South African artists in London
by Kim Gurney
"On the second floor of the Durban National Science Museum, a lion has been seen cowering and in pain from his confrontation with a porcupine since 1883." Thus reads the introduction of the first South African contribution to an artwork by Christian Boltanski, which in turn forms part of South London Gallery's 'Independence' exhibition.
Boltanski's creation, which relies on the principle of starting a rumour, invites artists from around the world to fax through a work during the show. This is done on the basis that all those received will be exhibited and then offered for sale as photocopies at [GBP] 1 each. The idea is to democratise the exhibition-making process - a concept reflected in other artworks too. Marcia Farquhar, for example, invites viewers to add their own thoughts on independence while Jeremy Akerman has placed a stage in the main gallery space for visitors to air their views.
The lion fax contribution from MA student Ann-Marie Tully at Wits University notwithstanding, African representation at 'Independence' is a bit thin on the ground. Nigerian Yinka Shonibare examines the concept of imperialism while Ugandan photographer Zarina Bhimji displays cutting-edge photography.
This paucity of African art is not the case in greater London, however. One rather famous albeit unlikely exhibitor is Nelson Mandela. His lithographs of Robben Island and handprints are selling like hot-cakes in a Belgravia gallery. Veronika Paschke, the Michaelis graduate who taught Mandela to find his artistic streak, is herself exhibiting in London as part of the Art at Home collective. Catch Caccivio, co-founder, says the aim is to bring contemporary South African art to the UK at affordable prices. Its exhibition, 'Get The Picture', features a selection of established and emerging artists from the Cape who exhibit in a range of mediums.
Meanwhile, South African Marlene Dumas - now based in Amsterdam - has definitely taken the international art market by storm. Postcards of her paintings are for sale at the National Portrait Gallery and a book about her work is nestled on the shelves of a number of institutions.
Although Dumas was not officially part of this year's 50th Venice Biennale, her works featured alongside. According to The Economist, they exuded a sense of visual power and artistic strength largely missing from the formal exhibition. Her series of nine corpses called 'Time and Again', which elaborates on the theme of Death and the Maiden, is now on show at the Art Institute of Chicago.