisation of the photographic images is evident in their realisation, and, just as the patina and path of time is etched into the subject matter, so too is the unfathomable and subtle process of memory revealed.

Exhibition closes on September 30.

João Ferreira Fine Art, 80 Hout Street
Tel: (021) 423-5403
Fax: (021) 423-2136

Willem Boshoff

Willem Boshoff
Hot Cross Bowl II 1998
Various types of wood
67 x 56 x 18.5 cm

Walter Battiss

Walter Battiss
Fragments 1976
35 x 50 cm

Diane Victor

Diane Victor
Kom Vrou en Bring die Kinders
Disasters of Peace V 2000
21 x 28.5 cm

New acquisitions by the Sanlam Collection
by Sue Williamson

As corporate collections go, the Sanlam Art Collection, housed in the company's headquarters in Bellville, is one of the longest standing in the country, initiated in the late 60s, with the stated mission of building "a collection that is representative of the best work done by South African fine artists." Currently on view in the art gallery are the New Acquisitions, 86 works acquired by the Collection in the last two years.

Time has moved on since the 60s, and as curator Stefan Hundt notes in the useful handout written to accompany the current exhibition, " ... the South African art scene is seeing a rapid proliferation of installation, video and conceptual art which undermines any certainty of what would constitute an artwork. Many of these works directly refute or are boldly antagonistic towards the principles that art critics, art museums and corporate collections may hold dear. The idea that the sole function of the artwork in a corporate collection is to enhance the environment it is placed it, can no longer be sustained if that corporation is truly committed to supporting the art and artists of the day."

Would that curatorial statements be matched by corporate buying decisions. Although there are undoubtedly a number of fine works amongst the art on display, it all feels terribly safe and unchallenging, falling into the conventional categories of framed works on the wall or three-dimensional sculptures of a manageable size. And amongst the standout pieces by artists such as Willem Boshoff, are many which fail to rise above the decorative, like the carved wooden heads of Egon Tania in his Double Portrait, and Leon de Bliquy's hand coloured etching series, Quylibed's Odyssey. Some of the small works on paper do call for careful attention, like the finely drawn and incisive series of etchings by Diane Victor, entitled, tellingly, Disasters of Peace. Kom Vrou en Bring die Kinders shows a naked man, gun in hand, his uncomprehending wife and children mere outlines in the background. Norman Catherine, too, is well represented with a number of satirical etchings.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibition resides in the purchases of artists in earlier years. The sure hand of Walter Battiss is shown in a 1976 piece, entitled Fragments, little areas of clear watercolour with body parts superimposed.

But overall, it would seem that there are some hard decisions to be made: is the Sanlam Art Collection content to jog along representing the past and the more conventional offerings from the present? Or, taking the long view, would it be better to turf out a lot of the old stuff and allow some more challenging and difficult work to find its way into the Collection? View the show, and see what you think. A timetable of walkabouts conducted by Stefan Hundt will be found in Listings.

Until October 15.

Sanlam Art Gallery, 2 Strand Road, Bellville
Tel: (021) 947-3359
Fax: (021) 947-3838

Jeremy Wafer

Jeremy Wafer
Fence 2000
black and white photographs

Clive Hardwick

Clive Hardwick
Renaissance Man 2000
pinhole photographs

Khwezi Guhle

Khwezi Guhle
Somewhere out there... 1999
video installation

Seoidin O'Sullivan

Seoidin O'Sullivan
Drawing and mixed media on paper

Chris Gous

Chris Gous
Memory Filter 2000
mixed media installation

Jan van der Merwe

Jan van der Merwe
mixed media installation


Trading Outposts: 'Trapped Reflections' at the African Window and 'Outpost' at the Association of Arts, Pretoria
by Kathryn Smith

The African Window Museum has always been something of a curiosity to me, and frankly, I've seldom been enamoured by their installation and lighting skills. Their press liaison abilities aren't much better, but seeing as 'Trapped Reflections' is a Unisa project curated by Koos van der Watt, I got to hear about this one.

