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Archive: Issue No. 44, April 2001

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


24.04.01 Oudtshoorn and the Visual Arts
10.04.01 'Walking the Street' in Obz
03.04.01 Mark Coetzee at the AVA
03.04.01 Jeannette Unite at Bell-Roberts Contemporary
27.03.01 Alan Alborough's Standard Bank Young Artist Award Show at the SANG
24.04.01 ' consciousness' at Camouflage
27.03.01 Absa Atelier Johannesburg Regional Round
20.03.01 'Lives in the Balance' at the Durban Art Gallery
17.04.01 'Contemporary Art of the San People of Southern Africa' at the October Gallery, London
17.04.01 Jurgen Schadeberg's 'Drum Beat, South Africa, 1950-1994' at Axis, New York
10.04.01 Claudette Schreuders at the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Jeremy Wafer Jeremy Wafer

Dave Southwood Dave Southwood
People who other people think look like me (detail), 2001
c-type print

Brad Hammond Brad Hammond
Transmission, 2000
feedback painting 4 mins


Oudtshoorn and the Visual Arts
by Sue Williamson

Being in Oudsthoorn at festival time for the first time felt a bit like being transported back to the annual Dutch Reformed Church fetes in the Potchefstroom of my schooldays � koeksisters and ingenious but kitschy crafts on every side, and the smell of braaing wors assaulting the nostrils in new waves round every corner.

With no actual contemporary art gallery space available, Kein Karoo Kunsfees visual arts director Clive van den Berg had at his disposal the conference room of the Queens Hotel, hub of the festival, and upper and lower classrooms at a local college. Three main shows were mounted, �Self II�, the second year of the Clive van den Berg curated show of large scale self portraits executed by artists in lino; �switch on/off, in which Marcus Neustetter invited artists who have moved into moving digital media to exhibit one such piece alongside a second in a more traditional medium, and Kathryn Smith�s �Body: rest and motion� In addition to these, there was also a striking installation by Wim Botha of a crucified figure sculpted out of R12 000 rand worth of bibles, and monitored by six surveillance cameras. With the vagaries of the spaces available, and the switch on/off show both at the hotel and a the Principia College, it was somewhat difficult to establish where one show began and another left off.

Although slightly marred by three artists who ignored the size requirement for Van den Berg�s show �Self" and turned in much smaller works at the last minute, this second instalment of what is to be a three year project looked very good indeed. Jeremy Wafer�s Crest displayed his usual formal rigour and came out looking like a cross between a Rorschach blot and a colonial crest. Christine Dixie plays with the medium, placing a cutout aquatinted image in sepia of herself unravellling lino engraved lines of an Eastern Cape landscape.

Writing on �Body: rest and motion�, curator Kathryn Smith sought to frame the body in terms of flux and change, and says the artists on her exhibition were chosen , "to identify and express, through a variety of media, how we consider ourselves in relation to history, politics, violence, intimacy, immigration, emigration, gender, the media, the domestic, the urban, the spiritual, the erotic, power, oppression, fashion, sport and what we do to feel secure." The breadth of this theme calls for a space many times larger than the one available, in which each of these areas might be developed. In trying to cover too much ground, with too many artists working in very diverse media, although most of the work is immensely likeable and conceptually strong, one felt the selection was too loose and arbitrary to form a cohesive whole.

A favourite on the show were Dave Southwood�s quirky People who other people think look like me, a series of portraits taken with ring flash in which each of the subjects is staring directly at the camera. Through his use of a similar framing and shooting technique, the photographer makes his point � and establishes a common link of humanity not only between himself and his subjects but between us all.

Marcus Neustetter did a good job in bridging the gap between what most people think art is and the digital interactive ever mutating forms it is rapidly developing into. �switch on/off� pairs a more or less traditional piece from each artist with a video or digital piece. It was a remarkable treat to see Brad Hammond�s beautiful Transmission, what the artist describes as a �wax etching� paired with a video of the painting in which it seems to dissolve before out eyes. Kim Lieberman�s stitched perforated grids looked entirely different filmed in a repeated advancing and receding progression. Norman Catherine�s build-your-own Norman kit in which viewers could put together different limbs, heads and other anatomical parts must have given a great deal of enjoyjment, and not only to kids. The standard of the work was uniformly high, and one hopes it might be possible to see this and other shows at other venues around the country.

If we are not this lucky, there is an excellent and beautifully designed catalogue (by Fever) which was produced on all the artists and exhibitions on which the organisers are to be congratulated.

Alwyn Petersen and Elmi Badenhorst Alwyn Petersen and Elmi Badenhorst
Art irritates life
Project consisted of fake products placed amongst legitimate merchandise on the supermarket shelves.

'Walking the Street' in Obz
by Paul Grose

Friday, the 6th of April, a night I'll remember for years to come. It was the Launch Party for Observatory's first 'Walking the Street': an exhibition of about 70 artists, commandeering the street, windows, walls and floors of the shops and restaurants in Lower Main Road, Observatory; it was also the first time I had exhibited work outside of school. Unfortunately it was the first real night of winter and rain teemed down intermittently.

The hub of activity was the street in front of Obz Cafe, with two marquees in the middle of the road, leaving a centre stage, where fire jugglers, performance poets, an enchanting soprano and a supple belly dancer entertained the huddled masses. Almost all the shops in Lower Main Road were involved, with art even being displayed in the laundrette.

A whole spectrum of art was represented along the street, from Mkunda Michael Dewil's performance 'Miss Otis Regrets She is Unable to Lunch Today' at Panchos; where he placed speech bubbles on the windows, which appeared to relate to the diners' conversations inside; through to Pieter van Straaten's mind-blowing surrealist paintings at Namaste.

