Archive: Issue No. 74, October 2003

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Feedback is an open forum for readers to share any comments and insights relevant to art practice in South Africa. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

From: Anitra Nettleton
Subject: Art Historians
Date received: October 6

Do I really want to get into this? Probably not, but there are issues out there, raised in the September issue of this valuable resource that need airing nationally. [Thembinkosi] Goniwe's claim that we (the Art Historians) should be ashamed because there were no black females in our gathering has set the cat amongst the pigeons. I would like to ask - What university department has a large number of black female students studying Art History? I have had one who has gone through to MA level and she didn't finish her MA because she got pregnant and decided not to continue with her research report. There is no art taught at the vast majority of South African schools so we have a very small pool from which to draw. Art is anyway, in most parents' minds, a foolish luxury and studying it leads nowhere. Those of us who have made it as Art Historians have studied our proverbials off and have ended up in positions of authority in Universities, and not merely because our skins are white and our gender female (this in response to Pro Sobopha's assertion that white females controlled the art world). What stuck in the gullet of critical viewers of the video and listeners to the papers presented by Goniwe, Sobopha and Voyile at the Art Historians' conference in September were the wild claims and the lack of intellectual rigour (it was claimed, amongst other gross distortions, by the white art critic in the video that whites were indigenous to South Africa). The fact that Goniwe claimed, on top of all this, to be speaking for 'the Black woman' - essentialised no doubt - put the cherry on a cake which I suppose we were expected to swallow in the spirit of wallowing in our sense of white guilt. This was not going to happen. Yes, we need to draw more persons of colour into a discipline that is essentially Western, in a context which is not. But, to start laying out a lot of inaccurate accusations and to do one's accusatory work without the necessary research is pointless. Show us that you can do the Art Historical research properly and you will be taken seriously.

From: Johannes Gees
Subject: Helloworld
Date received: October 6

The 'helloworld' project is about visualising global communication and, which is even more important to me, the use of public space. Visibility is an expensive commodity and for this reason we are encircled by commercial messages wherever we go. I see the 'helloworld' project as a digital form of graffiti, asking questions about the use of public space and turning the existing situation upside down by opening a channel to the public for the cost of an SMS.

I still hope the administration realises that it does not harm the mountain or the goats. Or are they afraid of the words, not the laser? Listen to your mountain!

From: Lynette Perissinotto
Subject: Matric Art History
Date received: September 18

Teaching South African contemporary art to Matric Art History learners has become impossible to do without ArtThrob. Thank you. Perhaps you could get some contributions specifically on teaching this section? You could contact the Independent Examination Board (IEB) for some ideas?

From: Jonothan Peters
Subject: Mystery artists
Date received: September 20

On September 18 I was at an exhibition at the Everard Read and saw two very peculiar gentlemen. I was wondering if anyone has any information on them whatsoever. It seemed like they were doing some kind of performance, but it seemed that the gallerist did not like them very much and escorted them outside. In the two hours that I observed them they were completely silent, dressed very neatly, each with a peculiar briefcase, blank expressions on their faces and acting identically. Is there anyone who could tell me more about these artists?

From: Exhibition Curators
Subject: Response to Nicole Sartini
Date received: September 25

Thank you for the invitation to respond to Nicole's comment on Makeshift. We do however feel as if it is almost inappropriate to respond to the comment as it is unengaged and seems to have been thrown in simply to punctuate a sentence. We encourage informed debates about the exhibition, and would be happy to respond to other comments.

From: Sharene Mylchreest :
Subject: Sasol Young Artists
Date received: September 3

In response to the very relevant view from Kristi [um, is that Veronique Tadjo you are referring too? - Ed.]. I think the tone of the exhibition was established when Sasol had their submission form designed. It consisted of an incredibly sickly sweet image of preschooler wielding a paintbrush. Needless to say it dissuaded a lot of my contemporaries from entering because we could see that Sasol was definitely not looking for more socially engaged work. Young artists are out there and are making critical work and I agree with Kristi that there seems to be a trend whereby South Africans favour non-political or socially irrelevant art. Social commentary is being made, I just don't think it is being fully absorbed. It is a sad day when we all turn into Sunday painters sitting by the Lake as Sasol would like us to.

From: Nicole Sartini
Subject: The Land of No Critics
Date received: September 3

In response to Sean O' Toole's piece about art criticism -

I have this assumption that contemporary artists exhibiting in our major galleries and featured on this website have some degree of critical literacy and that critics exist to measure or assess this. And yet in what is self-proclaimed to be one of the most visited, popular South African art website the reviews seem more reportage than criticism and the critical responses to the reviews somewhat thin. In fact art criticism has dried up in the Mail & Guardian and the popular print press generally. The only publication that is beginning to scratch the surface of art criticism in this country is 'Art South Africa'. I believe that rigorous art cannot exist in a system without criticism.

I suppose that the problem of a non-critical South African art lies in the fact that too many artists are practicing 'critics' (or rather claiming to be critics). What many of these 'visual practitioners' really write are endorsements for other artists who will later endorse their work. As a fine arts student this rampant professional back scratching became clear to me. It seems that in order to practice real criticism these artist-critics would have to take certain perceived risks in writing honestly about the work of their peers. These risks would include exclusion from certain shows and groups, little support for their exhibitions, no critical support and difficulty in obtaining funding or sponsorship.

Not taking critical risks results in a group of artists who are expert back scratchers, and art that is nothing but sheer masturbation. So, I wonder why we have no critics. With all the heavies overseas (Geers excluded) the kids can play without supervision. With most of the laaities with their sights on New York, London etc., we are left with a small pool of artists and fewer critics left to scratch each other's backs and wallow in the kind of offerings presented at MakeShift which opened at the Johannesburg Art Gallery at the end of August.