The line up of artists is interesting, including Walter Oltmann, Minnette Vari, Jan van der Merwe and Gerhard Marx, amongst others. The premise for the show is even more intriguing. Van der Watt has been documenting the structures created by the inhabitants of the Kosi Bay area in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. These are predominantly reed and wood constructions, used to trap fish. The concerns are primarily survivalist and speak of the immediate needs of a community that are often eclipsed by more globally-focused attention on the environment.

Although functional, the structures themselves are aesthetically designed, placed in shallow water and taking various forms. They could easily be read as land art of the 1970's, or closer to home, the increasing focus on the physicality of land and geography that underpins such projects as '!Xoe' and the current KZN exhibition 'Outpost' at the Association of Arts, Pretoria.

The potential for this project to engage creatively with the issues that concern the communities of the Kosi Bay area is huge, but the show comes off as rather clumsy and ill-considered in terms of curatorial rigour. The relevance of the structures in terms of the art works and the intention behind this juxtaposition is not clear, and as such, the focus rests on their aesthetic appeal.

The exhibition takes place in two adjacent rooms, both of which read very differently. The first space comprises documentation and texts of the lake area and the people who inhabit it, along with work by school children and Unisa students. Some of the more well-known artists' works are also dotted around this space, which makes little sense when one enters the adjacent space.

Dark and dramatically lit, the structures themselves have been used to create installation 'zones', with most artists, except Vari, choosing to create a dialogue with the structures either by enclosing their work in them (Koos van der Watt, Chris Gous, Jan van der Merwe), or hanging fish traps from the ceiling and producing a vertical relationship (Gerhard Marx). Why Walter Oltmann's elegant wire 'net' construction is not given a place in this space is a mystery. Instead, it has been lodged between documentary panels and student work in the first space.

The art works selected all revolve around such tried and tested concerns as memory, home, identity, history, place and loss. While the works are powerful, I've seen most of them a few too many times recently to get excited. The most refreshing piece was Marx's floor installation, comprising two bright red pitch forks stuck into balls of red yarn, on a red vinyl mat surrounded by text that read: 'At some point my grandmother started forgetting. She forgot recent events, remembering more from her distant past. She didn't forget, she remembered in reverse."

'Outpost', curated by Storm Janse van Rensburg of the NSA Gallery in Durban and artist, lecturer and writer Virginia Mackenny is one of the most original and lyrical shows to have hit Gauteng in a while. It may be, as an ex-Durbanite, that I harbour some nostalgic leanings towards the banana republic (which I do), or that I'm just grateful to reconnect with an often neglected but richly creative art scene. These things aside, the show is a must-see.

Confronting Kwa-Zulu Natal's reputation as the last colonial (British) 'outpost' in South Africa, the notion of 'outpost' has been deeply inflected by its implications of borders, ownership, territoriality, invasion and peripheral status. The Kwa-Zulu Natal art scene, while giving rise to many of our national and international 'art stars', still retains this 'peripheral' status. Visiting curators seldom visit Durban, preferring to focus their attention on Johannesburg and Cape Town.

According to the illustrated and well-written pamphlet produced with the exhibition (always a treat to take something back with you), Jeremy Wafer's small photographs of crude wooden fence posts in Mexico set the curatorial boundaries for the show. Each image depicts a single post, but the thirty (out of an available fifty) images hung next to each other read as a conceptual and metaphorical boundary-line imposed on a featureless landscape that could be anywhere, fractured and slightly unstable.

Langa Magwa's sculptural piece entitled Pioneer 8 5W Made in Taiwan is one of many moments of witty and intelligent perception on the show. A cow-hide 'gramophone' resembling those awful straw cornucopias so popular at hotel breakfast buffets rests on a table covered in a Grey Street-special green plastic table cloth and a pegged animal hide. Inside the gramophone is a speaker that broadcasts the Zulu, Indian and English stations heard around KZN, referencing the province's heady cultural mix in both aural and visual media.