Some of the highlights of the evening included two works by Rowan Smith an up-and-coming young artist. His pieces 'I want to be an astronaut; boy test one' and 'Where do the ducks go in winter; girl test one,' are large paintings of a young boy and girl, grinning knowingly, with coloured light emanating from holes in the faces. Tom Schwarer's installation, BA 624, documenting his flight back to South Africa, over the Sahara, from England, involved a small model aeroplane, inside a birdcage, suspended from the ceiling, in a darkened room, with a spotlight on the cage, providing the only light. This is surrounded by four IV drips, dribbling used motor oil onto mounds of flour. Another favourite is inside Obz Cafe and is entitled 'Two Dogs' by Graeme Williams, this is a series of photos of two dogs in mid-air, jumping at flying sand.

The turnout was excellent, considering the bad weather, with all the restaurants packed out and the sidewalks and streets crammed with art enthusiasts, partygoers and the ever cheerful homeless, all looking for shelter and a place to drink, dispelling the belief that Capetonians don't venture into cold winter nights. The free wine helping to warm the evening, with intoxicated people dancing in the rain to an upbeat steel drum band. I think that this event succeeded in its aim, to promote Lower Main Road and Observatory as an openminded multicultural suburb, bringing together all the shop-owners in the street and exhibiting a wide assortment of art.

The streets will come alive again over the following two weekends, with magicians, fire-blowers, dancers and other performers appearing throughout, until the exhibition closes on the 23rd of April

Well done to Peter Wells from Obz Cafe and Katherine Daniels from Klarity Gallery for organising this wonderful art experience, which will hopefully become an annual event, tentatively scheduled for early next year.

Opening: Friday, April 06
Closing: April 23

Lower Main Road, Observatory

- Paul Grose is a matric art student at Rondebosch Boys High School

Mark Coetzee

Mark Coetzee
All Our Sons, 2000
Diapostive projection
Installation view

Mark Coetzee

Mark Coetzee
Moffie Projection - 2, 2000
Diapositive projection
Variable dimensions
Edition of 3

Mark Coetzee - 'All Our Sons' at the AVA
by Sue Williamson

From the floor of the darkened gallery, projectors throw images which blanket the four walls - a chain of single outstretched arms marked with the names used to insult gay men - 'moffie', 'faggot', and the French word, 'pede'. The arm images stretch around the room to meet other images - of the same names made from large letters formed from fresh pink rosebuds, and laid as floral tributes on the monument to Oscar Wilde in Paris. The flower letters have been made by Mark Coetzee, during a four month stint, funded by the National Arts Council, at La Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris. The carved stonework of the grave around the flower names is marked with old lipstick kisses, placed there by drag queens who come to pay tribute to Wilde's life and courage in the face of his persecution and imprisonment by society for daring to love another man.

As the projectors are on the floor, it is not possible to cross the gallery without having one's moving shadow thrown on to the images and in this way becoming part of the pilgrimage to the monument - a poignant and successful piece of staging by the artist. The pejorative names cut into the arms outstretched around the room remind one of the periods in society, most notoriously in Nazi Germany, when people have been forced to carry physical branding to indicate to the world that they fall into a certain category. In this case, the arms are reaching out to the world, the names displayed proudly. Gay men have accepted the insults and turned them around by using them as names of solidarity.

Same sex love in the face of a society that in spite of a new constitutional freedom still seethes with homophobia - one only has to think back a few weeks to the outrage from a large section of the community that Cape Town might be promoted as a gay friendly city - has always been the theme of Mark Coetzee's work. 'All Our Sons' is an effective and moving installation, and shows a considerable development in depth, subtlety, and artistic finesse since we last saw Coetzee's work. Upstairs on the ArtStrip and in the Long Gallery prints and drawings of more arms and projected images of long gloves marked with more names get a little wearisome. One swallow doth not a summer make, and one wishes Coetzee had found a way to introduce a little more variety into his supporting work.

Having said that, the main installation of 'All Our Sons' provides a compelling and moving art experience for viewers, and one that comes highly recommended.

Opening: Monday, March 26
Closing: April 14

AVA, 35 Church Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 424-7436
Fax: (021) 423-2637
Gallery hours: Tue - Fri, 10am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 12pm

Jeanette Unite

Jeanette Unite Sentences, 2000-01
Animated Imaged Video

Jeanette Unite

Jeanette Unite Paperwork: Trajectory, 2000-01

Jeannette Unite at Bell-Roberts Contemporary
by Paul Edmunds

Strelitzias and bones are ubiquitously the stuff of still life at high schools and tertiary institutions. Themes of flight, transcendence and masks as well as painting's relationship to music have also been well explored in these contexts. All of the above feature prominently in Jeanette Unite's show entitled 'Sentences', and it is for this reason that I found myself suffering from a sense of deja-vu. Somehow though, I felt reluctant to dislike the exhibition. Perhaps it is the energy which clearly suffuses the show or perhaps the sincerity of Unite's quotes which appear throughout the well-produced catalogue. She may, I guess, believe herself but I'm a little less sure.

The work, mostly painting, tends towards the abstract and each is a series of seven, fourteen or ten. Unite suggests that each unit is like a word and the groupings like a sentence which the viewer is open to interpret through the formal qualities of the work. She has also produced a video shown on seven side-by-side TVs. Although Unite invites an audience's interpretation, she works in a clearly chosen vocabulary and calls her painting a 'psychological space to locate freedom� to find a way towards wholeness'. Although one certainly wouldn't call the work representational, the apparently abstract lines, forms and colours she chooses clearly reference bones, strelitzias or wings amongst other things. The images she produces all draw on a similar family of shapes and well-practised techniques. Thus there is an uncertain adherence to both the abstract and representational. However, I feel reluctant to criticise the work too harshly. Despite the apparent contradiction between her intentions and a viewer's privilege of interpretation, Unite clearly finds a need to produce and has something of a goal in mind. I'm just not sure what this leaves one, short of a purely aesthetic experience.