From playfully sinister kinetic sculpture (Liza du Plessis) to Greg Streak's austere high modernist sculptural forms, Clive Hardwick's seductive pinhole photographs, video work (Khwezi Guhle and Carol-Ann Gainer) and Tito Zungu jewel-like drawings, the show strikes an elegant balance between familiar visual forms and codes and moments when these codes become conceptually resonant. Seoidin O'Sullivan's series of untitled drawings reference a language system not yet formed and is not dissimilar in style to visual work produced by so-called 'outsider artists'. Sketchy, stippled textures and strips of magnetic tape form a visual patterning that resembles some sort of order, or attempt to create order out of a perceived chaos that is the matrix of the drawings. Punctuated with pieces of text ('you may leave now') in felt-tip pen and ink, the work has a strange material 'poverty' to it that belies its visual and conceptual richness.

While I'm not one for gratuitous 'inclusionist' policies, there is a lack of reference to the Indian communities that played a fundamental if relatively silent role in the economic history of the province. (Although Indian culture, Durban-style, does provide the focus for the latest issue of 'KZN News', a newsletter published by the NSA Gallery which is available at the show). This is probably no mere oversight on the part of the curators, but the absence does seem to speak to other more deep-seated problems that are not unique to KZN.

But back to reputations. the flipside of the Last Outpost status of KZN is one of radical political violence, but the show doesn't dwell on the surface manifestations of this, preferring to locate, in a variety of diverse works, the residues of colonial desires of ownership and power that have informed subsequent political events and attitudes. That the show is presented in Pretoria at a gallery with a similar orientation to the NSA is interesting, and is made even more interesting in that it followed an exhibition of art from the Eastern Cape - another forgotten but historically and politically problematic zone. But one thing is clear: even though not quite enough attention is being paid to the small contemporary scene in Durban, it is in no danger of losing its reputation as a breeding-ground for truly memorable and important visual art.

'Trapped Reflections' ends October 29.
African Window, Visagie Street
Tel: (012) 324-6082

'Outpost' ends September 22.
Association of Arts, Pretoria, 173 Mackie Street, Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 346-3100
Fax: (012) 346-3125
Gallery hours: Tuesday to Fridays: 10.00 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.; Saturdays: 10.00 a.m. - 12.00 p.m.; Sundays and Mondays closed.

Cross Currents

Cross Currents: Contemporary art practice in South Africa

Billy Mandini

Billy Mandini
Nude Study 1999
charcoal on paper
80 X 87cm


Cross Currents: Contemporary art practice in South Africa , John Picton and Jennifer Law (editors), Atkinson Gallery, UK, 2000, 112 colour plates, c.120 pp
by Mario Pissarra

Editor's note: This review has been shortened in the interests of space. The full text is available by email on request from Mario Pissarra, at

Relatively few books have been written about South African art, and more than a fair share of these are out of print. It therefore follows that this catalogue, which was produced to accompany has the potential to serve as a resource on South African art for some years to come.

According to Len Green, initiator and co-curator of the exhibition, the second part of which is showing at the Atkinson Gallery in Street, Surrey until September 30, "('Cross Currents' does not) try to be a definitive South African exhibition, instead it...attempts to show something of the range of contemporary art activity in South Africa and the background of the artists who have created the work." Co-editor Jennifer Law goes a little further when she says that "the aim of 'Cross Currents' is to celebrate the diversity of South African visual culture and address the pedagogical history of art practice through which it has been produced."

In setting out to achieve its agenda, the catalogue begins with articles by the editors who sketch an historical context. In attempting "to explain a little of why we come to this art in the way we do", co-editor John Picton tackles the notion of ahistorical, discrete "tribes", which features in most exhibitions of African art. His point is given resonance when leading South African art historian Anitra Nettleton shows how artists of diverse ethnic origins came to be commonly known as "Venda" after the watershed 'Tributaries' exhibition in Johannesburg in 1985. The editors' contributions are followed by artist David Koloane who is tasked with mapping out the phenomenon of "community art centres". Individual contributions on a broadly applied notion of "centres" follow, and co-curator and project cornerstone Robert Loder concludes with an "epilogue". Throughout the catalogue, references are made to 'Art from South Africa', curated by David Elliott for the Oxford Museum of Modern Art in 1990. Although references to the MOMA show serve essentially to acknowledge its historical importance, it is tempting to compare this show with 'Cross Currents', particularly as both exhibitions have several common exhibitors. However, that may be where their similarities end. Due to their very different political contexts, radically different curatorial processes have been applied and this is evident in the results. 'Art from South Africa' was essentially the first (and last) significant application of the selective cultural boycott as it applied to the visual arts. This redefinition of what had been a blanket boycott had emerged from the Culture In Another South Africa (CASA) conference in Amsterdam, December 1987. (This was organised by the ANC's Department of Arts and Culture and the Dutch Anti-Apartheid Movement. CASA was significant in identifying the emergence of a progressive cultural movement within the country.) Under this revised policy, Elliott was required to consult with internally-based visual arts structures in order to secure the approval of the African National Congress. This is the reason why the final exhibition was so broadly representative, as Elliott was obliged to accommodate a wider range of interests than normally required of a curator.

In contrast, 'Cross Currents' is essentially a private collection of work by more than forty South African artists. The fact that this is Loder's collection is not clearly stated in the catalogue, although occasional hints can be found. Arguably the project may have been better served by fore-grounding Loder's role, as in some ways this exhibition is just as much about his engagement with South African art, as it is about South African art itself. Something of this is revealed in Loder's contribution to the catalogue, where he identifies the web of threads which unite the show. Dominant among these are the links that can be traced from Loder's involvement in setting up the Triangle Arts Trust with Tony Caro in 1982; the legacy of the late Bill Ainslie and the Johannesburg Art Foundation which he established; Ainslie and his prot�g� Koloane's invitation to the Triangle workshop and the subsequent formation of the Thupelo Workshop by the two of them in the late eighties. Thupelo's comparatively recent offshoots, the Bag Factory and Greatmore studios in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively, have also influenced the collection of work on this show. Not least, Loder's Gasworks Studios where several South African artists have been invited for residency programmes has been influential too. The other major source for 'Cross Currents' is the 'Tributaries' exhibition, and the artists that were catapulted into the mainstream by this seminal exhibition.

Once one grasps the Ainslie/ Koloane/ Loder axis and its intersection with 'Tributaries' it becomes clear why you will not find many artists whom you may well expect to see in an exhibition of art produced in South Africa over the last twenty years. There is for example very little overlap with the more performance- and installation-oriented artists who dominate Sue Williamson and Ashraf Jamal's Art in South Africa: The Future Present (1996, David Philip Publishers). Photography is also absent, and there is no acknowledgement of the community mural movement, although ironically Lisa Brice's article purports to be about public art in Cape Town. Neither is there anything approximating, or drawing on, any of the indigenous "crafts", unless one counts some of Jackson Hlungwane's wooden representations of chickens. Perhaps more surprisingly, 'Cross Currents' includes no print-making at all. The absence of prints is particularly noticeable, given that, as Koloane points out in the catalogue, "the lino-print technique appears to be the most characteristic medium employed by most (community arts) centres". By comparison with 'Art from South Africa', 'Cross Currents' is a more conservative exhibition, made up of, as Picton puts it, "painting (and assemblage and collage) and sculpture". These considerations are vital if the aim is to show us something of the range of South African "contemporary art practice" or "visual culture", rather than to showcase a private collection reflecting the interests and involvement of its owner.

Seen as a private collection, 'Cross Currents' is exceptional. Outstanding works include the late Dumile Feni's ink drawing Horse and Rider (1980) with its commanding use of line; the vividly reflective pastel drawing of Zwelethu Mthethwa, (Unlock the Doors 1996); the synthesis of drawing and painting in the works of Deborah Bell, (World's Body, 1989) and Marlene Dumas (Magdalena III & 4, both 1996, and Billy Holiday, 1994); and the dense and painterly assemblage of Willie Bester (Transition, 1994). Remarkable sculpture includes typically startling yet unusually tender work from Jane Alexander (Street Cadets with Harbinger, 1998); and the representational liberties taken by wood sculptors Hlungwane (Christ with Football, 1992) and Dr. Phutuma Seoka (Black Dog and Dog Leopard, both 1989). From the lesser known artists, the painterly realism of Walter Meyer (Scrapyard Beaufort West and West, both 1994), and the sophisticated na�vet� of Claudette Schreuders' wood sculpture (Esmarie, 1995) are particularly striking.