The more successful works on the show are those of a limited palette. The Paperwork: Trajectory series consists of collaged photostats onto which Unite has worked with a variety of media, predominantly charcoal. Each format is divided into panels, reminiscent of the way in which she has arranged the separate panels of her paintings. We are often afforded a glimpse of an outstretched bird's wing, but our attempts to reduce this are thwarted by Unite's incisive and obscuring marks. Masking tape, hastily written words and the traces of charcoal dust produce the feeling of a work-in-progress. This series reads like a storyboard, but appear to me to be the most resolved works on the show. The surfaces, although flatter than those of the paintings, are more lively and appealing. The 'Trajectory' of the title clearly refers to the theme of flight which is introduced in other works, but here I find it more legible and believable, probably because I reckon it to be more formally successful.

The video represents a departure for Unite who is working for the first time in this medium. The row of televisions, all with the same image, is visually enticing tucked away, as it is, in a darkened corner. The light reflects and illuminates the dark slate floor. Sentences: Animated Imaged, set to a Rachmaninov piano concerto, begins with an entry into a cave, lined with fabric by Unite and students of hers. Then we are presented with a section of a painting which has been digitally recorded. At the varied pace of the music this image morphs, alters and is interchanged with others. At times it jumps in a staccato fashion, sometimes it swells and deflates and at others geometrically-shaped sections flip over like cards. I found the relationship between the music and image often too literal, but the work certainly holds your attention for its whole duration.

I'm not sure I really bought it, but the clearness of the artist's intention and her apparent sincerity cannot be ignored. In the catalogue and abridged essay which appears with the list of works, I found Unite's claims grandiose and her jumps from one subject to another a little unbelievable and unresolved. I also battle to discern the relationship between pretty abstract paintings and a peppering of very specific themes. Nevertheless, as a visually consistent body of work and a thorough exploration of various media I find it interesting.

Opening: March 20
Closing: April 21

Bell-Roberts Contemporary, 199 Loop Street, Cape Town
Tel: (021) 422-1100
Fax: (021) 423-3135
Email: or
Gallery hours: Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5pm, Saturday 10am - 1pm

Alan Alborough

Standard Bank Young Artist Award Show
Mixed media
Installation view

Alan Alborough

Alan Alborough

Alan Alborough

Alan Alborough
SBYA show
Installation details

Alan Alborough's Standard Bank Young Artist Award Show at the SANG
by Michelle Matthews

"I really like it," I stutter.

"Thanks Michelle," says Alan.

Alan, typically, didn't elaborate and I, thankfully, didn't have to explain.

I'm not quite clear on why I like Alan's exhibition, just as some people can't explain why they don't. Like the person who scrawled nervously in the visitor's book, "I'm lost. I think this is probably pretty bad. Sorry."

Before I launch into an attempt at elucidation I should point out that, yes, I visit openings, especially when I feel like an after-work glass of wine, and I got an A for art in matric. That's the extent of my art knowledge. It's probably more than most people who are visiting the current show have. The installation is in the National Gallery - it draws groups of schoolchildren, tourist couples, families on their monthly "cultural outing". I spent a Saturday morning in the gallery and it's Alborough's installation room where people spend the longest. Old age pensioners get down on their hands and knees to see where the lights in the boxes come from. Kids run their hands through the trays of dead batteries. The visitors know they've found something special.

But what do you think it is?" asked an old man in a safari suit.

Glowing tortoises, parking lots, ballerinas on stage, Gotham City, concentration camps, African huts, futuristic aerial photographs � most people want the installation to refer directly to something recognisable.

"I don't know," I said. "I think he just likes making them."

The man nodded slowly.

People are either suspicious of or intrigued by things that don't reveal themselves to them almost immediately. When it comes to art, they, like the girl in the Diet Coke ad, expect to grapple briefly with an object before deducing its moral, as if all works were inherently didactic. For a long time South Africans were reasonable in expecting messages in their artworks, since much work was politicised. Perhaps this is the reason for the varied reactions to Alborough's work. Some people are exasperated with what they see as the indulgence of it, while most are just pleasantly surprised. Alborough's installation is unapologetically aesthetic without spoon-feeding a meaning, and we don't see that very often.

This is how I see Alan working. He's an engineer/mathematician-cum-sculptor. He sits and stares at a peg. He dismantles, rotates and juxtaposes it with other objects in his mind. At night he dreams of patterns and graphs. He doodles a lot, slotting geometric shapes together obsessively.

No wonder the Alborough reticence. "Well," I can see him saying, "the pegs fitted with the syringes and I, uh, liked the balance of that. It made sense." That's it really. The world is full of building blocks and Alborough likes to play with them.

Not that Alborough doesn't have a definite plan of where his work is coming from or going to. The installation has been growing and developing since it started in Grahamstown last July, where Alborough was honoured as the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year for Visual Art. The pegs, syringes, batteries, corrosive elements and lights had all been used before in different combinations. It wasn't long before Alborough saw the end point of the installation, and you can too. In the SANG he's got four blank sheets of absorbent paper hanging from the wall, an incomplete "tortoise" and an empty plastic container all set up. At the exhibition's next stop these blank squares will be filled - the paper with the stains from the corrosive coils, the arched object with the used coils and the container with the spent batteries. Alborough's got it plotted out and it all fits perfectly. I smile when I see the URL to the exhibition's accompanying website: The "anal" just jumps out at you, doesn't it?

At this point the only element that is not totally under the artist's control are the orangey blurs made by the corrosive coils. Still, he has set up the coils so that the patterns are fairly predictable. It's not as control-freakish as his 1996 works at Goldsmith's College in London, where he actually plotted corrosion marks on hand-made graph paper. But the light-boxes are still machines, despite the fact that their output is variable.

I think that's why I like Alborough's installation. It has function as well as form. He has made something that makes something else. So, as well as looking good, the objects are "useful". Like the i-Mac he has set up in the corner. Like the chair from furniture contractors Innovation that he has put in front of it. The installation leans more towards design than "pure art" and in today's society that has more currency.

Opening: Wednesday March 07, 5.30pm
Closing: April 08

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

- Michelle Matthews is a free lance journalist based in Cape Town

Thomas Nkuna

Thomas Nkuna (1959 - 1992)
Autumn Landscape, Broederstroom (1991)
33 x 74cm, oil on board

Ephraim Mojalefa Ngatane

Ephraim Mojalefa Ngatane (1938 - 1971)
Portrait of Dumile Mslaba (1964)
115 x 93cm, oil on canvas


' consciousness' at Camouflage
by Kathryn Smith

'Shifts�in Consciousness', recently curated at Camouflage by Ronel Kellner and Nessa Leibhammer, was a joint venture between the multi-disciplinary space and the MTN Art Institute. The works on the exhibition were selected from the cellphone giant's strategic corporate collection.

The exhibition's aim, as stated in the press release, was to reflect "changing attitudes towards land and people in South Africa over the last century". All the works included happened to be paintings - the most recent a work by the late Thomas Nkuna called Autumn Landscape, Broederstroom, painted in 1991.

It seemed strange to omit works produced post-1994, a date that no doubt had the most obvious and radical effects on our perceptions about land and people in this country. The shifts described in the title end up being quite subtle, but perhaps this is also a result of the concentration on painting.

Divided into five themed areas, namely 'Empty Landscapes', 'Inhabited Landscapes', 'Objective Portraits', 'Imaging 'Exotic Others' ' and 'Humanist Perspectives', each section was demarcated by a narrow, vertical mural panel painted in the negative. 'Empty Landscapes' and 'Imaging 'Exotic Others' ' were prefaced by a detail by Friedrich of the European Alps and Gauguin's Tahitian Women respectively. 'Objective Portraits' was introduced by a detail from a botanical illustration by Ellaphie Ward Hilhorst, 'Inhabited Landscapes' with a detail from a work by Thomas Baines, and 'Humanist Perspectives' with portraits of Martin Luther King, Albert Luthuli and Albert Einstein.

Due to the placement of these mural fragments, which were rendered in neutral grey, the linear reading of the exhibition was disrupted. This was most interesting in the area of objective and exotic portraits, as the so-called objective portraits were anything but, indulging in a bias that romanticises by stripping the subjects of context and history. The objective section included works by black artists, while the exotic category didn't.

This show seems to want to provoke questions regarding work produced by 'black' artists and work produced by 'white' artists, - and why, even (especially?) in terms of contemporary practice, this seems to matter so much?. Without labels, it would have been difficult to tell who painted what on this exhibition.

Discussions around what constitutes 'art from South Africa' and related questions like 'who gets included and who doesn't' abound, not to mention that so much of our production seems to be defined more by its origins than its value as autonomous 'art'. This feeds into well-worn (but seldom resolved) debates where black artists are concerned, around primitivism, abstraction and Eurocentrism - and the use of technology, video and other multimedia by artists from developing countries.

While the choices of works were critically considered, the show as a whole felt rather clinical. This was enhanced, and not played down as one might think, by laying down a carpet on the floor of the minimalistic space. As many of the works were quite elaborately framed, it gave the sense of being in a contemporary salon.

The exhibition did not perform as one might expect (in terms of offering anything really fresh to an area of research that is extremely popular) perhaps because the choice of works was determined by the collection itself. It would have done well to break from the traditional painting realm and included something a bit more experimental, even if only reaching as far as Willie Bester, for example.

The exhibition's chief value is educational, primarily for secondary and high school students, and works better in the form of the catalogue. The essay is written in a tone that seems to address grade 11 and 12 level, but is thorough nonetheless, and works are presented alongside very valuable biographical texts that allow one to engage with a broader context of production. The catalogue is available through the gallery or from the MTN Art Institute and is worth having on the bookshelf.

Opening: Saturday March 17, 6pm
Closing: April 21

Camouflage Art.Culture.Politics nucleus johannesburg africa, 140 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, 2193
Tel: (011) 447 5461
Fax: (011) 447 0651
Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Friday 10.00 am to 6.00 pm ; Saturday and Sunday 12.00 pm to 6.00 pm

Natasha Christopher

Natasha Christopher
Colour print
80 x 120

Mandla Mabila

Mandla Mabila
Last night I flew over Joburg
Oil on masonite
128 x 115,5 cm

Marcus Neustetter

Marcus Neustetter

Absa Atelier Johannesburg Regional Round
by Kathryn Smith

Johannesburg, always the largest point of collection for entries into the Absa Atelier Competition, received a record 166 entries this year, out of which 41 were chosen for the final show. All in all, it was a record year for the 16 year-old competition, receiving a total of 580 submissions, an increase of exactly 100 works from last year.

While the selection process could have been more rigorous, or rather, I was surprised to see some works included and others not, the selection in general did its work to separate the quality from the tired, too earnest and just plain terrible. I do hope that as many of the artists as possible who submitted works manage to see each regional round of the show, as exhibiting all the works together does provide some barometer of what is and isn't acceptable for a national-level competition. And it's not simply about subjective choices of locating trends or art fashions (the 'Wits School' is often sourly denigrated) - it's at these events where I find myself enjoying spotting strange synchronicities.

I must say that the way this exhibition has been hung smacks of attitudes both retrograde and simplistic. The work is displayed either in the gallery or on rather smart, self-lit screens in the huge skating rink of a foyer. All the video is outside, along with the majority of 'black artists', and work that is of obviously poorer quality. If you've tried to enter video into national art competitions, you'll empathise here. You are expected to provide your own equipment, so this grouping might just be logistical - bung it all together in the corner and the 'video artists' can share, or what?