Unfortunately the confusion as to whether we are exhibiting the breadth of South African art or telling another story of personal engagement and discovery is evident in the choice of catalogue subjects. On one hand there are insightful contributions including articles on rural sculptors, the Open School and Johannesburg Art Foundation, written by Nettleton, Colin Smuts, and David Trappler respectively, all of which shed light on some of the artists represented in 'Cross Currents'. On the other hand there is an article on the Bartel Art Centre (BAT Centre), while none of the artists referred to in the article feature in the exhibition.

Again, if approached as a show based on Loder's involvement with South African art, we do get something of what Law promised us about pedagogy. Loder presents us with a strong, albeit brief, motivation for the workshop concept as a method for artistic development and personal growth. This is reinforced by psychiatrist and Ainslie family friend Trappler in his lucid account of the Ainslie Art School/ Johannesburg Art Foundation and its legacy. The scant information on artists illustrates Loder's emphasis on workshops, as these are listed in place of collections, commissions, and other traditional indicators of success. It is also worth noting that the Thupelo workshops, which by and large are associated with abstract painting and which are usually attended by a proportionally high number of black artists, are directly responsible for most of the abstract works in 'Cross Currents' coming from black artists, including Lionel Davis, Sam Nhlengethwa and Sandile Zulu. It is almost as if a point is being quietly made to counter the sometimes negative view that the Thupelo workshops de-politicise black artists by encouraging them into becoming neo-abstract expressionists.

Presumably in pursuit of the transformation and pedagogy agendas, the catalogue includes an article by Penny Siopis on tertiary education. An artist as well as professor of Fine Arts, Siopis reflects on the reasons for the few black fine arts students at universities in South Africa, particularly black women. Although she extends her reference beyond the universities to acknowledge the critical role that is played by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO's), her contribution could have been strengthened and put more accurately into context if the editors had had the foresight to include a chapter on the precarious situation of art education in schools. This in turn would deepen the appreciation of the critical role played by initiatives such as the Thupelo workshops in plugging the gaps in the educational framework, particularly as these apply largely to black artists. For although South Africa has undoubtedly made progress in making art accessible to local communities, the situation in schools and the NGO sector is far from assured or stable. By not examining these issues, one can see how easily a project like this can create the impression that inequality is a thing of the past.

As Cross Currents sets out to represent artistic developments of the last twenty years, one may also have expected some consideration to be given to the impact of the cultural boycott. The first decade surveyed here was a period of international pariahship, and the second saw South Africa's re-entry into the international community, so some comment could be expected. Yet, apart from artist and lecturer Keith Dietrich noting the international agenda of the controversial Johannesburg Biennale, no consideration appears to have been given to the impact of international isolation and exile on the art that was created during these two decades. In reflecting on the last two decades it would be interesting to explore whether the cultural boycott contributed to a culture of self-reflection, or engendered bitterness about isolation. Did it contribute to building a community or did it alienate artists? How did the lifting of the boycott impact psychologically on South Africa's artists, and how did it affect the kind of work made? Or, has the controversial boycott been consigned to the culture of amnesia where today it is difficult to find anyone who supported apartheid?

However, where the catalogue really lets the project down, far more than through the looseness of its conceptual framework, is through its many factual inaccuracies. In several cases these even contradict the editor's own research. Law correctly dates the formation of the Federated Union of Black Artists and the Community Arts Project to 1976 and 1977 respectively, whilst Koloane erroneously puts CAP's establishment to 1972 and traces FUBA's origins to a meeting in 1978. Koloane creates more confusion by writing that "In the turbulent 1980's...a new breed of community arts centres emerged, such as FUBA..." Law incorrectly states that none of the community arts centres were state-funded under apartheid, whereas Koloane correctly cites the Katlehong and Mofolo art centres as being funded by the local authorities, and describes how this led to the local community boycotting the Katlehong Art Centre. Koloane also contradicts other contributors. He puts the establishment of the Johannesburg Art Foundation at Saxonwold to 1983, whilst Trappler puts it at 1976. Koloane tells us the Open School closed in 1996 (p.22), whereas Smuts, its former director, puts it at 1998.

Koloane also makes several errors in writing about the Community Arts Project. In describing its work, he presents an account that corresponds to CAP in the late eighties. Of the eight artists he names as having emerged from CAP, he includes two who received their training elsewhere - Velile Soha and Garth Erasmus. He also omits two of CAP's most successful "graduates", Lionel Davis and Willie Bester, both of whom feature in the show.

Artist Lisa Brice is also less than accurate in attempting to highlight some of the achievements of the Visual Arts Group, a membership-based organisation which played a key role in the internal organisation of 'Art from South Africa'. Brice traces the formation of the VAG to a notorious exhibition in 1986, which was banned by the authorities. The exhibition referred to by Brice was organised by activists, mostly associated with CAP and the End Conscription Campaign. The VAG was only formed in November 1988. Brice writes that "artists gathered to form the Visual Arts Group...due to a strong feeling amongst the group that something had to be done about democratising art in the city." In fact the VAG was formed by members of the regionally-based, multi-disciplinary Cultural Workers Congress, as part of a process of restructuring the CWC as an umbrella organisation. It therefore follows that while VAG was essentially a local organisation in terms of its membership, it saw itself as part of a national and indeed, international movement.

Brice also claims that the VAG "ended with the coming of democracy, when, like many politically conscious organisations, the VAG felt the battle had been won and closed shop." In fact the demise of the VAG was far more complex than that, as it struggled to redefine its role in the nineties, unable to compete with the better resourced, "reformed" and (historically) state-linked arts organisations. Notwithstanding such difficulties, the VAG managed to sustain itself until 1997, when it completed an unsung mural at Nyanga train station.

Other statements require qualification. Law's comment that "universities functioned as powerful sites of resistance against the apartheid regime" deserves closer scrutiny. Universities, departments and lecturers varied considerably in their political character. Arguably, for every lecturer who committed a "progressive" act, another could be found quietly enjoying state patronage for public commissions. There is also a world of difference between the pledges that accompanied exhibitions to Chile and Oxford. The Valparaiso pledge was a reactive attempt by allegedly "apolitical" artists to appease criticism of their "collaboration" with apartheid, whereas the MOMA pledge, to which it is likened, was more of a statement of political and cultural principles uniting all participants.

It is also unfortunate that a few of the contributors use the opportunity to do public relations exercises for their institutions. The South African National Gallery's Education Head Emile Maurice paints the SANG as an enlightened and pro-active institution busily transforming itself without any hint of community or government pressure, and artist and lecturer Vukile Ntuli totally ignores the difficult birth-pains of the BAT Centre. Brice uses the opportunity to promote Public Eye, positioning it as a successor to the VAG, even though, apart from Sue Williamson's key involvement in both initiatives, the links are tenuous.

Although the 'Cross Currents' project may lack conceptual rigour, it remains a vivid and evocative showcase for some of South Africa's finest artists, most of whom are represented by work which ably captures their skill and imagination. See the exhibition or view the catalogue for the quality of work and you are unlikely to be disappointed. However, you are advised to approach the catalogue text with caution: it does contain some incisive and reflective contributions, but these are undermined by other contributions that appear to have been hastily convened or which dodge the difficult issues. Hopefully the work on show will inspire more rigorous research, so that South African art can be more accurately represented in libraries across the globe.

'Cross Currents' can be ordered from the Atkinson Gallery, Tel +44-(0)1458-447-276, Fax +44-(0)1458-447-276.

- Mario Pissarra is a former Director of the Community Arts Project. He has lectured in History of Art at the University of Cape Town, and served on many committees in South Africa including executive positions in the Cultural Workers Congress and Visual Arts Group. He is currently based in London where he is pursuing various free-lance writing projects and is also project manager of the Africa Centre's mural residency project.
Mario Pissarra can be contacted at or Tel +44 (020) 898 50390.