While I was elated to see many more black artists entering than in previous years, I was not so elated to see them ghettoised outside. Yes, while much of the work was the worst kind of 'township art' that tourists love, could Absa not put their money where their mouths are and enter into some kind of workshop or education programme? Entries must be encouraged, but artists must also be able to find their own voice and not produce what is expected, or what they think they should produce. The irony of this situation is while being included in the gallery would seem to 'legitimatise' that work in some way, the foyer gets more passing human traffic, so this work has more chance of actually getting seen.

Johannesburg artists chosen for the next round are (some submitted more than one work): Robyn Arenstein, Joni Brenner and Natasha Christopher (each of whom were merit award winners in 2000); Marco Cianfanelli, Fiona Couldridge (finalist 2000), Kathleen Cranswick, Monty Gaeyaya, Daniel Hirschmann, Lynn Mills, Stephanie Lang, Vanessa Luyt (merit award winner, 1999), Mandla Mabila, Ian Marley, Colbert Mashile (merit award winner 2000), Siobhan McCusker, Alastair James McLachlan, Dikgwele Molete, Judith Mthini, Helen Neocleous (finalist 2000), Marcus Neustetter (finalist 1999), Richard Penn, Stefanus Rademeyer, Robin Rhode (finalist 2000), Bettina Schultz, Merryn Singer, Kathryn Smith (finalist 2000), Emily Stainer, Amichai Tahor, Gina Waldman, Janet Wilson, Israel Thavana, Michelle Kriek, Johannes Mtakwende and Carine Zaayman.

Judges were Clive van den Berg, Marc Edwards, Conrad Theys (SANAVA president) and Lucia Burger.

The exhibition ends March 29 2001. The announcement of the final winners takes place at the opening of the national show on July 18 at the Absa Gallery, JHB.

Opening: Tuesday March 20, 5:30pm
Closing: April 07

ABSA Gallery, ABSA Towers North, 161 Main Street, JHB
Tel: Julie MacLiam (Absa Media Relations) (011) 350-4588
Gallery Hours: Monday to Friday 9.30 am - 3.30 pm

Deryck Healey

Deryck Healey
Object Trouvé 2001
Installation view


Deryck Healy at the NSA
by Virginia MacKenny

For some this show is a mindful meditation on the uniqueness of individual objects marked by their passage through the ocean waves; a reflection on the detritus of life with its stories and implications of mortality. For others it is just a load of old rubbish.

Deryck Healy's show 'Object Trouvé' fills the gallery with the washed up flotsam and jetsam found on his daily walks at the beach near his home. Tangled clumps of driftwood, plastic, old shoes, bottles and other bits and pieces hang from the ceiling in an installation that fills half the lower gallery. On the opposing wall are canvases with ink-jet computer prints of images jam-packed with debris cunningly intertwined with barely visible four-letter words like "hero", "body", "soul" and "food". Reminiscent of Pop Art in their bright commercial colours and graphic presentation, these pieces seek, in the manner of the Dadaists' automatic poetry, meaning and renewed value through fresh juxtapositions. The utilisation of canvas for these graphic prints, with its reference to painting, co-opts the devices of High Art to help give worth to the discarded and the technologically produced. While visually seductive on one level, these prints are not as satisfying as those in the mezzanine gallery.

These small giclée prints are probably the highlight of the show. Unlike the visual overload of the installation and prints in the main gallery, these works satisfy with their lean presentation and the singular iconic focus they allow. Each discarded object is isolated on the crisp white of the page. Each is juxtaposed with one or two other reclaimed items of debris in such a way that the viewer notices textural similarities, convergence of shape, form and function or surprising parallels of associative meaning. These little prints are truly beautiful in their intimacy and intensity.

One presumes that much the same is meant to happen with the larger installation. It too clusters objects of the same colour or texture, providing interesting visual possibilities, but the installation fails to excite in the same way. Perhaps it is that these objects have failed to go through any real transformative process, or perhaps it is the sheer overload that leads one to gloss over the work. The idea, after all, is not new; Kurt Schwitters made art from the rubbish of the streets, Rauschenberg spawned the art of Assemblage using his own rumpled bed stained with paint, and Duchamp explored the random, chaotic and mass-produced before World War I. More recently two British artists, Tim Noble and Sue Webster, created an intriguing series of works from piles of junk that produced meticulously rendered self-portrait shadow images, while locally, Penny Siopis has examined notions of history and politics through collations of the discarded.

More of the same and with no further amplification of the ideas in the main gallery makes the offerings of the Park Gallery upstairs redundant. Unfortunately, this highlights the weaknesses in the show rather than its strengths.

The artist replies - see Feedback

Closing: April 15

NSA Galleries, 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, Durban

Tel: (031) 202-2293

#Khomani Artist

#Khomani Artist
The Hunt 2000
Monochrome on River Reed Paper 30x21cm

Madena Kasanga

Madena Kasanga
Huts, 1996
Oil on Canvas


'Contemporary Art of the San People of Southern Africa' at the October Gallery, London
by Mario Pissarra

Post-colonial art criticism has introduced many challenging perspectives to the ways in which African art is perceived and presented to the public. One of the key critiques has concerned the need to liberate individual artists from being seen and presented as representatives of the 'tribe', where artists are treated as the embodiments of "ethnic/ cultural traditions", unlike their western contemporaries. A second critique has tackled the apparent preference of western collectors for self-taught African artists over and above their academically trained counterparts, with some critics seeing this as corresponding to a form of paternalism or racism. These critiques are complex and are not the main subject of this review. However it is impossible to view an exhibition titled 'Contemporary Art of the San People' in an art gallery in central London without surfacing some of the issues contained in and around these critiques.

In approaching this exhibition my own primary concerns were how would contemporary San art be presented to a London public? Would we learn about the artists, and the issues surrounding the production of their work, or would we learn more about the San? Would the San be presented as an insular, homogenous culture, the living representatives of an ancient, hunter-gathering, shamanic, and rock painting people? Or would we be introduced to a more complex, even contradictory 'culture' directly affected by critical issues framing the lives of historically dispossessed Southern Africans in the 21st century?

The exhibition consists mostly of paintings on paper and canvas, as well as monochrome and colour lino-cut prints. These include examples that demonstrate little technical dexterity and could easily be mistaken as the work of young children. Indeed it is self-evident that all of the artists are not trained in terms of naturalistic or illusionistic modes of production, nor do they appear to be aware of, or influenced by any of the latest conceptual trends. Despite this 'naivety', there are several bold and vibrant works that demonstrate skill, innovation and confidence. These include paintings from Stefaans Samcuia (Bushman, Hut and Gemsbuck, oil on canvas), and Madena Kasanga (Huts, oil on canvas) and a print by Thamae Setshogo (People Climbing on Trees, linocut). The latter examples all exuberantly communicate a joyfulness in the act of making art that is sensual and unpretentious. All works are conventionally presented, and contextual information is discreetly accessible near the entrance. Most of this information concerns the San and some of the artists involved, and to a lesser extent, the arts and crafts projects from which the works are drawn.

There are also a host of co-collaborators or interest groups involved, some more visible than others. The exhibition has been planned in association with the music company MELT 2000, who have just released Sanscapes, contemporary dance and ambient recordings by mostly UK based musicians and producers that sample San music. A programme of events including live music from Pops Mohammed and San musicians, and an award winning documentary accompanies the exhibition. There are also other interest groups whose respective agendas are accommodated in different ways, some more explicitly than others. There is Survival International, which is campaigning to restore land rights for the 'Bushmen' in Botswana. They are openly critical of the Botswana government who they accuse of surreptitiously pursuing economic interests over maintaining human rights, and they have used the exhibition to circulate a petition for their campaign. Then there is the Working Groups of Indigenous Minorities of Southern Africa (WIMSA) who are indirectly represented by MELT 2000, as the music company is donating all the proceeds from the sale of Sanscapes to them. Despite the criticism, especially from Survival International and MELT 2000, about the ways in which the San have been treated historically, nobody at the press launch is directly critical of the South African government. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that the South African High Commission is also in there somewhere, as this exhibition is described in the main information sheet as a "curtain raiser" to their 'Celebrate South Africa Festival' to be held in London this May. Then there is the corporate sponsor, Diesel, whose fashionably thin, black hair straightener and/or retro wigs friendly media campaign constructs provocative images of Black coolness. Diesel's involvement is a touch incongruous when you try to reconcile their logo, "For successful Living" with terms such as "genocide" and "forced resettlement" which were liberally used at the press launch by some of the exhibition's collaborators.

My point in the above paragraph is not to simply name some of the collaborators or to substantially interrogate their individual agendas. Rather, the issue is that amidst all the layers of activity enveloping this exhibition, there are, I believe, four strategic levels of representation that an exhibition of this nature should simultaneously address. At the most obvious level it must be about the work itself, and this is addressed in that the art retains the focus despite the involvement of a host of collaborators. At a secondary level it must introduce us to individual artists, especially since these are not household names. This is partially addressed as there is information on some of the artists involved, especially the artists from the Schmidtsdrift workshop in the Northern Cape, although there are also examples of the anonymous tribal artist, which I pick up on later. On a broader level the exhibition has to address issues affecting the San, and the information and activities do go some way to doing this, especially the information supplied by Survival International. However somewhere between an individual art work and the artists, and the bigger issues concerning the San there is a key level of agency that makes this work possible, and it is this level, I feel, that is not adequately addressed in this exhibition. I refer specifically to the three workshops which provide the basis for this exhibition, and also to the 'middlemen' such as Germany's Bushman Art who effectively mediate between the arts workshops and the gallery.

Granted there is some information on the Schmidtsdrift, Kuru (Botswana) and Witdraai (Northern Cape) workshops in the information pack, but this gets easily lost amongst everything else, and even if you do find it, it is not particularly informative. My reason for zooming in on this level is that these workshops, and buyers or agents, are not neutral conduits for San artists. They are, as Sidney Littlefield Kasfir puts it in Contemporary African Art (Thames & Hudson, 1999, p. 63) "�engage[d] not only in art production, but also in the production of 'Bushman culture'". Kasfir insightfully notes that "It is advantageous to link the workshop artists with a Bushman hunting and gathering past, even though none of the artists or their families have ever lived that way, because this gives their art a pedigree which spectators will recognize as authentic."

Although the work from the three workshops is grouped separately, the distinction between these three 'producers of Bushmen culture' is not clearly signposted. Even if it were, I do not think this would in itself be adequate. For unless we can distinguish fundamental differences between the historical origins and ideological and practical orientations of the three workshops we would continue to view them as essentially one project, especially since all the work selected for this exhibition draws on subject matter that is illustrative of 'traditional' San. This emphasises a sense of community and continuity, whereas there are some critical distinctions that should not be overlooked if we are to gain more than a romantic vision of contemporary San art.

For example, the Schmidsdrift project consists of a unique community in that its members are mostly Angolan born men and women. Most of the men were recruited into the Portuguese colonial army, and subsequently they joined the South African Defence Force in Namibia (then South West Africa) in its war against the South West African Peoples Organisation. Shortly after the unbanning of political organisations in South Africa in 1990 these trackers and soldiers were resettled by the Nationalist Party government on an army base near Kimberly. Clearly this pedigree would have some ramifications for their reintegration into the 'new' South Africa. While no-one can dispute the insiduous success of apartheid's divide and rule policies, the matter is altogether more complex than simply speaking of forced resettlement/s. Especially since it is not only the San, but in fact almost all South Africans of colour who were dispossessed of their land. Clearly some may prefer to ignore these uncomfortable issues in favour of the image of the archetypal hunter gatherer victimised by 'development', but does the perpetuation of the romantic image facilitate real understanding of their contemporary situation? Does it represent a genuine quest on the part of the artists themselves to reclaim their 'true' identity, or is it just good marketing?

According to Kasfir, the Schmidtsdrift project uses "artmaking [as] a kind of therapy to counteract alcoholism and hopelessness, as well as a community development strategy" (p. 62). These very real concerns and important objectives are totally ignored by the presentation of this exhibition. This is despite the fact that some of these artists have produced work which directly draws on their experiences of war and which reflects on their difficulties with coping with the present. Apart from what we could learn about these artists by seeing some of this work, it would also be very interesting to know more about how these projects work. In particular it would be useful to see how these workshops have actually contributed to improving the lives of the artists and their families, or to find out more about the difficulties faced by these projects in achieving these goals. However well intentioned these workshops may or may not be, without bringing them into the equation in a transparent manner inevitably raises the question as to whom buyers, especially those with a human rights agenda, are actually supporting.

While the Schmidtsdrift and Kuru workshops have produced work that is similar in many respects, it is the exhibition of work from the "Witdraai project" (its official name cannot be gleaned from the available information) that is the most problematic. Essentially this work is nothing more than stylised, monochromatic copies of rock paintings executed in traditional pigments on handmade paper. The kind of stuff you'd expect to see on sale to international visitors in a stall at Cape Town's Waterfront or alongside painted ostrich eggs in a tourist shop in Oudtshoorn. The small heads of the figures, the captions inform us, are representative of how the San see themselves when in trance, and this is as close as 'Contemporary art of the San' gets to fitting into the series of exhibitions of "shamanic cultures" that the October Gallery hosts periodically. But unlike, for example, the Peruvian exhibition where the artists were either shamen themselves, or closely associated, these particular works appear a lot more derivative than inspired. The obvious intention in the works from Witdraai is to demonstrate cultural continuity, mediated only by paper in place of rock, despite the very different reasons for making the art. This is compounded by a decision (by the project's organisers?) to present the artists as anonymous entities. On an information sheet the reasons for this are explained as "because the ethos of the clan is not one of individual consciousness but of group or clan consciousness."

Apart from representing a view of the anonymous 'tribal artist' that has been widely discredited as a colonial construct, the absurdity of exhibiting work by "Khomani Artist" is indirectly challenged by an article on the resettlement of the Kalahari San written by Roger Friedman (Cape Times, 5 May 2000, p. 9). Friedman explains that the resettlement programme involved six farms. Quoting San Leader Dawid Kuiper the article explains that only two of these farms, one of which is Witdraai, is to be set aside for "people wishing to live the traditional Bushman life". This clearly indicates, as Friedman puts it, that the San "identify to differing degrees with their ancestry" as a majority have evidently chosen to live in 'non-traditional' ways. Clearly what it means to be called, or to call oneself, "San" or "Bushman", is not a simple matter. That the artists in these three workshops apparently use Afrikaans as a common language merely hints at how complex the notion of 'San culture' is.

This exhibition implicitly contains a minefield of difficult issues about culture and identity, and about the past, present and future of the people/s sometimes called San. It's only the unadulturated lovers of autodidactic or na�ve art who can walk away without feeling at least a little unsettled.

Opening: March 29
Closing: May 12

October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester St., London WC1N 3AL.

- Mario Pissarra is a South African artist and writer currently working in London. He is an ex director of Cape Town's Community Arts Project. His email address is

Jürgen Schadeberg

Jürgen Schadeberg
Hugh Masakela with the Trumpet from Satchmo, 1954
Black and white photograph.

Jürgen Schadeberg's 'Drum Beat, South Africa, 1950-1994' at Axis, New York
by Holland Cotter

This review is reprinted from The New York Times, April 13, 2001

In 1950 the Berlin-born photographer Jürgen Schadeberg, then 19, travelled to Johannesburg, looking for a job. He found one on a new magazine called Drum, which during the years of apartheid was South Africa's leading lifestyle monthly, with editions throughout the continent as well as in North America and the Caribbean.
The magazine recorded South Africa's vibrant urban life and its growing political repression. As picture editor and chief photographer, Mr. Schadeberg was in charge of training a young, mostly African staff, which included Bob Gosani (1934-1972), Peter Magubane and Gopal Naransamy, all of whom became renowned photojournalists.
The Axis show focuses on work done by Mr. Schadeberg himself from 1954 to the early 1960s. At the time, South African popular culture was much influenced by the United States. In a 1954 picture, a jubilant Hugh Masakela at the beginning of his career cradles a trumpet sent to him as a gift from Louis Armstrong. In a photo from 1955, Miriam Makeba is seen onstage around the time she made her first recordings with a local band called the Manhattan Brothers.
Because censorship was a constant threat, Drum had to be discreet in its coverage, but Mr. Schadeberg's eye didn't miss a thing. He documented the removal of black residents from Sophiatown to make way for a whites-only suburb named Triumph. He photographed the mass funeral after the Sharpeville Massacre. And he ran afoul of the law more than once. During a Drum cover shoot of the film star and blues singer Dolly Rathebe, both he and Ms. Rathebe were arrested on suspicion of breaking the Immorality Act, which outlawed interracial sex.
In the early 1960s Mr. Schadeberg moved to London, where he edited Creative Camera magazine; in 1979 he taught photography at the New School in Manhattan. In 1985 he returned to Johannesburg to live, and the show takes him full circle: the first picture in his 1952 portrait of Nelson Mandela in his law office; the last is of Mr. Mandela revisiting his prison cell on Robben Island in 1994. Mr. Schadeberg has produced several books and films. (They are sold at the gallery, which specializes in art from South African and about it.)
Although he missed the opening of his first New york solo show because of ill health, he may still be able to visit during its run. It would be great if he could see this small but high-spirited and moving tribute to his brilliant career.

Opening: March 20
Closing: April 28

Axis Gallery, 453 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011
Tel: 212. 741 2582
Fax: 212. 924 2522
Artist's Website:

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
'Burnt by the Sun'
Installation view, Jack Shainman Gallery

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
'Burnt by the Sun'
Installation view, Jack Shainman Gallery

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
Untitled, 2001
Charcoal drawing

Claudette Schreuders

Claudette Schreuders
Lost Girl, 2000
Painted wood

Claudette Schreuders' 'Burnt by the Sun' at the
Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

by Laurie Farrell

This is a show not to be missed. By all accounts and considerations, Claudette Schreuders has made a splash in New York City. Hailed by New York Times art critic Holland Cotter back in 1999 as one of the stars of the Museum for African Art's 'Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa', Schreuders recently received another positive nod from the Times for her first solo exhibition at the Jack Shainman Gallery. Add to the mix that the new show has been a complete sell-out, and one can truly say that she is "having her day in the sun".

The installation is stunning and the body of work includes eight major wood carvings and four charcoal drawings. The objects greet and welcome you into Schreuders' world of intimate memories, personal introspection, African and Western icons and referents. All are embodied in ambiguously charming pieces and are presented in an intellectually savvy manner.

Entering the exhibition space, one finds a pair of figures entitled Conversation (2000), a self-portrait of the artist and a colonial officer. She wears a short red skirt and white long-sleeved shirt decorated with blue flowers, and her hands are held behind her back. The artist's effigy stands innocently looking at the police officer. The officer's hands are tucked into his khaki pants, suggesting a sense of ease as these figures engage in a friendly exchange. Directly following the conversing pair are a series of four charcoal drawings that depict different wooden colonial figures. The colonial figure, or "colon", is a widely recognisable icon of African art produced for both tourist and indigenous markets in Africa. Perhaps the most well-known colon figures are those by the Baule people of Cote d'Ivoire. Such figures wear European pith helmets and usually have accoutrements which recall the presence of Europeans in Africa. However, according to the late Philip Ravenhill, the term "colon" is also a signifier for traditional African wooden carvings to which industrial paint has been applied. In one drawing, Untitled (2000), the colon figure has a series of vertical cracks running throughout his body, emulating those found in wooden sculptures, and is animated through the suggestion of hand and foot movement. The figure wears his military hat, short-sleeved shirt, and shorts that reveal a muscular physique.

Moving further into the exhibition, Twins represents another figurative pairing. This time two girls sit beside each other wearing identical green dresses with plain white buttons. Schreuders states that these figures were inspired by a photograph of her sister seated beside a servant's child. Another level of interpretation can be found in Schreuders' reference to Nigerian "ibeji" figures. "Ibeji" are carved wooden twin figures that represent surrogates for deceased twins. This work shares a formal and thematic relationship to the Twins (1997) piece that she created as a memorial for the servants' children from her past. Charming pieces like these complicate notions of complacency embedded in the innocence of white South African childhood during the apartheid era. Schreuders' use of intimate moments from her past and people that touched her personally provides a potent forum for personal reflections on reconciling one's childhood with issues of socialisation and survival.

The next two works, Owner of Two Swimsuits (2000) and Burnt by the Sun (2000), illustrate stories of "excess that involves taking more than you should, or being exposed to more than you can cope with" (Schreuders, press release). Burnt by the Sun, the largest figure on exhibition, portrays a white South African woman. Initially, the woman appears to be wearing pink evening gloves, yet on closer examination one discovers that the pink is the result of serious sun overexposure.

Another highlight of this exhibition is Lost Girl (2000). As a mermaid figurine with her tail flipping up behind her, a yellow snake encircling the base, and her hands held out suggesting an expression of martyrdom, one cannot help but interpret this piece as a cocktail of various references. One that readily comes to mind is Mammy Wata, or Mother of Water, a charismatic water-spirit introduced to West Africa from Europe around 1900. Usually depicted as a beautiful woman with flowing black hair who controls snakes, Schreuders' Lost Girl represents a composite of African and European influences.

Sunstroke (2000) is the largest assemblage of pieces in the exhibition. A man, apparently experiencing the intoxicating effects of sun sickness, reclines on a bed with his feet propped up against a nail fetish (or power figure). The power figure, also called "nkisi", is zoomorphically represented as a dog that has been activated (or called into action) numerous times by the insertion of wooden and iron nails. Power figures are found in many Central African cultures where potent medicines and materials are packed into a sculpted form (in this case a wooden dog) which acts as a receptacle. These figures are ritually called into action by driving sharp objects into their surface. An additional layer of interpretation to this piece is given by the presence of a crucified Christ figure (with four rather than three nails impaling the hands and feet, suggesting a Romanesque or medieval antecedent) that hangs on the wall above the bed. The death of Christ on the cross is the central image in Christian art and a visual focus of religious contemplation. Numerous sources have been assimilated into this wooden realm of figures that function as metaphors, or responses to life and religion in Africa.

This show offers numerous points of engagement. The sculptures inhabit individualised spaces and yet cohesively come together as a strong body of work. Additionally, as Jack Shainman states, Schreuders' work is paradoxical in that it appears simplistic at first, yet, on closer examination, the conceptually based and psychologically challenging elements emerge. Schreuders' work fuses elements of medieval sculpture, Catholic imagery and traditional African art with an emotional awareness, intimacy and immediacy that rarely come together so effectively in art.

'Burnt by the Sun' closes on April 14

Jack Shainman Gallery, 513 W 20th Street, New York, New York 10011